Text by Ally Redmond - Photo: Annecy Tourisme
A serene natural landscape embodying all the traditional charms of the Savoie, Annecy is an enchanting setting to reconnect with nature and refresh the spirit.
Tucked away in southeastern France an hour south of Geneva, the Alpine town of Annecy enjoys a unique position at the northern tip of an impossibly picturesque aquamarine lake overlooking the surrounding snow-capped mountains.
Thanks to a boom in silk manufacturing during the 19th century, Annecy is the largest city in Haute-Savoie. Thankfully, the well-preserved town grew without harm to its idyllic surroundings, and today, it is an ideal hub for experiencing the numerous and varied riches of the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region: lush forests, looming peaks, bucolic pastures, crystal clear waters, and traditional Alpine villages that look as if they could have fallen out of a storybook.
Fondly referred to as “the pearl of the French Alps,” it is a destination for families, couples, solo travelers, leisure seekers, and adrenaline junkies alike… and isn’t hard to see why. Annecy’s myriad luxury resorts, hotels, and chalets — coupled with its distinct proximity to both water and mountains — make it an intensely versatile hotspot that draws tourists like a magnet year-round.
Photo: ANNECY TOURISME
And it isn’t just the winter wonderland you might be imagining. With a plethora of ski and lake beach resorts, cultural attractions, and different seasonal activities, Annecy is a place whose beauty and offerings are appreciated come sun, rain, sleet, or snow. Whether visiting with friends or family, in a group or alone, there is always something to do, see and enjoy.
A place deeply rooted in nature, Alpine culture, rich regional gastronomy, and unparalleled adventure…welcome to the heart of the Haute-Savoie: Annecy.
If you’ve heard of Annecy, you have surely heard of its star attraction. A glacial lake formed 15,000 years ago by melting ice from the Alps, Lac d’Annecy is instantly recognizable by its exceptional turquoise waters and breathtaking mountain panoramas. Dubbed the “purest lake in Europe” (thanks to strict environmental regulations and seven translucent rivers that feed into it from the surrounding peaks), it is one of the largest in France, as well as an internationally admired vacation and water sports destination. It is also the starting point of Le Thiou — the river around which Annecy was built in the Middle Ages — which drifts out of the lake and winds down through the Vieille Ville (Old Town) via three glimmering, flower-lined canals (you may have also heard Annecy called the “Venice of the Alps”), eventually flowing into the Gorges du Fier and emptying into the Rhône. Following its banks offers a pleasant and picturesque walk that gets you right into the Old Town from Cran-Gevrier.
- Water sports
Naturally, there is no shortage of water sports offered here, and if the place you’re staying doesn’t offer a particularly desired hobby, you are sure to find a local company that does. From sailing, rowing, fishing, and scuba diving to water skiing, wakeboarding, and wake surfing, there is an aquatic activity here to tickle anyone’s fancy. And if sun-basking is more your speed, you’ll be happy with the 11 beaches that circle Lac d’Annecy alone.
- Col de la Forclaz de Montmin
Arguably the best view in the area. The Col de la Forclaz de Montmin is a twisting mountain pass that stretches nearly 4,000 feet, offering a truly spectacular panorama over the lake and the surrounding mountains. Whether you plan to travel it by car, bicycle, or foot, there are a few different routes that will get you to the top: on the north side, start from either Menthon-St-Bernard or Talloires (the latter of which offers an additional view of the beautiful Ruphy Castle on the Duingt Peninsula), or go for the more challenging southern slope that begins in Vesonne. Regardless of which way you choose, expect plenty of restaurants, souvenir shops, and viewing terraces (keep an eye out for paragliders!).
