Located on the eastern banks of Lac du Bourget, France’s largest freshwater lake, Aix Les Bains is a chic spa town that drips in old-school glamor. With a cosmopolitan cafe culture, elegant turn-of-the-century hotels, roman ruins, thermal baths, and breathtaking scenery, it's long been consisted one of Savoy's most unmissable resorts, drawing legions of visitors to admire its attractions every year. If you're planning a visit, these are the 20 best things to do in Aix Les Bains, France.
20. Shop for antiques at Brocante Cocorétro
Aix Les Bains is full of quirky little shops, with Brocante Cocorétro ranking as one of the most unmissable. Whether you're looking for some decorations for the house, some gifts for relatives, or simply want to spend a few happy hours browsing the aisles, this intriguing little antique store has you covered. The store is open from Tuesday to Saturday, 9.30 am to noon then 2 pm to 6.30 pm.
19. Relax at Esplanade du Lac
If you want to escape the streets and enjoy a day in nature, Esplanade du Lac is the place to head. This 10-hectare park on the shores of Lac du Bourget s a natural marvel of sweeping lawns, children's playgrounds, pollarded plane trees, and dramatic views over the mountains and lake. With picnicking spots, rides, trampolines, boat rentals, walking paths, historic sights like the Hautecombe Monastery, and more besides, it's a wonderfully entertaining place that the whole family will enjoy.
18. Admire the Belle Époque architecture
Aix Les Bains' golden age was the early 20h century, a time when the rich and famous of the day descended on the town in their droves to avail themselves of its therapeutic waters and breathtaking scenery. At around the same time, dozens of grand hotels began popping up around the town to cater to the needs. Most of those hotels have now been turned into apartment blocks, but just because you might not be able to spend the night at these historic monuments doesn't mean you can't still admire their beauty on a walking tour. Key properties to watch out for include Beau-Site, Splendide, Excelsior, and Bernascon, all of which have been designed in a majestic art nouveau style, and the incredibly opulent The Royal Hotel on Georg Georges-Ler Street.
17. Take the kids to Aquarium du Lac du Bourget
If you're searching for something to keep the kids entertained on a rainy day, look no further than the Aquarium du Lac du Bourget, a super fun destination that everyone from the oldest member of the family to the youngest will enjoy. Located on the shores of Lake Bourget, the aquarium, which is dedicated to the conservation of local wildlife, boasts a number of tanks that are home to several species of freshwater fish such as trout, Arctic char, and carp. The are several interactive terminals where you can learn more about the diet, habits, and habitats of the area's wildlife, along with a tactile pool where you can touch fish like carp and sturgeon, showcases of naturalized birds, and a cafe boasting breathtaking views of Lake Bourget.
16. Take a tour of the Town Hall
If you're into architecture, be sure to include a visit to the Town Hall on your schedule. The building was erected as a castle in the sixteenth century by the Marquis of Aix, and has since been classified as a historical monument. The gothic architecture is wonderful, with mullioned windows and exquisite stonework. Be sure to check out the staircase, which was constructed at the end of the sixteenth century by Isabeau de la Roche Andry and which leads to a tiny chapel at the top of the building.
15. Step back in time at the Royal Abbey of Hautecombe
As aixlesbains-rivieradesalpes.com notes, the Royal Abbey of Hautecombe is a unique place in Savoy, with a rich heritage, exceptional architecture, and a treasure trove of artistic delights. To get there, you'll need to take a boat across the lake - a journey worth taking for the gorgeous views across the southern shore alone. Once you land, you'll be able to take an audio guide tour of the church to discover its unique neo-Gothic architecture, frescoes, marble sculptures, and collection of sepulchers belonging to ancient Savoyard noblemen and the last kings and queens of Italy. It's also possible to attend the daily prayer service. The abbey is open Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday between 10 am and 11.15 am and 2.30 pm and 5 pm.
