What to do in Annecy, the enchanting ‘Alpine Venice’

Annecy-hero

Annecy’s unique beauty consists of quirky marketplaces, rolling canals and the cleanest Lake in Europe.

Annecy is nestled above the Regional Natural Park of the Bauges Massif, north west of the lake where it takes its name. A beautiful and historic city in the region of Haute-Savoie, it serves as the perfect destination for a road trip.

The city is bursting with tangible history and is regarded as one of France’s most enchanting towns.

Annecy

Where in France: Haute-Savoie
Drive from Calais: 840km / 7h 15m

The exterior of the historic homes, restaurants, bakeries and boutiques in Annecy all boast the unmistakeably French shades of peach and rose. In fact, it is Annecy’s colour and vibrancy that first hits you as you arrive. The ancient city is set around a network of peaceful canals, making a coffee stop at one of the many quaint cafés a very tranquil experience. And it’s thanks to these canals that Annecy has earned its reputation as an 'Alpine Venice'.

The Palais de l'Ile and canal on a summer’s morning
The Palais de l'Ile and canal on a summer’s morning.

Vieille Ville

One truly unmissable feature Annecy has to offer is its Vieille Ville, which translates to ‘old town’. Infused with buckets of antique charm, this section of the city is the best place to wander if you find picturesque cobbled streets, serene canals and pastel-coloured architecture pleasing to the eye. The old town is also where you’ll find Annecy’s most famous structure, the Palais de l'Ile. An ancient prison that now acts as a museum and a unique spot to take a holiday snap!

Be sure to visit Vieille Ville on a market day to get the full rustic and continental experience. Tuesdays are the day best suited for lovers of fresh farm produce such as cheese and wine, while Fridays and Sunday mornings boast a broad variety of local goods. However, if you’re more interested in trinkets, antiques and crafty bits and pieces, the markets (usually) held on the last Saturday of the month are unmissable.

Market days in Annecy’s old town (especially the monthly antique market), are popular with residents of Geneva and vacationers on holiday in other, nearby Alpine resorts, which helps to provide a great atmosphere when flitting through the stalls.

The antique market in Annecy’s Vieille Ville (Old Town).
The antique market in Annecy’s Vieille Ville (Old Town).

Chateau d’Annecy

As well as the beautiful buildings and soothing canals, visitors flock to visit this delightful slice of French heaven and step inside the walls of the ornate, Château d’Annecy. The castle is, at first glance, an elegant marriage of medieval defensive and decorative architectural styles and was the residence of the counts of Geneva during the 13th and 14th centuries.

During WWII it was used as a military barracks and even a hiding place for French Resistance fighters. Later, in the 1950s it was officially classified as an historical monument and today it serves as a thrilling museum, filled with regional art such as medieval sculptures, Savoyard furniture, Alpine landscape paintings, and other works of contemporary art. A visit to the castle also grants breath-taking panoramic views from the rooftops of the Vieille Ville to The Bauges massif Regional Nature Park.

The regal and historic, Château d'Annecy
The regal and historic, Château d'Annecy.

Europe’s Cleanest Lake

Lake Annecy is regarded as Europe’s cleanest lake and is a huge draw for tourists. Locals will tell you that it earned its reputation of cleanliness because of strict environmental regulations introduced during the 1960s. The stunning lake is 27.6km squared in size, making it the third biggest body of water in France. Experts believe the lake to have formed around 18,000 years ago when the large alpine glaciers melted. The small mountain rivers of Ire, Eau morte, Laudon, Bornette and Biolon, all feed the lake whilst it slowly flows into the Thiou River that cuts through the city centre.

Visitors mainly venture to the lake because of its superb swimming conditions. The water is clear and can be enjoyed via the many beaches that surround it, each as clean as the lake itself. The water temperature is perfect during the summer months, creating plenty of opportunity to try your hand at the numerous water sports on hand, such as powerboats and pedalboats that can be rented by the half-hour. Boat excursions are also very popular for those who like to remain dry, ranging from lunch cruises to short round-trip cruises. More information can be found on the lake’s official website.

Pedal boats atop the waters of Lake Annecy
Pedal boats atop the waters of Lake Annecy.

When to Visit

It’s the summer months that are indeed the most popular with visitors, with July typically being the busiest month. If you don’t mind sharing the sunshine with a crowd though, a day of wandering through the old town before taking a plunge in the lake really is a summertime dream. The region is also home to plenty of hotels, many with their own pools, meaning a swimming costume should definitely be on your packing list!

However, Annecy is much more than just a sun-seekers city, with tourists also flocking during the later summer months and even throughout Autumn. The lake itself is warmed by the sun over the hottest months and maintains enough heat to provide a pleasant swimming temperature right up until the end of September. Some visitors prefer visiting during this period, as well as in October as the air is noted as being freer of clouds, providing better views of the surrounding mountains.

 The clear sky over Lake Annecy during the Autumn
The clear sky over Lake Annecy during the Autumn.

Our advice when travelling is to stop at the towns and villages of Arras, Troyes to the historical city of Dijon along the way. Be sure to book your next road trip with us in advance to take advantage of the best possible fares!