The name for the locals is ‘Allobroges’, or ‘Gallic People’. The Romans built two major highways that defined the Duchy: Grenoble to Geneva and Vienne to Milan. On the Grenoble to Geneva road archaeological digs show that 2000 years ago today’s upscale resort of Aix les Bains was… an upscale resort. As long as Europe has been inhabited, Savoy has been sought after. Life there is hard but rewarding; vacations easy but rewarding.
Throughout the Middle Ages the rulers of Savoy were brilliant at playing off competing powers and expanding their Duchy. Humbert Whitehands, first Count of Savoy, took control of Aosta, Savoy’s first toehold in Piedmont. Aosta’s wine is Carema, a good but lesser Nebbiolo. However it was Humbert’s son Odon who got to marry his Lolita, fifteen year old Adelaïde of Suse, in 1045. With this marriage the Counts of Savoy became the Marquises of Turin, the masters of Piedmont and the owners of Barolo. In 1264 Odon’s descendant Pierre II established a National Assembly of Savoy, remarkable in that it included equal numbers of nobles and commoners. The Swiss penchant for democracy was equally strong in Savoy. In 1416 Count Amedee VIII of Savoy was made a Prince by Emperor Sigismond, but power was still shared with the Assembly (later renamed the Senate) under the Statutes of Savoy. Savoy was independent under the protection of the German Emperors.
From the 1500s to the 1700s France and then Spain repeatedly invaded Savoy. Even when occupied the Savoyards maintained local autonomy. In 1730 Savoy created Europe’s first land register, establishing all-important deeds to land and houses for non-noble citizens. Manorial rights and privileges of the Clergy were abolished. All of this came to a sad end in 1859, when in a secret treaty the Count of Cavour traded Savoy to Napoleon III in exchange for 200,000 soldiers – used to conquer Italy. The treaty wasn’t made public until 1928! Even today there is an independence movement in Savoy. It is not as prominent as those in Corsica and the Basque country but regularly gets 5-10% of the vote in regional elections.
What a shame! An independent Savoy that included Piedmont could have provided us with a vast A to Z range of wines, from A – Apremont the lightest white to B – Barolo and Barbaresco, the richest reds.