- Tour du Lac
With its idyllic terrain and well-charted network of car-free paths, Annecy is a cyclist’s dream. The Tour du Lac, a magnificent 25-mile track that wraps around the circumference of the lake, is the area’s most popular and is estimated to receive well over a million cyclists a year. Bike rentals are easy to find, and the ride is manageable, no matter your level of athleticism; it can take anywhere from an hour to two and a half, depending on your aim. The main path, called the Voie Verte, is a converted railway line that runs from the center of Annecy to the village of Doussard, at the southern tip of the lake. Start by heading along Annecy-le-Vieux through to Chavoire, Veyrier-du-Lac, and Menthon-Saint-Bernard (home to the château that inspired the castle in Disney’s Sleeping Beauty), then travel down the coast of Talloires to end up back where you started. Dotted with beautiful beaches, picnic areas, and campsites, you’ll share this walkway with both hardcore bikers and leisurely passersby. Don’t be afraid to stop and take it all in along the way.
- Hot-air Ballooning
What better way to see such a spectacular region than from above? Achieve a bird’s eye view of the Alps with one of the many local companies that offer guided hot air balloon flights. From soaring over the peaks of Mont Blanc and the Aravis and Bauges mountain ranges to descending upon the glittering waters of Lake Annecy, Lake Aiguebelette, and Lake Bourget, it is an extraordinary and unforgettable way to discover the Haute-Savoie.
Things To Do
Photo: ANNECY TOURISME
Annecy’s renowned Vieille Ville dates all the way back to the Roman era and exploring it is a labyrinthine journey through winding alleyways, cobbled streets, charming architecture, and pastel-painted homes. When you hit the end of Rue Saint-Claire (one of the main streets known for its many arcade restaurants), you’ll find the Porte Perrière and the Porte Saint-Claire — fortified passages that were the original entrances to the city — which mark the edge of the neighborhood.
This Vieux Quartier has been and remains a place of commerce since the Middle Ages. Due to several devastating fires in the 15th century, much of Annecy’s half-timbered buildings were replaced by stone housing on arcades, which allowed space for traders and vendors to set up stands displaying their wares. Today, with 350 registered food stalls and 14 listed marchés de plein air, there is a market to be found on almost any day of the week. A town renowned for its regional specialties, you can have your pick of apples and pears from Savoy, local cheeses and cured meats, rustic bread and other baked goods, mountain honey, and more. At the special antique market (held on the last Saturday of the month), vintage lovers can expect to find old kitchenware and interesting sports equipment typical of the area, from wooden utensils, milk jugs, and butter molds to snow shoes, cowbells, and fishing gear. Set up on the edge of the lake, it is certainly one of the more picturesque locations to go treasure hunting.
An emblematic symbol of Annecy. A metal footbridge that connects the Jardins de l’Europe — a large wooded park — to the bustling Pâquier esplanade, the Pont Des Amours is a must-see town landmark for visitors. Stretching over the Canal du Vassé, with its colorful paddle boats, and shaded by centuries-old trees, this photographic bridge presents a sublime view of Lac d’Annecy and the nearby Swan Island. And it lives up to its name: urban legend has it that lovers who meet for a kiss in the middle will be united for life — don’t be surprised to see a bit of PDA!
Photo: ANNECY TOURISME
A former stronghold, prison, and courthouse designed in the shape of a ship in the middle of the Thiou Canal, the Palais de l’Île is Annecy’s most recognizable façade and an important cultural stop on any tour. Although it was rebuilt several times, the original stone structure dates back to the 12th century, and the building has been listed as a historical monument since 1900. Today, it serves as an art and history museum; enter to view medieval prison cells, courtrooms, and dungeons, as well as see the ancient triangular chapel and turret.
Photo: ANNECY TOURISME
Photo: ANNECY TOURISME
Thanks to the versatility of the landscape and the close-knit nature of the region, it is easy to take a day or weekend trip to any of the quaint Alpine towns surrounding Annecy, all of which boast their own culture and unique offerings.
