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Seyssel: The Last Day of the Year in a Small French Town

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New Year’s Eve in France is a serious business: mostly it’s about food, the kind of food you don’t buy every day, like lobster and crayfish and 20-year-old Comté cheese and fruits confits, those lovely sugar-coated fruits that crunch crisply when you bite into them. In the evening, families will gather to ring in 2013, and the table had better be… perfect.

Seyssel market

Fruits confits, as glazed or candied fruit is called, is a French favorite. Nostradamus is credited with having introduced them to France in the mid-16th century as a way to conserve fruit.

Seyssel Haute-Savoie

Elodie Girod has been a regular at the market since 2009. She often has to get up at five in the morning to travel long distances and that takes time, especially in winter. “It’s a hard job for a woman,” she said. “We have to load and unload everything on our own. But there’s a great atmosphere and I make a living. Just.” 


seyssel marketThe town near which I live, Seyssel, is an average town in many ways, beautifully situated in the Rhône-Alpes region, where it casts its eye towards the Alps on one bank and the Jura Mountains on the other. Even the Romans must have appreciated the view because their ruins are scattered nearby.

In other ways Seyssel is anything but average: its 3,000 inhabitants are shared between two départements, or provinces: the Ain, and the Haute-Savoie.

Imagine having two churches, two banks, two pharmacies, two post offices, two markets and two town halls, or mairies, one on either side of the river.

seyssel haute savoie

Seyssel on the Haute-Savoie side, with the pre-Alps in the background. The Rhone separates the two halves of the town, which are joined by the bridge.

Seyssel in the Ain, in the foothills of the Jura Mountains.

Seyssel in the Ain sits along the other shore, with the Jura Mountains rising behind. I live in the foothills, about a 10-minute drive from the town.

Seyssel market

Standing in line at the local butcher shop to pick up roasts ordered weeks ago.

Seyssel market

I too have to do my last-minute market shopping on New Year’s Eve.

Today is Monday, market day on the Haute-Savoie side (it’s on Saturdays in the Ain) and the town is buzzing because tonight is the Réveillon, the last night of the year. Everyone is rushing with last-minute preparations.

The market plays the same role it has for centuries, a gathering place for news to be exchanged and best wishes to be shared, although villagers fret that supermarkets and online shopping are destroying this very French of traditions, the jour du marché.

Today I bumped into my neighbor Josiane and learned to my sadness that old Mr Monier had died, at 90. I had seen the flashing light of the ambulance down the hill a few nights ago and at his age the news didn’t come as a surprise. I also learned there would be a blood drive in town soon, that my friend Isabelle had found a new job and that Widad should have stayed home with her messy flu.

While shopping may be at a pitch, life unfurls much as it usually does, even on New Year’s Eve. There’s always time to catch up in person and have a chat, even if we all have Internet.

It’s small town life at its best.

Seyssel Rhone

Good night, Seyssel, and Happy New Year!

All photos by Anne Sterck.


  1. Lane on January 2, 2013 at 4:19 pm

    Looks delicious… The town is darling… Yeah, France would be a great place to bring in the New Year.

    • Leyla Giray Alyanak on January 2, 2013 at 4:22 pm

      It’s a sweet little place – very calm and rural. My neighbors all have cows or goats or sheep, make their own spirits, and ride around on tractors and yet, we’re just a hop from larger cities. It’s as though time had just stopped at the edge of town.

  2. Kali Bird Isis on January 10, 2013 at 4:33 pm

    It’s so gorgeous and the life style sounds just right. Can I come live there? Is there professional work available?

    • Leyla Giray Alyanak on January 10, 2013 at 4:48 pm

      It is gorgeous, isn’t it? 🙂 I think any jobs around here would be related to farming, cows and local produce!!

  3. Teresa on January 12, 2013 at 2:33 pm

    I agree with Kali. I want to live there too! It looks beautiful and tranquil. Oh, and the market… well, the food looks amazing.

    • Leyla Giray Alyanak on January 12, 2013 at 3:34 pm

      Food is still good in France when you buy fresh at the market – we increasingly keep away from supermarkets though.

  4. Cassandra on January 31, 2013 at 9:18 pm

    Gorgeous photos, I especially like the one of the Rhone and the Alps. It’s interesting to think of how the town is like a set of Siamese twins!

    • Leyla Giray Alyanak on January 31, 2013 at 9:25 pm

      What a clever idea – I’d never thought of it that way, as two-together as opposed to split in two!

  5. PaigeCopper on March 22, 2014 at 9:16 am

    ALWAYS thank you Leyla! Good information about a bella city in France.
    Best regards,

    • Leyla Giray Alyanak on March 22, 2014 at 12:39 pm

      It’s small, but it’s home! 🙂

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