Annecy, France

Annecy is a unique city in southeastern France that is known as “The Jewel of the Haute-Savoie” and “The Venice of the Alps”. After visiting this fairytale-like setting, with it’s intricate winding canals along the Thiou River, storybook bridges, cobbled streets, quaint Old Town (or Vieille Ville), and iconic Lake and French Alp views, we can definitely see why.

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How We Found Annecy

Admittedly, JJ and I had never heard of Annecy before this trip. When we were planning to set out for a year of travel from our home in Fort Worth, TX, and telling our friends and family about all the places we would go, Annecy was not originally one of them. But that’s part of the beauty of traveling with an open-ended schedule, and making your own travel arrangements and bookings. If you pre-plan everything, or let a travel agent do it all, you are now restricted by that iron-clad schedule, and face heavy cancellation fees, non-refunds, and wasted time and money if you want to change one little plan. That’s certainly not our travel style and defeats the purpose of this blog, which we hope will encourage and teach our readers how to confidently book travel themselves.

JJ gets all the credit for finding Annecy. When we were planning our visit to Geneva, Switzerland, she saw that Annecy kept coming up as a highly recommended day trip from Geneva. As we are prone to do, once something starts looking that appealing, we decided to cut out the Swiss middle man and head straight to the source of this darling French town. We were happy with our decision, not only because Annecy turned out to be one of those off the beaten path hidden gems we crave, but also because it was infinitely more affordable than Geneva and many other destinations in France.

Canals on the Thiou River

Did you think, like we did, that Venice is the only city in the world with canal and waterway lined streets? Think again. While Annecy may not have the famed gondola rides of Venice (or the highway robbery-esque 80€ price tag), and is not an entirely floating city (it does have paved streets and cars), it certainly has a beautiful setting, and dare we say, superior views and surroundings to Venice. That’s largely in part to the ever-visible lake and mountains that you can read about below.

The Vieille Ville or Old Town is home to these canals and the various tributaries of the Thiou River. The canals are lined with cafes and shops, with people enjoying al-fresco dining and the calming sounds of the rushing river in spades. Actually, sort of like a Cruise Port, you can tell when all the tourists are in town. For Annecy, this was in the form of tour buses (filled with all those people overpaying to stay in Geneva or perhaps Lyon) that would show up for brief 4 hour day trips. Those poor folks hit the town running, and barely have enough time to wipe the melted gelato from their chins before re-boarding their buses with 50 of their closest traveling companions.

We found that Annecy is all about slowing down. It’s a place where you are intentionally meant to take your time, relax, and let things flow as naturally as the Thiou.

Champ de Mars (Le Paquier)

One such place in Annecy to adopt the “slow down and take your time mantra” is the Champ de Mars. This giant grassy park, as it were, is set right on Lake Annecy and right next to the Jardins de Europe. Sadly, my memories of park visits and family picnics in my hometown of Burleson, TX somehow just doesn’t measure up to Annecy.

When we went for sunset, we were pleasantly surprised to find tons of small groups of locals all relaxing and taking in the scenery as we were. Some had blankets or towels and coolers packed with their favorite beverages, or even picnic dinners. These groups ranged widely in age from young and old. The Champ de Mars is part of what makes Annecy special, and is clearly the unofficial “hang out with friends or loved ones after a hard days work” meetup point. When was the last time you stopped and intentionally enjoyed watching the sunset with your friends or family? Maybe it’s time to book a trip to Annecy so you can start practicing.

Lake Annecy

Lake Annecy, which is actually the French part of Lake Geneva (shared by Switzerland and France) is known as Europe’s cleanest lake. It is protected by strict environmental regulations, and is fed by both melting snow from the French Alps as well as many small rivers from the mountains. This would explain not only how beautiful it is, but how fresh and clean the tap water is in Annecy. Oh, the things you learn when traveling the world…

Jardins de Europe

The Jardins de Europe or Gardens of Europe is another giant park along the promenade of Lake Annecy. It features enormous trees, park benches, and more open fields where children could be found playing and enjoying themselves. This is also the best location along Lake Annecy to rent a paddle boat or a lake cruise.