Photo: HUGO CLÉMENT
Aix-les-Bains is a spa town situated on the shores of the neighboring Lake Bourget – the largest natural glacial lake in the area. Visitors from all over the world flock to Aix-les-Bains to indulge in its luxurious thermal beauty treatments, impressive golf course and country clubs, and vast freshwater marina. A historically well-to-do settlement that thrived during the Belle Époque (just have a look at the exquisite Château de la Roche du Roi: an Art Nouveau castle that dominates the southern end of the city), Aix was the holiday destination of choice for nobility, which greatly enhanced its cultural heritage. Be sure to check out the ancient sites, like the Abbaye d’Hautecombe, a 12th-century royal burial site, and the Temple of Diana: an ancient Gallo-Roman structure turned archaeological museum housing artifacts that date back to the Bronze Age. More recent cultural additions to the town include the Théâtre du Casino — which you may have seen featured in films or TV for its ornate 19th-century design — and the open-air Théâtre de Verdure in the Parc Floral des Thermes, which can accommodate up to 3,000 for concerts and other performances.
The historical capital of the Savoy region since the 13th century, have Chambéry on your hitlist if you appreciate interesting history, friendly locals, and authentic Savoie cuisine. Similar to Annecy, Chambéry also has a Vieux Quartier filled with shops, sinuous streets, and colorful buildings. Here, the Château des Ducs de Savoie — a medieval castle that’s housed the Prefecture since the mid-19th-century — is a must-see, as is the Fontaine de l’Éléphant, which was built in 1838 and features four massive elephant statues. As you move towards the center of town, plan on visiting the Musée des Beaux-Arts for a lesson in regional art history, and although it technically lies just outside the city limits, a trip to the Musée de Charmettes — the scenic former home and 18th-century gardens of the famous French philosopher, Jean-Jacques Rousseau — is worthwhile. Don’t forget to try Chambéry cuisine, unique in its notable Italian influences; order diots au vin, a dish featuring local sausage, and crozets, a square-shaped pasta made with buckwheat — all paired with wines from the region, of course!
Photo: HUGO COULBOUÉE
Photo: JAN GEERK
A lively and international urban gem surrounded by the Alps and Jura mountain ranges. Snuggled in the southwestern corner of Switzerland, Geneva is home to the EU of the United Nations and is a veritable cultural mecca with its many distinctive museums, art galleries, waterfront parks, and famous landmarks. You won’t want to miss the Bains des Pâquis — a man-made peninsula and beach that jets into Lake Geneva — which is home to Les Bains, a popular Turkish bath house (that turns into saunas in winter!); multiple event spaces; a restaurant; a lighthouse; and boasts the best view of the famous Jet d’Eau: the world’s tallest water fountain. Take a boat cruise around the lake, stroll the promenade, or stop by the city’s Old Town to see Saint Peter’s Cathedral. For some shopping, hit up Market Street, Rue de Rive, and Rue du Rhône (Swiss-made watch, anyone?), or — if you’re feeling thrifty — the Plainpalais Flea Market. For a Bohemian vibe, head over the river l’Arve to Carouge: a Mediterranean-style hamlet filled with artsy cafés, jazz clubs, kitschy boutiques and artisan studios. Finish with a hike or gondola ride up Mont Salève, also known as the “Balcony of Geneva,” for head-turning views of Mont Blanc.
The capital of the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region, Lyon reflects 2,000 years of history and is internationally beloved for its unique blended architecture, exciting foodie culture, and a desirable location on the confluence of the rivers Rhône and Saône. Start with a coffee next to the statue of Louis XIV at the Place Bellecour before exploring all the center’s chic shops and boutiques. Afterward, head to the other side of the river to wander the laid-back neighborhood of La Croix-Rousse, where you’ll find the city’s famed wall murals, including the Fresque des Lyonnais. If you can brave the walk up to Notre-Dame de Fourvière basilica, you’ll be treated to jaw-dropping views over the town, and don’t leave without a stroll around the traboules in the Old Town — a network of secret passageways used by Lyon’s 19th-century silk workers. Try classic Lyonnais fare like quenelles at one of its bouchon restaurants, take a beat in the Parc de la Tête d’Or (a 19th-century park with a lake, rose garden, and beautiful statues), or dig for long-lost knick-knacks at Lyon’s famous flea market: les Puces du Canal.
