After three weeks of our tyre tracks burning a serious amount of rubber as we wove through the south-western corner of France seeing family and friends, our anticipation of arriving in Annecy was high. 1000 miles of travel left us weary and ready to find a place to rest and take a breath – oh and give our home a well needed wash after two months on the road! This was a precious rendezvous point for us since leaving UK on 4 March, as my mum was flying out to join us for her Birthday and fulfil one of her ‘bucket list’ trips and we had lots to catch up on.
Now I must proffer fair warning that this blog may be overrun with plentiful and colourful adjectives, such is the impression that Lac d’Annecy has left in our hearts. I had a fancy that I would like it as I’ve seen lots of photos of the iconic Old City and its Venice-like canal, together with Myles’ teenage memories to whet my appetite. What I wasn’t expecting was the treasure that the whole Annecy basin would offer us. If I can leave you with the impression that Annecy is a region to savour and not just a city to tick off your list, then my job here is done. Let me see if I can share some of its magic with you.
Our first glimpse of Annecy was sadly shrouded by one of the regular mountain storms, so to see the lake in all its glory was going to have to wait for another day. Strange as it might sound, I love arriving somewhere in the rain as the first sight in the clarity of a new day just makes my heart skip a beat and I feel the same excitement as I did as a child on Christmas morning.
This particular ‘first morning view’ was to give me a jaw-dropping realisation that I had actually woken up to some sort of mountain heaven, as the once hidden majestic giants now revealed themselves to me, towering way above my head. Their dominance is carved into every piece of glacial rock and yet they sing a comforting lullaby that just melts me and makes me feel so safe. The snow-capped peaks, which in May are still very evident, have an air of a child that draw you into their mischievousness, if you dare.
Add to this veritable delight, the crystal blue lake nestled in the basin, held delicately by their parental mountain arms, which hums its own tune, as the various water craft sail, motor and paddle up and down its 14km length. They make for a powerful partnership that I defy anyone to not fall in love with.
I must first give space to Annecy’s Old Town as it is certainly a sight for sore eyes. You are magnetised into its charming labyrinth of cobbled alleyways that are graced by enchanting buildings, each one whispering its own tale of history. The formidable chateau keeps guard high above the city and calls you to climb the steep pathway to reach its square turrets, offering the historian plenty of battle and conquering stories. Beneath its gaze, Annecy’s bridges arch over the canal, offering intriguing pathways between the streets and the colourful eateries which lure you towards their ‘Plat de Jour’ menus. The Ice-cream shops present their sorbets and glaces with colourful creativity that entice you to buy a ball or two, even on the coldest of days – the Rhubarb is a must! The glacial river gushes through the streets with wild abandon and somehow sets a more intimate scene than the commerciality of Venice – and don’t get me wrong, Venice is my all-time favourite place to be – so you can gauge how special Annecy is as a mini-me version.
Ten kilometres west of Annecy, you must take a visit to Gorge du Fier; which offers a death-defying walkway for vertigo suffers to master that weaves its way alongside the 30 metre deep gorge walls. The gushing water that carves its way through the granite rock, demands your respect for its ultimate sculpturing power. Faces are moulded into the rock to challenge your creative brain and the sound transports you to an orchestral manoeuvre that Beethoven would have been proud of. Despite its greyness, the gorge’s pleasure is palpable and you will be mesmerised by its prowess.
Whilst in the vicinity, a visit to Le Jardin Secret is a must. This is not your regular, formal garden, strewn with rhododendron and topiary hedges. This is a family’s life-work, where they have lovingly restored a worn out farm into an eccentric work of art. 36,000 intrigued visitors make the journey to this very eclectic garden, which represents the family’s experiences, values and dreams. Internal and external rooms each tell a story of endeavour, travel and fun, each one sharing something meaningful. Trying to describe what you will see is fruitless and somehow feels as though it would undermine the energy and passion they have injected into their 35 year masterpiece. An hour or three will easily be invested in this slightly crazy yet beautiful sanctuary that feels incredibly intrusive on a family’s vision to create a personal statement that they now choose to share with the voyeur.
If you are an active person, then Lac d’Annecy will certainly appeal to you; with Annecy as a world acclaimed site for Paragliding, hosting many major championships, you can float amongst the thermals over the lake, launching yourself off one of the many mountain giants. Or you can indulge in water sports if that is your thing; plodding, paddling, speeding or sailing. 30km of dedicated cycle routes are available to you, along a disused railway from Annecy towards Olympic village, Albertville or you could search for beavers in the Natural Reserve at Le bout du lac at Doussard. The choice is yours!
One thing Annecy is not, is a city break resort. It has so much more to offer and my descriptions merely scratch the surface and perhaps don’t do it the full justice it deserves. Although Paris, Stockholm, Strasbourg undoubtedly all have their own treasures, Annecy has an under-stated beauty that will mesmerise nature lovers, sport enthusiasts, peace seekers and adventurers alike. There is a poetry about Annecy that offers travellers and tourists a place to fall in love with and it will touch you deep within your soul, leaving you wanting to return and recapture her magic.
Visit you must, stay if you dare and leave richer for the experience