The Rh�ne-Alpes region boasts three of the largest lakes in France, including the Lac du Bourget, the biggest natural lake in the country. Lac L�man, shared with Switzerland, and Lac d’Annecy, are also very popular with visitors. Some lakes, such as Lac d’Aiguebelette, are not as well-known but offer a fascinating insight into eco-tourism.
Le Pr�-Curieux water gardens in Evian in the Haute-Savoie is a little enclave covering three hectares of land on the shores of Lac L�man (Lake Geneva). The garden opened in 2002 and has since become a real centre of education for both tourists and school groups wanting to understand more about water and its role in mountainous areas. The centre consists of a structured water garden as well as a more natural area. Within the structured garden visitors will find collections of plants and shrubs (thyme, lavender, hydrangeas, rhododendrons, azaleas) and artificial ponds containing ornamental plants and fish. The second section recreates various natural aquatic eco-systems. All of which enable visitors to learn how water has an impact on plants and to see how water is part of a cycle. Le Pr�-Curieux is also accessible from the water and a small boat, powered by solar energy, collects visitors from the pontoon situated directly opposite Evian’s Casino. www.precurieux.com
Wet and wild
Nestled at the point where the Parc Naturel de Chartreuse starts, Lac d’Aiguebelette in the Savoie is France’s third largest natural lake. Its geographic location, hemmed in by the surrounding mountains, gives it a wild, authentic and secluded character. It was added to France’s inventory of natural sites in 1936 and boasts a wonderful ecosystem, with natural zones that are classified and protected: reed beds, meadows, wet woodland and water grass beds which are full of fish and birds. It is also a place where migrating birds, such as tufted ducks and teal, spend the winter. The excellence of the natural environment has led to the launch of several local initiatives such as improvements in water management, rehabilitation of the marshland, protection and restoration of the wetlands, enhancement of the heritage links to water and a ban on the use of motor boats. The small museum dedicated to the lake and natural habitat, which is open between 15 July and 31 August, aims to make locals and tourists more aware of environmental issues as well as the region’s ecological richness. The exhibition touches on geology, history, fauna and flora and is accessible to both children and adults alike. Entry is free of charge. www.lac-aiguebelette.com
Since the 19th century, visitors have been travelling from all over the world to enjoy Lac d’Annecy. They are drawn to it not only by its unique beauty, but also because of all the efforts that have been made to protect the lake and surrounding areas from environmental damage. Because of this, visitors are now able to enjoy their stay, combining relaxation with an art de vivre. Well-known for the purity of its water, Lac d’Annecy offers great scenery as well. The best way to discover it is to cycle around. A 35-kilometre greenway has been developed on the western bank of the lake (from the centre of Annecy to Marlens) and it is now one of the most popular routes in France – perhaps not surprising, considering the panoramic views it enjoys across the lake and surrounding mountains. The greenway is for non-motorised users only: pedestrians, cyclists, roller-bladers, wheelchair users and horseriders. The route, which follows a disused railway line, answered demand from both locals and tourists, and users will undoubtedly be pleased by the news that the Regional Council has agreed to the completion of the route via the eastern bank. Work started on the stretch that passes through the villages of Annecy and Annecy-le-Vieux at the end of 2007 and this will enable continuation to the eastern banks. www.lac-annecy.com