On the road: Savoie Mont Blanc
There's barely a ripple on the water; Lake Annecy is calm, the air is pure and clear and the Alps shimmer in the distance, snow still on the peaks from the last heavy falls of spring. This is country I have only ever seen in winter, but now in late summer it is transformed by its lush green mantle, a playground for sailors, hikers, cyclists and sunbathers.
Less than half an hour from Geneva airport and you are over the border into France and one of its most dramatically beautiful regions, Savoie Mont Blanc. Another 15 minutes' drive will bring you to the old town of Annecy, poised over a long thin lake renowned for its clear turquoise waters. Surrounded by mountains, it's a handsome town of ancient higgledy-piggledy houses with its own fairytale castle, Chateau de Menthon-Saint-Bernard, on the eastern shore.
Though best known for being one of the great ski areas of the Alps, Savoie Mont Blanc is becoming increasingly regarded for its diverse and appealing wines, grown in the mineral-rich vineyards surrounding Lakes Geneva, Annecy and Bourget. Here in the tidy, picturesque valleys of Savoie Mont Blanc, around 2,000 hectares are devoted to these sophisticated alpine wines which include four AOCs (certified wine-producing areas), 22 crus (wine classifications) and 23 grape varieties that produce predominantly whites, but also a few reds, rosés and sparkling wines. And in France where there is good wine, then naturally there is good food too. Beyond those who want to hurl themselves down mountains on wheels, skis or on foot, many people simply come here to relax amid the intoxicating scenery and enjoy the excellent cuisine and wines of the area. Our first base is Aix-les-Bains, ideal for exploring another long ribbon lake to the west of Annecy, Lake Bourget. Taking a local cruiser half way up, we spy the romantic Abbaye Hautecombe, resting place of the Dukes of Savoy and now a Roman Catholic retreat. And there, sitting under the trees is our transport for a local vineyard tour. It's a sewing machine. An actual sewing machine on four wheels with a rolled-back canvas roof, and it's perfect.
The Citroën 2CV is as French as Jacques Tati carrying a baguette; if it could talk it would say "Zut alors!" and sing the Marseillaise. It is the Gallic riposte to America's Model T Ford, a symbol of no-nonsense utilitarian post-war France that captured a nation's hearts. In production from 1948 to 1990, this little semi-circular-shaped car was designed to get the French peasantry out of horses and carts and into automobiles, so it's rather apt its Gallic moniker is "Deux Chevaux" (two horse power). Although I'm pretty sure any pony could out-trot a 2CV.
The windows flap up to open, the steering column goes all the way to the floor and the gear stick comes out of the dashboard like an upside down question mark. You don't get much more retro than this. With the entire roof rolled back it looks like a tin of sardines. You couldn't make this car up if it was in a cartoon. You half expect comedy sound effects every time you start the engine, but it barrels along gamely with four adults on board as we take in the vineyards of Jongieux.
At Aimavigne, the vines of small family outfit Domaine Dupasquier run in neat lines up the steep slopes of a hill that rolls down on the other side to Lake Bourget. Due to the incline there is no mechanisation here - the vines are tended by hand, and the harvest demands an army of grape pickers. The wines are traditionally aged for around two years, and in the caveaux we taste the fruit of the Dupasquier family's labours: dry, aromatic white wines that are perfect with the local Savoie cheese.
Our tastebuds awakened, our thoughts turn to lunch and our sweet little voiture drops us back on the shores of Lake Bourget at the wonderfully named Bateau Ivre (the Drunken Boat), a two Michelin-starred restaurant with a splendid open view of the lake from the dining room. Here chef Jean-Pierre Jacob takes his inspirations from around the world but makes use of the abundant local ingredients such as fish, lamb and herbs.
Our third lake in as many days is Lac Leman, better known as Lake Geneva, where a visit to the Chateau Ripaille vineyard at Thonon-les-Bains allows another glimpse behind the scenes of a family-run terroir whose wines are sent around the globe. This time our base is Evian - of bottled water fame - an elegant town with a wide promenade along the shoreline, perfect for pre-dinner strolling. Our last evening is spent dining lakeside beneath trailing vines and hanging lamps on the wooden deck of Hotel les Cygnes, with a glorious view of the sunset over Lac Leman, the soft warm air filled with those special Gallic aromas of frying garlic and good coffee.
Our final stop on Lac Leman next day is the pretty little town of Yvoire, another fairytale village perched on the shore, full of cobbled lanes and geraniums and home to the wonderful Cinq Sens Jardin. Set in the grounds of an imposing chateau, this enchanted walled garden is a beautifully cultivated labyrinthine green space designed to appeal to each of the senses. A fitting description, really, of the spectacular scenery of Savoie Mont Blanc.
Engine Deux chevaux (2 horse power)
Acceleration 0-100 km/h: Never
Top speed Downhill
Price Priceless; a charming French museum piece
Eat - Sleep - Visit
* Le Bateau Ivre
Le Bourget-du-Lac, www.hotel-ombremont.com
* Restaurant Les
Cygnes Evian, www.hotellescygnes.com
* Aquakub Hotel
Aix-les-Bains, rooms from €90, www.aquakub.com
* Hotel Littoral
Evian, rooms from €83, www.hotel-littoral-evian.com
* 2CV Savoie tours
* Caveaux Dupasquier
Aimavigne, Jongieux, +33 (0)4 79 44 02 23
* Savoie Mont Blanc tourism