Sunday, September 27, 2020

Yvoire, France

Over the years my bike and I have cycled to the walled-in medieval village of Yvoire, France on numerous occasions but, have yet to post anything on this blog--until now.

I live in Lausanne, Switzerland (population 120,000) which fronts Lake Geneva. The lake also goes by the name Lac Leman. There's regular ferry service from Lausanne directly across the lake to Evian, France. Cycling along the shoreline it's a 20 mile bike ride each way from Evian to Yvoire. Have to wear a face mask on the ferry.
Hopping off the ferry in Evian (population 9,000) I have a routine. First, I go to my favorite patisserie and grab several treats, today it's two of their delicious chocolate almond croissants. Then I cycle up the hillside to this spot you see in the photo. What is it? (don't forget you can click on any image to enlarge). There's a spout sticking out at the mosaic tiles. Called Cachet spring (locals call it "the Source"), there's usually a line of locals and tourists filling up water bottles.--for free! It was built in 1903 and the water coming out the pipe has a year round temperature of a crispy refreshing 52 degrees. Evian is a world famous brand of mineral spring water owned by Danone, a French company (yep, the owner of Danone yogurt)--they own Cachet spring (good public relations).

Evian's formal name is Evian-les-Bains and the "les Bains" part means "the baths". It's one of France's most famous spa towns. People come here to soak in the thermal baths and supposedly drinking the mineral water is good for the health. 
A few miles out of town I pass this chateau, now a hotel 
This is near the city center of Thonon-les-Bains, a lakeside thermal bath town of 30,000 people. To the right of the photo is a very steep cliffside leading to the lakefront.
Instead of enduring the steep descent to the lakefront one can hop on the funicular.
This is the funicular station at the bottom and it has been whisking people up and down for more than 100 years. 
A few miles out of Thonon-les-Bains I pass Chateau de Ripaille, a running joke with me for years. I cycle by this place and it's never open. It doesn't open until 10AM or 11AM and I usually pass by around 9:30 AM and I'm too antsy to hang around waiting. Going back to Evian I return a different route. 
Chateau de Ripaille dates back to 1434. 
Chateau de Ripaille is getting a new roof. The place includes 54 acres of vineyards and over 130 acres of forest.  
This floral display greets visitors to Yvoire.
This mosquito? stands right outside the tourist information center in Yvoire.
A few feet away from the mosquito is this Buddha?
The walled-in medieval village of Yvoire had its heyday back in the 1300's when its location on Lake Geneva was of strategic importance. Now, thanks to being on tour bus itineraries it keeps humming along. Unfortunately things are different in 2020 as visitors have to don mandatory masks to enter the place.
Usually the place is packed with tourists.
Of course I don't mind nobody is around.

Yvoire has a castle.

The medieval wall around the village is still intact.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Lac de Joux, Switzerland and Watches, Part II

 This is a continuation of cycling around Lac de Joux looking for businesses in the watch industry.

In Part 1 pictures were shown of the various buildings comprising Audemars Piguet's head office/factory complex. Cycling a few blocks away I came upon this newish very large Audermars Piguet building.
This white building belongs to Meylan Freres, which manufactures micro-mechanical components for the watch industry. 
This is the front of Blancpain's factory complex in Le Brassus. Part of the Swatch Group, this luxury watch brand goes way, way back. Matter of fact, it dates back to 1735--making it the world's oldest surviving watch brand in the world. I visited their head office in Paudex, less than a mile away where I live in Lausanne. 
Here's the backside to Blancpain's factory. 
Here's the front side of Jaeger-LeCoultre's head office/factory complex in Le Sentier. This watch company dates back to 1833 and since 2000 has been part of Richemont. Had a very disappointing reception back here in 2003.
This monument stands directly on the other side of the road from the entrance to Jaeger-LeCoultre's main building. Who has their face embedded on the wall? (Don't forget you can click on the image and it'll enlarge). That would be Antoine LeCoultre, who founded the business here back in 1833. 
So, in the previous photo showing the monument--to the right under the tree is a bench where you can sit and evidently do some reflection. However, see this photo. Those are bee hives right above the bench! 
This is the backside to Jaeger-LeCoultre's headquarters/factory.
Cycling along the only road that circles the lake I spot this new Dubois Depraz building in the distant. The company makes complication watch mechanisms. I paid them a visit back in 2003. Like their head office, this building is in Le Lieu (population 800).  
Remember the fogged-in photo at the beginning of Part 1? Well, here's the same place (Le Pont) later in the day.
Arriving back in Le Pont (where I started the day) I come across one of those small visitor billboards on the side of the road. It's in French and points out historical sights to see in this village. My French is very poor and from what I can decipher, a mysterious wealthy family arrived here back in 1910 and proceeded to have a fabulous home built way up on a hill. Whoa, look up on the hill in this photo--that's the same home that's on the billboard! So of course I gotta go check it out. 
It was a pain in the rear cycling up to the home and what do I find? A spiffy well-kept historical mansion? Nope, a rundown falling apart place that looks like it needs to be torn down. 
However, the view from crumbling house is spectacular. 

