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Leman lake in the Haute-Savoie department

France has thousands of lakes, ponds and marshes.

Leman lake also called lake Geneva (in French: le lac Léman, le Léman, lac de Genève) is the largest natural freshwater lake in western Europe (582 km²). It is also the most important lake in continental Europe in terms of volume (89 km³). 60% of it comes under the jurisdiction of Switzerland (cantons of Vaud, Geneva, and Valais), and 40% under France (Haute-Savoie department in the Rhône-Alpes region).

The crescent-shaped lake, formed by a withdrawing glacier, narrows around Yvoire on the southern shore, thus dividing the lake into the “Grand Lac” (Large Lake) to the east and the “Petit Lac” (Small Lake) to the west.

The lake lies on the course of the Rhône river. The river has its source at the Rhone Glacier near the Grimsel Pass to the east of the lake and flows down through the Canton of Valais, entering the lake between Villeneuve and Le Bouveret, before flowing slowly towards its egress at Geneva. Other tributaries are La Dranse, L’Aubonne, La Morges, La Venoge, and Veveyse.

The Leman lake has an alpine character. The Chablais Alps border its southern shore, the western Bernese Alps lie over its eastern side. The high summits of Grand Combin and Mont Blanc are even visible from a few places.

By the 1960s, the lake had ceased being a transport artery for commercial and construction materials. In the late 1960s pollution made it dangerous to swim at some beaches of the lake; indeed, tourists taking a ride in the local submarine had near zero visibility. By the 1980s, intense environmental pollution (eutrophication) had almost wiped out all the fish. Today, pollution levels have been dramatically cut back, and it is considered safe again to swim in the lake. The major leisure activities include sailing, wind surfing, boating (including water skiing and wakeboarding), rowing, scuba diving and bathing.

On a scientific footnote, in 1827, Leman lake was the site for the first measurement of the speed of sound in (fresh) water. French mathematician Jacques Charles François Sturm and Swiss Physicist Daniel Collodon used two moored boats, separated by a measured distance, as the transmit and receive platforms for the sounds of exploding gunpowder. The loud airborne sound coupled into the lake, establishing a loud underwater sound that could be measured at a distance. The flash of the exploding gunpowder provided the visual starting cue for the timepiece, and the underwater explosion sound striking a bell provided the finish cue.

The shore between Nyon and Lausanne is called “La Côte” because it is “flatter”. Between Lausanne and Vevey is Lavaux, famous for its hilly vineyards.


The first recorded name of the lake is Lacus Lemanus from Roman times; it became Lacus Lausonius, although this name was also used for a town or district on the lake, Lacus Losanetes and then the lac de Lausanne in the Middle Ages. Following the rise of Geneva it became lac de Genève (translated into English as lake Geneva). In the 18th century, lac Léman was revived in French. It is often called lac de Genève in Geneva and lac Léman elsewhere but the customary name in French is now lac Léman or even le Léman. Some maps name the lake “le lac d’Ouchy” (after the port located on the Lausanne lake shore). In contemporary English, the name lake Geneva is predominant.

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