Pont de Amors Bridge

One of the most famous attractions in all of Annecy is the Pont des Amours bridge. This bridge separates the Jardins de Europe from the Champ de Mars, and of course offers more epic views of Lake Annecy and the French Alps. Can you really have too many views of Lake Annecy or the surrounding Alps? You’re not gonna make me explain the meaning of a rhetorical question are you? The Pont de Amors certainly adds that much more charm to this, dare we say, already romantic city. The bridge is an especially popular photo and hangout destination at night as well.

La Basilique de la Visitation

As with any place in Europe, there is only so much sitting around drinking or stuffing your face with fattening foods and gelato before you need to get out and stretch your legs. I’m not sure how true that statement actually is, but for the sake of healthy living, we’ll pretend that it’s true, ha. Thankfully, La Basilique de la Visitation provides a much needed hiking opportunity in Annecy.

This church is gorgeous, and it sits atop a very large hill. It’s ringing bells can be heard all throughout the town. What it lacks in age (completed in only 1930) it makes up for in subtle Neo-Roman design. It’s fairly straightforward exterior gives way to elaborate stained glass windows and blue marble columns on the interior. La Basilique de la Visitation is certainly a place of solitude, prayer, and reflection. It’s soaring setting also provides an excellent viewpoint of the town and lake below.

Cafe Bunna

Cafe Bunna was a recommended restaurant by our Airbnb. It was mostly recommended for craft coffee, but since we went at a brunchy time of day (which rarely exists in Europe) we figured we would sample some of the gastronomy as well. Their sparse menu consists of no more than six total sandwiches. We are happy to report that the Dopio and Latte Machiato coffees were delicious, as was the California panini.

Known affectionately as “the smallest coffee shop in Annecy”, the cafe is owned and operated by a lovely little Dutch couple that speaks excellent English. The wife handles most of the impressive sandwich making and barista-ing, while the husband handles the service. We appreciated that that their space is known as a “laptop free” zone. This is undoubtedly because the tables and seating are very limited. But we believe the owners also want you to leave work at work and stop to savor the coffee beans (and the fresh avocados on their California sandwich) while at their restaurant. This surely means their cafe won’t become a tech startup hangout by any means, but it just might be one of the last coffee shops in the world where people are encouraged to slow down and actually enjoy their coffee instead of using it as a make-shift home office or study hall. We liked that.

Glacier des Alpes

Nothing says summer time in France like gelato, and there are no shortages of gelato and ice cream parlors in Annecy. When faced with option and carb overload or paralysis by analysis, it sometimes pays to be picky or discerning. One tell-tale sign in any location, though not fullproof, is to look for the lines. Any ice cream or gelato place with a line, especially one full of French looking or sounding people, is usually a safe bet. And the place called Glacier des Alpes is the safest of safe bets in Annecy.

This locally famous ice cream (or “glacees”) stand, we would come to learn, has been open for 40 years and counting. There is always a line, at any time of day. We had some after dinner our last night in Annecy and it was delicious. It was perhaps some of the best ice cream or gelato we would experience on our trip, that is until our impending visit to Florence.

Len and JJ’s Overall Rating:

We Would Definitely Go Back

What is there to like so much about Annecy? A lot. Yet it’s strangely difficult to put into words, even for a hack amateur writer like myself. It may sound made up, but I think it’s more of a feeling and an air than a particular attraction or landmark. Annecy is never going to be Paris or Marseille, and that’s sort of what we loved about it. If you like fairytale settings, enchanted views, laid back vibes and people who will speak English back to you without an annoyed or stuck up look on their face, then Annecy should probably be on your radar. In French monopoly terms, do not be afraid to pass Go (Geneva) collect your $200 (minimum daily savings) and head straight to the hidden Gem of Annecy, The Jewel of the Haute-Savoie and the Venice of the Alps.

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