14. Take a day trip to Chambéry
If you want to leave Aix Les Bains for the day and discover some of its nearby neighbors, a day trip to Chambéry comes highly recommended. Located just 20 minutes from Aix Les Bains, Chambéry is a small medieval city that, while compact, has more than its share of attractions. As you'd expect of a university town, the nightlife is immense, but even if your days of falling out of clubs at 5 in the morning are behind you, you'll still find plenty of delights to keep you entertained in its labyrinth of streets. Key sights to check out include the impressive Gothic Château des Ducs de Savoie and the Fontaine des éléphants.
13. Play a game at Casino Poker Bowl
Aix Les Bains might be full of history, but if you're in the mood for some entertainment of the 21st-century variety, head for Casino Poker Bowl. With 64 slot machines, 8 electronic English roulette stations, 2 black jack tables, and dozens of other games to enjoy, it's a must-visit for anyone who feels like testing their luck. The center is open Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday from 10 am to 2 am and Friday and Saturday from 10 am to 3 am.
12. Join in the festivities at Musilac
If you find yourself in town in early July, don't miss Musilac, the biggest and best music festival in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region. It was first established in 2002, but has grown steadily bigger and more legendary each year, to the point that it now attracts around 80,000 festival-goers each year. Spread over five days, it promises sun, lake views, and some of the biggest names in music. There's also live entertainment, a huge variety of food and drink vendors, craft stalls, special cruises that let you watch the show from the lake, and an atmosphere that you won't want to miss.
11. Hike the Dent du Chat
If you're in the mood to stretch your legs, pop on your hiking boots and head for Dent du Chat. As one of the prettiest lakeside walks, it promises a mixture of challenge and reward, offering a fairly easy-going hike for the majority of the trail and a slightly trickier few meters at the end. Don't let the rugged appearance deter you, though - with cables to help you navigate the more challenging sections, it can be easily managed by most fitness levels without too much difficulty. Even if you do find yourself panting for breath by the end of it, the exceptional views from the summit will make all your hard work worth it.
10. Enjoy the regional delicacies
If there's one thing you can always count on wherever you are in France, it's a first-rate meal, and Aix Les Bains is no exception. As thecrazytourist.com notes, the main attraction of the town's food scene is Fondue Savoyarde, a dish made from Beaufort cheese which took off in the 1950s with the development of the ski industry. Other delicacies not to miss include Diot (a type of sausage that can be eaten both cold with Dijon mustard or served hot with boiled potatoes or polenta) and tartiflette, a hearty winter favorite made with potatoes, soft reblochon cheese, onions, and lardons.
9. Try the chocolates at La Bonbonniere d'Aix
Named one of the best specialty shops in Aix Les Bains by Trip Advisor reviewers, La Bonbonniere d'Aix is heaven for chocolate lovers, offering an exquisite selection of handmade chocolate and sweet treats that need to be tasted to be believed. Each piece is made with passion and pride on the premises, with a superb array of flavors (expect everything from date and cardamom to goji berries and cappuccino) that are guaranteed to delight even the most discerning foodie. Along with the chocolates, there's also a tempting collection of freshly baked fruit cakes, Sablé cookies, and Langues de Chat to try.
8. Watch the races at the Hippodrome de Marlioz
Named one of the best things to do in Aix Les Bains by inspirock.com, the Hippodrome de Marlioz guarantees a few hours of top-notch entertainment. Established during the Belle Époque, the first races were held at the site in 1883, and today, it remains the only racecourse in the Alps. With spacious grandstands, a panoramic bar, and an open-air restaurant, it's a great place to spend an afternoon.
7. Take an electric mountain bike tour
If you want to explore the beautiful scenery surrounding Aix Les Bains, it's worth signing up for an electric mountain bike tour, which will let you discover the heights of the Chambotte massif and the magnificent lakeside panoramas without breaking into a sweat in the process. The tours are accompanied by an experienced mountain biker who'll be able to offer expert guidance while also filling you in on the history of the sights you'll see along the way.
