Why you should visit the city of Annecy in the Alps

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Welcome to Annecy! Only a few cities in France can boast of being situated between a gorgeous lake and snow-capped mountains. Did you know the historic town is nicknamed “the Venice of Savoy“? This is for the enchanting canals that cross an old town centre clustered at the foot of a medieval castle. Another nickname is “the Rome of the Alps” for a past comprising Catholic influence challenged by Protestant Geneva. In fact, the capital of  the Haute-Savoie département will never leave the visitors insensitive of its charm.

 


The charming city of Annecy and its lake

Annecy is located in the north of the French Alps, 40 km south of Geneva, Switzerland and 50 km from Chambéry. Annecy is part of the “Alpine Furrow“. This is an axis stretching over 330 km from Geneva to Valence, passing through the cities of Aix-les-Bains, Chambéry and Grenoble. Annecy is the capital city (préfecture) of the French département of Haute-Savoie.

Annecy is nestled at the northern tip of Lake Annecy. The old town is located between the last slopes of Mount Semnoz to the south and Mount Veyrier to the north-east.

Annecy Situation Map
The suburbs of Annecy have developed during the last century over the plain of Fins. They extend to the hills of the Albanais region to the west.


Where to stay in Annecy?

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How to describe Annecy?

The roofs of Annecy seen from the castle © French Moments

The roofs of Annecy seen from the castle © French Moments

The commune of Annecy is relatively small compared to other French cities, with a population of over 125,000. Together with the neighbouring suburbs and towns, Greater Annecy houses more than 166,000 inhabitants. This makes it the 6th largest urban zone of the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region after Lyon, Grenoble, Saint-Etienne, Clermont-Ferrand, and Annemasse-Genève.

The Shopping Precinct

Rue Carnot, with its extension to the Courier shopping centre close to the railway station, is the real shopping centre of Annecy. You’ll find nearly all the commercial chains, from FNAC to Monoprix and Séphora.

Rue Filaterie Annecy © French Moments

The covered arcades of rue Filaterie © French Moments

Several streets perpendicular to Rue Carnot also offer a great shopping area. For instance, Rue Royale specialises in luxury shopping such as jewellery, tearooms, haute-couture and banks. Other shopping streets are Rue de la République, Rue Sommeiller, Rue Président Favre, and Rue Vaugelas…

Place Saint-François de Sales, Annecy © French Moments

Place Saint-François de Sales © French Moments

In the historic townRue Sainte-Claire and Rue de l’Île focus on shopping linked to tourism. This is where you’ll find restaurants, ice-cream stores, and souvenir shops…

The open-air markets

Annecy Market Pont de la République © French Moments

The Annecy Market on Pont de la République © French Moments

Annecy runs six open-air markets including the popular market in the old town at Rue de la République on Sunday, Tuesday and Friday mornings.

Carrefour Hypermarket in Annecy

Annecy is the historic home-base for Carrefour, one of the largest hypermarket chains in the world. The group has its headquarters in Boulogne Billancourt near Paris. The first Carrefour store opened on 1 January 1958 in suburban Annecy on the ground floor of a building named “carrefour”, meaning crossroads in French.

Twin Cities

Annecy has been twinned with the following cities:

  • Cheltenham (England) since 1956
  • Bayreuth (Germany) since 1966
  • Vicenza (Italy) since 1995

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!

 


The picturesque and historic old town

Pont Perrière Annecy © French Moments

View of the Annecy old town from the Pont Perrière © French Moments

At the edge of its turquoise lake, Annecy is one of the most beautiful and popular resort towns of the French Alps. Even though the road traffic related to this success can get a bit overwhelming in high season. Historically, it enjoyed a brief flurry of importance in the early 16th century. Geneva opted for the Reformation and the fugitive Catholic bishop encamped here with a train of ecclesiastics and a prosperous, cultivated elite.

