Walking alongside the canals, taking in the profusion of flowers, enjoying a coffee and croissant, and just soaking up the history of this medieval city reveal why Annecy is one of the world’s most popular tourism destinations

We recently visited our son Andy; who is working in a cozy 20-room hotel in Annecy, arguably one of the most beautiful small cities in Europe. Nestled at the end of Lac Annecy in the Haute Savoie region of France, Annecy is the gateway to the French Alps and the Winter Olympic sites of Albertville and Chamonix; the latter in the shadows of the legendary Mont Blanc. Before we left Montreal, it seems that everyone I told about our upcoming trip exclaimed that Annecy was “beautiful – absolutely beautiful”. Neighbours and business associates were effusive in their praises of Andy’s adopted city. I began to feel like the only guy in Montreal who hadn’t been to Annecy.

Lake Annecy is the fourth largest in Europe, and is reputed to be the cleanest – it’s water being constantly refreshed by the melting snow from the surrounding French Alps. A small outlet river splits into small canals that traverse the old city; and the mixture of narrow rivers, swans, cobble stone streets and profusion of hanging flowers and window boxes make the town truly post-card perfect.

The building that houses the Hotel de Savoie where Andy works is 400 years old, and was most probably a living quarters for the clergy of the adjoining Italian Church, Eglise St. Francois. Across the street is a castle that dates back to 1132, the original seigniorial seat of Annecy.

Annecy has a rich history, and much of it is reflected in the Château d’Annecy and Cathédrale Saint-Pierre d’Annecy that dominate the skyline.

The town’s waterfront has been preserved as a huge open park area called Le Paquier (named after the gentleman who gave it to the town with the provision that it be open to the public); ideal for strolling along the lakeside until you come to a brilliantly painted carousel and a pedestrian bridge framed by giant weeping willow trees.

It’s an idyllic setting; and where else but in France would you find a walking bridge called Pont des Amours?

The pristine waters of Lake Annecy are a major attraction, in addition to the spectacular views and proximity to the Alps, particularly Mont Blanc at Chamonix and Albertville. If you visit in the summer, the beaches and lakeside parks are lovely. Luncheon and dinner cruises are available to tour the lake, and you’ll have a unique perspective from the water.

The proximity to major attractions makes Annecy a fine centre-point for exploring the region of Haute Savoie. Chamonix and the majestic Mont Blanc are less than an hour away, through some of the most beautiful terrain you’ll ever experience. The hiking throughout the area is outstanding, surrounded by magnificent scenery of lush mountain meadows, the French Alps, and cliffside castles.

One such castle is the Château de Menthon-Saint-Bernard, which has belonged to the Menthon family since the 12th century. Tradition endures in Europe and the family head has been the Mayor of the village for the past 900 years. The Château has 105 rooms, and is open to the public from May to September.

The library contains 12,000 books, many of which are the first editions. The library also has hand written books and documents that pre-date the printing press. You’ll also see some of the largest St. Bernard dogs you’ve ever encountered – yes that’s also part of the ‘family business’. The Menthon family took over the breeding of these mountain rescue dogs when the local religious order ran into financial difficulty and could not continue.

Occasionally while enjoying the spectacular scenery, we came across a small chapel or monument that serve as a memorial to members of the French Resistance who were captured and lost their lives. A poignant reminder of the brave men and women who roamed the mountainous terrain, risking their lives to play an important role in the eventual liberation of France.

After a day of outdoor activity, the hardest choice is to decide which one of the many restaurants you want to try. We visited three within easy waking distance of our hotel, and each one was fine; with a good variety in their menus. Because the gratuity is included in your total bill, the waiters and waitresses work together. If one is a little busy, another will pick up the slack.

Annecy has hotel accommodations to suit most budgets. The 4 star Imperial Palace and Casino, situated on its own mini-peninsula will take your breath away. There are other hotels overlooking the park and lake, and charming hotels in the medieval old town, where history is right outside the front entrance.

Travel Planner
The citizens of Annecy are justifiably proud of their beautiful town, the lake and the surrounding valley. While there is plenty to do and see, make sure to give yourself time to enjoy just being there. For more information about Annecy, please visit their website at: www.lake-annecy.com The site for Hotel de Savoie is en.lac-annecy.com The site for The Imperial Palace is: www.hotel-imperial-palace.com Transat Holidays offers hotels in Annecy as one of their self-guided tours originating from Lyon, about 90 minutes distance. www.transatholidays.com Geneva is another important gateway, about 40 minutes from Annecy, and Air Canada will begin service to Geneva this spring. www.aircanada.com Enjoy!

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