In the shadow of the majestic French Alps, nestled in a lush green setting, lies a rare gem that attracts visitors from all over the world every year: Annecy. Nicknamed the “Venice of the Alps” for its picturesque canals and cobbled streets, this charming town offers an unforgettable holiday experience thanks to its sparkling lake and enchanting atmosphere. Much more than just a postcard landscape, Annecy offers a harmonious blend of history, culture, leisure activities and breathtaking nature. Let’s discover this must-see tourist destination in Haute-Savoie.
The old town of Annecy, Venice of the Alps
Located at the foot of the Alps, Annecy’s old town is a labyrinth of picturesque alleyways, sparkling canals and historic buildings that seem to have stepped straight out of a fairytale. It’s the beating heart of the city, where past and present meet in harmony. A stroll through the old town is immediately captured by the charm of its cobbled streets. These narrow streets, lined with old buildings with colorful facades, are a reminder of bygone eras. Every street corner seems to tell a story, every stone a memory of the past. What really sets Annecy’s old town apart from other French cities are its canals. Nicknamed the “Venice of the Alps”, the clear waters of the Thiou meander through the town, giving it a romantic feel. The Pont des Amours, an iron footbridge spanning the canal, is a popular spot for couples in love, offering breathtaking views of Lake Annecy and the surrounding mountains. A veritable treasure trove of French heritage, the old town encapsulates the very essence of the Savoie region, with its rich past, vibrant culture and natural beauty. It’s a place where time seems to stand still, offering visitors a priceless chance to connect with history, nature and themselves.
Monuments to visit
There’s much more to Annecy than its cobbled streets and peaceful canals. Annecy is also home to a number of historic monuments that bear witness to its rich history. Here is a selection of some of the most emblematic:
Le Palais de l’Isle
Arguably the city’s most photographed monument, the Palais de l’Isle is a former prison set in the middle of the Thiou River. Its distinctive ship-like shape makes it a unique landmark for visitors. Built in the 12th century, it served as a seigneurial residence, courthouse and prison. This medieval establishment, also known as the “old prisons”, now houses the Centre d’Interprétation de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine.
Saint Peter’s Cathedral
Originally built as a parish church in the 16th century, it was elevated to cathedral status in the 19th century. Its interior features remarkable stained glass windows and frescoes, as well as a 19th-century organ considered one of the finest in the region.
Overlooking the old town, this medieval castle offers panoramic views of the city and lake. Dating from the 12th to 16th centuries, it was the residence of the Counts of Geneva and the Dukes of Genevois-Nemours. Today, it houses a museum of folk art and traditions, as well as temporary exhibitions.
The Basilica of the Visitation
Built in the 20th century, this basilica is distinguished by its imposing dome and its elevated position, offering a breathtaking view of the city. It is dedicated to Saint-François de Sales and Sainte-Jeanne de Chantal, important spiritual figures in the region.
Pont des Amours
Although not a “monument” in the traditional sense, this wrought-iron bridge is one of the city’s most romantic landmarks. According to legend, if two lovers kiss there, they will remain united for life.
Nestled in the heart of the French Alps, Lake Annecy is often described as “the purest lake in Europe”. A mirror of crystal-clear water, surrounded by majestic mountains and verdant forests, the lake is a favorite spot for nature lovers, sports enthusiasts and history buffs alike. Of glacial origin, it covers an area of 27.59 km², with a maximum depth of 82 metres. Formed around 18,000 years ago following the melting of the great Alpine glaciers, it is fed by numerous small streams from the surrounding mountains, as well as by a sub-lake spring at its southern end. One of the reasons for the exceptional clarity of Lake Annecy’s water is the early awareness of the need to protect its environment. As early as the 1960s, measures were taken to treat wastewater and preserve water quality. Today, conservation efforts continue, ensuring that future generations will also be able to enjoy the lake’s natural beauty.
Lake Annecy is also a paradise for sports enthusiasts. In summer, the turquoise waters invite you to swim, paddle, sail or pedal-boat. Cyclists will appreciate the bike path that circles the lake, offering breathtaking views of the mountains. In winter, the surrounding mountains become playgrounds for skiers and snowboarders. Hikers won’t be outdone either, with numerous trails offering breathtaking panoramas, such as Mont Veyrier and La Tournette.