A castle, arcades houses, narrow streets…

The most picturesque part of the old town lies at the foot of the castle on the hill. It is a warren of lanes, passages and arcaded houses. Below and between flow branches of the Canal du Thiou, draining the lake into the River Fier.

Quai de l'Evêché, Annecy © French Moments

Quai de l’Evêché, Annecy © French Moments

In Summer, the canal-side railings overflowing with geraniums and petunias offer a picturesque view.

Up to the castle

From rue de l’Île on the canal’s south bank, the narrow Rampe du Château leads up to the castle. The fortress was the former home to the counts of Genevois and the dukes of Nemours, a junior branch of the House of Savoy.

There was a castle on this site from the 11th century. However the Nemours found the old fortress too rough and unpolished for their taste. They added living quarters in the 16th century, which now house the miscellaneous collections of the Musée du Château.

Côte Perrière Annecy © French Moments

Côte Perrière when walking up to the castle © French Moments

Objects on display range from

  • archeological finds from around the lake, including a rare Bronze Age pottery kiln,
  • to Savoyard popular art and woodwork,
  • and a small aquarium.

There’s also an interesting exhibition on the geography of the Alps.

From rue Sainte-Claire to the cathedral

At the base of the castle is rue Sainte-Claire. This is the main street of the old town, with arcaded shops and houses. At the west end of the street is its original medieval gateway.

Place Sainte-Claire, Annecy © French Moments

Place Sainte-Claire, Annecy © French Moments

Parallel to rue Sainte-Claire on the other side of the Thiou River (rue Rousseau) is the cathedral. French philosopher Rousseau once sang there as a chorister.

The Palais de l’Île

From the cathedral, you can continue on rue Royale or you could make your way back towards the canal. Here you’ll find the picture-perfect Palais de l’Île. The tiny 12th century fort served in turn as palace, mint, court and prison (until World War II). It now holds the History of Annecy with a few exhibits relating to the town’s past glories and the old prison cells.

A few steps to the north is the 15th century church of St Maurice. The sanctuary houses some great religious art from the 15th and 16th centuries.

Church of Saint-Maurice Annecy © French Moments

Church of Saint-Maurice © French Moments

Parks and gardens by the lake

Canal du Vassé and Pont des Amours, Annecy © French Moments

Canal du Vassé and Pont des Amours, Annecy © French Moments

Across the square to the east of the church stands the City-Hall. It backs onto shady public gardens, from where a famous bridge crosses a canal to the lakeside lawns of the extensive Champ de Mars. The Pont des Amours is a famous meeting point for romantic couples. Overlooking the lake and the mountains, it is definitely a romantic place!


Main sights in the surroundings

There are so much to discover around Annecy that it would take months to explore all that the region has to offer. Here is a selection of some of the sites to visit while staying in Annecy.

The turquoise Lake Annecy

While Annecy’s high-season crowds may be bearable for only a day or two, the town’s environs offer a number of agreeable excursions. As well as Boat Tours, cycling is an enjoyable means of appreciating Lake Annecy.

Cycling Lake Annecy © French Moments

Cycling at the Pâquier, Annecy © French Moments

The 40 km road circuit of the lake is a very popular Sunday morning activity among sporty Annéciens. A traffic-free cycle route follows the west shore of the lake and part of the east side. Soon, the cycle route will circle the entire lake.

The beauty of Annecy Mountains!

Semnoz © French Moments

The view from the Semnoz © French Moments

The surrounding hills offer walking and mountain-bike excursions to suit every level. Experienced walkers should enjoy the relatively undemanding ascent of La Tournette (2351m) on the eastern side of the lake. Gentler walks and cycle routes cross the forests of the Semnoz mountain on the lake’s west side.

Autumn in the Semnoz © French Moments

Autumn walk in the Semnoz forest © French Moments

Fancy a lake cruise?

Although you might not be impressed by the very busy roads that encircle Lake Annecy, there is a a far more tranquil way of appreciating the lakeside. It is aboard one of the frequent boats that depart from Annecy’s canal-side port! And with the possibility of stopovers or returning later in the day. Trips stopping off at various points on the lake are offered by Compagnie de Navigation on place aux Bois, beside Quai Bayreuth.

