Extending along the shore of Lake Bourget, the largest natural lake in France, Aix-les-Bains was a major holiday destination for European high society at the end of the 19th century. As its name suggests, the town's reputation is based on its hot springs. Three thermal spas still exist in Aix-les-Bains today: the Thermes Nationaux, the Thermes Marlioz and the modern Thermes Chevalley, opened in 2000.
However, a stay in Aix-les-Bains involves more than just a simple string of treatments. Located between the lake and the mountains, it is possible to go hiking and do water and winter sports here. In addition to being able to take advantage of the Mont Revard ski resort, one of the oldest in France and reputed for its huge cross-country skiing domain, visitors can also reach the first of the large ski resorts in the Savoy region in just an hour's drive. In summer, the Bauges Mountains and the Prealps are perfect for walks, as is the Dent du Chat mountain, the southern extremity of the Jura Mountains whose sheer slope plunges abruptly into the lake. The ideal environment to keep visitors busy during their stay, both in winter and summer!
Other than the spa treatments, whether it's a simple fitness cure or an ENT treatment, a speciality of the baths in Aix-les-Bains, a stay here just wouldn't be complete without spending a few pounds (or rather euros) in the Casino Grand Cercle. Located right in the town centre, this unmissable 19th century building houses an Italian-style theatre with 900 seats and superb mosaics on the ceiling. It is one of the most remarkable theatres in the Savoy region, and without a doubt the town's main attraction.
If you go on a boat trip, we recommend sailing along the Savières canal, at the far northern of the lake, or along the Rhône for those who wish to pass through the lock. A passage through the splendid flowery village of Chanaz is well worth a trip. Nevertheless, you'll need at least a whole afternoon for the tour if you don't want to be rushed.
A stay in Aix-les-Bains just wouldn't be complete without a stroll around the Esplanade du Lac. The site of the annual Musilac festival, this large space is great for a relaxing break on the grass, playtime for children, or a walk in the shade of the plane trees.
In terms of architecture, the most beautiful monuments were built during the Belle Epoque era, in particular several former palaces that overlook the lake from the heights of the town or from the Tresserve hilltop. You can also find traces of the Romans in the Arc de Campanus, standing tall in the town hall square, and inside the Thermes Nationaux, where several vestiges from Antiquity still remain.
Leaving the town, the nearby Bauges Mountains are the perfect spot for hiking. Although less well-known than the neighbouring Vanoise massif and the Vercors mountains, the rolling landscapes of the Bauges are scattered with grangettes (wooden barns) and traditional villages, as well as walking trails suitable for the whole family.
In summer, swimming costumes can be a tourist's best friend in Aix-les-Bains. To make the most of the numerous spas, of course, but also of Lake Bourget. Being enclosed at the base of a valley, the temperatures easily rise in July and August. To cool off, there's nothing like renting an electric boat or a pedalo to go for a dip on the Lake's wilder coast. The water is deeper in these areas, where several small coves carved into the foot of the Mont du Chat can be the ideal spot for a bit of lazing around.
Don't feed the birds at the lake! Cercarial dermatitis, commonly known as 'swimmer's itch', is a skin infection caused by water-borne micro-organisms. These underwater larvae rise to the surface in search of a body to feed on, usually ducks. In humans, the resulting infection is benign but causes severe itching. Although the beaches on Lake Bourget are regularly cleaned to ensure swimmers' safety, feeding bread to the ducks only worsens the problem.
Like all towns in the Savoy region, Aix-les-Bains doesn't lack culinary assets. Saucisson and cheese are the kings of the local gastronomy. However, if you want a break from the classic raclette-tartiflette-fondue trio, try the diots (typical Savoyard pork sausages) cooked in white wine and accompanied by crozets (small pasta squares). Don't forget to drink, with moderation, a glassful of génépi (Savoyard liqueur) to top off this copious meal!
Food lovers won't hesitate to take back some traditional Savoyard foods in their suitcases. Saucisson (dry sausage) with Beaufort cheese or wild boar for the carnivores among you, and Tome de Bauges and Moelleux du Revard (you can't get more local than that!) for cheese lovers. Tourists who like to have lots of knick-knacks to show from their travels can opt for a small Savoyard chimney sweep beautifully mounted on a chimney or a piece of wooden furniture.