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Two Days in Magical Annecy

If your ideal destination offers history, charm and stunning scenery, Annecy should be high on your list. With the Alps as a backdrop, a crystal clear lake and and Old Town with cobblestone lanes and pastel-colored buildings, you'll think you're in a fairy tale. On the Swiss border and only about 20 miles south of Geneva, Annecy is the perfect day trip or even better, a weekend excursion.

Lac d'Annecy

Annecy is the capital of Haute-Savoie, one of the 96 "departments" in France. Its lush green valleys, picturesque villages, lakes and rugged mountains attract visitors from around the world.

The Thiou River flows from Annecy Lake through the Old Town and several kilometers westward. The Thiou and the canals that branch from it give Annecy the fitting title of the Venice of France.

Annecy's old town is largely pedestrian, offering visitors a car-free opportunity to stroll and enjoy its many shops and restaurants.

The medieval arcades offer protection from the snow in winter and the heat of the summer.

What to See in Annecy

Palais de L'Isle

You can't miss this building in the shape of a ship cropping up from the Thiou River. Built in the 12th century, it has served as a prison, a mint, an administrative building and even a home for the elderly in the mid to late 19th century. Today it's a museum highlighting the history of Annecy and the surrounding area. It's definitely worth the 4 Euro admission fee and an hour of your time.

The Churches of Annecy

The Cathedral Saint-Pierre

If you travel much in Europe, you know that most cathedrals are grandiose, many are designed with ornate Gothic or Baroque features and most are situated on a large square. The cathedral in Annecy couldn't be more different. Built in the 16th century as a chapel for Franciscan monks, this cathedral is tucked away on a narrow street and could easily be overlooked.

Église Saint-Maurice

Saint-Maurice is the oldest church in Annecy. Built in 1422 as a Dominican convent, it was converted it into a grain market during the French Revolution and later became a stable before it was rededicated as a church in 1803. it is notable for the magnificent wall paintings which were discovered during restoration work in 1956, below.

This "trompe l'oeil" painting, one of the two discoveries, is the tomb of Philibert de Monthouz, adviser to the dukes of Savoy and Burgundy and a local lord who lived in the 15th century.

Other interesting features of the interior, below.

Château d'Annecy

Now a museum, the castle of Annecy was built between the 12th and 16th centuries and sits on a hill above the city. It was vacant until the 17th century and turned into a barracks for WWII. The castle was unfortunately closed when I visited.

At the foot of the hill leading to the castle, there is an entrance to what was an underground air raid shelter for the local population during the Second World War. I found it fascinating.

The lanes around the castle were quaint and perfect for strolling.

The Market

If you're in Annecy on a Tuesday, Friday or Sunday, you can't miss the beautiful market. The Sunday market is the largest and spreads through the entire Old Town.

Lac d'Annecy

Just when you think this city can't get any better, your eyes are drawn to this beautiful lake. Several picturesque villages dot the shores of this 9-mile lake and the Alps rise above it creating a stunning landscape. When I was there in the spring, a small amount of snow remained on most peaks.

You can take an hourlong tour which circles part of the lake or an hour and a half tour which takes you to the southern end and back. I suggest taking the longer one.

Take some time to walk around the parks at the northern end of the lake enjoying the scenery.

And More...

Annecy is a perfect city for walking. The word "flâneur" in French translates loosely to strolling with no particular end in mind. It's one of my favorite words because there are so many cities in France that lend themselves to lazily strolling, and Annecy is certainly one. Here are some photos of my wanderings.

And Finally...

All good things must come to an end. Annecy met all my expectations and then some. As the sun set on my last evening there, I was so happy to have had an opportunity to spend time in this magical place.

 Top Tips

  • Two days is the perfect amount of time to explore Annecy.

  • There is good train and bus service, but the ideal way to visit the area would be to rent a car. Take time to explore all the little Alpine villages within easy driving distance.

  • Be sure to schedule your time so you're there on a market day!

  • I stayed in an apartment in the very center of the Old Town. It couldn't have been a better location and the apartment was perfect for one-two people. Let me know if you'd like more information.

  • I flew in and out of Geneva and took a bus to and from Annecy, but there are other options such as Lyon which isn't too far. Or you could combine it with a trip to Paris as there's good train service between the two cities.

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