Photo: MATTES RENE
Where To Stay
13 rue Jean Mermoz, 74940 Annecy-le-Vieux
A member of Relais et Châteaux – a private club comprising 540 exceptional houses – Clos des Sens prides itself on offering guests tailored luxury experiences. Perched on a hill above Annecy, this discreet 5-star hotel features just 11 rooms, each with a uniquely designed fireplace, a balnéo spa bath, and a lake-view balcony. But the real draw here is the three-starred Michelin chef, Laurent Petit, who proposes a culinary journey shaped as much by the immaculate atmosphere as it is by his incredible food. One of the 170 “Grandes Tables du Monde,” the restaurant’s dishes pay expert homage to the land (the property even has its own herb garden with over 200 varieties) and can be paired with over 1,500 wine references. Foodies, this is your pick!
Photo: Clos des Sens
Allée de l’Impérial, 74000 Annecy
A versatile and majestic Belle Époque hotel makes for a dream vacation on the rippling shores of Lac d’Annecy. An ideal base for discovering the town and its surrounding area, it is a convenient half hour’s drive from the Geneva airport, so you’ll waste no time discovering the establishment’s myriad offerings, which include tailor-made services, a wellness area & spa, three restaurants, a bar, and a decked-out casino. The 4-star hotel features 90 rooms and 14 suites, all with views of the lake’s translucent waters, the snow-covered mountains, or the blooming flower beds of the adjoining “Charles Bosson’’ park. In summer, guests also enjoy an exclusive entrance to Annecy Beach.
Where To Eat
5160 F Col de la Forclaz, 74210 Talloires-Montmin
The one with the view. The terrace is where you want to be at Edelweiss 74, the restaurant of L’Edelweiss Hotel in Talloires-Montmin, where guests are treated to traditional Savoyard cuisine and a stunning panoramic view of Lake Annecy and the mountains. The eatery’s spacious interior is especially great for groups, be it a casual or celebratory affair, and all dishes are crafted with local seasonal products. Come hungry and expect hearty Alpine classics: reblochonnade, tartiflette, raclette, fondue, and more.
14 Faubourg Sainte-Claire, 74000 Annecy
At Le Bilboquet, the foundations of Savoy cuisine are as strong as the beautifully fortified stone walls. This gourmet restaurant in the heart of Annecy’s Old Town is run by celebrated chef Eric Besson, who has been plating stellar meals with his team there for two decades. Come for the extensive wine list and delicious food (expect more than one set menu option); stay for the affordable prices, exceptional service, and cozy atmosphere. The ultimate place for visitors looking to have a pleasant local experience.
237 Route de la Gare, 74210 Doussard
Huddled in the center of Doussard, a village between Annecy and Geneva, the restaurant of Hotel L’Arcalod serves up homemade Haute-Savoie cuisine from the heart. Known for championing small local producers, it is clear L’Arcalod seeks out the best of the best, from its cheeses to its honey. Offering elegant surf-and-turf options and other decadent dishes made with fresh ingredients farmed from the region, this elegant eatery is just a stone’s throw from the lake, so you can feast to your heart’s content and walk it off afterward.
1 Quai de l’Evêché, 74000 Annecy
A mix of traditional and eclectic dishes and authentic décor makes for an interesting meal in an intimate setting. With an interior designed like a real wooden chalet, complete with sheepskins and roaring fireplaces, this Alpine restaurant is the real deal. The robust menu evolves with the seasons, featuring both classic Savoyard specialties and reimagined regional favorites. If you visit in the warmer months, plan to sit on the canal-facing patio for a perfect view of the Palais de I’Île.