Annecy, Venice of the Alps

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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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 . . .)

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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.

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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.

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Tips:

  • 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.
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18 thoughts on “Annecy, Venice of the Alps

  1. I love Annecy! I think it’s the French city where I’ve spent the most time after Lyon and Paris. It’s great that you had nice weather, even if it wasn’t terribly warm. Perfect for strolling with ice cream (yum).

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    1. Annecy is such a lovely place – I’d like to return before I leave, just to hike up one of the mountains for an aerial view, but I’m trying to prioritise new areas. The second the sun’s out, it’s ice cream weather as far as I’m concerned!

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  2. Annecy’s gorgeous! I took a day trip there from Lyon last January and even though it was snowing, I found the town, along with the lake, stunning. Had tartiflette there, which was life-changing. Glad you enjoyed it, too!

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    1. I was so excited to finally see it, especially as everyone kept telling me how beautiful it is! Just goes to show that Annecy is gorgeous whatever the weather 🙂 Glad you enjoyed the local delicacy! (I’m not all that keen on French cheese so gave it a miss!)

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  3. It looks gorgeous – we’ve long wanted to visit Annecy but never made it there (yet). Your post has inspired me to hurry and make it happen!! Love the picture of the lake with those snowy mountains.

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    1. I have the impression it would look beautiful at any time of year – these photos were from my trip in February, but I also went in April when my family visited. Different weather, but just as beautiful. Summer is best if you want to swim in the lake, but shoulder season is better if you’d prefer to visit when it’s not heaving with visitors. Hope you make it there soon (and look forward to seeing your pictures when you do go)!

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  4. My friends got married there (one of them comes from there originally) beautiful place. Sadly coloured somewhat by the fact that I managed to catch a bad case of food-poisoning while I was there – but I shall return!

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    1. Annecy was as pretty as everyone had said it was – and what a great reason to visit! A shame your visit was slightly tainted by a case of food poisoning, but hopefully you’ll be luckier next time!

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  5. so glad you wrote this! i’ve really wanted to visit Annecy for the longest but was unable to make it this time around. But since I’ll be in l’académie de Grenoble next school year I know that a visit to (or living in?) Annecy will become a reality! It looks gorgeous and quaint! I wouldn’t mind moving from one quaint town (Colmar) to another! do you happen to know how big Annecy is? i know you said it’s the largest city but it’s still town-sized?

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    1. It’s a beautiful spot, and one which looks equally stunning under sunny or stormy skies! At least next time round you’ll be a little closer (and as you say, possibly in the town proper) so will manage a visit. I’m not sure how far the suburbs stretch out, but I’d say the town centre is of a comparable size to Colmar – I guess French city standards are somewhat different to those in the UK and the US! According to Wikipedia, the population is c. 124,000 inhabitants (town centre + suburbs), if that helps you visualise it. I guess you’ll find out over the summer where you’ll be based next year?

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    1. The French have nailed ice cream parlours – those with 10+ flavours are few and far between in the UK. If you’re ever around Chester, the Ice Cream Farm (near Tattenhall) has a great range of ice creams and sorbets. Raspberry sorbet is one of my favourites too 🙂

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