The cure for most anything that ails is fresh mountain air. With winter arriving, I craved a higher altitude and slower pace of life, even if only for a weekend. A train ticket and four hours is all I needed to get to Annecy, a world away from fast-paced Paris.
Located in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region in southeastern France, Annecy is known as “Little Venice.” Filled with canals and sitting on the northern edge of the pristine Lake Annecy, the largest city in the Haute-Savoie department is an idyllic destination during any season. Outdoor activities abound, from summer swimming in Europe’s cleanest lake to snow skiing 30 minutes away. Certainly, 48 hours isn’t enough to enjoy all Annecy has to offer, but it’s a good start.
Majestic and classic on the exterior, but modern on the interior, the Imperial Palace sits directly on Lake Annecy. A luxurious fixture in Annecy for more than a century, the Belle Epoque hotel has played host to the likes of Winston Churchill, Charlie Chaplin, Edith Piaf, and the Sultan of Morocco. The recently refurbished four-star Imperial Palace includes 93 rooms and eight suites; highly recommended is a room overlooking the lake that features lounge furniture on its extremely spacious patio. With the three diverse restaurants, a bar with live music Wednesday through Sunday, a state-of-the-art 600-square meter spa, and a newly opened casino, there’s plenty to experience without even leaving the property.
Eat and Drink
Located inside the Imperial Palace, La Voile is a gastronomic restaurant enveloped in windows framing Lake Annecy. Classic French featuring products of the region, the dishes are as delicious as they are pretty. An extensive wine list and a knowledgeable sommelier help round out the dining experience.
Pâtisserie Philippe Rigollot is tucked away in the Old Town, but locals and anyone who’s done any research on where to eat in Annecy know exactly where it’s located. Even for someone lucky enough to be born without a sweet tooth, this pâtisserie is definitely worth a stop. Philippe Rigollot was once named the best pastry chef in the world, and his fun and seasonal creations are art for the eyes and the mouth.
When it comes to fromage in Annecy, Pierre Gay is the man. His blue, white, and red Meilleurs Ouvriers de France collar is an outward testament to the brilliance of this third-generation cheese expert. Go not only for the cheese, but also to see his shop. The cellar has a transparent ceiling, so patrons standing above can look down and see the cheese evolution.
In the heart of Old Town is a quaint little brasserie called L’Estaminet. Featuring a rustic and cozy interior, along with a view on one of the city’s many canals, L’Estaminet is a lovely spot for a casual meal, coffee, or glass of wine. The menu features everything from fondue to fish caught in Lake Annecy to Belgian specialties, such as moules frites.
Outdoor and sports lovers will find a wealth of opportunities in Annecy. Hiking, bike riding, swimming, skiing, and boating are just a few of the activities available throughout the year. Beyond active pursuits, Annecy has many must-see attractions, no matter the season.
Wander the narrow cobblestone streets of Annecy’s Old Town. With its pastel buildings, flower-lined bridges, flowing water, and quaint shops and restaurants, Old Town is a step back in time. On Sunday morning, there’s a market featuring seasonal and local produce, meats, cheeses, and gourmet specialty items.
Les Jardins de L’Europe is the picturesque park located between Lake Annecy and Old Town. With trees and plants from around the world, it’s a lovely location for a picnic or for a walk, with the snow-covered Alps serving as the backdrop. On the edge of the park is the Pont des Amours. This Bridge of Lovers offers a charming vantage point to Lake Annecy and the Alps and a canal running through Old Town.
In the middle of Old Town is Palais de l’Isle, a former prison dating to the 12th century. It’s now a history museum and undergoing renovation. It’s one of Annecy’s most photographed locations. Make your way up the hill in Old Town to visit Château d’Annecy. Purchased by the city, restored, and turned into a modern museum, it’s also a brilliant view of the lake and city.
A two-night taste of Annecy only leads to more hunger for this alpine town. With four distinct seasons, it’s a place that transforms with the temperature. But what doesn’t change is the fresh air, fairytale atmosphere, and relaxed pace of life.