When you visit idyllic Annecy, you can’t help feeling a touch of envy for the lucky people who call it home. One of the bright gems of France, Annecy is a town of 115,000 that lies on the northern tip of a lovely lake with snow-topped mountains rising above it.
John and I arrived in Annecyon the high-speed TGV train, a 3-1/2 hour ride from Paris. We trundled our bags a few blocks to the Allobroges Park Hotel and settled into a small but clean and quiet room (93 euros a night, and 8.50 for an excellent buffet breakfast).
Then we went exploring and found charm at every turn.
Lac d’Annecy is the purest lake in France. From it, water flows to canals that run through town, crossed by bridges hung with colorful flowers. In the traffic-free Old Town, cobbled walkways surround a small island where the Palais de L’Isle stands. The picturesque, 12th-century palace has been a law court, prison, and hiding place for Resistance fighters during World War II; today it’s a museum. Near the stone palace is the small and pretty Hotel du Palais de L’Isle, slightly more expensive than our hotel but in a more scenic spot.
The medieval Chateau d’Annecy dominates the town with its great stone towers — the walls of one tower are 4 meters thick. The chateau, too, is now a museum.
From Annecy, a lakeside promenade leads to the sweeping lawns and rose gardens of L’Impérial Palace, a grand hotel and casino. It’s splendid, and breakfast on the wide terrace overlooking the gardens would be very pleasant, but we preferred being in town, with its lively cafés and musicians.
We expected fine cuisine the night we ate at La Ciboullette, which has a Michelin star. Alas, the dinner was a disappointment. Poached cod in ordinary cream sauce, stringy rhubarb with tomatoes — a costly reminder that stars aren’t always reliable. There is little doubt you’d enjoy a sublime meal at another restaurant: the 3-star La Maison de Marc Veyrat. It’s considered one of the great dining stops in France, with stratospheric prices to match. We’ll go there when the dollar-to-euro ratio improves. Meanwhile, we were happy with our meals at casual, canal-side cafés such as Le Chalet, where the profiteroles (cream puffs with chocolate sauce) were delicious.
One sunny day we packed a picnic, rented bicycles, and set off on a path that edges the west side of the lake. While kayakers and boaters glided back and forth on the water, we pedaled through a fairy-tale landscape of orchards, chalets, gardens, parks and villages. On one side of the lake was the Massif des Bauges, where hunters search the forest for chamonix, birds and deer. On the other side we saw the rugged granite peaks of Les Dents de Lanfon.
The next day we hopped aboard one of the tour boats that cruise the lake, stopping at villages where travelers can get off and be picked up later. We’d wanted to see a famous castle, Chateau de Menthon-St.-Bernard, set on a 200-meter-high rock above the lake. It has more than 100 rooms with medieval furnishings. Unfortunately the castle was temporarily closed, so we stopped at Talloires instead. This sweet, flower-filled village on a green hillside has beautiful chalets, lakeside hotels, and a wonderfully serene atmosphere. We wandered up the stone streets, passing a former monastery, one of many that were closed or destroyed during the Revolution.
A steep path took us through the woods on a 45-minute climb, emerging at a stone chapel, St. Germain Hermitage. The view from here, looking out over the shimmering lake and mountains, was breathtaking. After a rest and a look at St. Germain’s bones under glass, we made the rugged descent and reached Talloires only a short time before the boat was due. We were hot and famished, but need not have worried. L’Abbaye de Talloires took care of us with style. The bow-tied maitre d’, politely ignoring our scruffy appearance, escorted us to a table on the tree-shaded terrace by the shore, where we feasted on the Gourmand Salad. Said to be for le petit faim (“little hunger”), it included: prosciutto/pumpkin skewers, olive tapenade, sun-dried tomatoes, avocado-tomato coulis, smoked salmon, thin Savoie ham, crusty bread, and greens. We added wine and a delectable pear tart, and finished just as the boat arrived. We quickly paid and called our heartfelt thanks as we dashed to the landing. Dinner that night was crackers in our room.
We keep dreaming of our return to Annecy. Maybe we’ll come the first Saturday in August, when the lake is ablaze with lights, music and fireworks — just one of the town’s many spectacular festivals.