Set on the edge of a bright blue lake, surrounded by mountains and with a view of the French Alps, Annecy is a charming little medieval town known as “the Venice of the Alps” for its many canals. It’s a romantic and idyllic spot for a day trip, with plenty to see, do, and eat and drink (this is France, after all).
Annecy is located in the Savoie department of France, 190 miles (45 kms) from Lyon and just 25 miles (40 kms) from Geneva, Switzerland. The Savoie, which up until 1860 was an independent state, take influence from the French, Italian, and Swiss — making for an interesting mix of cultures — and the setting at the base of the Alps means gorgeous views. Here’s how to plan a trip to Annecy.
What to see and do
Annecy is most famous for its canals and its crystal clear lake. Head to the Vieille Ville, or old town, to see the canals that have earned the city the nickname “the Venice of the Alps.” Dozens of islands dot the canals, which are decorated with colorful flowers in the spring and summer. You could easily spend hours just wandering over beautiful arched bridges and alongside the bright blue water. That same turquoise water is found in the sparkling lake, which is the third-largest in France. In summer, it teems with the activity of people swimming, sailing, and paddleboating; lake cruises are offered all year round. Hiking and biking are also popular activities around the lake.
In the heart of the old town, check out the Palais de l’Île, the most photographed and iconic spot in the city. The 12th century building, located on an island between two canals, looks like a petite castle, but it was actually used as a prison and a courthouse; now it’s a small history museum, but it remains more popular from the outside than in. At night, it’s lit from below, making for a striking photograph that captures the ambiance of the city.
On Tuesdays, Fridays, and weekends, the old town bustles with farmers markets that stretch up and down the narrow stone streets. Here, stroll around to sample the selection of cheeses, meats, and other local specialities, which the vendors are happy to offer.
Outside of the old town, it’s worth climbing the hill to the Château d’Annecy that presides over the city. Built as a residence for the Counts of Geneva, the castle now houses art and exhibits on the area’s natural history.
What to eat and drink
Annecy is a paradise for cheese lovers, and you’ll find multiple restaurants that specialize in fondue savoyarde (Le Chalet and Le Freti are two of the more popular options). Consider skipping lunch, because this large pot of melted cheese and white wine — served with cubes of bread for dipping — is not a light meal, nor is tartiflette — another local speciality, composed of a heaping portion of potatoes, onions, and bacon, melted into heavy cream and Reblochon cheese. When you need something a little lighter, try the local lake fish — a white variety that’s served simply, with lemon and butter.
The Savoie region isn’t well known for wine, and most restaurant wine lists feature bottles from elsewhere in the Rhone-Alps or the Burgundy region. That said, the house wine is usually inexpensive and delicious. If you’re a beer drinker, head to the Beer O’ Clock taproom, a beer bar unlike any other. Rather than order from the bar, patrons fill up a pre-paid card, and then use the self-service taps to pay by the ounce. It’s a great way to sample a variety of beers produced locally and from around the world, and it’s an unusually high-tech experience in the heart of this historical village.