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Nestled in the heart of the Rhone-Alps region of France, Lake Aiguebelette has a well-deserved reputation as a natural treasure. The lake is privately-owned and protected as a wildlife preservation area. The main inflowing river is the Leysse de Novalaise, and the Tiers River flows out. Careful management assures the lake can still delight thousands of holiday-makers each year while remaining a sanctuary of solitude and relaxation. Motor boats are forbidden on the lake, maintaining an air of silence to the calm waters. Lac d'Aiguebelette is surrounded by the mountain ridge of Col de l'Epine (meaning 'The Spine') on the north and Le Mont Grelle along the eastern side. Because the lake holds several hot springs and is sheltered from the wind, the water stays delightfully warm for swimming. Holiday-makers flock to the seven sandy beaches, most with lifeguards, to swim and sunbathe. Sailing, paddle-boats, row boats, canoes and kayaks glide silently across the smooth-as-glass surface and provide little disturbance to the myriad water birds that make their homes in the reed beds rimming the turquoise lake. Lac d'Aiguebelette means "beautiful little waters" and is certainly an appropriate name for this special lake. The pristine lake supplies drinking water for 14 nearby towns.
Several towns are nestled along the shore of Lake Aiguebelette: Aiguebelette-le-Lac, Lepin-le-Lac, Saint-Alban-de-Montbel, Novalaise, and Nances. The lake itself is jointly owned by the owner of Castle Lepin overlooking the lake and EDF (Electricite de France), who have entrusted its management to local communities. All of the towns contain vacation rentals that are used by visitors to the region. Several campgrounds also provide space for caravans and campers. The entire area is supplied with well-marked cycling and hiking paths. The mountains are especially favored by hikers and climbers. A paragliding location on the overlooking mountain is extremely popular. In fact, paragliding competitions are often held there. Competitive rowing teams hold regattas most summers, and bicycle races occur here regularly.
Resorts and guest hotels provide every convenience for visitors, making the lake a favored getaway for the well-to-do. Many areas of the shoreline are occupied by traditional boatsheds, some still used by local fishermen. A few old wooden warehouses give testament to the days when the lake was used to transport people, livestock and goods. Lake Aiguebelette is an ideal place for fishing: it is filled with whitefish, roach, bleak, tench, carp, bream, perch, pike, burbot, char and trout. The local fishing society, the AAPPMA, maintains a fish-rearing facility near Lepin and stocks the lake regularly with thousands of fingerlings. Boats and paddle-boats are available for rental as are bicycles and ATVs. Off the water, there are a large number of activities to keep any visitor happy, such as mini-golf, badminton, tennis and volleyball. Regular festivals attract visitors as do craft shows, flea markets and fairs. A small museum, Musee Lac & Nature, holds exhibits dedicated to lake ecology, fauna and flora. Several 18th-century churches around the lake hold notable works of religious art and history. The mansions of rich Parisians who lived here seasonally around the turn of the last century can still be seen in the town of Saint-Alban-de-Montbel.
Two small islands lie close together near the southeast shore of Lake Aiguebelette - Le Grand Ile and Le Petit Ile. Divers have found the remnants of a causeway and flagstone path underwater leading to the islands. The larger island holds a small chapel built on the ruins of a pagan temple. There is, of course, a local legend telling of how the islands came to be separated from the mainland. The legend, found in many places throughout the world with local variation, states that Christ, disguised as a beggar, begged the people of a then-thriving town for food and shelter but was turned down. Only an old woman and her daughter who lived on hills apart from the town would feed Him. The next morning, the town had sunk under the water, leaving only the islands, the remains of the hills inhabited by the old woman and her daughter. The intervening land has obviously sunk or the water has risen over the centuries, but the legend makes for a great story to explain the natural phenomena.
Many other attractions reflecting the rich local heritage, including caves, castle ruins, carved stones and chapels are discovered in random walks around the lake. Points of interest also reflect daily life and specialty industry such as one of the few remaining traditional tanneries in France. Nearby, a doll maker's workshop showcases a doll collection in traditional dress. There are also a goat farm and a cider house near the lake where the visitor can purchase local foodstuffs, while the children enjoy the traditional farm processes. The local markets provide a full range of both traditional and modern convenience food for visitors renting one of the many self-catering holiday houses around Lake Aiguebelette. Located halfway between Lyon and some of France's best-known ski areas in the Rhone-Alps, the towns around the lake provide rentals for year-round use. During the summer season, the surrounding mountains provide destinations for day excursions such as the Grange of Col de l'Epine nearby at Novalaise. This 12th century monastery also served as a traveler's rest. The well-preserved building gives a detailed historical look at monastic practices in the Middle Ages. The entire area is filled with historic architecture and lovely views.
Only 60 miles from Lyon, Lake Aiguebelette is an easy weekend jaunt for a short visit. The many hostels, guest houses and holiday villas make it easy to find exactly the right destination to meet your needs. Real estate may be found in the small villages around the lake for a seasonal getaway home or permanent housing. Come and enjoy the serene blue-green waters of Lake Aiguebelette just once and you'll be hooked. You'll be back again an again!
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