Walking through medieval times along Lake Leman

Hiranthi Fernando visits Yvoire, a picturesque militarily-strategic fishing village of 14th century France, that has retained its old world charm

Tucked away on the banks of Lake Leman in France, Yvoire is a picturesque little fishing village, whose medieval characteristics have been excellently conserved. Located on the French shore of Lake Leman, Yvoire is a popular tourist site. Strolling through the narrow cobbled streets or along the waterfront is indeed a great pleasure.

The history of this village goes back a long way to the early 14th century. Yvoire was strategically located between the ‘small lake and the ‘large lake’ of Lake Leman. This lake is the largest body of fresh water in western Europe, forming an elongated crescent between the mountainous landscapes of the Alps and the Jura. The lake is only four km wide in the ‘small lake’ to the west, but more than 13 km wide in the ‘large lake’ between Morges and Amphion. The strategic position of Yvoire caught the attention of Count Amedee V the Great, who carried out important fortifications to the village from 1306, during the war between the Dauphine and Savoy.

For half a century, the village of Yvoire played an important military role, which earned certain advantages for its inhabitants. Later, when the whole region was occupied by the Bernese, allies of the French and Genovese from 1536 to 1591, the village lost its military role. The ramparts and castle were damaged and remained roofless for 350 years. Deprived of its military importance, Yvoire sank into anonymity.
However, this traditional little village has now been restored and the evidence of its past glory successfully preserved. The castle, the ramparts, the fortified gateways, ditches and houses are once again restored and brought to life, while retaining its integral medieval atmosphere.

As you enter the fortified village, one is struck by the houses of stone, its medieval architecture and its beautiful floral displays – a profusion of flowers in every house and restaurant, in every nook and cranny, filling the gardens, lining roadways and spilling over from window boxes. Adding to its charm is that one gets around the village entirely by foot, with no vehicular traffic to disturb the tranquility of its narrow streets. At the waterfront, which is full of boats of all types, one can see across the lake to the mountains beyond. Souvenir and craft boutiques and quaint restaurants line the cobbled streets. Exquisite embroidery, eye-catching pottery, intricately carved woodwork are among the many crafts displayed in the boutiques, while traditional French cuisine and wine are served in the many restaurants.

An interesting fact we noted was that many of the visitors had brought along their pet dogs-ranging from the tiny Chihuhua to great furry St. Bernards. Many breeds I had never seen before. Mostly well behaved, they were content to be led along the streets on leashes by their owners.

Established in an old residence, the House of History takes you back to the history of this village from the Middle Ages to recent times, through the exhibition, ‘An exceptional written heritage: the founding documents of Yvoire’. A 14th century chateau stands tall by the lake. Its former vegetable garden, has been transformed into a peaceful enclosed garden known as ‘The Five Senses Garden’, which attracts large numbers of visitors. Enclosed by medieval walls, the garden caters to the senses of sound, scents, colour, touch and taste.

For the past 20 years, Yvoire has been part of the ‘Association of the Most Beautiful Villages of France’ and certainly lives up to its reputation. Around a million tourists visit Yvoire annually and amidst the hustle and bustle of tourist arrivals, the small permanent population of the village carries on with their traditional lifestyle.

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