The Fairytale Town of Annecy
While visiting family in Geneva, we decided to take a 45-minute drive to Annecy, France. Although I had not heard much about Annecy, it is said that many visitors call it the ‘Venice of the Alps.’
Nestled in the Rhone French Alps is the small, but beautiful city of Annecy. Many visitors fall in love with its tranquil, clear lake water that butts up to the Swiss mountains, making a picturesque view from any angle. It is believed that the Lake was formed years ago due to the glacial snowmelt. Lake Annecy is named ‘Europe’s Cleanest Lake’ due to the fresh mountain water and the strict environmental regulations, making it a postcard picture perfect!
This medieval old town straddles a series of winding canals with crisscrossing bridges lined with colorful flower boxes, cobblestone streets, and pastel-painted houses. Annecy is a great place to have a romantic getaway while enjoying delicious food, relaxing in the sun at the Lake with mountains as a backdrop.
The city is small and doesn’t offer much in terms of museums or historical sites, but is worthy of a visit for its breathtaking views and charming old town. I fell in love with this city and hope to return for another visit in the future.
Here are the highlights I recommend while visiting Annecy.
Many of Annecy’s roads are pedestrian-only. This makes it the perfect place for strolling the streets freely. Consider stopping for a French pastry or enjoy a rich cup of coffee; people watch or gaze at the pastel-colored buildings. If you enjoy shopping visit Notre Dame District of Annecy (Rue Royale, Rue du Pâquier and the long Rue Carnot). Saint Clare District is a great place to get lost in the twisted narrow streets (Rue Sainte-Claire, Rue des I’lle, Place aux Bois, and the side streets off these). Within these districts, you’ll find churches and cathedrals worth a visit.
CHARMING OLD TOWN
The old town of Annecy is one of the most romantic fairy tale places to visit. What makes it so beautiful is the canal with colorful flower baskets aligning the edge of the water, the medieval buildings painted in an assortment of pastel colors, the small shops and cafes, and the narrow streets.
If you enjoy shopping, visit the Old Town Market on Tuesday, Friday, or Sunday, any time of the year. Tuesday is the day for shopping for local produce and various foods from the region. On Friday and Sunday, you will find handcrafted items and textiles at the market.
During the Middles Ages, to enter or leave the city, it was required to take a protective passage and pay a tax. Porte Perrière is one of the examples still standing. The gate itself is a part of an architectural puzzle that connects the castle grounds to the adjoining houses. It is believed that the Porte Perrière was built during the 12th century.
Cathédrale Saint-Pierre (Annecy Cathedral)
This hidden historical church was built in the Renaissance style in the 16th century. It was built for the Franciscans, and it is where Saint Francois de Sales was the first bishop. At the time, the place was shared between two denominations: Calvinists and Catholics.
The façade is decorated with Tuscan pilasters and three triangular pediments. Above the main door is a large stained glass rose window that illuminates the interior. Inside is a restored organ that was built in 1842 with over 2,000 pipes. The location is here.
Church of Saint Francois-de-Sale
In the 1530s, the bishop of Geneva was evicted due to his beliefs in Calvinism and took refuge in Annecy. This made Annecy a strategic center of the country’s Reformation, especially with St. Francois de Sales, resulting in the erection of the church. The location is here.
To reach Rue Royal from Old Town, walk down Rue Filaterie to Saint Jean well, and there you will enter Rue Royale. Along this street, you will find luxury-brand stores and upscale hotels such as the Hotel d’Angleterre. Also, visit the famous Fidèle Berger, and taste the local chocolate specialties.
Visit the Canals
Given its nickname, the ‘Venice of the Alps,’ the canal of Annecy is lined with flower boxes, making it one of the most floral cities in France. It is a dreamy place to walk, and people watch!
Annecy is crossed by the Thiou River, which flows into the Lake. This river splits into two branches at the Quai des Clarisses and Quai des Cordeliers and then continues its way through Annecy, sometimes flowing underground. Thus, the reason for the many canals that feed into the Lake.
Pont des Amours
One of the most romantic places to visit is the Pont des Amours. It is a gorgeous bridge that crosses a canal that flows into the Lake… here is where many couples exchange kisses. It is rumored that if you kiss your partner here, then you’ll be together forever.
Regardless, if you are single or with your partner, it is worth seeing as you will fall in love with Annecy!
