Travelling to France or Switzerland? Spend at least one day in Evian-les-Bains, a scenic French spa town on the shores of Lake Geneva and just a short ferry ride from Lausanne
One day in Evian-les-Bains
If you’ve ever tasted Evian water, in a way you’ve already visited Evian-les-Bains, a pretty French spa town on the banks of Lake Geneva (known as Lac Leman in France). With its Belle Epoque history, stunning lakeside location and famous mineral springs, Evian has a lot to offer, either on a day trip or for a longer stay.
You can tour Evian in an orderly way, following the Historic City Tour on the map, or in a haphazard way, jumping from sight to sight like a jack rabbit in a field of lavender. However you do it, to help you plan your stay here’s a One Day in Evian-les-Bains travel guide.
The all-important free English-language map
First, pick up a free city map from the Tourist Office or the Palais Lumiere (which for the longest time I thought was the Tourist Office) then head to the Cachat Springs Point of Emergence, also known as a fountain. Located on the Avenue des Sources, Cachat Springs is the most famous spring in Evian.
This small pastel pink arcade offers a continuous stream of Evian water straight from the source. As a bonus, hang around long enough and you can meet every other tourist in town as well as quite a few locals filling up bottles to go.
To taste the water, you need to bring your own cup, bottle, or, as a last resort, cup your hands. Evian-les-Bains means, quite literally, Evian the Baths, and the mineral-rich water that springs out of the ground is the town’s raison d’etre. Rich in minerals such as calcium and magnesium, Evian water is naturally filtered through glacial sand during its 15-year journey from high in the Northern Alps. It’s said to have a smooth buttery taste, though when I tried it, it pretty much just tasted like water.
It’s also healthy to bathe in it. The first baths were built in 1824 and Evian-les-Bains rose to the heights of prominence, attracting a global elite including King Edward VII, the Aga Kahn and Marcel Proust.
Why is drinking fresh Evian water in Evian-les-Bains better than drinking it in the bottle?
Ah. Important question. Apparently there are trace elements in the water that vanish after 23 hours. (My French isn’t that good, I may have got some of the finer points wrong from the woman who was explaining it to me, but I’m clear on the 23 hours.)
Now you must choose: an orderly tour of Evian-les-Bains or an erratic tour
You can do an orderly tour by following the brass raindrops embedded into the pavement, guided by the Historical City Tour on your map, or you can do an erratic tour like I did, which is just as much fun though I didn’t do it on purpose.
The origin of Wandering Carol’s erratic One Day in Evian-les-Bains Tour
For one thing, I spent the longest time thinking the raindrops were tear drops and it seemed like a downer to follow them. Also, with my usual keen eye for detail, I assumed that the numbers on the tourist map corresponded to the numbers beside the pictures of the tourist attractions on the back – a perfectly reasonable assumption if you ask me – so I could never understand why the Cachat Springs fountain was, once I got there, the 3-star Hotel Les Cygnes (the Hotel Swan) instead, or why the Medieval Hospital was the modern and very chic Hilton Hotel.
At that point the tear drops began to make sense because I wanted to cry every time I got somewhere and it wasn’t what it was meant to be.
The right way to follow the
tear drops raindrops in Evian-les-Bains
IMPORTANT: To do an orderly tour of Evian-les-Bains know this: The smaller Historical City Tour map in the bottom right corner of the big map is the one that corresponds to the pictures on the back. It’s quite obvious, really, if you look at the map after you’ve had your morning coffee.
The Cachat Pump Room
Either way, have a look at the former Cachat Pump Room on 19 Rue Nationale. Built in 1903, this former pump room is a striking pavilion with wrought iron, glass and a fancy tiled cupola. What’s a pump room, you ask? Every town worth its mineral salt had a pump room. It’s where society spa goers would drink the water, walk around in a stately manner and gossip viciously.
While the Cachat Pump Room is a “masterpiece of Art Nouveau spa resort architecture” according to my guide, it was also closed when I was there in April. From May to September it hosts an exhibition of Evian products, so if you find your way in let me know what I missed.
The funicular railway – onwards and upwards
If you want to experience the heights of glamour on your One Day in Evian-les-Bains tour, head up the historic funicular railway to the very posh Hotel Royal Evian. The funicular, which opened in the early 1900s, is a fitting way to sail up to this ultra grand resort that opened in 1909.
(The funicular only runs from mid May to mid September, but you can also walk up, which is a good idea as it cancels out any pastries eaten later.)
The Hotel Royal in Evian-les-Bains
Set on 47 acres of parkland, the 5-star Hotel Royal Evian presides over the town like a sparkly tiara. Its elegant halls have seen a long list of celebrities and nobility come and go – the guest list includes names like Cartier, Nijinsky, Stravinsky and the elusive Greta Garbo.
If it’s nice out you can have a cup of coffee on the patio. On Sundays you can do afternoon tea. Or, you can just have a look around then head down again to the centre of Evian-les-Bains for a scenic walk along the shores of Lake Geneva.
Evian-les-Bains stretches out parallel to Lake Geneva, and quite honestly, if you don’t feel like sightseeing at all, a walk along the water is the best thing to do. If you’re ready for lunch, you can eat a casual meal at the Restaurant Brasserie La Voile which overlooks the marina at 2 Quai Paul Léger.
What to do in Evian-les-Bains in the summer
If it’s summer there are a couple of things you can do on the water.
