Holiday help: an insider’s guide to Lake Annecy
Still struggling to book a family holiday this summer? Yeah me to, and when you work so darn hard all year you don’t want to be stuck somewhere counting down the hours until you can get the hell out of the joint. I’m not sure whether you noticed that I wasn’t dashing around the county as much as usual this week but I scooped the kids up and headed to Lake Annecy for a few days. I’ve been a few times before but I fell in love with the place even more on this holiday. So having recovered from my sulk at being back in Blighty, reloaded the washing machine five times I’m sitting down to tell you what’s so special about this lakeside gem…
Lake Annecy is about 40mins from Geneva airport and flights are pretty cheap and take about an hour and a half. Easyjet offer the best bargains, book ahead and you can pick up some great deals – as per usual, I left it to the last minute, missed the bargains but paid £95 for return flights. They fly to Geneva from Luton – yeah, I know it’s a bit of a dive but they are working on an upgrade, and various airlines fly from Stansted (Easyjet only flies there during the winter months).
Alternatively load the car up with the bikes and holiday toot, jump on the Chunnel and burn it down – it’s an easy run and from Muddy Cambs takes about 12 hours (including the time difference) – hey, Cornwall can take that long on a bad day!
Where is it?
Lake Annecy is one of the largest lakes in France, found at the foot of the Alps in the Haute-Savoie region, 40km from Geneva. If you’ve trudged down to Meribel or La Clusaz skiing before then you’ll have virtually touched it as you drove past.
What’s there to do?
Well how long have you got? For you outdoorsy people then the lake and the surrounding mountain areas offer a myriad of things to amuse. For culture vultures there’s museums, art exhibitions and the mother of all castles to explore – oh and shopping, loads of it!
Annecy town is found on the northern shores of the lake. It’s dubbed the Venice of the Alps due its winding cobblestone streets and meandering canals lined by pastel houses and bright flower boxes. Palais de l’Isle, the local museum is worth a visit; it was once a prison, mint, courthouse and Lord’s residence and is one of France’s most photographed attractions
The lake offers endless opportunities to have fun on the water. Waterskiing, paddleboarding, sailing, windsurfing, kayaking and pedalos are all available to hire at Annecy Location Velo, close to Annecy town; learn to waterski at blue-wake.fr or at en.lac-annecy.com in Doussard further south. The lake has numerous beaches to enjoy, though don’t expect large expanses of sand – shoreline is a more accurate description. My favourite private beach is Moon Plage and costs 15€ per person, it’s busy with a bar but the kids will love the slide but La Brune in Veryrier du Lac is free and is less commercial. They get rammed in the summer so if you prefer low occupancy then head there in the morning or late afternoon.
If you’re not keen on the strenuous stuff then the water taxis and ferries will get you around the lake in style.
In the mountains
The lakeside is stunning but it’s impossible to ignore the wooded and snowcapped mountains that rise up around the lake. Cycling is big in this area, whether you attempt to cycle the 26 miles around the lake or head up into the mountains to enjoy more arduous terrain. Bikes can be hired and delivered to your holiday property at rentmybike.eu or if you’re prepared to drive for about 30 mines into the ski resort of La Clusaz, there are heaps of mountain bike tracks to enjoy. Hire bikes from le-schuss.notresphere.com and just look at this piste map – just for bikes.
Summer tobogganing and all-terrain karting
The small resort of Semnoz, just 20mins from the lakes offers excellent fun for the family. A small ski resort in the winter, in the warmer months it offers summer tobogganing with an 850m run – trust me the kids will love it. They also offer The Black Mountain – an off road scooter that somehow gets towed up the mountain by the ski lift (health and safety, meh!) and you free-ride down, and The Runix which is a motorosied off-road go kart. We didn’t have a go on this one as we had run out of time but it looked great fun, the Black Mountain is for older children, aged 10 upwards.
Zip wire and paragliding
If you want to hang out like a monkey, and you’ve got a definite head for heights, the zip wires at Acro’Adventures will provide a challenge for all ages. The mini-mudders completed the easier course which was still quite a challenge – it’s not that basic! The older children – gawd knows where they were I could just hear shrieks from the treetops.
If that doesn’t get the adrenaline going then finish the day off by throwing yourself off the top of the mountain with a tandem paragliding flight. You’ll jump next door to the zip wires and it will give you the closest things to a bird’s eye view of the lake. Annecy Adventure is a great company to have in your little black book if you’re thrill seekers. They arrange outdoor activities throughout the year but in the summer can help you with canyoning, rafting, hydrospeed, scuba diving and catamaran sailing.
Everyone loves a fairytale and the 12th century Château de Menthon-Saint-Bernard is the stuff that films are made of. Rising out of the woodland and presiding over the shores of the lake this stunning castle, with its romantic and mysterious charm, inspired a certain Walt Disney, on holiday in the region, to head home and create his famous castle.
Where to stay
Lake Annecy is geared towards holiday makers but it doesn’t have your here we go feel of a seaside resort. Whether you’re plumping for the expense and luxury of a hotel, opting for flexible self-catering in a holiday house or considering nights under the stars there are plenty of options.
If you’re after glamour then the Impérial Palace lives up to its name with a gleaming white, six-storey stack of luxury rooms languishing right on the edge of the lake near Annecy town. Le Palace de Menthon is an elegant hotel with luxury spa, attractive landscaped gardens, bijou beach and harbour on the eastern shore of Lake Annecy. Head further south to the pretty village of Talloires and you’ll discover the historical Abbaye de Talloires, nestled in this small port, once a Benedictine Monastery and now a luxury hotel.
If the budget will stretch it’s worth getting a holiday villa or apartment with a pool. It gets hot in the summer and locals and holiday makers flock to the beach, especially at the weekend, so to have the option to relax by a private pool is a luxury worth splashing out on. Savoielac and Annecy Lakeside Holidays have villas, many of which have poolside options. Prefer the security of using a travel company, then Peak Retreats can help booking your holiday.
You’ll find Camping du Lac Bleu at the southern part of the lake, it’s fairly large but offers a patisserie on site for morning croissants, a swimming pool and a shady beach.
Being in France you’d expect culinary credentials and you won’t be disappointed. Whether you want to opt for one of the cobbled streets in Annecy, a lakeside view or a dish in the mountains – options are plentfiul. Here are my top picks for you:
Best for French ambience – Cafe De La Place, Talloires
Best lakeside view – Auberge du lac, Veyrier
Best local cuisine – Bistro l’Amandier, Annecy
Best mountain restaurant – Le Chalet du Lac, La Clusaz
Best for ice-creams – Le Chalet du Port, Menthon-Saint-Bernard
Best for mooring a boat or other watercraft – Chez ma Cousine, Doussard
Lake Annecy offers great versatility for a family vacation. If you haven’t got nippers in toe and you’re still reading this then it’s equally good for couples. I’m a sucker for a beach holiday, flopping on my sun lounger all day long sipping piña coladas, but this holiday has brought me back feeling invigorated, better for some outdoor activity but also I loved relaxing by the lake with a good book – Nomad from The Topping & Co. top book list – I can highly recommend that too. Annecy- I’ll be back!