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Tucked away in southeastern France, Annecy sits at the tip of the picturesque Lake Annecy and overlooks snow-capped mountains. Here are Culture Trip’s top things to do in the beautiful French city.
The pristine Lac d’Annecy, one of the largest lakes in France, sits among snow-capped mountains and is known as the cleanest lake in Europe. Painted by Paul Cézanne, Lake Annecy is partly ringed by a cycle path that travels past Saint-Jorioz, which is part of the UNESCO Prehistoric Pile Dwellings around the Alps.
For the more aquatically inclined, Lake Annecy has options like paddleboarding with the ex-captain and coach of the French wakeboarding team, scuba diving and catamaran and yacht rentals with the Annecy Sailing Regatta Society.
When visiting in summer, there are plenty of sandy or grassy beaches dotted along the picturesque lake. A swim in the refreshing, crystal-clear water serves as a perfect opportunity to relax and take in the remarkable views that Annecy has to offer.
This delicious Swiss export, which basically consists of a round, semi-hard cow’s-milk cheese of the same name melted in front of an open fire, is traditionally enjoyed with potatoes, dried meats, gherkins and pickled onions. You can find raclette all over Annecy, and never will you feel as toasty as when you are sitting in front of a fireplace in a restaurant looking onto a canal and savouring every bite of it.
Spend a day or two, or three, getting lost among the whimsical canals of Annecy. Dubbed the “Venice of the Alps”, the winding cobblestone streets of the Vieille Ville, or old town, are lined by pastel houses and bright flower boxes that will make you fall in love with this small French town. Stop for a croissant at a boulangerie, or sit and have ice cream at one of the town’s many gelaterias and spend the afternoon people-watching and admiring the architecture.
Annecy, from the farmer’s market of Au Rendez-Vous du Terroir (Tuesday through Saturday) to the Old Town Market on the Rue Sainte-Claire (Tuesday, Friday and Sunday), has various markets on throughout the week selling an array of fresh foods and market wares. The Sunday Annecy market is one of the finest markets in France, with its colourful stalls lining the old town’s streets and canals.
The Pont des Amours (Lovers’ Bridge) is a beautiful iron bridge by the Lac d’Annecy, which joins the Jardins de l’Europe and Pâquier Esplanade – two open gardens on the shores of the lake. Legend has it that if two lovers kiss on the bridge, they will stay together forever – the padlocks that adorn the bridge certainly suggest that visitors believe this. Even if you have no one to kiss, this famous site, overlooking the lake and the mountains, is worth visiting.
After crossing the Pont des Amours from the Pâquier Esplanade, the Gardens of Europe, or the Jardins de l’Europe to residents, are a perfect spot for a lunchtime picnic. Grab some French pastries, cheese, baguettes and cold meats from the market stalls, and spend a leisurely afternoon lying on the grass watching tourists wander by.
With its turreted facade looking like the prow of a ship, the Palais de l’Île splits the river Thiou into two canals. Now a local history museum, it was built in the 12th century and was at one time a prison, mint, courthouse and lord’s residence. One of France’s most photographed locations, it is also open a few days a week, though only in the warmer months, for exhibits.
Annecy has many Catholic churches worth visiting, where you’ll find beautiful stained-glass windows, impressive grand organs and Medieval paintings. If history is your thing, take the time to explore the old churches dotted around Annecy’s old town.
Lily Niu contributed additional reporting to this article.