Cruise on Lake Annecy © French Moments

Cruise on Lake Annecy © French Moments

Menthon-Saint-Bernard, Talloires and Duingt

On the east shore of the lake, dominating the village of Menthon-Saint-Bernard, is the fantastic and turreted Menthon Castle. The fortress has been inhabited since the 12th century. It is believed to be the birthplace of Saint Bernard, the patron saint of mountaineers. The castle was extensively renovated in the 19th century in the romantic Gothic-revival style. It houses a fine collection of period furniture. And the views across the lake back to Annecy are incredible.

Duingt in Autumn © French Moments

Castle of Duingt, Lake Annecy © French Moments

The next village is Talloires, a charming and tranquil place at the foot of the Tournette Mountain. Its little marina faces the romantic silhouette of Duingt castle.

The Gorges of the Fier River

The River Fier trickles out of the lake through Annecy’s picturesque canals. Just outside the city, it has cut a narrow crevice through the limestone rock at the Gorges du Fier. Signposted off the D14 at Lovagny, a footpath leads down into the 300m long gorge. The site is reached along a high-level walkway pinned to the gorge side.

As you pass along, you’ll catch glimpses of the Château de Montrottier. You can reach it by continuing along the path for another 3km. The medieval castle dates from the 13th century.  Inside it displays an eclectic collection of furniture, earthenware and lace as well as exotic objects from former French colonies in West Africa and the Far East.

The impressive Ponts de la Caille

Pont de la Caille © French Moments

Pont de la Caille © French Moments

16 km north of Annecy, on the way to Geneva is the highway which spectacularly crosses over the gorge of the River Usses, 140m below. The present bridge from 1925 is known as the Pont de la Caille. At the time it held the record as one of the longest single spans in Europe. Next to it is the stunning original bridge. Now disused, it was built under the orders of the King of Sardinia, Charles Albert, in 1839. Its crenellated towers, supported by two dozen cables, are an impressive example of 19th century engineering.


Events in Annecy

The major cultural events in Annecy include:

  • the Venetian Carnival of Annecy (March)
  • 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)

  • Our pages on ANNECY

  • Annecy in our French blog

    A selection of articles written in French in our blog.


    How to get to Annecy

    Close to Geneva but relatively proximity to Lyon, Annecy is easy to access by car, train or plane.

    Travel by car

    Annecy is easily reached by car from Geneva, Grenoble and Lyon through the network of reliable motorways crossing Savoie from west to east and north to south.

    From Paris, take the A6 to Macon in Burgundy, from where you will cross the Jura mountains via the “Autoroute Blanche” (the White Motorway) which ends at Chamonix. Milan and Turin in Italy are not far away either, thanks to the famous long tunnels through Mont-Blanc and Mont-Cenis.

    Fly to Geneva or Lyon!

    If you travel from Australia or America, take a flight to either airports of:

    • Zurich,
    • Geneva, or
    • Lyon.

    … and rent a car from there! Geneva is actually the closest airport and arguably the most convenient for visiting the Savoie region.

    Catch the train!

    Railway station of Annecy © French Moments

    Railway station of Annecy © French Moments

    The TGV from Paris can take 3.30 hours if you take a “direct” trip which has limited stops along its way and avoids Lyon.


    Check out the website of the Tourist Information Centre for more info about staying in Annecy.

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    Discover the historic town of Annecy in the French Alps of Haute-Savoie © French Moments


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    About Author

    Pierre is a French/Australian who is passionate about France and its culture. He grew up in France and Germany and has also lived in Australia and England. In 2014 he moved back to Europe from Sydney with his wife and daughter to be closer to their families and to France. He has a background teaching French and holds a Master of Translating and Interpreting English-French with the degree of Master of International Relations and a degree of Economics and Management.

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