- Take a cruise on Lake Geneva on the restored paddle steamer, La Savoie. (Check with the Evian Tourist Board for times and prices.)
- Take a boat tour to the wonderfully-named Pré Curieux Water Gardens, a protected wetland accessed by solar-powered boat.
I couldn’t do either because it was April, so I had to content myself with exploring some of the grand old buildings in town.
The Palais Lumiere
The Palais Lumiere, built in 1902, is a turn-of-the-century building that was a combination spa and pump room. Now it’s a cultural centre, showing various exhibitions. Walk on in – the reception hall is still grand, with graceful statues of white Poitiers stone and period paintings of spa-loving nymphs.
Now go to the Villa Lumiere
The Villa Lumiere on Rue de la Source de Clermont was the summer home of a wealthy industrialist, Antoine Lumiere. Today it’s the Town Hall but you can still visit the gilded drawing room and the hall (only not on weekends).
The Theatre of Evian-les-Bains is a striking building with fluted columns and a row of lion heads on the cornice. Attached to the Casino on Quai Besson, and built between 1883 and 1885, it’s still running so if you’re spending more than one day in Evian-les-Bains, or are here overnight, you might be able to catch a performance.
Wander through town
The Rue Nationale is Evian’s main commercial street, and the shopping is, er, okay. Check out some backstreets, such as the tiny Passage de Bonbonnes – because any street named after bon bons has to be worthy of your time.
Notre-Dame de l’Assomption
To complete your One Day in Evian tour, you need to go to church. It was evening and pouring rain when I found my way to the medieval Notre-Dame de l’Assomption. It might not look like much from the outside, but the interior – if you like stout medieval pillars and that grey gloomy beauty 13th-century churches have – is quite glorious.
A choir of angels
As I walked in I was immediately hit by a warm blast of incense and beautiful cooing high notes. The choir was practicing. I wasn’t sure if I was allowed to be in there, so I tucked myself behind a pillar and sat all warm and cozy, looking at the early Savoy Gothic architecture while a serenade of angels sang just for me. It was practically a mystical experience, and would have been a 100% mystical experience if I hadn’t been planning to go next to the Casino, which seemed to take the tone down a bit.
Visiting Evian Casino
Back out in the rain, I managed to miss the 19th-century Casino, which is a rare feat as not only is the Casino the biggest landmark in Evian-les-Bains, it’s right next door to the church. Originally set in a 17th-century castle owned by the Baron Louis Ennemont, it was rebuilt in 1912.
Getting lost in Evian is half the fun
If I hadn’t gone the wrong way, however, I wouldn’t have stumbled on the tiny Japanese Gardens, which isn’t even on the
tear drop raindrop map, but in April was a tumble of pink blossoms on bright green bushes and very atmospheric in the rain – so you see, there is a reason to do an erratic One Day in Evian-les-Bains tour, because you never know what you might see.
Travel Guide for Evian-les-Bains, France
Tourist office of Evian. The Office de Tourisme is at Place d’Allinges B.P. 18, 74500 Evian, France.
How to get to Evian-les-Bains
Evian has a small train station, or you can take a 35-minute ferry ride from Lausanne. The ferry terminal is at the Place de Port in Evian-les-Bains and very central. Surprisingly, it’s not that easy to get to Evian-les-Bains from Geneva by train, as transportation on the south French side of Lake Geneva is not as developed as on the Swiss side. Conceivably you could get from Geneva to Evian-les-Bains via Bellegarde. If you don’t have too much luggage, it might be easier to go from Geneva to Lausanne and take the ferry from there. You can also hire private shuttles from the Geneva airport.
For the ferry schedule from Lausanne to Evian-les-Bains visit the CGN website. Ferries go nearly every hour during the day.
By car from Geneva, Evian-les-Bains is about 1 hour and 20 minutes.
From Paris Gare de Lyon to Evian-les-Bains by train takes between 4 and 5 hours but you’ll need to change in Lyon part Dieu or Bellgarde or both.
You can get a train direct from Lyon to Evian-les-Bains. If you’re visiting Lyon read my article about Things to do in Lyon.
Sightseeing in Lake Geneva
There are so many places to visit aound Lake Geneva you can run yourself ragged. Lausanne is right across the lake. From Lausanne, Vevey and Montreux are a short train ride away. I also travelled to the Swiss spa town of Yverdon-les-Bains for a day.
Where to stay in Evian-les-Bains
The lovely and modern Hilton Evian is right in town and very convenient. The very grand Hotel Royal Evian Resort is up on the hill overlooking town. If you’re staying at the Hilton, the ferry terminal is practically across the street. If you’re staying at the Royal, you’ll need to get their hotel shuttle, or a taxi, or make your way up to the funicular station. For a budget option the lakeside 3-star Hotel Les Cygnes looked quirky and fun.
Check out hotels in Evian-les-Bains
What to do in Evian-les-Bain
Visiting Evian Casino – You need to be over 18 and have your passport with you.
The funicular: Woohoo! It’s free. You can find it behind the Palais Lumiere.
The Pré Curieux water gardens: You can only get there on a guided tour. Boats depart from Quai Baron de Blonay, which is in front of the Casino. Adults 12.20 Euros. Children 6.70.
For more information on France visit the France Tourism website Atout France. For more great destinations visit my Places in Europe You Should See blog post. If you’re thinking of visiting the South of France read my What to do in the South of France blog post.