La Roche-sur-Foron is a little town in the French département of Haute-Savoie at the crossroads with Annecy, Geneva and the Arve Valley that leads to Chamonix and the Mont-Blanc. You would have bypassed the town on the motorway when travelling to the French Alps. Well, next time you are in the region, make sure you stop to explore Haute-Savoie’s second most historic town, even for a little hour.
Why you should stop at La Roche-sur-Foron
When we moved to the Annecy region, I heard that La Roche-sur-Foron was an industrial town with a population of 11,400. Nothing really exciting to discover at a place where the main roads between Geneva, Annecy and Cluses meet. It’s when I read some tourist brochures that I realised that the strategic position of La Roche-sur-Foron has made it an exceptional centre since the Middle-Ages. The old town has retained a medieval aspect which tell the tale of one thousand years of the history of La Roche-sur-Foron. You will discover old cobbled streets lined with colourful houses dating back to the Renaissance era (15-16th centuries). I also learnt that it was in 1885, La Roche-sur-Foron was the very first town in Europe to have electric streetlights installed. Today, ‘La Roche‘ is the main commercial centre of the Pays Rochois and hosts the largest exhibition centre of the province of Savoie. Not to forget that the historic town is listed as one of France’s 100 most beautiful corners (100 plus beaux détours de France).
La Roche-sur-Foron’s must-to-see monuments and sites
The old town is not very spread out so you should be able to see most of it within one hour. Start the visit by parking your car in the district of the Town-Hall (Hôtel de ville) and find your way towards the castle.
The Pont Neuf
The view from the bridge spanning the deep Foron Valley is very picturesque. The old houses were built against the steep hill. In the distance you can see the bell tower of the church.
This medieval-looking street is lined with stores including boulangeries–pâtisseries, boucheries-charcuteries, restaurants, specialty shops and more. The colourful façades do display a certain Italian feel. Not surprising when you learn that the town only became French in 1860. Before then it was part of the Kingdom of Sardinia who would eventually be the predecessor state of the kingdom of Italy.
The Saint-Jean Baptist Church
Now on the church square, you have in front of you a very old church which construction dates back to the end of the 15th century. The outside walls of the Catholic church of La Roche are of white dressed stone (pierres de taille). The church is remarkable for its Baroque onion-shaped steeple.
Passage de la Halle
Take the rue de l’église and then turn right by the chevet (near the rear of the church). The narrow lane of passage de la Halle (hall passageway) brings you back to the Middle-Ages. Continue along rue du Plain-Château.
The Plain-Château district
This is the little area situated within the limits of the castle at the top of the rocky promontory. It includes the Tower of the counts of Geneva (the remains of the castle of La Roche), the Saix castle and the Échelle castle with its beautiful gardens.
The castle of La Roche
Firmly anchored on an enormous rock, the castle of La Roche dates back to the 13th century. From the medieval stronghold that once controlled the Foron Valley, only one tower remains today. Called Tour des comtes de Genève (Tower of the Geneva counts), it served as the keep of the castle. It was one of the first circular keep to be built in the Savoy. You can access the top of the tower on Saturday and Sunday by climbing 137 steps.
The Échelle Castle
The Échelle Castle (château de l’Échelle) is an old fortified house from the 14th century which has kept its medieval aspect with two crenellated towers. The manor was built atop the cliff to guard the road coming from Bonneville and the Arve Valley. The Échelle castle now belongs to the town of La Roche and has been turned into a cultural centre.
The park of the Échelle Castle
Formerly the gardens of the Échelle Castle, the 7 hectare park is now open to the public. The floral display of the Parc de l’Échelle is renowned in the region. To the East it offers stunning views over the Arve Valley, between the mountains of Le Môle (1,863m) and the Grand Bargy (2,299m). In the distance you can see the high snowy peaks of Les Dents Blanches (2,757m), Grand Mont Ruan (3,047m) and Mont Buet (3,099m). To the West, the Jura Mountains are also visible on a clear day, particularly La Dôle (1,403m).
The Saix Castle
The Saix Castle (château du Saix) is an old fortified house from the 12th century which was built atop the cliff to defend the north and north-eastern sides of the town. The Saix castle is a private estate and is not open to visits.
Rampe du Crétet and Rue du Silence
Go down the steep lane of rampe du Crétet under the arch of the old 13th century gate of Porte Saint-Martin and turn left to rue des remparts. This street leads to rue du Silence with its fine coloured houses dating back to the Renaissance.
You will reach the Place de la République. From there, the town-hall is just at the end of the square!
How to get to La Roche-sur-Foron and other tips
- By road – La Roche-sur-Foron is situated at the crossroads of motorways coming from: Geneva (A40, 28kms), Annecy (A410, 38kms) and Chamonix-Mont-Blanc (A40, 60kms).
- By train – The town is also accessible by train from Annemasse, Annecy, Cluses and Saint-Gervais.
- My favourite season for visiting La Roche-sur-Foron is Summer when there are many events organised by the Tourist Board such as guided tours and musical festivals. La Roche is noted for its floral contribution (3-flower city). Autumn is also a nice time of the year to see the main monuments of La Roche surrounded by trees with colourful leaves.
To get fine views of La Roche-sur-Foron, its church and its castles:
- Take the D2 road that climbs the hill on its way to Thorens-Glières.
- Climb on top of the mountain of Le Môle.
- Visit the old site of Faucigny. From the ruins of the castle, you will enjoy a fine view over the region of La Roche.
Check out the Tourist Board of La Roche-sur-Foron (in French only)
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