Every year in Winter an elegant and mysterious carnival takes place in the French Alps town of Annecy. With people wearing fantastic Venetian-style masks, the Annecy Venetian Carnival is one of the most beautiful in France. Unsurprisingly it attracts thousands of visitors in the fantastic setting of Annecy and its romantic lake surrounded by snow-capped mountains. We’ve been visiting the carnival a couple of times and here’s what we saw!
What is the Annecy Venetian Carnival?
As its name indicates, the event is reminiscent of the fantastic carnival held in Venice, Italy.
The use of Venetian-style masks during the Annecy Carnival was first introduced by ARIA (a local italophile association) on the 16 March 1996. A few dozen people paraded with their Venetian-style masks.
The following year, more than 40 people joined the event. As it became more popular over the years, it ranked as one of the major cultural events run in Annecy. (with approximately 350 masks). Now known as Carnaval Vénitien d’Annecy (Annecy Venetian Carnaval), it takes place over two days in February. The event also includes parades, conferences, exhibitions and concerts.
An elegant and silent carnival
There are no parades organised with noisy marching bands and crazy jugglers. Instead the hundreds of people wearing masks quietly wander the streets bordering the canals of the old town.
This takes place from 10am on Saturday and Sunday.
Both days at 2pm, all costumed people step on the stage set up in the Jardin de l’Europe by the lake.
Where to stay in Annecy?
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Our visit to the Annecy Venetian Carnival
I had discovered the Annecy Carnival for the first time in 2018. The following year I wanted my little girl Aimée to see it.
We parked our car at 9.30am in the carpark near the Imperial Hotel.
We then walked by the lake via the avenue d’Albigny and arrived at the Bonlieu Centre just before 10am.
The atmosphere was already magical with snow-capped mountains reflecting in the lake…
Swans were part of the role play too!
Bonlieu Centre and the Tourist Board
At the Bonlieu Centre we met our first masks.
Inside the centre is the Lake Annecy Tourist Board, an unmissable place if this is your first time in Annecy. You’ll get practical info, maps and advice from the team.
To my surprise, Aimée was really into it… she’s usually quite shy with people she doesn’t know. But here she proved to be so confident! She wanted to pose for the photo with her favourite masks…
As for many children, Aimée really enjoyed these discovery moments. So many bright colours, wonderful dresses, mysterious masks, extravagant hats… gilding, feathers, accessories from yesteryears (umbrella, walking stick, mirrors).
My camera was constantly requested: “Papa, papa, take a photo of me with this one too…!”
Aimée was going from one discovery to the other. She definitely stipulated that the mask with a pink and green petal-shaped dress was its favourite of the day.
At the corner of a street, she saw a costumed man who intrigued her.
“Ohhh, I don’t like this one!“
Looking at the man she pointed to, I realised in fact that… he didn’t have any mask on!
Well, you’ll understand that Aimée was only 5 at the time. 🤭
A walk in the streets of Annecy
As I mentioned above the Annecy carnival is quite a simple event to attend.
The masks wander freely and without constraint across the old town of Annecy and in the gardens by the lake.
Each of them spontaneously decide to stop at interesting Baroque-looking spots and to take on the most graceful pose.
Therefore it’s up to us, visitors, to find them on the bridges, at the corners of the streets, on the steps, along the canals…
If the masks must remain calm and refined, one can’t say the same for the zillion of people that come to admire them. They are like Hollywood stars, they appear under the cracklings of the photographers’ flashes.
On my second visit to the carnival, I decided to follow a little itinerary through the charming streets of Annecy.
- Parked our car at the Imperial Palace and walked to the Bonlieu Centre where the Tourist Office is.
- Walked through the Champ-de-Mars to Pont des Amours
- Strolled by the Canal de Vassé
- Went back to the Jardins de l’Europe by the lake
- Reached the old town via Quai Napoléon III with a beautiful view of the Annecy Castle
- Crossed Pont Perrière and its picture-postcard view
- Wandered the arcaded streets of the old town (rue Sainte-Claire, Pont de la République and back via rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau).
In the garden by the lake
The most emblematic spot of the carnival and the most famous is… the Pont des Amours (literally the Bridge of Love). From a certain time in the morning, the place is so crowded that it’s a real challenge to cross it.
