Annecy is the capital of the French Alps. Nestled between the lake and mountains, this lakeside town marks the beginning of the great passes that make the Tour de France so legendary.
Its organisers are well aware of this and the town is often chosen as the starting point for a stage of the race: 2009, 2013, 2018…
One hot summer’s day in June, when France was dealing with a heat wave from North Africa, we decided to turn our backs on the Alps and head towards the Bauges. This mountain range, between the Savoie and the Haute-Savoie, is less well known than the Aravis but also has the advantage of less traffic. Furthermore, the Bauges and its national park are distinguished by their rich pastoral life and their production of first class cheeses. This includes the famous Tome des Bauges. Tome, with only one ‘M’ not to be confused with “La Tomme”, with 2, which is a generic term for any mountain cheese. The pretext was found to make the most of this beautiful afternoon.
Bertrand and I were heading along the cycle path that borders the lake, before branching quickly onto the D912 which snakes and rises slowly into the forest, along the Semnoz buttresses. 12km at 3-4% separated us from the Leschaux mountain: perfect for a warm up. At 35 degrees, the heat was heavy but we found shade under the trees. More than anything, it was a pleasure to escape the stupor of the city and to let loose while cycling.
The landscape grew ever more spectacular as we gained altitude. Obviously, as we approached the summit, we couldn’t resist the temptation to step it up a notch, to see who would be the first to arrive. In the end, the fountain at the summit of the mountain was the real winner, as we threw ourselves into its deliciously cold waters.
The descent towards Lescheraines, 8km lower, was fast and refreshing. As we arrived in the village, we turned away from the path leading up to Plainpalais and headed left towards Motte-en-Bauges.
Again, the road steepened but this time we were on the hillside and able to make the most of the view. As the afternoon drew to a close, the light became softer and highlighted each detail of the mountain.
As they say: a promise made is a debt unpaid. We found ourselves in sight of the Marmotte en Bauges farm. As soon as we stopped pedalling, the heat caught up with us and this time, there wasn’t a fountain in sight !
We knocked at the farm’s door but no one was around, it was feeding time for the cows. We found a couple of farm hands who we chatted with quickly and who let us visit the barn. Then we met Patrick, the father. We joked with him and enquired about the tome des Bauges and how it was made. He soon took us under the barn - he couldn’t move very fast as he had broken his foot electric mountain biking - and the cool air from the basement encouraged us to head down. A large white door opened and we soon found ourselves face to face with a safe full of tome! All at different stages of maturity, over 2000 cheeses were sat before us.
Patrick explained that it was necessary to turn them over and pat them to flatten the moisture on the crust every two days. We were obviously amused and joined in. Bertrand and I both bought a cheese each, that we would obviously end up leaving in the fridge upon returning to Paris, hoping to enjoy it with an aperitif.
We said goodbye and thanked our host before heading off again on our bikes. Sitting there in the sun, they seemed to not want to leave. We headed back up towards Bellecombe-en-Bauge. We made a last stop to enjoy the landscape before heading back over the top at Leschaux and swallowing up the 12km of descent between us and the lake.
It was after 8.30pm when we dismounted our bikes. Even though the distance may not be far - 60 km for 1000m of incline - it gave us everything a cyclist hoped for: landscapes, meetings, camaraderie and a few litres of sweat.
To celebrate this outing appropriately, we set ourselves up by the lake to taste some of the tome. With only one m.