Aix-les-Bains, nestled on the shores of France’s biggest freshwater lake in the foothills of the Alps, offers an entirely unique, elegant lakeside retreat.
Bursting with grand Belle Epoch architecture, reflecting its heyday during the late 19th and early 20th century, it is one of the grande dames of French spa towns. Amongst its famous historic visitors, it can lay claim to having been Queen Victoria’s favourite holiday destination and, still today, seems to carry its Victorian-era fame with something of a refined pride.
Like its neighbour Annecy, Aix-les-Bains combines a rich cultural history, dating back to the Roman times, with a quiet, tranquil Alpine charm which makes it a wonderful place to visit for a relaxing spa break or a captivating, cultural lakeside holiday.
What to See
Besides walking around the beautiful town itself with its stunning turn-of-the-last-century architecture, there is plenty to see and do in the surrounding area.
Set on the shores of Lac du Bourget, Aix has a number of beautiful beaches perfect for lazing in the sun or basing yourself for a swim in the fresh Alpine waters. In the summer the lake is awash with activities from kayaking and boat trips to fishing and sailing.
Off the water there are a wonderful number of nature walks along the lake’s shore. Whether you just want to amble down the promenade or stray further afield to one of the many hike trails through the stunning countryside and forests in the area, there are plenty of marked routes for you to explore.
Insider Tip: For a completely unique view of the lake, take the Bateaux du Lac du Bourget dinner cruise and watch the shore-side lights twinkle in the darkness.
Of course, before the Victorians descended on the town, it already had a history as a major spa destination during the Roman times. There is still evidence of its ancient past on display today at the Arc de Campanus, a nine-metre-high arch which stands in the Place Maurice Mollard. It is thought the arch was an entrance to the Roman thermal baths.
Another Roman site to look out for is the ruins of the Temple of Diane, close to the current Town Hall. The temple now makes up part of the Musée Lapidaire, which houses a fascinating array of archaeological artefacts collected in the region.
Everywhere you look in the town there is another example of glorious Belle Epoch architecture, but the building you really wouldn’t want to miss is Grand Cercle Casino, which epitomises the grandeur and elegance of the era. With its vast glass windows, beautiful mosaic ceiling and period sculptures, it is a joy to wander round, and the perfect place to shelter on a rainy day.
The Local Market
No visit to a French town would be complete without a trip around its local market and here the market days are Wednesday (all day) and Saturday morning. These are the perfect occasions to pick up some of the delicious local Savoyard delicacies including local cheeses and, of course, cured meats and saucissons.
Insider Tip: The market is one of the best places to buy some of the great local wines. Try the Chignin for a real taste of France to enjoy when you get home.
Where to Relax
Once you’ve taken in the sights, or maybe even before, you’ll be ready to sample some of the relaxing, therapeutic treatments which are on offer in the town (you might even find out what it was that made Queen Victoria keep coming back here!).
There are a wide variety of spas around the town which offer specialist thermal treatments and balneotherapy, so that you can make the very most of the special waters. (Don’t be put off by the name: balneotherapy just means treatments using water which usually involves an indulgent, therapeutic combination of Jacuzzis, showers, baths and steam rooms.)
Insider Tip: If you’re planning on taking more than one treatment during your stay it’s a good idea to book into a hotel with a spa onsite as you will often get a discount as a hotel guest.
How to Get to Aix-les-Bains
With flights to Geneva Airport taking less than two hours (and offered by a good range of budget and premium airlines), and an onward journey of only an hour’s drive, getting to the lakeside town couldn’t be easier. Be warned, however, parking in the town is extremely limited and expensive, and you’re unlikely to need a car while you’re there, so an airport transfer with Shuttle Direct is the most sensible (and certainly most stress-free) way to get to your accommodation.
Where to Stay:
Golden Tulip Aix les Bains – Le Garden Hotel & Spa – For contemporary spa indulgence at a great location, the Golden Tulip Aix les Bains – Le Garden Hotel & Spa is a good choice. Set in the historic centre of the town, the selling point here is the wellness centre with its 1000-square-metre aqua-relaxation area.
Les Meublés du Manoir au Splendid et Royal – For something a little more traditional, try the studios and apartments at the Les Meublés du Manoir au Splendid et Royal. The glorious Belle Epoch building is set in its own parkland with views over the lake and the mountains. Its wellness centre includes an indoor pool with massage jets.
Mercure Aix-les-Bains Domaine de Marlioz – For a more rural retreat, book a stay at the Mercure Aix-les-Bains Domaine de Marlioz. Based in the Marlioz thermal area, the hotel includes a swimming pool, hammam and sauna. The restaurant here is a treat, serving local cuisine which, on a sunny day, you can enjoy on the terrace with views out over the lake.
About Shuttle Direct:
An airport transfer with Shuttle Direct is the perfect way to kick off your relaxing spa break. The leading provider of private and shuttle transfers in Europe and North Africa, Shuttle Direct will collect you from the airport and drive you directly to your hotel accommodation in style and comfort. Simply book a private executive car online before you set off and you can rest assured that your journey will be as relaxing as a thermal spa (well, almost).