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Lac de Joux, Switzerland & Watches, Part 1

The Jura mountains is a natural barrier between France and Switzerland and pretty much forms and marks the border between the two. Nestled in the Jura lies the Joux valley, a narrow valley highlighted by Lac de Joux. It's about a 20 mile bike ride around the lake. So, what am I doing here?  Back in 2003/2004 I cycled around Switzerland visiting over 100 watch companies (you can read the stories at Diving into the secretive world of Swiss watches was fascinating. With sales totaling tens of billion of dollars, it's BIG business. Four of the biggest names in Swiss watches have their head office and/or factory here along with other players. It's a Sunday morning and thought it would be fun to cruise around and spot building additions or even subtractions since I was here 17 years ago.  

It's mid-September and we seem to be having a second summer with temperatures in the high 80's. That's the other reason for coming to Lac de Joux----it'll be 10 degrees cooler in this isolated mountain valley which is also known as the Siberia of Switzerland. My 8AM arrival finds the lake socked in with a very cold morning fog. The lake is right behind those signs.   
The lake town of L'Abbaye, with roughly 1,500 inhabitants, is best known for its church tower. See those chunks of concrete lined up? The French border lies only a few miles away and though Switzerland was neutral during World War II, the Swiss were concerned the Germans would sweep through the country like they did France. These concrete blocks were meant to hinder the advance of German tanks. 
This water fountain, dispensing ice cold water, has been here since 1813 (see the date stamped on the side)
L'Abbaye is home to Breguet, one of world's oldest watch companies. This luxury brand dates back to 1775 and is part of the Swatch Group --the world's largest watchmaking group with over $8 billion in revenues. Visited Breguet back in 2003 and was disappointed by the reception. This building houses administration. 
Cycling along the lake I pass this mini roadside self-service stand on stilts. So I gotta stop and see what's inside. 
Wow, inside the little structure there're all kinds of gourmet goodies for sale including gift baskets going for more than $30. Money is deposited into the red metal box.
Microtechnique belongs to the Swatch Group and makes components for watches. That's not why I took this picture though. This building faces the main road. See the clock to the left of the entrance? It's sporting the wrong time. Off by an hour and 10 minutes. How long has this wrong time been going on? Jeez, if I was part of the world's biggest watch group I'd make darn sure public clocks like this one showed the correct time. 
A few miles from Breguet's head office I come across their factory. It fronts the main road around the lake. 
Going around the backside of Breguet's factory I find a very large modern addition in the rear. 
This is another view of Breguet's new addition. Don't know if this is a guard horse. 
There'a a small park next to Breguet's factory and features an art sculpture. I'm sorry but it looks pretty lame to me. 
This very large structure is going up along the main road. There's no signage but, see the apartment building to the right? I run into an old man outside. He speaks no English and I speak very little French. I point to the building and say "is it a watch company?" He has a scowl on his face and gets very animated. He mentions the word "economy" and gives the thumbs down sign. Next door is a factory building with the name Microtechnique on the side. I point to it and say "Swatch Group?" and then point to the new structure. The old man nods. After more of this back and forth I surmise what's going on------due to covid-19, construction of the building has stopped and the old man is upset because he's tired of looking at the half-done project.  
Watch brand Audemars Piguet fronts the main road in Le Brassus. To the left of the main entrance are several more buildings and to the right are several more additions. Received a disappointing reception back in 2003.
There's a new AP building going up on the other side of the crosswalk. 
That crane is helping with the new Audermars Piguet addition.
This is the backside of the Audemars Piguet buildings. 
Just up the road from Audemars Piguet I come across this Patek Philippe building. Patek Philippe usually has first class modern buildings. I don't remember them having a building in the valley. See the house on the right? There are two men in the rear doing yard work. It turns out one is Australian and lives in the front house with his Swiss wife and the other man lives with his wife in a rear house. I tell the Aussie I cycled through here years ago and never saw this Patek Philippe building and asks if he knows why Patek Philippe is here. I learn this was the former head office/factory for La Pierrette (they transform precious stones for use in watch movements) moved to a brand new building several miles down the road. It turns out the Aussie and the other man both live in houses built and lived in by owners of La Pierette! The Aussie guesses Patek Philippe wants to have a presence in the Joux valley---famous around the world to watch enthusiasts.  Side note: received an excellent reception at Patek Philippe's head office/factory complex in Geneva back in 2003
This modern building is home to La Pierrette. According to its website, since 1914 they transform precious stones (mostly ruby and sapphires) to be used in movements for luxury watch manufacturers. Hmmm, thinking there's more to it than what they're saying, (thanks to Google) I find out the family business was sold a few years back to a consortium consisting of: Richemont, Rolex AND, Patek Philippe. So, that explains how Patek Philippe came to ownership of the building in the previous picture. 
Luxury watchmaker Vacheron Constantin, part of Richemont (IWC, Piaget, Jaeger-LeCoultre) occupies this new building situated next door to La Pierrette. Received a great reception at Vacheron Constantin's head office in Geneva back in 2002. Plus, I visited parent company Richemont TWICE ---when it was headquartered in Zug and Geneva and each time had an excellent experience!