Lake Annecy is the picture-perfect Lake for its beauty and the backdrop of the breathtaking mountains. The water is crystal clear, making it a wonderful place to swim in the summer! A lovely walking path surrounds the waters’ edge, not to be missed for a morning stroll or an evening under the stars.
Many activities to enjoy such as boating, swimming, bicycling or sunbathing. If you want to enjoy a picnic while watching the boats out on the water, it is a fantastic spot to relax during the day.
- Prices for renting a paddleboat is 18.00 euros per hour for a two-person boat or 23.00 euros per hour for a four-person boat. To rent a motorboat, it starts at 60 euros per hour. Water ski equipment is also available for rental for an additional fee.
The place to consider for walking and relaxing on the shores of Lake Annecy are:
- The Gardens of Europe is fantastic for a picnic to enjoy the calm and serenity of your surroundings. Here you will find 600 trees and about 1,000 shrubs and plants.
- Le Pâquier is a seven-hectare esplanade by the Lake for picnicking, connecting the gardens of Europe via the Pont des Amours to the Parc and Palace of the Imperial.
- Plage des Marquisats is a popular space for swimmers and those soaking up the sun rays. Showers and toilets, and other food vendors nearby.
- Plage de l’Impérial, located north of the city, includes a beach with supervised swimming, a kiddy pool, a water slide, and beach volleyball. Check the website for current rates.
Basilica of the Visitation
Perched on a hill is the Basilica of the Visitation of Annecy. Its 72-meter bell tower stands tall and can be seen from a distance. The Basilica is a modern building dating from the 1930s. Inside are beautiful mosaics and stained-glass windows that recount the life of St. Francois de Sales and Jeanne d Chantal.
If you want to climb to the top of the bell tower, you can, but only on specific days. (phone: +33 4 50 45 22 76)
- Hours: 7:00 – 12:00, 14:00 – 18:00, (Summer months until 19:00).
- Admission: Free ( there is a fee to climb the tower)
- Getting There: Car – free parking, Bus – Line 14 to La Basilique or Line 3,14,15,K to Paradis, Walking – 9mm from Chateau d’Annecy, 11mn Palais de I’lle, 16 mn from Pont des Amours, 20 mn from Annecy train station.
Notre-Dame de Liesse Church
Built from 1846-1851 in the neoclassical style is the Notre-Dame de Liesse Church. This church was built on the 13th century Marist Sanctuary site that was destroyed during the French Revolution. However, some of the original Sanctuary can be found, such as the clock tower, arch windows, and an old wall.
- Hours: 9:00 – 19:00 daily
- Admission: Free
Visit the Annecy Castle where Counts of Geneva and the Dukes of Genevois-Nemours once resided during the 13th and 14th centuries. The structure today is a result of a combination of medieval defensive architecture and renaissance elegance. After the residence was abandoned in the 17th century, the castle was used as a military barracks until 1947.
St. Maurice Church
One of the oldest churches in Annecy, St. Maurice Church, was initially built as a chapel of a Dominican convent in 1422. The church has Gothic-style architecture, and the chapels are built in different parts of the nave by noble families from 1478 onward, which created the present-day lower sides of the church.
TOURS AND ACTIVITIES
The Savoie and Haute-Savoie countries are known for their wine and cheese. Take a wine tour from the city center and enjoy tasting authentic cheeses and walk the vineyards located in the villages near Annecy.
If you enjoy bicycling or dream of entering the Tour de France, rent a bicycle and explore along Lake Annecy, visiting some charming villages such as Duingt, Sevrier, Menthon, Saint Bernard, and more. The route is about 27 miles long, and you will have some of the most stunning views of France. Prices for renting a bike starts at 30 Euros; however, the price will vary depending on the type of bike and the length of time you wish to rent.
- Visit this website for more details and options on tours.
VIDEO OF ANNECY
Hiking in the Alps
Annecy is the perfect place to head out on a trek to enjoy the fantastic trails, see a waterfall, or sip on wine while walking through a vineyard. If you want a combination of hiking and wine tours, check out Alpes Flaveurs.
If you are looking for some hiking trail options around the Lake that will give you some amazing viewpoints, here are a few options:
- Mont Baron is an excellent half-day hike at a moderate level in the range of difficulty. The hike is about 7 miles long, offering a panoramic view of Lake Annecy.
