Annecy, like Noyers, was a trip destination based on our charity stall book of ‘100 beautiful small towns in France’.
It truly is, set within a spectacular ring of snow-capped mountains and alongside a turquoise shining lake under clear blue skies, with a picturesque old town intersected by crystal clear streams and a historic centre circled by heavily buttressed medieval walls. We had to get there first.
Leaving Nantua and worried by Bertha’s intermittent squeal we visited what would be the first of six garages that day.
Armed with a google-found confidence in our communication of the problem as likely to be “un petit callou dans le plankettes de frein”, we were immediately put down by Monsieur Overall at Garage Viaduc who speculated it was more likely to be “un grand probleme avec les discs”.
In any case, he was busy until next week and directed us back to the town’s fuel station, where a very helpful chap scrambled underneath and diagnosed “c’est n’est pas un petit calou ou discs mais le piston”. Great, we had coped with worrying about a small stone in the brake, were confused by whatever the discs were, but a piston problem?
Driving out on the motorway we found a Renault ‘truck service’ where the mechanics were twiddling their thumbs but offered no help to us as they would not touch a Fiat vehicle.
We’ve encountered this before in France and it seems alien to our experiences of garages at home where different makes and models of motor are happily tinkered with at the local garage. After 30 miles of climbing at altitude we stopped for coffee in sight of the Swiss border. Bertha was moving well and her troublesome tyre was not squealing and was cool to touch.
We aimed for Annecy and arrived in the chaos of the French lunch hour just after noon. In heavy traffic, we stop-started our way to the Fiat-friendly garage named in our rather dated service book. They were closed for lunch and not opening again until 2pm. Undeterred we parked Bertha, gigantically, amongst a rank of little white fiat cars, and cycled into the centre.
The lake – soft turquoise and white waters whipped gently by a blowing breeze – was emptying of windsurfers, kayakers, canoeists and small yachts crew as everyone charged to a find a table for lunch in the sun.
The old town was bustling with diners alongside the river fronts and in the arcaded squares. The price of the menus, starting at 35 euros, was eyewatering.
On the bikes, we ducked through stone archways, skidded along narrow bridges and bounced over cobblestones taking in the atmosphere and aiming for the main sights shown in our charity book to be the chateau and the Palais de l’Isle house at the junction of two rivers. Both were fully under wraps and obscured from view by scaffold. Ah well.
Back at the Fiat-friendly garage they turned out not to be so campervan-friendly. We were directed back north out of the town and up a steep road to the Fiat ‘camping car’ garage.
Hopes raised at the sight of two other motorhomes parked in the lot were quickly dashed by the manager who said we would have to make an appointment for “prochaine semaine”. We didn’t want to wait around in Annecy until next week so headed back south on our route to find a free overnight stop.
Three miles before the aire and Simon spotted a local garage with a motorhome up on a ramp and being worked upon. We pulled in and saw it was a Fiat. Out came the google French and once more we were told that the garage was, “complet, rendevouz ici a Mardi, prochaine semaine”. Being Wednesday, next Tuesday was a long time away. It was time to call it quits. We settled into the quiet aire at Faverges, visiting a nearby supermarket for a pair of much-needed beers, and watched as the rains fell into the early evening.
It seemed that making a cautious journey to cross the mountains into Italy to the home of Fiat, was our, and Bertha’s, only hope.