The mountains around the lake
The mountains surrounding Lake Annecy are a natural treasure trove offering a diversity of activities, from leisurely hikes to challenging climbs. Each summit offers a unique perspective on the lake, the city and the distant mountains, making this region a true paradise for nature lovers and photographers. Let’s discover the peaks that form the emblematic backdrop of this region:
Dominating the western shore of the lake, the Semnoz is an accessible mountain rising to an altitude of 1,699 meters. Popular with locals and tourists alike, its summit offers panoramic views of the lake, the Aravis mountain range and even Mont Blanc on a clear day. In winter, it’s an ideal place for snow sports, with its small ski resort.
Peaking at 2,351 meters, La Tournette is the highest peak surrounding Lake Annecy. Its distinctive silhouette is recognizable by its armchair shape, and it is a challenge for hikers. The panorama from the summit is simply breathtaking, offering a 360° view of the lake and surrounding mountains.
Mont Veyrier and Mont Baron
Just to the east of Annecy, these two mountains are linked and dominate the town. Mont Veyrier rises to 1,291 meters, while Mont Baron reaches 1,242 meters. The hiking trails along the way offer magnificent views of the lake, especially at sunset.
Les Dents de Lanfon
This rocky massif rises on the eastern side of the lake and is made up of three limestone needles that rise to almost 1,824 metres. These “teeth” are a popular playground for climbers, offering routes of varying levels of difficulty.
Le Roc des Bœufs
Separating the Cheran and Laudon valleys, this 1,781-meter-high rock forms a natural barrier between Lake Annecy and Lac du Bourget. Its west face offers steep walls that contrast with the gentle alpine meadows on the east side.
Hiking and panoramic views
Surrounding Annecy, mountains such as La Tournette and Mont Veyrier are a veritable playground for hiking enthusiasts. Numerous trails wind through forests, alpine meadows and peaks, offering breathtaking views of the town, the lake and the vast Alpine chain. In winter, these mountains become a meeting place for skiers, while in summer, paragliders and climbers come here to get their thrills. But nature in Annecy is not limited to its lake and mountains. The city itself is full of parks and gardens where locals and tourists alike can relax. The Jardin de l’Europe, on the lakefront, is one of the most emblematic, with its century-old trees, flower beds and views of the old château. Annecy is an invitation to contemplation and adventure. It’s a perfect example of how urban planning and nature can coexist in harmony. As you stroll through its narrow streets, sail on its lake or climb its peaks, you realize that nature is not just a backdrop, but the very soul of this Alpine town.
The return of the Alpages
Every year, the heart of Annecy vibrates to the rhythm of cowbells, traditional songs and the flamboyant colors of folk costumes during the “Retour des Alpages” celebration. This event, emblematic of the town and the region, marks the return of the herds from the Alpine heights to the valleys after a summer spent grazing the fresh mountain pastures. Far from being a simple movement of animals, the Retour des Alpages has become a real celebration over the years. The streets of Annecy come alive with colorful herd parades, local craftsmen showcasing their skills, folk musicians and dancers giving energetic performances, not forgetting the gourmet stalls selling local delicacies such as reblochon, tartiflette and diots. More than just a festivity, this annual event symbolizes the region’s deep attachment to its roots and traditions.
International Animation Film Festival
Founded in 1960, the Annecy Festival has become a must-attend event for animation professionals, students and enthusiasts alike. It’s the world’s oldest and biggest animation festival. Since its creation, it has seen thousands of films, from independent shorts to major studio features. One of the main assets of the Annecy Festival is its diversity. In addition to screenings of films in competition, the festival offers retrospectives, workshops, conferences and professional meetings. The official selection is always a fascinating mix of animated films from different cultures and styles. From poetic works to incisive social commentary, the Annecy Festival showcases animation’s unique ability to tell stories that transcend borders. The festival’s impact extends far beyond the week-long festivities. As at Cannes, many of the films shown at Annecy have gone on to win international acclaim.
In conclusion, Annecy embodies a rare harmony between history, nature and culture. Whether strolling along the canals or exploring the surrounding mountains, every corner of the city exudes authenticity and charm. A visit to Annecy is much more than just a trip, it’s an immersion in a world where past and present meet to create an unforgettable experience.
For more information, visit www.tourisme-annecy.net