6. Visit the Roman ruins
Aix Les Bains has attracted more than its share of celebrities over the years. Henry IV, Queen Victoria, Empress Sissi, Albert I, Prince of Monaco, Mark Twain, Victor Hugo, Alexandre Duma, Honoré de Balzac, Edith Piaf... at some point or another, they've all made themselves welcome in this pretty spa town. The first visitors, however, were the Romans, who turned up in the 1st century AD and quickly made themselves at home. Today, you can still spot signs of their presence scattered around, most notably at the Diana Temple on Place Maurice-Mollard, which serves as one of only three intact Roman temples in the country. The temple (which, according to Lonely Planet, can be found inside a 16th-century château) that currently serves as the town hall. Guided tours of both the temple and the accompanying archaeological collection can be arranged at the tourist office.
5. Take a dip in the thermal baths
Back in the 19th century, Aix Les Bains' main attraction was its thermal waters, which drew scores of wealthy aristocrats looking for the ultimate in rest and relaxation. These days, there are dozens of spas scattered around the area, all of which promise the perfect pampering experience. To enjoy the area's local spring water (which some people claim can do everything from treating rheumatism to easing arthritis), try Valvital, which comes with large outdoor and indoor pools, along with a range of other treatments and facilities such as an aquagym, a sauna, and a hammam. Otherwise, head for Thermes Chevalley, a modern spa and pool complex located a 5-minute walk from the town center.
4. Explore Mont Revard
Mount Revard dominates the skyline at Aix Les Bains, soaring 1,550 m above the ground. Whether you're visiting in the summer or the winter, its forests and alpine pastures, colorful flora and ancient traditions demand to be explored. In the warmer months, it's ideal for hiking and mountain biking. If you're feeling adventurous, you could sign up for a hang gliding or paragliding experience to enjoy the breathtaking views at their best. During winter, it's heaven for skiers, boasting over 150 kilometers of immaculate ski trails - the largest cross-country ski area in France. On top of that, there are 60 km of snowshoe trails, a dog sled trail, 13 ski lifts, and 50 km of slopes perfect for alpine skiing.
3. Admire the art at Musée Faure
If you're an art fan, don't miss a visit to Musée Faure. Created in the 1940s after a wealthy doctor named Jean Faure bequeathed Aix Les Bains his extensive art collection, it sports an incredible collection of exhibits, including one of Auguste Rodin's most significant sculptures and a wonderful series of works by artists such as Cézanne, Sisley, Degas, Pissarro, Johan Jongkind and Eugène Boudin. While you're there. be sure to check out the display on the top floor about Alphonse de Lamartine, a poet who lived at the property in the early 1800s.
2. Play the slot machines at Casino Grand Cercle
See if Lady Luck is on your side at the Casino Grand Cercle d' Aix Les Bains, an exceptionally grand casino that was inaugurated in 1847 by King Emmanuel II and which today serves as one of the most opulent settings for a game of poker in France. Boasting 222 slot machines (the largest collection in France), 6 Game of Thrones interactive slot machines,18 electronic English roulette stations, and various table games (including poker, ultimate poker, English roulette, and blackjack) plus regular Texas Holdem poker tournaments and nightly entertainment, it's a great place to blow off some steam and enjoy a few games. Be sure to check out the art nouveau interior design while you're there - with fine stained glass windows, marble floors chandeliers, and bronze statues, it takes opulence to new heights.
1. Enjoy a day on the water at Lac du Bourget
Considering Aix Les Bains' location on the east bank of France's largest natural lake, it'd be remiss not to indulge in some lakeside adventures while you're there. You can't hike all the way around the lake, but considering the reason for that is down to the dramatic, steep-sided mountains that descent vertically into the waters of the west shore (a sight that demands at least a dozen or so photos), it's hard to complain. There's still plenty of hiking to be done though, or you could take a refreshing dip in the water, take a boat out, or try your hand at some water skiing or diving. If that all sounds like too much hard work for your taste, simply settle down in the sand on one of its three beaches and enjoy the breathtaking views.
Written by Liz Flynn
Read more posts by Liz Flynn