Annecy – the Venice of Savoy

by MPI Traveler on July 24, 2013

Reflections on Annecy

by Philippe Barbour

Beautiful arches and arcades are one of the most striking features of this exceptional historic place, the most famous and beautiful city in Savoie (Savoy). Canals are another, reflecting splendid buildings in surreal ways. The French regard Annecy as one of their prettiest cities, although the comparisons with Venice are irritating and, inevitably, exaggerated. However, Annecy really has no need for them. Its historic centre is seductive in the extreme. Its surroundings are stunning, with one of Europe’s most sensational lakes on the doorstep. Plus the place is overseen by remarkable mountains, which you won’t find in Venice.

Concentrating on the historic heart of town, old Annecy is intense. Intensely beautiful, intensely touristy, intensely crowded. Don’t come here for peace. Traffic jams, both of cars and of people, can be a major pain, but at least much of the very centre is pedestrianised. The canal sides are liable to be thronged with admiring onlookers. Likewise the narrow arcaded streets nearby, although Rue du Pâquier, boasting the remarkable Hôtel de Sales with its figures representing the seasons, is broader. You’ll find a plethora of chic boutiques and fine food shops around the old town. Rue du Pâquier’s more mundane continuation, Rue Royale, is lined with lots of well-known French stores.

It was through the medieval centuries that Annecy grew into a significant spot, ringed by spectacular ramparts. Vestiges remain of those medieval defences .  The medieval lords’ castle still makes an unforgettable sight, its array of stocky towers rising above the old town, even if now outdone in height by the odd modern apartment block, and the soaring steeple of the 20th-century pilgrimage basilica built in honour of local saintly star François de Sales.

Whether you look inside the churches and museums or not, strolling around sighing at the moving beauty of the canal-side streets will doubtless be one of your main pursuits in Annecy. The lake is the other romantic star of the show.

Ever environmentally aware, Annecy town cleaned up its act long ago. Its lake is recognised as one of the best-kept in Europe, so pure, you can happily go swimming in it when the weather warms up. Towards the south of town, you’ll find one beach, plus hugely popular outdoor pools. At the Thiou’s estuary into the lake, big cruisers line up to take you out on an unmissable tour on its waters. Then come the elegant public gardens, the waterside here packed with a host of small boats and pédalos for hire.

Cross the deliciously shaded Canal du Vassé, where lovely wooden boats are moored, to wander along the lake’s north shore, the extravaganza of the Impérial hotel drawing you to it and the further beaches at its feet, although you’ll be mesmerised as you look south, views opening up of the mountains encircling the lake. Even if it may be somewhat difficult to find yourselves alone in romantic Annecy, if you’re prepared to share your special moments with the crowds, then you can enjoy many blissful moments in one of France’s most enchanting cities.


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