Welcome to Thonon-les-Bains, sub-prefecture of Haute Savoie, and capital of the French Chablais region! To guide you during your walking tour, refer to the map you have been given. Spa and tourist resort, commercial city and administrative capital, Thonon-les-Bains boasts a rich history and important sites. From Amadeus VIII Duke of Savoy to General de Gaulle, or Jean Moulin and Django Reinhardt, many prominent people have stayed in Thonon. Moreover evidence of their time here has remained in some of the buildings you will see.
Historically a favourite meeting place for the townspeople, this square served as a commercial centre and marketplace where fairs were held from its construction onwards. In the 15th century, a covered market was built, remaining here until the 19th century. Traditionally, the market was held here every Thursday, before changing sites several times to finally end up at place de la Halle, in the heart of the neighbourhood of the Rénovation, opposite the former Visitation Monastery.
Bellegarde Castle (+ frieze)
The last of the four medieval gates of the city, its name dates back to its proximity in the 14th century to a casane or bank, run by Johannovus Malcordi, native of Lombardy. The gate opens onto the courtyard of Bellegarde castle, once called Maison Haute (High House). With its square tower, the castle guarded the northwest access to the city. One of its first owners, Jacques de Bellegarde, native of Faucigny, was city councillor at the end of the 15th century. Don’t miss the timbered gallery to the right of the courtyard. Decorated with a carved wooden frieze of gothic inspiration, it represents the seven deadly sins.
Place Jean Moulin and the Hotel School
Walking along the belvedere, you can see the former Grand Hôtel des Bains, now a private home. At the end of the 19th century, the Grand Hôtel, which overlooks the lake, was one of Thonon’s leading hotels. Not far, on the other side of the road at the corner of boulevard Carnot and boulevard de la Corniche, is the elegant Hotel School built in 1935 by the architect Louis Moynat, and renovated by Maurice Novarina. It was once a prison for women, before becoming an ordinary district jail after France’s annexation of Savoy in 1860. During World War II, the building was requisitioned by the militia and used for imprisoning French resistance fighters.
Place Henry Bordeaux + rue Vallon
You are now at Place Henry Bordeaux, formerly place de l’Ecole, in memory of the school located here during the Berne period from 1536 to 1564. Its present name is a tribute to Henry Bordeaux, a Thonon writer, who had his hour of glory at the beginning of the 20th century. Rue Vallon was opened in the 15th century where there was a vineyard belonging to the Chartreuse de Vallon.
Le square Aristide Briand
As seen in the characteristic architecture of these buildings, square Aristide Briand was built in the 1930s. To see the oldest street in the town, go back to the end of Grande-rue and take the first street on the right, rue Chante-Coq.
La rue chante coq
Rue Chante Coq (Rooster’s song in English) owes its picturesque name to the deformation of its original name. It used to reach a narrow field called Corre or “Court”, that became champ Court (or short field), Chancot, followed by Chante-Coq in the 19th century. This very narrow street has changed many times over the years. We find many old cafés here, like the bar du Soleil with its original entrance or Le Chante-Coq, which is a real institution in Thonon since it opened in 1932. Opposite the Chante-Coq, you can see the Guillet de Monthoux residence, built in the 15th century. Its first owner, Pierre Guillet de Monthoux, was the cupbearer of Duke Louis of Savoy; his job was to serve drinks to the duke.
Market square and cultural pole
Weekly markets are held on this square on Monday and Thursday mornings. For centuries these were held in front of the city hall, before changing places many times and ending up here for good in 1975. The big building to the north of the square is the Monastery or Convent of the Visitation Sainte Marie. The cultural pole of the Visitation now houses many organisations, including the media library, the Académie Chablaisienne, a learned society created in 1886, as well as the Music and Dance school of Thonon and Leman.
Oncion Canal + Visitation Mill + Avenue St François de Sales
On the belvedere, where you will stop during your tour, you will see the pool and its fountains. We owe this site to the former mayor Georges Pianta, who was inspired by a trip to Tehran, capital of Iran, where he saw and admired similar layouts. Right beside it, two abstract 3-metre-high statues, entitled “The King and Queen” are the work of the Swiss sculptor André Raboud. When you arrive at the roundabout, take avenue d’Evian on the right and continue on to square Paul Jacquier. Then go to Maurice Novarina theatre to continue your visit.
Paul Jacquier Square
Here we are on square Paul Jacquier; this old English garden was named in memory of the mayor of Thonon, who was also a Member of Parliament for Haute Savoie and minister several times during the 3rd Republic. Before you, is the Maison des Arts du Léman, a theatre designed by Maurice Novarina. To the right of the theatre, you will notice the remains of a Gallo-Roman potter’s kiln.
Thonon - Tourism and Thermal Spa
on the belvedere of Thonon, from where you may enjoy one of the best views of the city of Thonon-les-Bains. You can see the fishing port and its huts, the Rives Castle to its right, but also the port of Thonon and its terraces, as well as the long Ripaille quay that leads to Ripaille Castle, whose towers you see in the distance. Thonon took the name Thonon-les-bains, joining the group of thermal spas of the Belle Epoque. It has been enlarged several times and specialises in rheumatologic, urinary and respiratory illnesses, receiving more than 3000 people a year.
Funicular/place du château/statue of General Dessaix
During the Middle Ages, Thonon Castle, residence of the Counts and Dukes of Savoy, stood on this large esplanade. Amadeus V built the first fortress in 1288. The castle and its fortifications were destroyed during the hostilities that opposed Savoy and Geneva in the 16th century, and only its imposing foundations remain. The statue was inaugurated on 6 September 1910 in the presence of the President of the Republic, Armand Fallières. This work by the sculptor Louis Noel represents Joseph Marie Dessaix, nicknamed “Bayard of Savoy” after the brave knight Bayard of the 15th century.
Church of St Hippolyte
This church square used to be used for burials, and the churchyard was called cemetery square until the 17th century. You see before you two identical churches: the basilica of the Doctorate of St François de Sales and the church of St Hippolyte. Saint Hippolyte, named for the Roman officer martyred in the 3rd century, was the original parish church. It was built in the first half of the 11th century and its interesting Romanesque crypt remains from that period. Later, a new church in the neo-gothic style, Saint-François de Sales basilica was attached to it. Built from plans of the architect Théodore Fivel in the last quarter of the 19th century, it was only consecrated in 1930.
The Basilica St François de Sales
The construction of the basilica began in 1889, but work was interrupted in 1894 due to financial difficulties and the death of its architect, Théodore Fivel. The unfinished building was requisitioned during WW I to house the army supply services. In 1920, a group of parishioners organised festivities to raise funds to finish it. Monsignor Michel-Florent Du Bois de Villerabel, bishop of Annecy finally consecrated the new church in 1930. Called “basilica” by the public, the church of the Doctorate of St François de Sales was only officially given the rank of basilica on 8 July 1993.
Chablais Museum + Tourist Office
Your visit ends in front of Sonnaz castle, built by François Michel de Sonnaz between 1666 and 1668, on the ruins of the outbuildings of the former Thonon castle mentioned earlier. This noble residence acquired by the city in 1949, boasts a prestigious past. The sovereigns of the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia resided here during their stays in the Chablais. Victor Amadeus stayed here in 1724, followed by Victor Emmanuel and Charles Felix, King of Sardinia and Duke of Savoy in the beginning of the 19th century. The castle now houses the Thonon Tourist Office, created in 1894, making it one of the oldest in France. On the lower level, Chablais Museum houses permanent exhibitions and shows an original temporary exhibition once a year.