Chambéry is both the gateway to some of the finest skiing in the French Alps and an irresistibly charming destination in its own right.
Stroll around the narrow Medieval streets of its immaculate old town, and you’ll be treated to a stunning castle, impressive art galleries and family-run restaurants overflowing with character.
Half a day
If your time in Chambéry is limited, make sure you explore the centre of the old town. This Medieval jewel in Savoy’s crown still feels hidden from many tourist itineraries and can easily be explored on foot. Spend half a day wandering its quiet, immaculately preserved streets, and you’ll be baffled by the lack of tourists.
Start by the magnificent Fountain of the Elephants, in the heart of the historic centre. From there, it’s a short walk to the impressive Hotel de Ville, which sits on a square with open-air restaurants. This impressive structure was built in the late 19th century after Savoy was annexed to France. Stop here for a photograph before wandering around the narrow alleyways for a spell of boutique shopping in the high-end jewellery and fashion stores.
No trip to Chambéry is complete without a visit to the Castle of the Dukes of Savoy. This stunning fortress was the home to Savoyard nobles and still hosts the regional government today. Guided tours are available in the Medieval wing.
If you still have time after exploring the castle, go on a walking tour of other notable monuments. The Palace of Justice, Chambéry Cathedral and the Charles Dullin Theatre all add to the old-world atmosphere of Chambéry’s historic centre.
End your trip into Chambéry’s heart with a meal in one of the independent restaurants that occupy these historic buildings. Your dish should, of course, be accompanied by a glass of locally produced wine.
Chambéry is a city that packs several days’ worth of attractions into a relatively compact centre. If you have a weekend to explore, you may find that you run out of time to pack in all of the cultural and culinary attractions. After you’ve taken a tour of the most famous sight, the Castle of the Dukes of Savoy, you have a decision to make.
Which of the many museums to head for? The Musée des Beaux Arts features a lauded collection of Italian and Renaissance pieces in a beautifully renovated grain-market building. You could discover local history in the Museum of Savoy or get in touch with nature at the Museum of Natural History. Maybe you’ll take a guided tour of La Rotonde, an architecturally beautiful old railway rotunda that houses some classic train engines.
Start your first evening in one of the old-town’s bars with a glass of local wine. You might not be able to squeeze in a trip to Chignin in just one weekend, but you can easily pick up a crisp white to go with a hearty local meal.
Day two could involve exploring modern Chambéry’s culture. The Vaugelas Chapel and Metropolis B both host the work of contemporary local artists. You might prefer to get interactive at the Eureka Gallery, which explores life in the mountains over 13 spaces packed with fascinating, hands-on displays. If you have time, take the miniature train that runs through the city centre for a charming perspective of the old town.
End your weekend with a concert or show. Charles Dullin Theatre was built in 1824 and has been nicknamed the ‘Petite Scala’ for its similarity to Milan’s famous opera house. It’s operated by the Malraux Space, which runs several venues throughout the town and puts on a varied programme of events.
Flights from London City to Chambéry only operate in winter, so if you’re flying here and staying for a week, it’ll be hard to resist the call of the mountains. With a longer amount of time to spend in the Alps, and with so many quality slopes in close proximity, you can pack in multiple peaks in a short space of time.
The Three Valleys
Join the throng heading to the Three Valleys, an area famed for its exhilarating pistes and lively nightlife. There are 380 miles (600km) of slopes of varying difficulty to satisfy skiers of every ability. Spend your days tackling the black runs outside Courchevel, Meribel and Val Thorens, then share drinks with your friends to the tunes of live DJs in the popular bars. It takes about 90 minutes to reach Courchevel from Chambéry.
After you’ve had your fill of the busy Three Valleys, head to the high altitudes and gentler slopes of La Plagne. The pistes here suit intermediates and beginners, but the views are almost unrivalled. Here you can stay in igloo villages, go paragliding over the snow-covered slopes and have fun on a skidoo excursion.
If you’re still on a search to find the best slope, continue skirting La Vanoise National Park to reach Tignes, a resort beneath the mighty peaks of this glacial region. The dense network of pistes can take you from heights of over 11,154 feet (3,400 metres) right down into the valley. The town itself offers a spa with mountain views, as well as a cinema and a bowling alley.
These resorts are all to the south of Chambéry. The other option for a week of skiing and snowboarding is to head north to the Massif des Aravis. It’s even possible to reach the resorts of Mont Blanc in under two hours, where you can hit the slopes at places such as Evasion Mont Blanc and Chamonix.
End your trip with an overnight stay in one of the spa hotels at Aix-les-Bains, about two hours from Tignes. After such an active trip in the mountains, your muscles might be aching, so let those pains drift away in the warm waters of the thermal baths in this scenic town, which sits on the edge of Lac du Bourget. While you’re here, don’t miss the Faure Museum and Hautecombe Abbey.
The Rhône-Alpes region is well equipped to greet the crowds of snow-sports enthusiasts that flock here each year. Fly into Chambéry, then board one of the shuttle buses to the resorts. Accommodation in each resort town is plentiful, as are entertainment options for visitors of every age.