A street scene in Annecy with a very blue canal lined with colourful French townhouses, with mountains in the background
Photo by Commander05  –  Link

Annecy

France

With quaint cobbled streets, timber framed houses, a medieval castle and dazzling blue waterways meandering their way through the city, Annecy has just about everything you could ever need for a French postcard scene. Add in the mountains that surround the town and the aquamarine lake that it overlooks, and you've basically got yourself a film set.

It's lovingly described by the French as "the Venice of the Alps", but to be honest, this is probably still selling it short, because while it may have all the riverside beauty of Italy's floating city, Annecy is cleaner, less crowded and if you're staying a few days then it has a lot more to do. Want to go canyoning? You can. Fancy relaxing with a coffee and the paper? That's cool too.

History

For somewhere that appears so tranquil and peaceful today, Annecy's history is anything but. Originally a Roman settlement, its strategic location on the route between Geneva and Italy has led to it being invaded many times over the years, with the town coming under Sicilian, Sardinian, Spanish and Austrian rule at various points. Keep your eyes peeled around town for old city defences - among the key sites is its 12th-century centerpiece, Palais de I'lle, which sits between two waterways and has been used for everything from a fortified residence to a bleak prison.

The town

One of the most beautiful parts of Annecy is the Old Town. Exploring by foot you'll be able to stroll along the canals that dissect the city, stumble upon markets and stop off for lunch at one of the numerous cafes and restaurants that line the waterside. The French may be famous for their food, but it's raclette, a Swiss import, that you shouldn't miss here.

After you've refueled, take the short but beautiful walk to the town's main castle, Chateau d'Annecy, which provides a good understanding of the area and offers excellent views over the water. If you're feeling romantic, wander over to the Pont des Amours, otherwise known as Lovers Bridge, at the edge of the lake; legend has it that if two people kiss while standing on the bridge, their love will last forever. If you're feeling brave, test the power of the legend by hiring a joint kayak or paddle boat afterwards…

Get outdoors

Sandwiched between the lake and the mountains, Annecy has a lot to offer fans of adventure sports. Here's just a few ways to pass the days:

  • Cycle around the lake - the entire round trip is 50km, but those looking for something more leisurely can cycle out to a cafe or restaurant, enjoy a big nutella filled crepe, and then pedal home again.
  • Get in the water - whether this means swimming, paddleboarding, kayaking or even hiring a motor boat, the choice is yours.
  • Chill on the beach - let's face it, there is nothing better than lounging on the beach with a good book.
  • Go hiking - you're on the doorstep of the Alps, so there's no shortage of hiking and climbing opportunities available.

Where next?

If you fancy nipping to Switzerland for the day, or even just for the afternoon, Annecy is less than an hour from Geneva and multiple buses run between the two cities everyday. Annecy also makes a great base for daytrips to the smaller Alpine villages surrounding it; Le Grand Bornand is roughly 90 minutes away and well connected by public transport.

Need to know

Like most high-visitor towns, Annecy can get busy at the height of the summer season. If you're staying overnight then wake up before everyone else and watch the day unfurl with a coffee and a croissant from one of the town's many cafes.