Updated: Feb 26
Known as the Venice of the Alps, Annecy is a town located in the southeast of France, not far from the Swiss and Italian borders. With its canals winding through the old town, its castle, and its famous lake, Annecy is an excellent summer destination for your next holiday, a getaway for a night out, a long weekend, or simply on a whim. Annecy holds a special place in my heart as I spent my teenage years here and I still have, to this day, very fond memories of this place. I hope this little travel guide will help you experience the magic of Lake Annecy and its medieval town nestled in the spectacular French Alps.
Considered one of the purest lakes in Europe, Annecy Lake, with its sparkling turquoise waters, is truly a gift from nature. There are several beaches around the lake, some for which you have to pay an entry fee (2/3€ per person) but almost all of them are free from 6 pm. It is also possible to sunbathe and enjoy the refreshing water from the pontoons. Aside from swimming, all water sports such as paddle boarding, water skiing, and sailing are practised on the lake.
Col de la Forclaz
The Col de la Forclaz is about a 35mins drive from the centre of Annecy and allows you to get a magnificent view of the entire lake. The road to the viewpoint itself is lovely as it runs along the eastern shore of the lake passing through some really pretty villages such as Menthon-Saint-Bernard. You will also see a sky dotted with paragliders as the area is a well-known destination for those who practice this extreme sport.
The road up to the col is mountainous but not difficult and once you arrive at the top, you will be blown away by the beauty of the place with its magnificent mountains, cows swaying their bells whilst they graze in the meadows, and little chalets, not to mention the stunning view!
A walk in Annecy's old town
The old town of Annecy is a must-see during your stay. This beautiful town, situated between the lake and the mountains, is full of art and history. Not to be confused with Annecy-le-Vieux located on the heights of the city and which is mainly a residential area.
You will discover authentic medieval streets as well as its old prison in the centre of the river Thiou, the natural spillway of Lake Annecy. The prison is one of the most famous historical monuments in the old town. The canals animate the old quarter, bringing freshness and liveliness that you will not fail to appreciate. It is not unusual to see artists setting up their easels here!
In summer, it can be very difficult to stroll through the cobbled streets of Annecy's old town as it's often packed with tourists so you will have to be patient (or be willing to push your way through). I was actually quite surprised by the number of tourists this year which seems to have increased since I lived there a few years back. I highly recommend visiting the old time in the evening, it is less hot and you can enjoy a nice drink by the canals.
Le Pont des Amours (Lovers' Bridge)
An ideal setting for lovers and another must-see during your stay.
The bridge offers a beautiful point of view with, on one side, the lake and its mountains in the background and, on the other side the Canal du Vassé which flows peacefully, with little boats floating quietly under a marvellous canopy of plane trees.
Legend has it that a kiss exchanged on this bridge unites lovers for eternity.
Les Cascades d'Angon (Angon Waterfalls)
An easy and shaded walk (ideal in the middle of summer), the Angon waterfalls are one of the short walks accessible to anyone in good physical condition that the mountains of Lake Annecy offer. During your walk, you will come across forests, meadows and small villages, with the Angon waterfalls as a bonus as well as superb views of the lake, the Tournette and the Dents de Lanfon mountains. The path is very well marked, just follow the signs at each intersection. The path starts off steep, but once out of the forest, it is quite flat.
The only drawback is that it is not easy to park near the start of the hike. There is a paying car park on the main road which is a 15mins walk away but we chose to make several turns waiting for a free space to become available as we didn't want to pay. 😂
⚠ Make sure to wear appropriate shoes for this hike because the path is rocky and at times slippery (especially near the waterfall).
Drinks on the pontoons at Menthon-Saint-Bernard
Menthon-Saint-Bernard is a beautiful little village on the eastern shore of the lake, a 20-minute drive from Annecy. Like almost all the towns on the lake, it has a paying beach, which is popular with the locals. A few steps away from the beach are pontoons that lead to the Hotel du Palais de Menthon. These public pontoons are very popular and allow you to enjoy the turquoise waters of the lake. I used to go there a lot when I lived in the area and I went back there during my stay with friends. Don't forget to take a good bottle of wine and some snacks for an aperitif!
Useful information :
The historic centre of Annecy is completely pedestrianised so you can park your car in one of the following paying car parks :
Note that the option of parking in the city but away from the historic centre may save a few euros by finding a free space, but entails a good 30mins walk.
During the summer, from the 1st of July to the 31st of August, all buses and coaches are free in the Greater Annecy area. There are 26 bus lines to get you around the whole area, including 3 Rythmo lines (every 10 minutes until 1 am, 7 days a week, and on public holidays). The bus is a great way to enjoy the area without having to worry about parking. You can check out the timetables and itineraries of all the bus lines here.
A little disclaimer: I wish to clarify that my stays in Annecy are not touristy but personal. Since I lived here for a few years, I go back from time to time to see my friends (and because the setting is idyllic). Therefore, my recommendations are perhaps a bit limited as I don't go there to do all the tourist attractions like castles and boat tours. I suggest activities that are accessible to all, free, and that allow you to really enjoy the beauty of this place. Of course, there are many things to do in this area, villages to visit, restaurants and cafes to try, and water sports to enjoy but I don't want to share things that I haven't experienced because I want to keep my content authentic :) I hope you enjoyed this article xx