Annecy is called the Venice of France, but we don’t know why

The Palais de I'Ile on the right and restaurants on the left The Palais de I'Ile on the right and restaurants on the left

We were sitting in Marianne’s kitchen in Bern (our couchsurfing host) at about 10pm still unsure of what our plans for the following day were going to be. We knew we were leaving Bern, and we thought our next stop would be Lausanne, followed be Geneva a few days after that. But one thought kept bubbling away in the back of my mind, “boy oh boy Switzerland is expensive”.

The decision to leave Switzerland

Luckily for us we’d found great couchsurfing hosts in Bern and Lucerne, saving us about AU$500-$600 in basic accommodation costs, while also meeting and getting to know two really great locals. For the past few days we’d bought groceries for breakfast and lunch which kept costs down considerably, but we were still burning through the cash in other ways like train trips, a lunch or two, and local public transport. There’s no doubting Switzerland is a spectacularly beautiful country, and I would love to go back one day and do some extensive exploring through the mountains and regional towns, but we decided it was time to leave Switzerland for the time being before we went completely broke!

We were heading for our housesitting gig just south of Toulouse, and had about four or five days to explore before we were due to arrive. So we quickly Googled what beautiful little towns there are on the way, and found a couple that would suit us to the ground – Annecy and Avignon. They were small enough to walk everywhere, very beautiful and not in Switzerland. So we purchased our Super Saver train tickets to Geneva, and went to bed amazed that only 30 minutes earlier we thought we’d be continuing our adventure in Switzerland, but were now heading to one of France’s most beautiful little towns. It’s amazing what can happen when travelling nomadically with no set plans, particularly in Europe where countries are just a short train ride from each other.

Getting from Bern to Annecy

A charming residential streets in Annecy

A charming residential street in Annecy

We caught our 9.34am train from Bern to Geneva, and once we’d reached the station, walked down to the bus terminal to catch a bus to Annecy. The train journey took around one hour and 45 minutes, and cost 24.60 CHF each. As in previous posts, I stress the important of purchasing a Super Saver ticket online and printing it out yourself. If you purchase in any other way it could cost you twice as much, which is a lot in Switzerland! The bus departed from Geneva at 11.50am, and despite the trip only being about 41km away, it took one hour and 40 minutes to get there. It cost 32 CHF for both of us which we bought about five minutes before the bus was due to leave. We thought perhaps we’d have to wait for another bus as this one may have been sold out, but there wouldn’t have been any more than 10 people on board in total.

Checking into our shoebox hotel room

We arrived at 1.30pm and I was so unimpressed on our arrival into Annecy I wondered what all the fuss was about. The city area around the bus and train station is like any other average small city in the western world, and the drive in wasn’t much better. We grabbed our gear and headed straight for our hotel, the Best Western. At around €92 per night it’s not strictly a ‘budget’ option, but we only booked the night before and it was the cheapest we could find. Our room wasn’t ready yet, so we dumped our gear and headed out to get some lunch and buy some food supplies from the supermarket. On our return we headed up to the room and found a very small, compact space that we’d be calling home for the next couple of nights. As usual I had Wi-Fi issues with my iPhone and MacBook, so was forced to work in the hallway or downstairs in the lobby during our stay. Is it an Apple thing, because it seems to happen to me a lot, but Sarah never seems to have any issues with her Windows laptop and phone?

Exploring Annecy

The Palais de I'Ile in the middle of Annecy's main canal

The Palais de I’Ile in the middle of Annecy’s main canal

Over the next day and a half we got out and about and explored what turned out to be one of the prettiest little towns we’ve been to. Situated at the northern end of the French Alps, the mountains surrounding the beautiful 14th century medieval town and picturesque Lac (Lake) d’Annecy is the perfect combination for the touristy town. Commonly known as the Venice of Savoie, the town is dissected by canals and streams which makes it even more stunning than other beautiful medieval towns. But it’s nothing like Venice really, which is so unique. For me, just because a town has canals doesn’t mean we should compare it to Venice!

There are some lovely attractions to see like the former palace-turned-prison Palais d’Isle, located on an island between the two main canals; St Maurice Church; and Annecy Castle on a hill overlooking the city. But if you get a map and wander the streets of the Old Town you’ll see everything worth seeing. You can get some great photos along the canals, with small cute bridges in close proximity to each other joining one side to the other.

Sarah helps Jack remove his head from the bridge in Annecy

Sarah helps Jack remove his head from the bridge in Annecy

On one particular bridge, probably the busiest and most visible bridge (apart from Pont de la Halle) near the main restaurant area of the Old Town, Jack decided to poke his head through the bars in the fence and got himself stuck. Sarah had to go and carefully pull his head back out, tucking in his ears in front of hundreds of amused tourists!

Plenty to do in Annecy for kids and adults

By the lake is the Champ de Mars, a great big park with playgrounds for little children to keep amused for as long as you’re happy to stay. Jack had a great play in one of the two playgrounds, although it was very busy with kids running around everywhere! There’s plenty of water activities to take part in around the Champ de Mars and Les Jardins de l’Europe area such as swimming, rowing or sailing on the lake. You can hire all sort of boats to take for a spin on Lac d’Annecy, or you can buy a ticket and go on one of the big boats in the harbour for lunch and further exploring of the area.

Lac (Lake) d'Annecy is absolutely stunning

Lac (Lake) d’Annecy is absolutely stunning

You can also hire bikes to explore the city, hike in the surrounding mountains, shop at the boutique stores in the Old Town or local markets, and enjoy an ice-cream from one of the Italian gelaterias. There’s also a long pedestrianised street called Rue Carnot in the city area where you can shop in one of the many mass chain stores.

This town really has everything, which I think is why it’s somewhat of a disservice to compare it to Venice. Sure it has canals, but there’s mountains, parks and the huge lake to enjoy as well, which Venice doesn’t have. Obviously Venice is one of the world’s most magnificent and unique cities in its own right, and everyone should get there at least once in their loves, but Annecy has a diverse range of things to see and do. And besides, I didn’t see any gondolas floating up and down the canals of Annecy!

Take a look at our Annecy photogallery below…

4 Comments on Annecy is called the Venice of France, but we don’t know why

  1. Fair point. I didn’t see any gondolas in Annecy, either! I agree – it’s a beautiful town and the lake is just gorgeous. We had the fortune (?) of visiting on the busiest weekend of the year when a huge musical festival takes place. Listening to awesome live music in the park beside the lake was a highlight for us – and the electric boat we hired for a cruise on the lake was a great experience, too.
    Carolyn – Holidays to Europe recently posted…Home Exchange in Europe: How Does it Work?My Profile

    • I’m hearing you Carolyn, we loved Annecy and would happily go back. Although it’s incredibly touristy, it also seemed as though it would be very liveable. With the lake, playgrounds, shopping district, things to do in and around the city, I think it could definitely be a place people would be comfortable calling home.

  2. Wow! Stunning photos, love your blog. This is on our list of places to visit in Eastern France next year. Appreciate all the information, great! Happy Travels!

2 Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Why you must include Annecy on your France itinerary [video]
  2. Avignon, all you need is a spit and polish to be great!

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