Clinging to the northern shoreline of Lake Annecy, surrounded by snow-capped peaks, is Haute-Savoie’s largest city – though it’s a town by my standards. A warren of cobbled streets, edged by pastel-hued buildings and intersected by canals, makes up the Old Town; it’s not hard to see how the town has come to be known as the “Venice of the Alps”. (Our little jaunt to Martigues back in October had left me feeling more than a little sceptical of such nicknames, but I’m pleased to report that Annecy lives up to expectations.) Annecy lies a hundred miles or so to the east of Lyon and, given the compact nature of the town, is a perfectly viable (and highly recommendable) day trip.
The French TV series Les Revenants (The Returned), which was shot in and around Annecy, certainly piqued my interest in the area, though on my first visit to Annecy the skies were a clear blue, a far cry from the sombre twilight scenes of Les Revenants. Putting my love of this series aside, I was keen to show Laurence a little more of Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes when he came out to visit in February – and that’s where Annecy came in. We caught the 08:50 train, featuring a tight connection in Chambéry, and arrived in Annecy around 11:15.
Leaving the station behind, we headed towards the town centre; even without a map, it’s easy enough to find your way. Before long, we were soaking up the scents and sounds of the bustling local market: seasonal produce piled high in crates; the familiar chit-chat between stallholders and their regular customers; cries from stallholders pitching their wares. Amongst the vast tomes of cheese, ham hocks and slabs of nougat were little platters brimming with samples. Needless to say, we didn’t hesitate to nibble on some slivers of dry-cured ham and cubes of sugary nougat!
Having browsed most of the stalls, we returned to the Alsatian sauerkraut stall and purchased some hot meats for lunch – sausage, pork belly and a smoked pork chop. They even chopped it up into bite size pieces for us and provided us with cutlery, thus preventing a repeat of the rotisserie chicken episode in Lyon. Paired with a crusty baguette from a nearby bakery, it was a delicious (and very filling) déjeuner. To top it off, from our picnic spot in the Jardins de l’Europe, we also had a gorgeous view of the crystal clear waters of Lake Annecy.
After lunch, we decided to escape the crowds and wander along the lakeshore. Despite the blue skies, it was by no means warm – not that this put off the keen sunbathers sprawled across the jetties. We wandered a kilometre or so southwards, before stopping at a viewpoint to snap some photos of the lake and surrounding mountains whose peaks were dusted with snow. Had the temperatures been warmer, I’d have been only too happy to take a dip in the lake. Come spring, it’s possible to hire small boats and row (or pedal) your way across the lake.
Returning to the Old Town, we decided it was ice cream o’clock. (Though if you’re anything like us, when is it not?) There’s no shortage of ice cream parlours in Annecy’s Old Town; we opted for sorbets from Glacier Chez Poustache as it was marginally cheaper than its competitors. In the UK, choosing a flavour is considerably simpler as the choice is narrower: chocolate, strawberry and vanilla are a given; then there’ll be a few others depending on how big the ice cream parlour or stand is. Here in France, ice cream is on par with cheese in terms of varieties – occasionally resulting in me buying two scoops to save the agony of deciding between two equally delicious looking flavours. (On this occasion, I opted for blueberry but couldn’t resist trying Laurence’s mango. Like mother, like daughter . . .)
Ice creams in hand, we strolled along the canals, before venturing up to the fortress; entry was cheap, but we preferred to enjoy the sunshine while it lasted. By mid-afternoon the market traders had packed up and the crowds had cleared. Meandering through the streets we passed the Palais de l’Isle, a medieval castle and former prison which adorns many a postcard of the town. Annecy is touristy, but charmingly so.
After a final loop round the picturesque Old Town, we caught the 16:53 direct train back to Lyon, arriving home with plenty of time to cook our duck fillet for tea and pack for Chamonix.
- From Lyon, both direct (c. 2hrs) and indirect (c. 2h30) TER trains can take you to Annecy: the former go through the Bugey, to the north of Lyon (arguably a more scenic route); the latter via Chambéry, to the south. Expect to pay €27.20 for a return ticket if you have a railcard, or €54.40 for an adult ticket without a railcard; the route you choose has no effect on the ticket price.
- Sightseeing boats run regular trips across the lake, and from recollection charged about €18 for an adult ticket. In all honesty, I can’t imagine there’s anything you can see from the boat that you couldn’t see by taking a short walk along the lakeshore.