Winding canals have made Venice one of Italy’s most famous tourism darlings. However, many other destinations across Europe also have scenic waterways. You’ve likely heard of Giethoorn, affectionately known as the “Venice of the Netherlands.” But what about Annecy?
This atmospheric mountain town settled at the tip of Lake Annecy in southeastern France lures travellers with its charming old town that’s crossed by canals and bridges — hence its nickname the “Venice of the Alps” — plus heritage-rich landmarks like Château d’Annecy and Palais de I’Île, churches, museums, cafés, cosy bistros, and Michelin-rated restaurants taking alpine cuisine to new heights.
It’s also well regarded for stunning scenery — a sparkling lake with sandy beaches, rivers, waterfalls, and snow-capped peaks — and the nature-oriented outdoor recreation that goes along with all that. Visitors have the choice of staying at boutique hotels, quaint guest houses, and campsites.
Whether you’re planning to stick around Annecy for a while or just stop by as part of a longer trip around the French Alps and maybe even the South of France (it’s less than four hours from Provence), it won’t take long to fall in love with this picture-perfect alpine escape.
Rivage Hôtel & Spa Annecy occupies a prime position on the lake near several notable attractions. Besides being a convenient home base for exploring, it very much reads like a contemporary retreat with rooms that echo the natural beauty of the area, a pampering spa, and a sophisticated restaurant.
Set in the heart of the old town a 10-minute walk from the lake, Hébé Hotel is a great place to unwind in between sightseeing, shopping, and eating without leaving the city centre. The colours used throughout the interiors cue calm vibes while the clean lines, wood floors, and sleek furnishings create a cosmopolitan profile.
So much of Le Pélican centres around the water. With a privileged perch on the banks of Lake Annecy, why wouldn’t that be the case? The property supplies the perfect vantage point to admire the placid blueness from the terraces. When you do decide to venture inside, comfy rooms and suites are equipped for restful ZZZs.
Hotel Catalpa is a smart mid-range option that’s steps from the lake and public beach and a short walk from the old town. Inside the stone façade are 52 rooms replete with all the requisite comforts and a dash of French flair. There’s also a restaurant, bar, and terrace.
One of France’s largest and most pristine lakes, Lake Annecy is fed by pure mountain springs that trickle down from snow-capped peaks. It offers sandy beaches for sunbathing in the warmer months. Watersports are a huge draw for aquatic enthusiasts who have the option of paddleboarding, wakeboarding, scuba diving, and catamaran rentals.
Compact and exceedingly pedestrian-friendly, Vieille Ville exudes fairytale charm with cobbled streets, canals, and pastel houses ornamented by flower boxes. It’s the sort of place you don’t mind getting lost. In fact, wandering around — maybe stopping by one of the boulangeries or sitting down at a sidewalk café — is part of the laid-back allure of the old town.
Built on a rocky island way back in the 12th century, Palais de I’Île has served many functions over the years: a prison, a courthouse, a minting workshop, an administrative building, a gymnasium, and a school for stone carvers. Deservedly listed as a historic monument in 1900, the original medieval structure now plays host to a museum.
Built on a hilltop above town, the storybook Château d’Annecy was home to the Counts of Geneva back in the 13th century. Today, it houses a museum with different sections that display local furniture, sculptures, and art as well as natural science exhibits.
While the Gardens of Europe sit on the shore of Lake Annecy, this tree-lined park is a destination in its own right — not just somewhere to pass through in between other waterfront activities. Designed by Henri Porreaux in 1863, this lovely green space provides the ideal spot to relax, whether that’s with an afternoon picnic or a leisurely stroll in this French town.
The Annecy Farmers Market operates every Tuesday, Friday, and Sunday throughout the year. That means no matter what season you decide to visit, there will be an abundance of fresh produce and regional products like salami and cheese up for grabs.
The famous French department store Galeries Lafayette (perhaps you’re familiar with the flagship location on Boulevard Haussmann in Paris?) has an outpost in this French town. It’s the place to go for contemporary and luxury designers, shoes, accessories, items for kids and men, beauty products, and home goods.
The first stop for many travellers keen to indulge their sweet tooth while on holiday in Annecy, Pâtisserie Philippe Rigollot is a dessert shop known for its whimsical confectionery. With decadent cakes, scrumptious fruit tarts, and delicate macarons, it’s impossible to pick a favourite.
The best souvenirs aren’t knick knacks but rather items that tell a story and have a distinctive sense of place. One of the oldest operating shops in Annecy, Chapellerie Pochat carries on century-old millinery traditions. The shelves are stocked with impeccably handcrafted hats you’ll wear forever.
The French know a thing or two about cheese, and Fromagerie Pierre Gay indeed confirms that fact. Established in 1935, this small shop is chock-full of the creamiest, most delectable reblochon, chevrotin, and aged goat tomme.
Awarded a coveted Michelin star for its innovative twists on homestyle French alpine cuisine, L’Esquisse draws foodies from near and far. Attention to detail in plating elevates the carefully selected seasonal ingredients and skilled cooking techniques. The entire experience feels upscale yet still soulful and unfussy.
Michelin-rated Cozna draws diners with its accolades that are backed up by the delicious, harvest-driven food and relaxed atmosphere. The menu changes with the season; recent standouts included smoked eel maki with cabbage and mussels, fennel, and buckwheat floating in a seaweed herb sauce.
Racines Annecy is an award-winning legacy operation with a modern mindset in this French town. Everything starts with the very best ingredients — from milk-fed veal to fresh-picked seasonal produce and herbs. Plates that look like art and, more importantly, taste divine are paired with natural wine.
Featuring deep red booths, colourful pop art, and mood-setting lighting, Le Bistro du Rhone oozes ambience. The gastro food hits the mark, too. Diners especially praise the venison filet mignon with red wine-poached pear and slow-cooked Iberico pork as well as desserts like brown sugar crème brûlée.
Further evidence that bigger doesn’t mean better, Tête de Cochon is a pint-sized eatery in the heart of Annecy that’s almost always packed thanks to its artful charcuterie boards, raclette tartine, and rich rillettes alongside crusty bread, plus interesting chalkboard-inspired decor and warm, friendly service.
Many people think of the French Alps as a winter destination but Annecy proves it’s worth the journey any time of year. The colder season means access to skiable terrain and powder-dusted photo ops. When the temperature warms up, outdoor recreation in the form of lakeside strolls and boating takes centre stage. The annual Annecy International Animated Film Festival takes place in June.
Annecy sits just 30 minutes from Chambéry Airport (CMF). Most travellers, however, opt to fly into Geneva Airport (GVA), located about 45 minutes away across the border in Switzerland, because it’s larger and welcomes more international arrivals. Alternatively, if you’re coming from somewhere nearby in France, it might be worth taking the train or bus since Annecy acts as a main hub for the Rhone-Alps region and the stations are conveniently located in the city centre.
Annecy is quite walkable, especially the old town and lake shore, and easy to navigate on foot. The Voie Verte, one of the oldest greenways in France, attracts many cyclists. If you’re planning to explore neighbouring villages, it’s a good idea to consult the bus and train schedules. It might be worth renting a car.
(Hero and feature image credit: alxpin/Getty Images)
This story first appeared on travelandleisure.com
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