The Haute Savoie department is south-east located, at the crossroads of France, Italy and Switzerland. It is one of the eight departments of the Rhone-Alpes region. The area accounts for more than 708,000 inhabitants, called the Hauts-Savoyards, living in 294 towns and villages. Haute Savoie’s administrative centre is Annecy, the sous-prefectures being Bonneville, Saint-Julien-en-Genevois and Thonon-les-Bains. Haute Savoie is renowned for its ski resorts, the Mont-Blanc, its two beautiful lakes, the Leman Lake (more known in English as the Geneva Lake), the biggest in Europe, and the Annecy Lake, the cleanest in Europe, as for its mineral water Evian.
Indeed, the Haute Savoie department is mostly renowned for its natural emblematic sites. Thanks to the assets of the area, Haute Savoie, unlike other mountainous departments, attracts as much tourists is summer as in winter: out of 37,9 million of tourists every year, 49% visit the area in winter, 40% in summer, and 13% during the rest of the year.
The creation of the Haute Savoie department is relatively recent. Indeed, it was only in 1860 that the department was created from the north part of the former Savoy province. Before this date, and since the 11th century, it belonged and was governed by the Maison de Savoie, an independant state. The Savoy House expanded towards Italy, and finally became, with the Kingdom of Sardinia, the preponderant element of the Italian unit. The Duchy of Savoy and the County of Nice were annexed to France with the Treaty of Turin, leading to the creation of the present-day Haute Savoie department.
Haute Savoie is a very dynamic department where the unemployment rate is lower than the French average (5.4% vs. 8%). Economic activities are mainly based on tourism, as more than 10% of the salaried jobs in the department are directly linked to tourism. Moreover, many activities, such as agriculture, construction, businesses, craft industries, etc. also rely on tourism. This is why the department makes a lot of efforts in order to attract visitors all year long.
Being a mountainous region as much in summer as in winter, Haute Savoie welcomes French and foreigner customers all year round, seduced by the beauty of the scenery, the quality of accommodation, and all the sport activities it has on offer. Indeed, the department boasts 50 ski resorts, 47 beaches, 3 thermal baths, 12 golf courses, and 21 marinas.
- Culture, art and historical heritage: Haute Savoie’s history has been influenced by the Savoy Dynasty. You will find baroque churches, chapels and castles, art towns, medieval villages and ‘old towns’ all around the department. During the whole year you can assist to folk events, musical events, shows, festivals, art and cultural exhibitions.
- Outdoor activities: the Haute Savoie department is specially renowned for its outdoor activities. It offers 50 ski resorts, among the most prestigious in France: Chamonix, Megève, Morzine, La Clusaz, Saint-Gervais, and among the most modern: Flaine and Avoriaz. It also offers 41 cross country skiing areas. In summer you will enjoy mountaineering, hiking, biking, horsing within breathtaking landscapes. With two lakes that are among the most famous in Europe you will be able to do water sports; but also to relax yourself in one of the three renowned thermal baths present in the department: Evian-les-Bains, Saint-Gervais-les-Bains and Thonon-les-Bains.
- Location – transport: at the crossroads of France, Italy and Switzerland, the Haute Savoie department is definitely the place to go skiing! From England you can easily and cheaply go to Geneva, which is at the border of the Haute Savoie department. There are also airports in the department: a national one in Annecy-Meythet and smaller ones in Annemasse and Megeve. If you fancy taking the car you can go to the department by taking the A40 and A41 motorways. Otherwise you can also take the train, as there are two main train stations: Annecy and Annemasse, and 8 smaller ones, as Thonon-les-Bains for instance.
- Tranquillity and scenery: the Haute Savoie department is the perfect place if you want to combine mountain activities with tranquillity. Some places, as Chamonix, get very busy as much in summer as in winter; however you can also find alternative towns, close by the ski resorts and with fewer visitors. It is for instance the case of Thonon-les-Bains, near the Geneva Lake and Chatel, that is only 30kms from the nearest ski resorts. Moreover, Haute Savoie’s towns are famous for being beautiful, with plenty of green parks and flowers in outstanding settings. You will enjoy walking along the Geneva lakeside looking at the gorgeous Alps.
- Gastronomy: the Alps’ gastronomy is renowned for its cheese and potatoes dishes, such as the Tartiflette, the Raclette, or the various Fondues. However, the food heritage in Haute Savoie is more abundant than that. Many produces in the department have special labels and AOC (a French certification granted to certain agricultural products). Among the cheeses, you will find Abondance, Reblochon, tomme de Savoie, tomme des Bauges, Sérac, etc.; you will also find special labels for meat produce, mermelades and honey, fruits, alcohols…