Ahhhh Annecy, quite possibly one of the prettiest lakeside towns in all the world (I come from a country whose lakeside towns have been voted the best in the world; so this is really saying something – sorry New Zealand!!) But really, even on the dreariest of weekends, Annecy completely stole my heart. With so many things to do in Annecy and an unbelievably picturesque setting, I’m positive it’ll steal your heart too.
This wasn’t my first time there, I had passed through twice before during winter, only spending an afternoon each trip. However, both times I thought how I just HAD to come back for a longer visit in the summer. I imagined the flowers (always the flowers), refreshing swims, rock jumps, cycle adventures and boating. Lake edge picnics, french cheese, saucisson, cold beers. Hot, summer, bliss.
After convincing a few friends (with a couple of google images) that we needed to visit this Annecy place, off we went. After a nearly missed flight (don’t ask) and a questionable rental car procedure in Geneva we hit the road, headed towards Annecy.
Alas, the weather Gods were not on our side. My carefree, summer weekend dream of lake swims and picnics was not to be (well, the swim part anyway!). Thankfully the town is too cute not to love, and there lots of things to do in Annecy, whatever the weather!
A fairytale town – some background…
Annecy is located in the Rhone-Alpes region of France, only 40mins from Geneva and 90mins from Lyon. The lake was formed some 18,000 years ago due to glacial melt (thanks wiki!). Today it is nestled between a collection of mountains whose snow-melt feed the lake with crystal clear water. The glacial history, fresh mountain water and it’s strict environmental regulations are what make Lake Annecy ‘Europe’s Cleanest lake’ and an incredible colour of turquoise-greeny-blue.
Sometimes called the ‘Venice of the Alps’, the medieval town of Annecy straddles a series of winding canals at the northern tip of the lake. With a criss-cross of bridges, abundant colourful flower boxes, cobblestone streets and houses painted in delicious pastel hues, Annecy is a postcard perfect, fairytale town.
Things to do in Annecy…
Without even getting started on the actual activities that Annecy has to offer, you could easily spend at least a day meandering through the old town. A large number of Annecy roads are pedestrianised which makes it the perfect place for this. Stop for a croissant or coffee, people watch, admire the colourful buildings of mustard, lemon, salmon and pistachio. For wide streets and plenty of shops the Notre Dame district of Annecy (Rue Royale, Rue du Pâquier and the long Rue Carnot) is the place to go. While through the arches to the district of Saint Clare you’ll find old, narrow and windy streets (namely Rue Sainte-Claire, Rue des I’lle, and Place aux Bois and the side streets off these). There are a handful of churches and cathedrals, which, even if you’re not religious are always worth a visit as each is as unique and as beautiful as the next (their grand doorways also make a good rain shield when the heavens open – I know from experience).
Sitting slightly above the Saint Clare district is Château d’ Annecy, a 12th century castle with thick stone walls and sweeping views of the town and lake. If castles/chateaux are your thing (and if you have a car), then a drive around the lake edge is definitely worth it. There are a handful of enchanting French towns to explore and two spectacular chateaux – Château Ruphy and Château de Menthon Saint Bernard (the latter of which is said to have inspired Walt Disney for Sleeping Beauty).
With a car full of fresh bread, figs, cheese and saucisson, we drove up to Semnoz – one of the closest mountains and ski fields to Annecy. It’s an incredible, windy drive through tall trees with occasional glimpses out to the lake. Arriving at the top we hoped to picnic on grass with views for miles – lake views below and snow-capped peaks beyond (on a good day sometimes even Mont Blanc in the distance!) Unfortunately, we were instead caught up in a ferocious hail storm, a hail storm like you have never seen before. So no spectacular panorama for us, but a memorable picnic in the car all the same.
Eating in Annecy…
I’m not someone to usually go for places on the main drag (preferring local, less touristed places off the beaten path) buuuut the Marmillon Boulangerie (signposted as Boulangerie Artisanale) on Rue Sainte-Claire, is an exception. With drool-worthy window displays and an old fashion facade, this boulangerie has come straight from a picture book. It’s assortment of carefully crafted carbs draws gawking pedestrians from near and far. Inside rustic baguettes and loaves in shades of gold fill woven baskets. As well as being the most perfect-looking little bakery, I can 100% vouch for their almond croissant and almond brioche. Do iiiiit.
We heard of some good restaurants in Annecy, but as per usual our meals mostly consisted of sampling french produce in picnic form – to save a pound or two but also because we just can’t get enough of picnics. Sunday mornings are a special time to be in Annecy. From the crack of dawn local farmers and stall holders descend on the old windy streets of Sainte Claire – unpacking their stalls and filling them with fresh groceries. Colourful fruits, vegetables, jars of confiture, bunches of flowers and herbs. As a market connoisseur (self-proclaimed) I feel like I know the difference between a good aaaand not-so-good market. Annecy’s Sunday market is up there with the best.
Huge wheels of cheese balance precariously atop one another with samples a-plenty. Baskets brim with baguettes, and trays are layered with fresh pastries. Saucisson hangs in bunches from stalls and surprisingly friendly butchers encourage you to try. It’s a place of produce dreams. We stocked up on enormous juicy peaches, saucisson, cheese, and a loaf of fig and walnut sourdough. Do not miss trying the delicious ‘croix de savoie’ – the pastry of the region and breakfast of champions. A cross shaped flakey pastry filled with custard and topped with crispy sugary flakes.
A local story…
During our visit we googled ‘local events’ to see what was on – to find that a french fete was happening in the suburbs that night. From the loose description online we gathered there would be food and drinks, music and fireworks – all good things! So off we went feeling pretty pleased with ourselves for being so ‘local’. We arrived to a car park full of small marquees, a smattering of tables, strings of lights and a little stage. The dreary drizzle kept everyone huddled under the marquees, cups of wine and beer with genepi in hand. We quickly decided that we were definitely the only non-French there. C’est pas grave! Getting amongst the food and wine, we watched a French version of Phil Collins strum away and enjoyed a little boogie. Later in the evening the group was ushered to the nearby hillside for fireworks. Over the loudspeaker a joyous french voice announced “maintenant c’est l’heure du mariage de deux ânes”… thankfully one of us (not me) was able to translate! Puzzled our friend turned to us and said “I think he just said we’re going to watch the marriage of two donkeys…” Really?!?
Sure enough in the next 30mins we watched as a male donkey was led down the hill toward a female donkey wearing a white veil. Then, ten local men carried out a dance ‘teaching’ the male donkey how to impress the female with backflips and jumps to the beat of some music. Goats, chicken and sheep also played a part in the performance – acting as the congregation. Eventually fireworks were let off with a bang to celebrate the marriage. A very impressive display considering the wet evening and small, local feel of the event! Most bizarre!
We’re still not exactly sure why the donkeys got married, but hey the entertainment was topnotch. There’s a first for everything!
I’ve touched on the less adventurous side of Annecy in this blog post (due to the weather) though I thought I’d mention that in the summertime (weather permitting!) there are dozens of things to do in Annecy. Hikes and cycling, water skiing, sailing and kayaking, even paragliding! And in the winter, skiing of course! Truly something for everyone.
And that, mes amies, is Annecy – add it to your list.
Have you visited Annecy? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments below!
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