Situated on the French shores of Lake Geneva, Yvoire is one of France’s most beautiful villages, locally nicknamed the “Pearl of Lake Geneva” (la Perle du Léman). The preserved fortified village is well known for its floral display and has been awarded the International Trophy for Landscape and Horticulture. Its pedestrianised narrow streets invite a historic stroll, leading to the calm and tranquil waterfront with splendid views of Lake Geneva, the Alps of Chablais and the Jura Mountains.
My visits to Yvoire
The first time I visited Yvoire was in the early 1990s when I was a teenager. I spent the Summer holidays with my family in Les Grandes Rousses in the Jura mountains. For my birthday, we decided to go on an excursion to the Haute-Savoie through Switzerland. This combined train+boat ticket is still on sale at the Tourist Office Centre of Les Rousses (fees in Summer 2022 were 38.80 swiss francs per person). It is a great and fun way to discover the Swiss Jura, Nyon, Lake Geneva, and Yvoire on a day trip.
In Autumn 2017, I returned to the medieval village with my little family, this time by car from Annecy. We enjoyed visiting the narrow, cobbled streets that still nicely flowered in this year’s season. The sight of the castle and golden leaves reflecting in Lake Geneva’s calm, silvery waters lapping on the shore was unforgettable. The photos illustrating this article were taken during our November visit.
Where is Yvoire situated?
The village of Yvoire is located in the département of Haute-Savoie, in a region of the French Alps known as the Chablais, which is situated at the northern limit of the French Alps. The waters of Lake Geneva wash the village.
It lies at the northern tip of a promontory (Presqu’île de Léman), which separates the ‘petit lac’ (small lake) from the ‘grand lac’ (large lake).
A bit of history
Yvoire was initially a little fishing harbour overlooked by the square keep of its castle. In the 14th century, Amadeus V, Count of Savoy, understood the strategic location of Yvoire in the region of Geneva and had the village fortified during the war between Savoy and the French province of Dauphiné.
Yvoire played an important military role, and its inhabitants were given tax privileges in 1324.
From 1536 to 1591, the Bernese, allies of the French and Geneva, occupied the village and its surroundings. Yvoire was pillaged, and its fortifications were dismantled. The castle was also severely damaged and stayed roofless for 350 years.
Until the 1950s, the village was inhabited by farmers and fishermen and was not an important tourist destination.
What to see in Yvoire
Yvoire has retained its medieval character with its stone houses and wooden balconies decorated with flowers from Spring to Autumn. Although wars during the 16th century destroyed much of the village, there are still today many relics of the medieval past of Yvoire: the castle, the fortifications, the fortified gateways, the ditches and old houses.
The entrance gates
From any car park you choose, you’ll enter the village through one of the two medieval gates. In the Middle Ages, the main road from Geneva to Thonon crossed through the village by the two fortified entrance gates: Porte de Rovorée and Porte de Nernier. They controlled comings and goings and trade activities.
Porte de Rovorée
This arched passageway faces the town hall and the Tourist information centre. It is often known as the Thonon Gate (Porte de Thonon).
Porte de Nernier
The Nernier gate gives access to the village from the West. It is often known as the Geneva Gate (Porte de Genève). It is topped by a 10 m high watchtower.
The narrow streets
Between the two entrance gates are a small number of old streets lined with restaurants serving fresh lake fish, art boutiques and workshops. The more picturesque are Grande Rue Paul Jacquier, Rue des boulangers and Rue de l’église.
The narrow cobbled streets are beautifully decked with geraniums and wisteria in the summer and autumn. Yvoire is well-known for its floral display and has been rewarded a ‘Four Flowers’ rank for the last few decades.
They lead to the village’s central square, Place du Thay, where the parish church is found.
Place du Thay
The delightful place du Thay is the central square of the village. In the shade of the trees, it has a particular Provençal atmosphere.
The Parish Church
The St. Pancrace Church was initially built in the 11th century and has been rebuilt, enlarged and maintained several times since. The onion-shaped steeple was added on top of the bell tower in 1854. It is characteristic of religious architecture from the 19th century in Savoy. The steeple was covered in stainless steel in 1989, and the weathercock in gold leaves. On sunny days, it shines like a lighthouse on the lake.
Enter the church to admire the delicate pastel colours that ornate the nave.
The Castle of Yvoire
The castle is a private estate set on the edge of the lake. The massive fortress has a large, steep roof flanked by four little turrets at each corner. To have a great view of the castle reflecting on the waters, go to the Port des Pêcheurs or the Ferry terminal on the other side of the village.
It was built between 1306 and 1319 on the site of a much older fortress. Count of Savoy Amadeus V ordered its construction, and the village was fortified simultaneously. The castle played a military role by watching over the route’s navigation from Geneva to the upper valley of the Rhône in the Swiss Valais. An earth ditch separated the castle from the village in the Middle Ages. A drawbridge accessed it.
A fire destroyed much of the castle in 1591. and it was extensively restored in the 20th century by its owner, Félix Bouvier d’Yvoire. The roof and the turrets were added in 1939.
Privately owned, it has been inhabited by the Bouvier family since 1655. It is not open to the public.
The two harbours of the villages
The village has two harbours: a little fishing port on one side and the marina bordered by a promenade on the other.
The Port des Pêcheurs
The little harbour of the fishermen is the oldest in Yvoire. Walk to the end of the pier to enjoy great views of the old village and the castle with the waves lapping on the shore.
The Grand Port
This is where the ferry terminal is found. Its marina is busy in summer with yachtsmen from Switzerland and Haute-Savoie. Walk to the end of the pier to admire the view of the castle, the Alps of Chablais and the Swiss shore backed by the Jura mountains. You can even spot the Swiss city of Lausanne in the distance.
The Garden of Five Senses
In the heart of the village off Rue du Lac, the formal Garden of Five Senses (Jardin des Cinq Sens) used to be the castle’s vegetable garden. This plant kingdom takes its inspiration from medieval times with fruit trees, rose bushes, medicinal and aromatic herbs, aviaries and fountains.
The garden features a maze and other green spaces with a collection of 1,300 varieties of plants designed to appeal to each of the five senses: the garden of flavours, the garden of fragrance, the garden of textures, the garden of sight and the garden of hearing.
The Five Senses garden has been listed as a Remarkable Garden (Jardin Remarquable).
Access and other practical info
- Yvoire is a 30-minute drive from Geneva and some 25 km from the west of Évian-les-Bains.
- There are many car parks found just outside the village. The one we chose (Les Jardins) cost 2 euros for the whole day.
- A ferry boat link crosses Lake Geneva in 20 minutes to Nyon, Switzerland. Check out times and fees here.
- The village can be invaded by tourists in the sunny days of Summer and in weekends. Plan to visit Yvoire on a weekday in Spring and Autumn if you can.
- Guided visits to the medieval village are organised in the summer – contact the Tourist Information Board for more info.
- For more information, check out the Visit Yvoire site (in French only).
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