Vichy, France (2023)

Vichy, France (2023)

Going to Vichy, Attempt 1

My sister is a doctor (she’s a General Practitioner) who, after working in Greece for quite a few years, she got fed-up and decided to move to greener pastures. Enter Vichy, or more accurately, Saint-Gérand-le-Puy, a (very) small village about 25 Km outside Vichy who is in desperate need of a doctor.

I first visited her by car on February, merely a month after she moved, which was about 600 Km away from Zurich on each direction; easy peasy. Even though I stayed for a couple of days then, we never got to visit Vichy itself, instead opting to visit Lyon (where a cousin of ours lives). Lyon was very nice, but unfortunately the city at that time was so cold and windy, walking in the city was pretty much impossible. Until next time!

Going to Vichy, Attempt 2

I wanted to go back, in order to visit one of the so called greatest Spa towns of Europe. Now, spa is not really my thing, so I couldn’t care less for it really, but a place that is so labelled (one of the Greatest Spa Towns of Europe) would definitely offer some photography opportunities. I planned it so that my parents would visit me in Zurich, then we’d take my car and visit my sister all together. The plan was to stay a couple of days there, rent a couple of rooms at a hotel in the city (since the village is 25Km away and I don’t want to have to take my car if I don’t need to).

Travel was pretty uneventful with the exception of slightly higher than normal temperatures, but the real problem was with the hotel. Someone, who may or may not be me, booked the wrong dates and that someone only realised when at the hotel’s reception. Whoops! Thankfully, that was an easily resolvable issue, where we simply cancelled our previous reservation and booked new rooms, not as nice, but given the circumstances, we were glad to take them!

Thanks to a bit of traffic and stopping on the way, we arrived relatively late, so we walked a bit near the river, grabbed dinner and it was back to the hotel for us.

In Vichy! What now?

I tend to wake up very early these days (like 6 in the morning), so I decided to take a stroll along the park around 7:00, before my parents were up and ready and before my sister had arrived. I liked how peaceful everything was, and best yet, the temperature was still manageable.

Our hotel was in what I would call “the old town”, and I am using this term without having any idea as to whether this would constitute a proper old town of the city, however the buildings had a distinctive feeling of old, the place seemed to be on a hill and the streets were very narrow. However, a few minutes ahead and near the bridge, everything was mostly flat again.

The bridge on the river Allier interconnects Vichy with a sister town called Bellerive. I crossed the bridge and I found myself to a rather different area, looking more like the industrial section of a city, compared to what I saw in Vichy. I am sure that if I went a bit deeper, I would see Bellerive’s proper, but I’d probably need a car for that. There is a big’ish park along the banks of the river which we walked a lot and it was one of the highlights of our visit.

After everyone gathered and I was back in the hotel, it was time to go to Vichy downtown, get caffeinated and walk around a bit. As I said, no big plans for spa so we did miss the opportunity, but that was OK; the town was more interesting.

This is the point where I will make an observation about Vichy, compounded a bit with my experience with a few other French cities (such as Colmar, Mulhouse and a couple others). Compared to Lyon, which definitely qualifies as a “big” city (with traffic and everything), these smaller towns tend to be way more picturesque, but at the same time, unkempt. Let me explain:

If you take an average German town, let’s say Konstanz (which is close to the borders), Konstanz is picturesque, it is objectively beautiful for the most part, and it’s clean and well maintained. Vichy seemed picturesque, it had beautiful areas and for the most part it was clean. It also had a very distinctive feeling (Belle Époque perhaps?) in its architecture compared to the heavier (more gothic?) feel I got from German cities, even the southern ones that tend to be less Prussian in their architecture.

However, Vichy felt… unmaintained. Too many buildings were dilapidated, too many walls seemed in desperate need for maintenance and certain areas felt like they belonged to another place altogether. And I felt that if certain parts of the infrastructure were maintained better, it would be a much nicer place, perhaps closer to Colmar (which by the way, exhibited very similar traits, but it felt that it was overall in a better shape). I can say the same for the small village where my sister lives. Everything is old, but it’s not just the antique kind of old, it’s also the unmaintained one.

Now, if I’ve pissed off any readers, I’m sorry, I am trying to be honest rather than hurtful. Irrespective of my opinion, I enjoyed the city, the small city that it is, but after discussing with the rest of the family, we decided to visit Charroux, a small village outside of Vichy (do you sense a pattern?).

In Charroux

This was a rather unusual choice, but we made it because it offered two benefits: 1. It was apparently even more picturesque (in a rather bucolic kind of way), 2. it was the place where the famous (in France anyway) aromatic candles are being produced. The drive was not long, but we did eventually have a problem, with the temperature rising… rapidly. In the end, we probably should have visited quite a bit earlier or later, but we arrived around noon, which made walking… well, horrible really.

There’s a thing I’ve learned, based on my personal experience with not planning trips: PLAN AHEAD or be prepared to visit again. Like with my earlier roadtrip in Scandinavia (I’ll post about that later, there’s a lot of work yet to be done), you really need to have a plan if you want to go somewhere, especially with other people involved. WhenI’m alone, I generally don’t mind, because I’m used to visiting each place twice: once where I walk around a get a feel for the city, and if I like it, I’ll visit a second time where I have a better plan and probably will stay for longer.

Suffice to say we didn’t do any of those things, so after walking around, failing to sit down for lunch early enough (what did I say about planning) and walking quite a bit before exhaustion stared settling in, we encountered one of the candle makers of the town, called Les Bougies de Charroux. This was a very typical and… picturesque (apologies for overusing this word, but it’s so fitting) candle making workshop with insanely many varieties of aromatic candles. Very expensive, but easily worth their money, compared to the rather weak aromatic candles one gets from IKEA or other shops.

But time was up, we were done for, so back to Vichy it was for us. More walking along the bank of the river and more dinner in the little shops and cafes that exist there. Can’t complain!

Last day and the travel back home

We didn’t have too much time left the next day since it was a 6 hour trip, more if there would be traffic (there was), so after meeting with my sister again, we grabbed a proper coffee, some of the famous Pastilles and it was time to head back. It’s noteworthy here that that day the temperature reached highs of 38C, making stops on the highway especially painful. As soon as you stepped out of the nicely airconditioned car, you felt the unforgiving heatwave hitting you hard.

This time around, we decided to go through Geneva rather than Basel. We made a short stop there and met a cousin who lives there. Geneva is a place that deserves its own story, which I hope I will manage to get to in the future.

Final Impressions

I must say that I generally liked Vichy, despite some of my observations. On one hand, it’s a small town, which has its beautiful moments. On the other hand, it felt like there wasn’t much to do, which might be due to our lack of planning. When I visit again, perhaps actually going to one of the spas might be worth it and same goes for Charroux. I know there were more things to see, which we didn’t manage to do, because of the weather. Should you visit? For sure, but I believe that you will need to have different options as well, especially if you plane to stay for more than a couple of days.

By the way, don’t forget to see the comments on the photographs for some of the monuments we saw.

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