Annecy, the Pearl of the French Alps
Nestled away in southeastern France, Annecy is called the “Pearl of the Alps” and is located on the northern tip of picturesque Lake Annecy surrounded by the snow-covered Alps. We recently travelled to Annecy to celebrate a friend’s 50th birthday party, which was held in a chalet in this majestic area and were blown away by the beauty and lifestyle. Besides its history, landscape and architecture, it is also an exciting place to live, its proximity to Geneva and its Alpine location offering numerous and varied activities and bringing international residents and tourists year-round.
Annecy is the largest city of French region, Haute Savoie, and is known as the Venice of the Alps, possessing three charming canals that flow from the Thiou River. These were originally built to protect the city and to help with trade for the artisans who worked along the banks. This area is called Annecy Old Town. It is pedestrian only with lovely winding cobblestone streets, lined with Italian Piedmontese-style pastel houses and bright flower boxes. It looks straight out of a fairytale. The Palais de l’Isle, a 12th century castle is located in the centre, on an island in the river Thiou. Now a local history museum, it has had many lives, once as a prison, mint, courthouse, and even a lord’s residence. This is also where you can take the local famous picture l’écluse fleurie (the flower tide lock) on the Thiou canal. Don’t hesitate to wander in the small alleys and follow the canal along the Louis-Lachenal promenade, filled with shops and restaurants. The whole city is beautiful, very green and even was awarded the prestigious Golden Flower at the Concours des villes et villages fleuris in 2015, making it one of nine celebrated floral cities in France.
A truly beautiful thing to see in Annecy is Le Musée-Chateau d’Annecy (the Castle Museum of Annecy). It’s located at the top of the small hill and it only took us 10 minutes to walk there from the canal area. This chateau and tower system was the former house of the Lords of Savoie. It’s unique in that it blends medieval defensive architecture with the elegance of French Renaissance style. Eventually it was abandoned by the family in the 18th century and became a barracks for the army until the 1950s. Later it was acquired by the town and currently is a museum holding a collection of Contemporary and Fine Arts and exhibitions, as well as an Observatory of the Alpine Lakes, which explains the biodiversity of the lake and its connection to life around the lake. It also includes a very interesting museum on Prehistoric Lake Villages, which are scattered throughout the region, although most remain buried or under water because they were built on the floodplains as an act of defense, during the bronze age. While at the Chateau you also get a full view of the spectacular landscape surrounding the city. Get your cameras ready, it’s photo time for sure.
In and around Annecy, you will see countless runners, bikers, hikers, sailors, climbers, and skiers. Its specific mountain and lake location make it a sporty city and hot spot for adventurers. So enjoy the local activities. You can easily rent bikes and spend your day riding around the perimeter of the lake. If you aren’t feeling up for a bike ride, rent a paddleboat instead. There are also tour boats, leisurely making their way around the lake, presenting the world-class view of the mountains. It is for sure the number one tourist attraction in town, the translucent lake. An ideal place to stay are one of the charming villages around the lake, Veyrier-du-Lac, Menthon-Saint-Bernard or Talloires. Surrounded by the stunning mountains, and with charming colourful chalets, you feel like in a movie scene.
As I mentioned earlier, one of Annecy’s nicknames is the Venice of the Alps, but it is for two reasons. First is because of the canals you can see in the old town, but the second reason is they also host a real Venetian Carnival, just like the Italian one in Venetia, Italy. Every March, attendees dress with magnificent Carnival masked costumes and parade through the streets. They have many activities for the onlookers too, including how to make the masks and do the make-up for the unique Venetian look.
Le Pont des Amours (Lovers’ Bridge) is yet another beautiful sight to witness in Annecy. Legend has it that if two lovers kiss on the bridge, they will stay together forever. Located just beside the lake is the a large green space, Paquier, which when you walk further eventually becomes the Jardins de l’Europe (Gardens of Europe), known for it’s huge and magnificent multi centennial trees you can find there.
Across the lake, on the north side is the most luxurious hotel in Annecy, L’Impérial Palace also known for its gardens. It’s located at the border of Annecy’s adjacent town, Annecy le Vieux, which, despite its name, is not and shouldn’t be confused with the old town of Annecy, la VieilleVille.
The Carnival is not the only interesting event the city has to offer.The Annecy International Animated Film Festival has taken place in Annecy since 1960 and remains one of the most important animated festivals in the world. Every year in June, over 11,000 professionals of the industry from all other the world to showcase their movies, ranging from 3D animated graphics to traditional cartoons and stop motion clay based animation. A great specific aspect about this festival is that every evening, public outdoor movies are presented on the Paquier lawn.
Another must-see for locals and tourists is the Annecy Lake Festival. This amazing pyrotechnic show takes place every year on the first Saturday of August and is the biggest show of its kind in Europe. Fireworks are shot off from Lake Annecy and stands are built everywhere around Paquier so everyone can enjoy it. There is just under 50,000 ticketed seats, but do remember, you can view it from anywhere in the city. For more info and seat booking, you can have a look at the town tourism website.
Annecy is located at the heart of the French Alps, so obviously mountain and extreme sports are huge here. In the summer, hiking, climbing, mountain biking, white water rafting and paragliding are all easily accessible and within minutes from the town. In the winter, you can enjoy tobogganing, skiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing. There are many wonderful places, but the top close locations to the town are Mount Semnoz, Mount Veyrier, La Tournette and the Gorges du Fier along with its suspended footbridge. When you are up high, you can see Mont Blanc, the highest peak in the French Alps.
Every French town has a market and Annecy is no exception. In the heart of the old quarters, browse around the stalls in their wonderful market. On Tuesdays, local produce is on sale at the food market. On Fridays and Sundays, the market is bigger, with plants and flowers, and manufactured and textile goods respectively. Not sure what to buy? Watch the ladies of a certain age – no French woman worth her salt would buy inferior or over priced goods off the market.
Food is Annecy is of course typically Alpine specialties, often similar to Swiss specialties but which also contribute to the French regional cuisine. Local specialties include tartiflette, croziflette (quite similar to tartiflette, but made with crozets, pasta from Savoie), raclette or cheese fondue eaten with potatoes, diots de Savoie (dried meats), gherkins, and pickled onions, or, of course, lake fish like perch, trout or arctic char.
Lake Annecy itself feels almost like something out of a dream, but very real once you get a feel of the sheer grandeur of it all. It’s the most breathtaking and majestic landscapes framing a glacier fed-lake, mother nature at her most pure form. Who wouldn’t want to enjoy that?
Vivre Ma France,
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