August 12 , 2018
Have you ever heard of Annecy?
This storybook medieval town is a must-see that will charm your ski boots off any time of the year. The capital of France's Haute-Savoie region that borders both Switzerland and Italy, Annecy is ideally situated just 45 minutes from Geneva's airport, nestled at the base of the Alps on the shores of one of Europe's cleanest lakes. Get lost in the impossible charm of Annecy's Vieille Ville (Old Town), with its colorful streets spilling out onto the main canal, all manner of boutiques, restaurants with hearty local cuisine (think lots of melty cheese and butter), and of course the alpine lake. Gaze out at the glorious peaks and the beautiful, blue-green water and you'll be in on the secret.
At the beginning of June, I spent a few relaxing days in this town known as the "Venice of Savoy". Many vacationers arrive during the summer, when the lake has warmed for swimming and watersports. June attracts visitors from all over the world with the International Animation Film Festival and the beginning of August brings the annual Lake Festival, with one of Europe's biggest fireworks displays. Winter sports enthusiasts and those who love a holiday atmosphere can especially appreciate Annecy in December for its close proximity to snow-capped peaks, along with light-strewn canals and alpine Christmas markets. In February, the town puts on its own Venice-inspired Carnival (parades and masks are involved). Unfortunately, at the time of my visit the Palais de L'Île was undergoing a bit of renovation, so the scaffolding covered that iconic medieval tableau, but the old town was undeniably charming all the same.
Come with me on a photographic tour through the streets of Annecy.
Beginning in the shopping district, Rue Notre Dame merges into Rue Carnot (with many commercial chains) to the north and the small, charming strip of Rue Filaterie to the south just before you emerge onto the canal. Annecy has enough familiar brands and high-end specialty boutiques to suit even the most avid shoppers.
The narrow and charming Rue Filaterie. Here you can find some sellers of regional products under the arched passage, as well as fine boutiques and a gourmet shop on the opposite side of the alley.
I especially love these pastel colors and shutters.
Notre-Dame-de-Liesse. A beautiful church in a social little square (Place Notre Dame) where you’ll see people gathering in the cafes or taking a break at the central fountain.
Crossing the Pont Morens (the city’s oldest bridge) over the Thiou Canal, you have a nice view of the miniscule island in the middle. It holds a fort dating from the 12th century – throughout history it has served as a palace, prison, coin mint, barracks and courthouse. The fairytale stone facade on the other side is where you will be rewarded with the best view of the Palais de L’Île (hopefully you’ll catch it after the renovations).
You can go inside to visit the museum of the Palais de L’Île. You can also cross the footbridge over the island.
Don’t forget to stock up on some local products before you go home. Traditional Savoyard staples include cheeses such as Reblochon, Emmental and Raclette from those happy alpine cows; mountain blueberries (used in Crème de myrtille liqueur and tarts); cured meats from wild game; crisp white wines; and fresh fish from mountain lakes.
Of course you’ll also want to stop for an ice cream at one of the old town’s most popular shops, Le Glacier des Alpes – the long line is a good sign.
Always take some time to get a little lost and explore the backstreets – you never know what delightful things you might find.
Rue Sainte-Claire and Rue de L’Île form one of the main arteries of Annecy’s old town streets.
The sun is setting over Annecy – a good time to visit the orange building you see on the left – the old town pub.
The turreted Chateau d’Annecy, once home to the Counts of Geneva, rises above the town with nice views over the surrounding area. But don’t expect a medieval atmosphere or historical exhibits once you get inside – instead it has been converted as a center to showcase contemporary art and design.
The walk back down into town and around the castle walls is even more charming.
Visitors stop to watch the town’s resident ducks and swans, who just happened to have their tiny offspring in tow.
Have a drink or enjoy your fondue Savoyarde or tartiflette (two of the city’s most popular dishes) right by the canal, with a superb view of the Church of St. Maurice’s impressive facade.
Or walk up the canal, leading to the lake. There are many restaurants lined up along your way, so you can have a look at the menus posted outside and get some ideas for dinner. The most popular place in town to try a traditional meal is Le Fréti, but a reservation is definitely required.
A popular Annecy activity that you can enjoy any time of year is a boat tour out on the lake with the Compagnie des Bateaux.
The lakeside promenade certainly can’t be missed. It makes a great place for walking, running, biking, rollerskating and even lakeside yoga and socializing.
Take a stroll over the famous Pont des Amours, a romantic footbridge for lovers. With views like these, it’s easy to see why.
If you feel like a longer, but not strenuous walk, you can follow the serene Promenade de Thiou that leads to Cran-Gevrier, a residential area. It’s about 30 minutes to walk there and a really pleasant stroll with bikers, ducks and the calming sounds of the river.
It goes without saying that you’ll want to make a visit to the bakery. Try the Biscuit de Savoie, a local specialty that is really more cake than biscuit – a light and airy confection dusted with powdered sugar.
There are paddleboats resting all around the lake just waiting patiently for someone to come and steer them out over the peaceful, inviting waters of Lac d’Annecy.
Did I mention there are ducks and swans everywhere too? It really adds a storybook feel to the already stunning scenery.
Reaching the other side of the lake, across from the old town, you will find green spaces and sandy beaches, both free and requiring an entrance fee. The Casino Impérial makes a striking picture on the lake’s shore.
Lake Annecy is consistently referred to as one of Europe’s cleanest lakes, maybe the cleanest one. So don’t be afraid to go in for a refreshing dip.
All you have to do is choose your spot: grass or sand?
Just see if you don’t find a new favorite getaway here in France’s very own canal city.