Important announcement: we have found a real gem! We came across the picturesque town of Annecy during our transfer to Val Thoren in April. Inspired, we booked ourselves a return trip to Haute-Savoie and there were zero regrets. Lake Annecy was an indescribable combination of blue and green, and the surrounding mountains formed a protective circle around this spot of perfection.
Since the 1960’s, strict environmental restrictions have been in place to preserve the waters of Lake Annecy, earning it the name of Europe’s ‘cleanest lake’. Formed thousands of years ago from melting glaciers, it is now fed by several rivers running through the iconic mountains of the Alps. The lake is as pretty as a picture; a glittering expanse dotted with sail boats, kayaks and swimmers. What entailed was three days of leisurely exploration and plenty of cheese.
Some of you may have heard of the recent British Airways mess up but thankfully we were unaffected on Swiss airlines and our holiday went on with a minor delay (more than can be said for poor folk who had their flights cancelled and long weekends ruined!). We landed in Geneva and hired a car for the short drive across the border to Menthon-Saint-Bernard, one of several small townships surrounding the lake . Our hotel was a gorgeous chateau right beside the lake, providing the most splendid of views (above). Gazing out onto the lake while enjoying breakfast is a highly-recommended way to greet the day!
Château de Menthon-Saint-Bernard
Sitting on a bed of rock 200 metres above the lake is a medieval castle owned by the Menthon family. The road through the forest led all the way to the castle where we partook in a tour run by actors bringing history to life. Small problem; the tour was in French. I can’t say we really knew what was going on, but you can’t get inside without joining a tour. We had a good nosey around the rooms including the kitchens, chapel, great hall, music room (complete with piano player!), and the Countess’ bedroom. As a book lover, I enjoyed the library where there are more than 12,000 works pre-dating 1800.
Col de la Forclaz
Enveloped by temperatures above 30 degrees Celsius and utterly floored by the beauty of our surroundings, we went up Col de la Forclaz to catch the sunset. Paragliding is a popular pastime in the area and we perched ourselves beside where they took off. We looked on as the sun dipped below the mountains, soaking up the ever-present chirping of birds and crickets, with the occasional rustle of paragliders taking off.
Our first dinner in the area was also our first time eating tartiflette; a regional speciality of potatoes, reblochon cheese, lardons and onions, baked together into a dish of delicious. Even though it was a sweltering day, a bubbling plate of tartiflette was perfection. We ate sitting outside gazing down the mountain and out towards the lake. C’est parfait!
On the western side of Lake Annecy is one of many mountains, called Semnoz. We discovered, when we reached the top, that it’s a ski field! Or rather, it is in the winter. Now, it’s covered in grass and a carpet of bright yellow dandelions. We drove past cyclists valiantly ascending the 18km track to the top and I admired their fitness! At the very top we could see scattered townships in the valleys between mountains, and saw the peaks stretching out far into the horizon. Around the mountain are various tracks through the forest available for exploration by foot or bike. We enjoyed a brief foray into the woods, marveling at the pretty views with every turn. It’s so satisfying to take a leisurely stroll through the forest on a sunny day.
Despite only covering an area of 16 square kilometers, Annecy is the largest town in the Haute-Savoie region. It’s known as the ‘Venice of France’ in some circles because of the cobbled streets, canals, and cute pastel-coloured buildings in the old town. If you search for Annecy on Instagram or Google Images, you’ll find the iconic shot of the Palais de l’Île. It sits almost floating in the canal surrounded by old brick buildings and pretty flowers. Well, we did not get that photo; it was covered in scaffolding!
The town is where you’ll find most of the tourists in the area. The weather was spectacular and the streets were heaving with camera wielding visitors, those seeking a comfortable picnic spot in the Jardins de l’Europe, and more active types peddle boating or kayaking on the water. We wandered and had another delightful cheese-filled lunch before deciding that as charming as it was, we preferred our smaller town on the other side of the lake.
Gorges du Fier
Not far from Annecy is a stunning gorge with footbridges winding through the rock, 24 meters above the rushing water. Thousands of years ago, the glacial melting that would give us Lake Annecy, also contributed to the Fier River. Over about 20,000 years, the water eroded the rock to create the amazing gorge we explored. Construction of the footbridge began way back in 1868 and was completed only a year later.
Inside the gorge, the rushing water dominates all other sounds. Fine moss and small plants grow along the rock and water trickles down from the forest above, glittering as it passes through the last rays of direct sunlight before falling to the gorge below.
In the last hours of our weekend away, we sought even more relaxation by driving to Saint-Jorioz. We sat at the Ponton de l’Embarcadère, that offered panoramic views of the lake, and dipped our feet into the refreshing waters. The area was very quiet, with a few families some distance away and a man soaking up the sun on a towel with his two dogs. It was an idyllic and incredible way to wrap up what was a magnificent weekend.
After our whirlwind tours of cities, these longer more relaxing experiences are a welcome relief. Lake Annecy is a wonder that can truly leave you breathless. The food is great (provided you like, and can, eat cheese!), the people are warm and welcoming, and the surroundings bring you a very pure kind of joy. Add it to your list if you haven’t already!