Annecy - historic Alpine city
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Nestling between the mountain behind and the shore of the lake, Annecy is one of the most picturesque cities in France.
Annecy is the former capital of the Duchy of Savoy, which became part of France in 1860. Before then, Savoy had been ruled at different periods by the counts of Geneva, the kings of Sardinia and France...
Savoy is thus a very distinctive area of modern France, and Annecy a distinctive city - with a heritage that is Alpine more than French. It's historic centre has more in common with Geneva than with Lyon.
As a tourist destination, Annecy is particularly visited for its location on the shore of Lake Annecy at the foot of the Alps, and for its very picturesque old city. Until the Middle Ages, the city was located on the top of a small rise to the east of the lakeside old city; but in 1107, a new city began to develop at the foot of the castle, on either side of the river Thiou, the outlet of the lake. This is the historic "old city" of today's Annecy.
Running through the middle of the old city, the Thiou is flanked by narrow quays or by buildings rising directly on the riverbank. The old city is also crossed by the Canal du Vassé, and it is the presence of these two waterways, and of other man-made canals, that has earned Annecy its nickname of the "Venice of the Alps".
Originally just a convenient water-course and in the case of the Canal du Vassé, a protective moat for the old city, Annecy's waterways later became a useful source of hydraulic power for industrial development, notably silk and small-scale textile mills. Today, they are the hallmark of the very picturesque old city.
Unlike most historic French cities, Annecy does not have any great significant historic monument. No great cathedral, no Roman remains,no impressive fortification.
The quays of the Thiou, and behind them the castle.
The quays of the Thiou, and behind them the castle.
The tourist attraction at Annecy is the old city itself, with its very picturesque streets and riverside; and of course the lake too.
It's easy to spend hours wandering through the narrow streets of Old Annecy. Virtually the whole of the old city is a pedestrian area. With their colourfully painted houses, arcades, boutiques, cafés and restaurants, the streets and the riverside quays are an enchanting area just to wander round.
There are a few particularly noteworthy buildings in the old city, the most photogenic being the Palais de l'Ile, or the Island Palace, parts of which date back to the 12th century. Over time the building has served as a family home, a prison and a law-court. Today it houses an architectural heritage centre, and is open to the public all year, including 7/7 during the summer months.
Just to the south of the old city is the Chateau, a substantial Alpine-style stronghold largely built in the Middle Ages. The chateau houses a number of museums and galleries, covering art, archaeology and ethnology.
Summer storm brewing over lake Annecy
Apart from the old city, the other great attraction of Annecy is the lake. With its backdrop of soaring Alpine peaks, the lake - like the nearby Lac du Bourget - is very popular for sailing, boating and pleasure cruising. Lake cruises start from the Quai Napleon III at the edge of the old town, and take passengers to various locations round the lake.
For those who prefer to see the lake at their own pace, and view Annecy from the water, there are half a dozen boat rental locations close to the old town, hiring out everything from pedalos, to dinghies and motorboats.
Walkway through the Gorges du Fier
As far as Alpine scenery is concerned, for both summer and winter visitors, the choice is vast. The area offers a wealth of opportunities for winter sports, and for summer activities including hiking, mountaineering, water sports, nature rambles, hang gliding and much more.
Among specific places to visit, the Chateau de Montrottier, 12 km west of Annecy, is another classic Alpine stronghold, tastefully restored in the 19th century. The castle, open from March to October, is now preserved as a museum with a large collection of historic arms, porcelaine and tapestries. It is surrounded by gardens, and overlooks the Gorge du Fier.
The Gorge du fier is one of the oldest tourist sites in the Alps, a very deep and narrow gorge between two vertical rock faces, which can be visited on a vertiginous walkway.
Further round the lake, on the eastern shore, the Chateau de Doingt, on a tiny peninsula, is one of the high points on any round lake cruise or drive or cycle ride. The road trip around Lake Annecy is just about 40 km.
Savoie has a plentiful supply of hotel accommodation. The area has been a popular tourist destination since the nineteenth century, so has plenty of well-established hotels as well as more modern establishments.
The classic luxury hotel in Annecy itself is the Imperial Palace, whose historic guest-list includes the likes of Charlie Chaplin, Edith Piaf and Winston Churchill. First opened in 1913, the hotel went into decline after the second world war, and closed in 1965. After being bought by the town council, it was renovated and leased to a local hotel management group. It reopened in 1990, and is now established as a great lakeside hotel.
There is a good choice of hotels close to the Old City, but most of the modern chain hotels and budget hotels are located between the old city and the motorway which runs to the northwest of Annecy. Visitors planning on a longer stay may like to take a hotel up in the mountains, towards or in the nearby ski-resorts of La Clusaz or Le Grand Bornand, or in one of the smaller locations overlooking the lake, such as Talloires.
- By air Nearest airports: Geneva, Chambéry, Lyon Saint Exupéry. see Fly to France.
- By train Annecy can be reached from Paris by direct TGV (high speed train) in under 4 hours. There are direct trains to Lyon and Grenoble, and a bus service to Geneva. For timetables and online tickets, see Trainline.com .
- By car Annecy is beside the A41 Geneva to Grenoble motorway. For travellers coming from the UK or Belgium, check out the route via the A26 motorway, Dijon and Bourg-en-Bresse
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Chateau de Doingt, on Lake Annecy
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Photos: top of page by Maud Kch
Quays of the Thiou by Milivanily
Lake Annecy by Reginaspics
Gorges du Fier by Rémih, Creative commons licence.