Annecy is a town best explored on foot, with an insatiable appetite and a camera. Nestled in a mountainous valley by a lake, with its waterways and winding cobbled streets, this town rivals even the beauty and magic of Venice. It’s so romantic, it has its own Le Pont D’Amour – yup, a love bridge.
It takes just an hour and a quarter drive from Morzine to reach a town I’d heard famed for its beauty. Stumbling into La Vielle Ville, ‘The Old Town’, and I see why. Everything explodes with colour, the closest you can get to a blooming urban garden. Terracotta pavements, pink houses, eggshell blue shutters… you can’t help but follow the River Thiou deeper into the town’s painted walls as if in a pastel-coloured dream.
Having torn my gaze away from the third chocolaterie in five minutes, I come across a floating palace, complete with its own nonchalant swan guarding the turrets. Tourists stand beaming on the bridge, taking turns to snap their photos of the stunning Palais d’Ile. Originally a prison from the 11th Century, I can’t help but think the criminals had it easy with a view like that out of their narrow windows.
I try to appreciate the architecture, but honestly my insatiable sweet tooth is getting the better of me. Round every corner there’s a patisserie, their tiny windows glowing with coiled croissants or glistening Pain Au Raisins. Chocolateries compete for the most sensational designs, shelves piled high with chocolates and colourful cakes straight out of a fairy tale.
I can resist no longer. I pop into one of the grandest-looking chocolateries, Au Fidèle Berger on Rue Royale, and am instantly charmed by its vintage Tea Rooms and pearl-wearing clientele. Boggled by the choice of bonbonneries, I settle for framboise macaroons and a frothing jug of salted caramel hot chocolate. One word: divine.
But it’s at Au Cure Gourmand, the famous biscutier, where I feel like I’ve stepped inside the witch’s gingerbread house from Hansel and Gretl. Biscuits of every flavour – coconut, vanilla, almond, strawberry – piled high, chocolate bars line the walls, neatly-dressed assistants revolve the shop floor with open biscuit tins to drag you down into sweet submission.
I succumb, and as with many things in Annecy, the indulgence comes with a price. I accidentally spend 30 euros on one box of biscuits that lasts me two days. The tin is for life though.
Of course, the savoury-toothed can be satisfied as well. The River Thiou branches off into numerous pretty canals, each lined with traditional French restaurants shadowed under red-striped awnings. Being a vegetarian, I always have fun in France making up new dishes with the waiters, and have a delicious Salade au Lardons at La Rive Gauche restaurant, sans the lardons.
Deeper into the old town, and I discover Annecy is ideal for shopping and souvenirs. There’s an abundance of local artisans here from the surrounding countryside – honey-makers, spiceries, basket weavers and potters, some pull me into the depths of their shops to share their favourites, others shoo my camera away and watch me warily from their doorstep.
In stark contrast, the newer part of Annecy is far more functional and modern, with supermarkets, pharmacies and clothes shops. Less picturesque, but vital for any shop-starved Brit who needs to replenish their wardrobe or stock up on supplies.
It’s a bit of a culture shock to go from the old to the new within a few minutes’ walk, so I escape to Lake Annecy. One of the cleanest lakes in Europe, the azure water practically laps the shops’ doorsteps. Walking along its banks, in a bowl of brilliant-green mountains, you can see the potential for adventure here.
As well as transforming into a water-sports playground in the summer, with everything from boat tours to paragliding on offer, the lake also offers guided walks and mountain bike trails to explore. What better way to spend a weekend away than climb to the top of Le Semnoz, survey a kingdom of castles and lakes from your handlebars, and descend on a winding path down to one of the prettiest towns in Europe?
La Rive Gauche Restaurant – great location by the river but away from the crowds, cheap pizza and smiling waiters.
Go to Au Fidele Berger – for the chocoholics.
Kiss on Le Pont D’Amour – rumoured you’ll stay together forever if you pucker up here, so choose who you take wisely!
Visit Le Chateax D’Annecy – it’s not the prettiest castle ever built, but with an 800-year history of entertaining counts, surviving fires and sheltering soldiers during the wars, it’s now an art museum that’s well worth a visit.
Take a coffee in Les Cafes Des Arts – filled with artists, it’s like a scene out of Amelie. Enough said.
As written for Morzine Source Magazine, Summer 2016 edition