- Mont Veyrier is moderate in difficulty, is a little over 6 miles long, and you’ll get fantastic views over the Lake and the town itself. Plus, this trail is close to the city, making it easy to access. Expect to spend around 5 hours hiking.
- Semnoz Plateau is near Leschaux, Haute-Savoie, France and is about a 5.2-mile loop trail. It is rated as difficult. Expect to spend a full day hiking.
- La Tournette is a challenging hike, especially as it is the highest peak in Annecy. Expect to spend upwards of 7 hours on this hike as it is over 7 miles. But the views at the top go on for miles! On a clear day, you can see several mountains, including Mont Blanc.
If you haven’t tried paragliding, you should! It is an adrenaline rush like you have never experienced before. The Tandem flight (meaning a guide will fly with you) will take you over beautiful mountains and see the ground below! During your flight you will be carried by the sail, flying like a bird, an experience you can’t imagine! Prices start around 90 euros, depending on the length of time you wish to glide. You can reserve your paragliding experience here.
- Here is another paragliding company to consider.
OUTSIDE THE CITY OF ANNECY
Château de Montrottier
Located at the foot of the Alps, in the Savoy, is Château de Montrottier. This fairy-tale castle with beautiful gardens to explore, medieval architecture to admire, traditional weaponry, and lots of art to see is worth a visit.
- Hours: April – June, Sept., and Oct. from 10:00 – 17:30, Wednesday – Sunday. July -August, it is open Mon. – Fri. from 10:00 – 17:30, Sat. 10:00 – 15:30, Sun. 10:00 – 18:30
- Admission: 9.00 euros adult
Gorges du Fier
One of the most important rivers in the Haute Savoie region is the Gorges du Fier, located about 10km from Annecy and one of the natural wonders to enjoy. The narrow canyon was formed by erosion, leaving some unique rock formations. Take the footbridge that is dangling about 82 feet over the water in the canyon. Picnic areas are available, as well as small cafes offering snacks and drinks on site.
- Hours: March 15 – October 15 from 9:30 – 18:30; Closed October 16 – March 14.
- Admission: 5.80 euros adult
Gorges du Fier
Château de Montrottier
WHERE TO EAT
You know you are in a great spot for delicious cheese and French cuisine. Some of the tastiest cheese dishes to sample are tratiflette, fondue savoyarde, or raclette. While in Annecy, try French liqueur called Chartreuse made by the Carthusian Monks since 1737. Another popular liquor to sample and is made in the region is called Génépi.
- French wine is the best! Consider visiting the La Cave wine bar, where you have many choices in wine and a variety of charcuterie boards.
- If you are interested in eating locals’ comfort foods, although not healthy, head over to L’Etage to sample some of the cheesiest dishes.
- If you want a restaurant with an outstanding view on the opposite side of the Lake, dine at Restaurant Edelweiss.
- While walking around Lake de Sevrier, make sure to have a drink on the waterfront at L’Oasis.
- Full of assortments of flaky pastries at Marmillon is the place to be in Annecy. Inside, the rustic baguettes and baskets filled with golden loaves of bread.
- When it is time to relax over a cup of coffee or dinner, visit Le Bastringue, overlooking the colorful winding canal.
WHERE TO STAY
Although we did not stay overnight in Annecy, I highly recommend staying at least two nights. The best area to stay in is Old Town, especially if you don’t have a car.
- Hotel des Alpes is located near the train station. Nicely decorated, fully equipped, but the rooms are small. It takes about 10 minutes to walk to Old Town.
- Black Bass Hotel is located on the outskirts of Annecy. With a pool and surrounding grounds with beautiful lake views, this lazy afternoon in the hotel is a favorite among visitors.
- Les Filateries Chambres d’Hotes is a great option when wanting to stay in Old Town. The rooms are cozy and stylish, and the breakfast is excellent.
- Many quaint and charming Airbnb options are available.
After having visited Annecy, it is hands-down one of my favorite destinations. Even though you won’t find any big city attractions, the peaceful, beautiful, and an eccentric town rich in French culture is worth visiting. If eating a French almond croissant, dangling your feet in the crystal-clear waters while sunbathing, and breathing the fresh mountain air is something you need in your life, then get busy booking your trip to Annecy.
Enjoy your travels! Please read my blogs about other exciting places around the world at Traveling Lens Photography.