France certainly has its share of beautiful villages, but the lakeside town of Annecy might be the most charming of all. Read on to discover why this idyllic summer destination in the Haute-Savoie is drawing visitors from far and wide.
Novelist Mark Twain once described Lake Annecy as a miracle so enchanting it induces tears – and it’s easy to see why. Canals of turquoise alpine water wind through the pastel-painted old town, which sits on the shores of Lake Annecy, one of Europe’s cleanest lakes. Bordered by a dramatic mountain range near the Swiss frontier, Annecy is somehow more perfect than a postcard. Skip Europe’s crowded beaches next summer and instead head to this stunning lake town in southeastern France, where outdoor adventure meets medieval magic.
The fairtyale Vieille Ville
Vieille Ville, the old town in Annecy, can only be described as a storybook setting. Think medieval townhouses in hues of rose, melon and mint, boutique French patisseries and canals fringed with bright magenta blooms. Latticed bridges lead to Baroque churches and farmer’s markets filled with Haute-Savoie cheeses. Upon your arrival, you’ll understand why Annecy is often titled as one of the most beautiful towns in France.
The Thiou River carries melted snow from the surrounding peaks through the old town’s quaint alleyways, earning Annecy its reputation as the ‘Venice of the Alps’. For the best views of Vieille Ville and Lake Annecy, begin at the old town’s Pont Perrière and take a leisurely stroll through the Jardins de l’Europe to the Pont des Amours.
At the heart of the old town is the Palais de l’Île, an old, ship-shaped dungeon now used as a cultural museum. Visitors can enter the site for just a few euros to discover its medieval history as a prison and courthouse.
After refuelling with a creamy tartiflette or a crepe à emporter (to go), you can walk ten minutes from Vieille Ville up to the Château d’Annecy, a restored castle that became the residence of the Counts of Geneva in the 13th century. The castle now offers several temporary museum exhibitions as well as permanent collections that allow you to discover landscape paintings, contemporary art and regional geographical heritage.
If you haven’t yet satiated your castle cravings, the Château de Menthon-Saint-Bernard is an architectural gem just 20 minutes from Annecy by car. The medieval fortress has belonged to the same family for ten centuries and sits strikingly beautiful against a lush mountain backdrop. Guided group or private tours of the castle interiors and vegetable garden are available and last from 45 minutes.
Lake Annecy’s heavenly waters have enraptured artists alike, including impressionist Paul Cézanne. From aquamarine to vivid cobalt, unimaginable shades of blue shimmer under the sun’s tender touch. The rugged contours and verdure of the surrounding summits only add to the lake’s magnificence.
With 43 km of walking trails around the lake, there are myriad ways to soak up the beauty of Lake Annecy. Bike around the water’s edge, glide alongside swans on a stand-up paddleboard or hop on a rental boat departing from Promenade Jacquet.
When you need a rest, you’ll find tranquillity wading in the pristine waters at Plage des Marquisats. The gardens around Plage d’Albigny are a fantastic place to enjoy a picnic, while Plage Saint-Jorioz features a diving board and pontoons you can bask on. It’s worth noting that, although some beaches in Annecy have free access, others are private and require you to pay a small fee.
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For a breath of fresh air, look no further than the spectacular mountain peaks that rise above the shores of Lake Annecy. From hiking to mountain biking and paragliding, adventure awaits in abundance.
The panoramic views from the peaks of Tournette, Roc de Chère and Semnoz will have you in awe. Hiking one of the many tracks near Annecy will give you the opportunity to experience the Haute-Savoie’s rich biodiversity. If you’re lucky, you’ll see a Chamois (a European mountain goat) or alpine pansies in full bloom. A tour of Roc de Chère is an easy hike that will take around two hours to complete, while more experienced hikers can embark on a six-hour journey to the summit of La Tournette.
The region around Annecy is one of the best places in Europe for paragliding, thanks to its breathtaking valleys and reliable summer weather conditions. Col de la Forclaz, situated just east of Annecy, is the perfect place to try this unforgettable activity. Adventure seekers will love floating high above the turquoise lake, with the Aravis mountain range and Mont-Blanc massif looming in the distance.
Getting to Annecy
Annecy is conveniently located close to several major cities in France and Switzerland. The closest international airport is Geneva and from there it takes just 45 minutes by car or bus, or one and a half hours by train with the TER service from Gare Cornavin. If you’re coming from Grenoble, Paris or Lyon, there are French SNCF train lines that will take you directly to Annecy.
While Lake Annecy makes an ideal summer day trip for those seeking a short escape from the bustle of city life, you won’t regret spending a few days or even weeks in this charming location. Trust me, it’s a destination you’ll want to return to time and time again.