There’s nothing like the serenity and breathtaking beauty of the Annecy lakeside. Beyond its tranquil, bright-blue water and craggy green hills stand heart-pounding mountains, regal and chilly in the not-so-distance. Coots dot the lake, their dark plumage like ink stains on glass; up close, the water is so clear that you can see their gray feet paddling beneath their little bodies in the shallows. The same clear water rushes through Annecy’s Old Town in tidy canals lined with pastel-colored houses, flower boxes, and access staircases you could climb if you stepped out of a boat (the only detail supporting the ridiculous cliché that Annecy is the “Venice of the Alps”). Pedestrian bridges allow you to dart here and there through town, under archways into small alleys and quaint squares, and several buildings pop out of the pastel backdrop: the lovely white-stoned Église Saint-François-de-Sales, the imposing Église Notre-Dame-de-Liesse, and the storybook-suitable Palais de l’Île and Château Annecy.
It’s possible to take a guided tour of Annecy, duck into each one of its historic buildings, attend one of several events hosted there, or check out its handful of museums, but this is a place to relax and remember how to breathe. My recommendation: walk the length of the Old Town, through the market (which most mornings invades the Old Town completely), and collect supplies for a picnic from friendly vendors generous with their samples. Make sure to stop at a boulangerie for some bread (and pastry, duh). I recommend Marmillon on rue Sainte Claire, which appears to be a local favorite and serves excellent bread and a wide variety of treats. Try the amandine myrtille and try to cope with the idea of not having one every day for the rest of your life.
Provisions in hand, cross into the Jardins de l’Europe, past massive sequoia trees. Continue over the Pont des Amours and pause to look at the pretty boats tied up under delicately lush trees, then walk on along the lake and just try to keep from gasping.
Opportunities to explore the lake are plentiful: care to rent a bicycle and pedal the lakeside path? Parasail from a nearby hill? Take a boat tour? Communities south of Annecy along the lake, such as Talloires, are also accessible with and without a car and are awfully cute.
To get a birds-eye view, you can hike up onto the ridge above Annecy, along a very well-marked path to Mont Veyrier and Mont Baron. It will get your blood pumping, but not too painfully, since the path mainly consists of switchbacks through the woods. Your efforts will be rewarded with views that make you just as indignant as I am about the Annecy-Venice comparison, on behalf of both places!
Annecy is a wonderful place to cool your blood and clear your head and fill your lungs with fresh air. Every time I leave it, I hope I haven’t seen it for the last time, and every time I return, I wish I were seeing it for the first time.
Travel Time and Trip Costs:
From Lyon, without a discount card, the train costs about 27 euros each way and takes a little under 2 hours. Annecy’s Old Town is a 5-10-minute walk from the Annecy train station.
If you have the luxury of time, wait for a sunny day in spring or summer to visit Annecy, when the colors are most intense. Trust me, you want to see this lake in the sunshine. Note that on sunny weekends, the Old Town can be a little overrun.
Amandines cost almost 0 euros.