Annecy in Haute Savoie in France is a beautiful city where a castle towers over the lakeside old town with colorful houses, churches, parks, and popular outdoor markets.
Annecy is one of the most beautiful small cities in France. The picturesque old town is located on the banks of the Thiou River and Lake Annecy, one of the largest and arguably most spectacular natural lakes in France. The castle Château d’Annecy guards over the old town. Although Annecy has several museums and interesting churches, the lovely old town with its endless flower-filled balconies is the main sight making it possible to enjoy sightseeing in Annecy without cultural overload. Frequent antique markets and activities on and near Lake Annecy are further draws and very popular with day-trippers from Geneva and French Alpine resorts.
Exploring Old Town Annecy in France
Annecy’s old town is beautifully restored and a joy to stroll through. Colorful buildings house endless restaurants, bistros, and cafés with outdoor seating and pleasant views. Many are on the banks of the Thiou River and Vassé Canal that drain Lake Annecy. Flowers bloom on balconies and many buildings have arcades that provide welcome shade on sunny days and shelter during rain or snow.
Much of the old town of Annecy has only very narrow streets and alleys that are open to pedestrians only. It is a great town to explore on foot with many interesting small shops in addition to the restaurants, bars, ice-cream shops, kiosks, bakeries, and souvenir stands.
Market Days in Annecy, Haut Savoie
However, the more interesting market is the antiques and crafts markets held on most final Saturdays of the month. On these Saturdays, old town Annecy can get very crowded with stalls in even the narrowest alleys throughout the old town.
Market days in Annecy are popular with residents of Geneva and vacationers on holiday in nearby Alpine resorts. Especially the antique market seems to attract quite a number of visitors from Geneva on day-trip excursions.
Historic Castles and Palaces in Annecy
The Château d’Annecy towers over the old town and the bastions can be seen from many streets and open spaces in the old town. The castle dates from the twelfth to sixteenth centuries and being heavily restored looks quite the part. The exterior and architecture of the castle are generally more interesting than the regional museums and displays inside the castle itself.
It is possible to drive up to the Château d’Annecy – limited parking available – or walk up from the old town. From the old town, follow the various Château signs – several walks are available combining steep inclines and/or stairs.
Inside old town Annecy the most interesting building is the fort-like Palais de l’Isle (Palace of the Island). This in part twelfth-century building looks like a stone ship anchored in the middle of the Thiou River. This palace has served through history as amongst others as the palace of the counts of Geneva, courts of law, and a prison. Once again, the local history museum inside is of limited interest.
Churches and Pilgrimage Sites in Annecy
The churches of Annecy are generally the more interesting buildings with impressive architecture and art. The Renaissance-Gothic Cathedral St Pierre became the seat of the bishop of Geneva after the Reformation forced him out of the newly Protestant city.
St Francois de Sales and St Jeanne de Chantal, the patron saints of Annecy, were originally buried in the Eglise St Francois near the Hôtel de Ville. However, their remains were moved to the Basilica of the Visitation built during the 1930s on a hill outside Annecy. The church is still an important place of pilgrimage.
Promenades and Cruises on Lake Annecy, France
A major attraction of Annecy is its beautiful location on the banks of Lac d’Annecy. Parks with shade, picnic areas, and children’s play areas are available behind the Hotel de Ville as well as the Parc de l’Imperial on the far side from the old town.
Boat excursions are popular on Lake Annecy and range from lunch cruises to short round-trip cruises. It is also possible to rent boats from the park behind the Hotel de Ville – powerboats and pedal boats (pedalos) can be rented by the half-hour.
Swimming is allowed in the very clean lake. The lake is fairly shallow close to Annecy allowing for surprisingly warm water temperatures in summer.
It is possible to drive around Lake Annecy. However, the lake is very popular with vacationers and outdoor enthusiasts. On sunny days, especially on weekends, the going can be very slow due to the traffic as well as the huge number of cyclists circumnavigating the lake.
Numerous further sights and chateaux are scattered in the Lake Annecy area and contribute to the popularity of this holiday region in Haute Savoie.
Annecy is easily reached by car from Geneva or nearby Alpine ski and summer resorts. Public transportation to Annecy requires a bit more planning, as direct connections are somewhat limited. The bus to Geneva Airport is often a good option when traveling from Switzerland to Annecy.