Give me a choice to choose a place to live for the rest of my life. An idyll by the lake, amidst flowers livening up my window; stone houses that seem to have travelled back in time; narrow pedestrian lanes without any machine monsters emitting black smoke; spires surprising you at the end of a street; a village market that comes up informally in the square; curtain laced window panes; lazy boats in the lake; and great food. Yes, I am talking of Yvoire, a village in France, bordering Geneva.
I have a problem. I cannot stay still. I have to explore. So a weekend in Geneva was heavensent. I learned of a beautiful French village located near the Swiss border. The name was Yvoire and the route was via Evian following the A 40 Autoroute. Off I sped some 45 minutes away to Yvoire and was happy to leave the car at the arched stone gateway to the village. The gate did not have a complete look, some portion of it ravaged by time. The village of Yvoire stared straight at me from the medieval past and seemed to have clung onto its character proudly.
Creeper roses, not paper roses, welcomed me at the entrance. The moment the street forked, it was difficult to decide which one to take. Half of me wanted one street, half another! No, I couldn’t do that for I had to live the full experience. I realised later that if you do it in a circular fashion, you could see the whole small place as you take a walk. Flowers seem to be the passion of every inhabitant here. Each window was like a beautiful vase, distinctive in color and vibrancy of presentation. It needs to be mentioned here that Yvoire is a member of the Association of the Most Beautiful Villages of France. Ranked in France as one of the “Four Flowers”, Yvoire is full of flowers – Lilies, Gourdon, Iris, Roses, Daffodils, Gerberas, Poinsettia, Wisteria vines and the Rosemary bush.
Yvoire is located in the Rhone-Alps region of France under the department of Haute-Savoie. Surprisingly, the small village is a tiny 3.2 sq kms, with a population of 810 only. It has access to two faces of Lake Geneva, as it separates the “petit lac” from the “grand lac”. The village celebrated its 700 years of existence in 2006. Set in the 14th century, with fortifications, a castle, ramparts, mansions, and stone houses, the village continues to look the same even today. The St. Pancras Church that dominates the village heights, dates to the 11th century but has been rebuilt and attended to many times. Its slender green-onion like dome is representative of Savoyard and Piemontese religious architecture of later centuries. Walking faster to discover more in a short time or slowing down to let the aromas sink into the psyche and take it all in was my main challenge.
Homes were not homes, they were much more! Some had portions running as boutiques, selling designer garments, locally made souvenirs, cheese and cakes, and many doubled-up as restaurants. Survival had placed the village between the horns of “character” and “commerce”. It obviously gets a lot of tourists who come to dip their souls into this sponge of delight for a day. Places and people get richer should you take from them not poorer as they have you for always!
From the square, under the church steeple, you can buy things you may not need, but would like to take back. The shopkeeper women are delightful and some as bright as the soft toys they sell. Though each window here was very beautifully done, one particularly caught my attention from the square. A vivacious green Boston Ivy creeper half encircled it, with purple, pink, and red gerberas raising their sprightly heads from the pot placed on the window-sill. Each leaf of the creeper had three tongue like lobes, one each to taste the sweet, sour and salty breeze, I thought. Behind the glass window-panes was a beautiful lace curtain. Only a face, like that of Helen of Troy, was missing. A perfect window for a Romeo and Juliet conversation!
The turrets of Savoy Castle still hold intrigue within their bosoms. Tiny windows, more for watch and ward and breeze rather than views, characterise the castle. Jardin des Cinq sans is now a leisure garden with the five-senses theme – fruit and vegetables for taste, flowers for sight, herbs for smell, and aviary for birdcalls. A village surviving since 1306 AD in the same time warp is an amazing spectacle to visit and see. In its earlier years, it was on the trade map through the Alps and along Lake Geneva. In the 16th century, fishing became a primary occupation for the residents. Now, in the 21st century, it is heritage that makes the place important. Actually, I felt that the place has been blessed, because its importance over the centuries never diminished, despite changing times and trade preferences.
Past paper boats hanging in the air, I moved to the lakeside. Walking down a stone-paved path beside yellow lilies was invgorating. Once beside the water, I sat down to look at the mountains. Lunch was freshly caught fish from Lake Léman, what else! Across Lake Geneva (Lake Léman), are visible the Jura Mountains. A pair of ducks frolicking in the water accentuated my loneliness. Couples sat, walked and boated, enjoying every moment of togetherness. I resumed my walk and halted at a letter-box made in cast iron, fixed on the outside wall of a home. It had a rider on his horse, embossed on the front face. Its letters – “LETTRE”, and its stylisation immediately transported me back to the medieval ages, when horses served as car, train and plane. Another wooden door to a godown carried a pasted poster appeal, with instructions, and this slogan at the end of the page – “Vive La France! Vive L’ Empereur!” This was how official orders/notifications were communicated to the public in those days.
The faces I recall from this trip were unusually charming – a woman with two spaniels under a signboard, the boy at the cake shop, the woman who entered the boutique hurriedly, the man weaving a straw hat, and the girl who served us food in the restaurant. The names those people gave to describe their homes and themselves – Les Murailles, La Maison Fleurie, La Maison d’ Historie, La Gangière, La Bentellière and Coup d’ Coeur, continue to stay on in my memory.
Especially Coup d’ Coeur, as between the suspended flower baskets from the balcony, at the entrance, were hung many red coloured hearts, made of round pieces of wood glued together. I left my heart there in Yvoire amidst the wooden ones in France, beating for an unknown someone.