Chambery is the French town devoting most funds to facilitate public reading and the number of books and documents hired from libraries in Chambery is three times as much as in an average French town. The town’s libraries keep up to date with the latest technology to make sure its inhabitants keep reading: the first downloading system in the region was installed here, external libraries were created and a baby reader card is awarded to every child born in Chambery. A special reading space has been created for disabled people while readers have been hired to read to blind people. Chambery’s main library is named after Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who would certainly be proud to see how his fellow-citizens are keeping the reading flame alive.
The son of a fur merchant of Chambery, Benoit Leborgne was fascinated as a child by the exotic animals painted on his parents shop. The tigers and elephants gave him an early taste for adventure. Enrolled in King Louis XV’s Irish regiment, he heard the elders tell the tales of their campaigns in India. Fighting with the regiment of Count Orlov, he was kidnapped by the Turks and, on release, travelled to Smyrna where local merchants convinced him to go to India to make a fortune. On recommendation from Orlov and British officers, he reached India and worked to the service of local lords. In Lucknow, he changed his name to De Boigne and was hired as the military aide to Mahadaji Sindhia, who ruled over the Maratha Empire. Named general, he found himself in charge of an army of 100,000 men trained in the European fashion, which allowed the Maratha Empire to resist the English rule. Towards the end of his life, De Boigne returned to Europe, first to England where he married a French immigrant after repudiating his Persian wife. He then returned to France and to his native town of Chambery, in which he died in 1830. He was knighted and named baron by the King of Piedmont-Sardinia.
Because of its ideal position at the foot of the mountains, Chambery is obviously a cycling stronghold, even though it never hosted a stage finish on the Tour, which is inclined to hold them up on the mountain rather than in valleys. Yet the capital of the Dukes of Savoy held one of the most exciting world championships in 1989. Greg LeMond, who had just achieved one of the most remarkable comebacks in the history of the sport when he won the Tour with an eight-seconds lead over Laurent Fignon, confirmed on the Chambery circuit that the year was his. Still recovering from his hunting accident, the American was strong enough to reply to an attack by Laurent Fignon – who else? – and to win ahead of Dmitry Konyshev and Sean Kelly. Six years after his first world crown, LeMond was on top of the world again. The three-times Tour champion named one of the models of his bike line after Chambery. Before this, the Tour only started from Chambery once in 1996 but it was an eventful stage by all means. Luc Leblanc was the stage winner in Les Arcs, Stpehane Heulot handed his yellow jersey to Evgueni Berzin, Miguel Indurain lost all hopes of a 6th Tour victory while Johan Bruyneel fell into a ravine! There is however a long cycling tradition in Chambery as the town hosted the Criterium du Dauphine 20 times, with victories by Jacques Anquetil, Bernard Thevenet or Bernard Hinault. Between 1991 and 2004, the Classic of the Alps also took place around town. Chambery is the hometown of pro team AG2R, whose sports director Vincent Lavenu was born here as well as 1992 stage winner Gilles Delion.
|XIth entury||The name Camberiac appears for a locality on the site of a former Gaul fortress turned into a Roman fort.|
|1232||The town passes into the hands of the Dukes of Savoy.|
|1295||Chambery becomes the capital of the Dukes of Savoy.|
|1452 to 1578||The Holy Shroud, belonging to the Dukes of Savoy, is on display in the cathedral.|
|1729||Jean-Jacques Rousseau settles in Chambery.|
|1838||Inauguration of the Elephants fountain, a testimony of the feats of General de Boigne, the town’s benefactor.|
|1860||The town becomes French.|
|1944||The town is seriously damaged by bombings on May 26.|
|1979||Creation of the University of Savoy.|
THE DUKES OF SAVOY CASTLE
Built on one end of the Montjay hill, the castle was the main house of the Dukes of Savoy between 1295 and 1563. Destroyed by fire several times, the last in 1997, the castle is now a mixture of buildingS dating from the 14th to the 19th century. It holds the headquarters of the Prefecture.