On the lake’s pontoons, many masks play comedy, interacting between each other and with the public.
Fancy some bugnes?
Near the footbridge, a stand sells delicious bugnes, traditional beignets eaten during carnivals in France.
By the Canal de Vassé
Then, we reach the Quai Jules Philippe. A beautiful spot bordered with majestic plane trees. This is where Aimée met her favourite masks.
A look at the romantic Canal de Vassé and the Pont des Amours in the distance.
In the Jardins de l’Europe
Then, we went back to the Jardins de l’Europe by the lake. This is where the masks will parade at 2pm.
On Quai Napoléon III, a picture-postcard view of Annecy and its castle.
There we’ve found beautiful masks posing by the lake:
The Venice of the Alps
Let’s leave the gardens and water front for the old town.
The narrow arcaded streets of the old town offer a wonderful setting to the mysterious masks.
The most visited photographed places after Pont des Amours is from Pont Perrière. A picture-perfect setting where the canal meets the castle of Palais de l’Isle.
At the corner of the streets and in the front courtyard of an aristocratic mansion, the masks take the pose much to the delight of the public.
More photos of the Annecy Venetian Carnival
Want to see more?
You’re in luck, I’ve got tons of photos…
Here’s a little retrospective on the 2018 edition.
This time I came alone (without my little girl) and took the time to wander in the streets of old Annecy in search for the best masks!!
A view of the castle…
This is probably my favourite photo: these three masks posing on Quai Napoléon III with the Annecy castle in the distance.
Romance in the gardens…
Several masks took a stroll in the Jardins de l ‘Europe:
By the waters…
By the canal de Vassé, I met this delightful couple (you can see them on the video I posted above this post):
I can tell you that these two were having so much fun playing their romantic role…
Other masks posing by the canal de Vassé:
Some masks are quite surprising… and honestly I don’t really know what to make of it! 😀
On the other side of the canal is a merry-go-round. It makes a great décor for more pics:
You’ll find many masks posing on the lake’s pontoons.
Have a closer look!
Just look in detail at the elaborate features of a mask:
As you’ll guess by now, it’s not just about the ‘mask’ hiding the person’s face. It’s about the whole costume that (re)creates a character. Look at this graceful one:
The two Instagram-perfect spots!
Finally, here’s two not-to-miss spots if you’re looking for instagrammable pics!
The first in Pont Perrière in the old town, with the Palais de l’Isle in the background:
The second spot connects the Champ de Mars to the Jardins de l’Europe. This is the most romantic places you can find in Annecy: Pont des Amours (the Lovers’ Bridge!)
The Annecy Venetian Carnival: Facts and figures
Each year the Annecy Carnival:
- gathers nearly 500 masks
- draws about 70,000 visitors
- takes place during three days (Friday-Saturday-Sunday)
- takes place 10 days after the Venice carnival
- includes two days of free silent wandering in the old town (10am-6pm)
- has been organised by the Association Rencontres Italie-Annecy (ARIA) since 1997
- is an integral part of the “Venetian Week” (Semaine Vénitienne) organised by ARIA.
In case of bad weather (rain or snow), people wearing masks will go under shelter! You’ll find them under the many old arcades in the old town or inside the Bonlieu Conference Centre. As soon as the weather permits it, they’ll back to the canals.
This makes the carnival of Annecy a free and enjoyable event for everyone.
In 2020 the 24th edition of the Annecy Venetian Carnival takes place from Friday 6 to Sunday 8 March.
- Read about the Annecy Carnival in French on our blog Mon Grand-Est!
- Find out more about the programme for the 2020 edition of Annecy Venetian Carnival [in French].
- The official website of Lake Annecy Tourist Board
What to do and see in Annecy?
Here’s a few ideas of what to see and do when visiting Annecy and its superb region!
Other Events in Annecy
The major cultural events in Annecy include:
- the Marathon of Lake Annecy (April)
- the Annecy International Animation Film Festival (June)
- the Lake Festival, one of Europe’s biggest fireworks displays above the lake (August)
- the Annecy Italian Film Festival (September)
- the Return from the Alpine pastures (October)
- the Saint-André Fair (1st Tuesday of December)
- the Christmas Market (December)
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