The lakeside setting is enchanting, and the locals are warm and welcoming. But for dedicated gastronomes, thereâ€™s really just one reason to visit the tiny French village of Le Bourget-du-Lac â€”its quartet of Michelin- starred restaurants
By Sarah Warwick
Photographs by Helen Cathcart
Olivier Parpillon twists his fingers around the lavaret, untangling strands of nylon net from its gills. The silvery fish gulps desperately at the air in a succession of small wet pops. With a casual movement born of years of practice, Parpillon then flings it across the boat in a twirling arc that lands it in a plastic crate among the moist, shiny corpses of its brethren.
The whitewashed bottom of his small fishing boat is spattered with tiny, oily circles that gleam like yellowed sequins. Around us a gentle drizzle starts to fall. Unperturbed, Parpillon carries on untwisting and untangling while I, cozy in an oilskin jacket and still bleary from interrupted sleep, look on with something akin to wonder.
Itâ€™s not every day one gets the chance to join a French fisherman on the calm, dawn-lit waters of an alpine lake. But my journey out with Parpillon this morningâ€”an exercise that involved a 4 a.m. wake-up callâ€”isnâ€™t born out of idle curi-osity. Iâ€™m here to gain a better appreciation for the produce that ends up in the restaurants of a very special French village, and to follow these fish on their journey from lake to kitchen to plate.
My own journey began two days ago when I arrived at the village in question: Le Bourget-du-Lac in the eastern dĂ©partement of Savoie, just an hourâ€™s drive south of Geneva. The village takes its name from its position on the southwest corner of Lac du Bourget, a blue-gray expanse scoured out by glaciers in the last Ice Age. Surrounded on three sides by the Jura Mountains, the misty Bourget is Franceâ€™s largest natural lake, with a bewitching beauty that served as inspiration for the Romantic poetry of Alphonse de Lamartineâ€”â€śO Lake! Speechless stones! Grottoes! Gloaming glades!â€ť I donâ€™t spot any gloaming glades, but I do see plenty of happy holidaymakers. Mostly French and British of an active sort, they flock to Bourget and the nearby lakes of Annecy and little Aiguebelette each summer for water sports, cycling, and treks through bucolic countryside at the edge of the French Alps. Others visit for more therapeutic pursuits. Stretching down to the lakeâ€™s eastern shore, the old town of Aix-les-Bains was once among Franceâ€™s most prestigious spa resorts, frequented by the European elite (an incognito Queen Victoria visited three times in the 1880s). Aix may be long past its Belle Ă‰poque glory days, but every year the town still manages to attract thousands of spa-goers, who come to take the waters at its thermal baths and balneo-therapy facilities.