THE 4 SANS CUL (BOTTOMLESS FOUR) STATUE
The fountain, which has become the symbol of Chambery, was built in 1838 by Grenoble sculptor Pierre-Victor Sappey to celebrate the feats in India of local hero Count De Boigne, who died seven years before. Four iron elephants are joined at the back (hence the bottomless nickname) and each carries a battle tower with inscriptions and trophies.
Prefecture : Chambery
Population : 405,000
WebSite : www.cg73.fr
Tourism has been the main economic strength of Savoie for many years. With its 60 ski resorts, its three natural parks – Vanoise, Bauges and Chartreuse -, and its six spa towns - Aix-les-Bains, Aix Marlioz, Challes-les-eaux, Brides-les-Bains, la Léchère, Salins-les-Thermes – the department offers plenty of opportunities to visitors. Metal and energetic industries combined with cross-border exchanges account for a low unemployment rate. Along with its natural beauty, Savoie also has many remains from the prestigious past of the Duchy of Savoy, the Chambery castle being the most remarkable. Savoie hosted the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville.
The Apremont valley owes its distinctive features and the quality of its wine to a natural disaster. On November 1248, part of the Mont Granier cliff collapsed, spreading rocks around the vineyards. At an altitude of 350 metres and in mostly sunny area, the Apremont vines, growing on the villages of Apremont, St Andre les Marches and St Padolph, are Savoy’s main appellation.
Prefecture : Grenoble
Population : 1,178,000
WebSite : www.cg38.fr, www.isere.fr
A mere three hours from Paris by TGV, Isere is a very diverse department, from the mountains of Oisans to the almost Mediterranean flavour of Vienne, the “Roman city”. Among the many monuments to discover, the domain of Vizille is worth the visit with its huge park and its castle hosting a permanent exhibition on the French Revolution. The medieval village of St Antoine l’Abbaye is also extremely picturesque. Vienne’s Roman theatre is every year the home to a famous jazz festival while the bustling Grenoble is impossible to miss with its lively student life and long history. Wtih three natural parks, Isere is an ideal destination for tourists and nature lovers, but it is also a pleasant place to live for its population of 1.2 million
Built from 1404, the Bayard Castle overlooks the Gresivaudan valley. Since 1975, a museum retells the story of Pierre de Terrail, lord of Bayard, the famous “fearless and remorseless” knight of the Hundred Years War. Pontcharra is also the birthplace of former Formula One driver Rene Arnoux
Discovered by the Romans, Uriage-les-Bains had to wait for the 17th century for the properties of its waters to be definitely acknowledged. Its water is salty, rich in trace elements and plankton. It has a unique quality called isotonia – its molecular concentration is similar to that of blood. As a result it is extremely easy to tolerate. Uriage played an important role in the French Resistance thanks to the Uriage Managers School installed in the Uriage castle.
An important spot on the road between Grenoble and Italy, the site became Castra Vigiliae when the Romans built a vigil post in the place of a Gaul fortress. Belonging to the Cluny Abbey in the Middle Ages, it was taken by the Huguenots in the 16th century, then by the Catholics. Lesdiguières, appointed general lieutenant of Dauphine, bought and rebuilt the castle.
On July 21, 1788, the Vizille Assembly brought together 50 priests, 165 aristocrats and 276 representatives of the people to express their complaints against the rulers. The Assembly was often seen as a foretaste of the French Revolution but it was mostly a protest by the wealthy against a new tax system.
Climber Thierry Claveyrolat, who won the polka-dot jersey in 1990, was dubbed “the Vizille eagle”.
VIZILE CASTLE AND DOMAIN
The domain includes the castle that once belonged to the Duke of Lesdiguieres and which became a residence for French presidents until it was handed back to the Isere Department. Since 1984, the castle is home to a museum on the French Revolution. The gardens used to be the Duke of Lesdiguieres hunting ground.
