Annecy is everything a French alpine city should be – fairy tale pretty, historic, cultural, friendly and utterly delicious. Janine Marsh falls head over heels for the “Venice of the Alps”…
If there was a contest for France’s most beautiful city, I’m pretty sure Annecy would be at the top of the list. Its charms are, quite simply, irresistible. At the heart of it is a crystal clear lake, and, surrounded by majestic mountains, you’re never far from nature here. Winding canals cross its historic cobbled streets and flow under picturesque bridges, past ancient churches and ancient buildings. There are beautiful beaches rather riviera style, activities galore, fabulous restaurants and great museums.
Annecy’s old town
Annecy is used to having superlatives thrown at it “one of the most beautiful towns in France” – tick. “One of most floral cities in France” – tick. European capital of outdoor sports – tick.
The light in Annecy is like nowhere else, it has a purity that I’ve never seen anywhere else. The city is quite ridiculously photogenic and there are sites galore to make you sigh. Canals, bridges and little cobbled streets. Terraced cafes, beautiful old buildings and a medieval castle. Les Jardins de l’Europe, an elegant park on the edge of the lake. And of course the famous Palais d’Isle, a former prison and probably the most iconic site in the city. And all this with a backdrop of snow peaked mountains.
What not to miss in Annecy
This is a city that’s made for flaneurs – that French word which has no real equivalent in English but is often translated as to wander. It means so much more. It means to wander in a leisurely way, to soak up the ambiance, to see the sights – Annecy is a flaneur’s dream town. And, it is the best way to get to know this place, simply wander, get lost in its flower-filled streets, take a break at a café, enjoy a leisurely lunch, walk some more, stop for aperitifs, walk some more, relax over dinner and fall in love with this pretty city.
Get up early to see the Pont d’Amour at its best. There is a myth that says that if two lovers kiss on the bridge, they will stay together forever. That aside, you have the most beautiful views over the lake and into the city as the water flows gently under the bridge. Watch the sun come up and light up the water, it’s rays spiking over the tree lined quais, over the rooftops of the city and through the stained glass windows of the 14th century church of saint-Maurice, the oldest in Annecy.
You can’t miss the 12th century Palais de L’Ile. It’s undergone a restoration and is now an interesting museum you can visit to discover its history as a fort, prison, school…
Climb a small mountain to reach the medieval chateau d’Annecy, now a museum and exhibition venue. There are marvellous views over the town from the castle ramparts.
Take a detour to Talloires
I took a taxi boat across the lake and was dropped off at the pontoon of Auberge du Père Bise, a legendary hotel/2 Michelin Star restaurant in Talloires, a tranquil medieval village. It was a bit of Grace Kelly moment in that I felt like a princess and a celebrity! The wind wooshed through my hair as the sun was setting, we sped across the still waters and I drank in the sights – a castle on the edge of the lake, birds flying overhead, the mountains turning dark as the light fell. It’s expensive but one of those experiences that are rarely bettered.
After a wine tasting session with one of France’s most famous sommeliers at the divine Abbaye de Talloires Hotel/Restaurant was followed by dinner at 1903, the bistro of Auberge du Père Bise where star chef Jean Sulpice came out to say hello and ask if I enjoyed my meal. “Enjoy it Monsieur le Chef” I said, “that is one of the best meals of my life” and I meant it.
If you’re staying in the town it’s easy to get around on foot or by bus. You can also hide a bike and take a guided tour – book at the tourist office. And there’s one of those very French little train tours. Outside of Annecy a car is pretty much essential.
I love French markets. I’ve been to hundreds but I can truthfully say, I would go to Annecy for the market alone. There’s been a market here for centuries, going back to the middle ages. Every Tuesday, Friday and Sunday morning stalls are set up and the streets fill with shoppers. I arrived around 7am on a beautiful autumn morning with the dawn sun rising slowly over the mountains, warming the air. I watched mesmerised as a man in a beret cycled past. An old lady pulled a trolley over the cobbles. A baker bought out a tray of still steaming croissants, the scent carried on the air. Beautiful displays of vegetables and fruit, bread and cakes, cheese and chocolate, artisan gifts, baskets and more, were laid out along the ancient streets and over the bridges. This is a market to fall in love with.
Make like the locals and enjoy a hot chocolate or coffee at the Buvette de Marché, the oldest café in Annecy. 20 Rue Sainte-Claire, 74000 Annecy.
Annecy is a gastronomic delight with a ton of fabulous restaurants and bars. Discover the locals favourites when it comes to lunch, dinner, aperitifs and coffee: Where to eat out in Annecy
I stayed at Le Boutik Hotel. With one door opening onto the lake and another door opening onto the old town of Annecy, it’s in an ideal location. The rooms are all unique in this elegant mansion house so pick what suits you – retro-vintage, Scandi – interior designer and owner Delphine has great style. And the beds are super comfy. The hotel also has a concept store full of fabulous things you’ll fall for. And it also has a lovely little café, perfect for brunch at the weekends. www.leboutikhotel.com
From Paris (Gare de Lyon) take the TGV direct to Annecy – from 3 hours 40 minutes. Geneva International Airport is 50km from Annecy, from there take the train or coach.