If 2020 wasn’t already all about exploring places and spaces near us, then 2021 definitely is! Not so long ago we discovered Montmélian while we were driving through that area of Savoy. At that time we didn’t have time to make a stop, but we left it on our list of places to visit on a day in a weekend as it appeared to be a colourful little town.
You don’t need lots of time to squeeze in a visit. A short afternoon is a perfect amount of time. The compact old city centre and the ruins of the fortress are reachable on foot and all within reasonable distance. The whole town is placed against a dramatic slope of the Bauges mountain range. So you have to account for some height meters in your walk.
That placement overlooking the lower lying areas was purely strategic. It overlooks the crossroads or fork of a historically important route from to Italy, with Chambery on its other side. Although you can see that those origins of its prosperity from this strategic position are partly gone-glory – due to a change in ways people travel and trade – it still has a very central placement. At the very least because it is still situated on one of the most important railroad connections with the north of Italy. The town is nowadays also famous for the surrounding vineyards that are set against the same slope of the Bauges.
So much for a quick background, back to our visit. We prepared this visit with this map that was offered at the local tourist office as a guide. We parked our car at P1 and from there we walked down via the church to the water front and then up to the ruins and then back down again. It was a very quiet visit, due to the aforementioned covid times, but also because we were there on a Sunday. Sundays are always quiet days in France. Traditionally people are with their families on Sunday.
Unlike many historic centres in French towns, this centre seemed to still house people, which I always appreciate. I love seeing seedings in peoples windowsills, cobbled streets filled with flower pots, DIY benches marked: ‘banc pour tous’, laundry hanging from balconies and vegetable gardens squeezed in between the main street and the road up to the ruins of the fortress. And then all those different colours of the buildings. Just yummy! But I must admit here that I have a real soft spot for the Savoy.
The walk up to the fortress is easy and goes over a wide road surrounded by a forest. On top you find some benches and tables. In ideal place to have a picnic while you enjoy the amazing view. There is little left of the fortress though. That’s a pity.
The church on one of the lower points in town was enormous, but fairly plain on the inside. We were wondering why it was situated outside the historic wall. As the local historic museum wasn’t open, we couldn’t find a lot of information about the expansion of the city in the past. We will come back for that one day.
Other things to see
There are two museums in this town. The historic museum that I mentioned above, and then also the Musée de la Vigne et du Vin de Savoie. I think that this second museum is definitely worth visiting when coming to town.
Another interesting thing to do in this area is to explore the surrounding area. After we picked up our car, we decided to tour around with our car in between the vineyards and the many old castles. Most of these castles are not open for public. They are either in ruin, event halls or just private buildings. But if you drive along this road you can visit the beautiful fortress and gardens of Miolans that surely will re-open again when we the confinement is unlocked. Even though I haven’t written a post about this fortress, it’s really one of my favourite ones in the area!
But even if you can’t enter these castles, driving up to them or walking around them, is already half of the magic I think. The one that you see below is Château de Verdun-Dessus.
I hope that I have convinced you to make a stop in Montmélian whenever you are in the area. It won’t disappoint you!