Near Laffrey lies a meadow called the Encounter’s Meadow on which Napoleon Bonaparte, in 1815, met a battalion sent by King Louis XVIII to stop him on his return from Elba Island. Napoleon walked towards the soldiers and asked them to shoot if they meant to kill “their emperor”. The soldiers, in tears, laid down the arms and joined Bonaparte’s troops. After the “encounter” Napoleon told his aide Cambronne: “It’s over. We’ll be in Paris in a week”.
Prefecture : Gap
Population : 132,000
WebSite : www.cg05.fr
Hautes-Alpes (High Alpes) is the highest department in France in average. The Durance river is the backbone of its territory, on which live a population of 118,000. Isolated until the arrival of the train, the department has learnt through history to live on its own resources, which helped in hard times. It is a mainly farming area – forests, pastures, fruit, milk – but tourism has been developing quickly thanks to the ski resorts of Serre-Chevalier Vars, les Orres or Montgenevre and in the summer to the many campsites around the Serre-Poncon artificial lake.
It all started as an idea from Gap bishop Jean-Michel de Falco, who took inspiration from Irish band The Priests to convince three members of his clergy to make a record to fund the construction of a new church in the village of Notre Dame de Laus. The trio recorded an album called Spiritus Dei, which became an instant best-seller and chart topper. Jean-Michel Bardet, curate in the centre of Gap, was a trained musician while Charles Troesch had sung with a famous child choir. The third man in the band, Dinh Nguyen Nguyen, is a seminarist. Royalties from the record will also be used to buy computer equipment for a school in Madagascar. Les Prêtres sing classics of the religious repertoire like Ave Maria or Minuit Chretien but they also tackled songs by Jacques Brel or Leonard Cohen. A recent tour has been extremely successful.
On the flanks of the mountain overlooking Gap, the domain of Charance stretches from 100 metres to 1,903metres in altitude, displaying an exceptional view. Since 2004, the domains hosts the National Alpine Botanic Conservatory, which studies, preserves and promotes the plants and flowers of the region. Guided visits, lectures, training sessions and other activities are organised on site while a museum and part of the gardens are open to the public. The conservatory itself opens up in the summer to teach nature lovers about the local vegetation. The Gap municipality and environmental associations are working hand in hand to provide the most comprehensive information to tourists and students.
In Tour de France history, Gap will long be associated with the finish of the 9th stage in 2003. Four kilometres from Gap, in the descent of the Cote de la Rochette, Joseba Beloki’s wheel snapped, sending the Spaniard onto the canvas just in front of Lance Armstrong. The American was forced to ride his bike across a field to make it back on the road, displaying convincing mountain-bike skills. Thanks to his sense of balance, Armstrong again avoided disaster and went on to win his fifth Tour. As for Joseba Beloki, the crash marked the actual end of his career.
In 20 visits to Gap, the Tour saw victories by cycling greats such as Raphael Geminiani, Gastone Nencini, Jean-Francois Bernard, Erik Zabel or Alexandre Vinokourov. But the town was also the start of legendary stages towards Briancon marked by the triumphs of Louison Bobet, Fausto Coppi or Federico Bahamontes.
|20 BC||Creation of Via Cottia, linking Turin to Valence. A Roman camp is located near Gap.|
|XIVth century||The installation of popes in Avignon results in numerous travels from and to Italy and Gap thrives on wool and tannery.|
|1626||Death of Francois de Bonne de Lesdiguieres, the last Constable of France. His mausoleum can be found in the Gap museum.|
|1692||The troops of Victor-Amedee of Piedmont destroy the city and the population flees.|
|1790||Gap becomes the Hautes Alpes Prefecture.|
|1802||Baron de Ladoucette, prefect of the Hautes Alpes under Napoleon, develops the city and creates the local museum.|
|1815||On his return to Paris from the Elba Island, Napoleon makes a stop in Gap.|
|1875||Arrival of the train.|
built between 1866 and 1904, the neo-Gothic cathedral Notre Dame and St Arnoux replaced an older medieval building.