Before moving to Switzerland six years ago, my exposure to lakes and mountains had been quite limited. Coming from the UK, most family holidays had been centred around the seaside. Tom grew up in landlocked Switzerland and hence spent most of his Swiss winter holidays around lakes and in fantastic Swiss Winter Destinations. During my time in Switzerland, the majesty and drama of the Alps have now captured my soul. Enough so that it was my choice to spend New Year in the picturesque French Alpine town of Annecy in winter.
Lac d’Annecy, Europe’s cleanest lake
We took the train from Basel via Geneva. Although Annecy is only 35km south of Geneva, the train route is quite circuitous and takes about 2 hours. For this reason, I’d recommend driving if you are coming from Geneva and can rent a car.
We had rented an Airbnb apartment which was right in the very centre of the tiny old town. After arriving, we took a walk down to the lakefront. The old town itself is hugged by two narrow canals that flow out from the lake like two arms. They join together again further downstream to form the River Thiou, and these two canals have led to Annecy being given the nickname “The Venice of the Alps”. Lac d’Annecy has been subject to strict environmental regulation since the 1960’s. Because of this, it now enjoys the position of being the cleanest lake in Europe. One glimpse into any part of the lake or river confirms this. The waters are as clear as looking through a glass, making the bottom of the lake look deceptively close.
Grilled cheese, but not as you know it
After a small Vin Chaud at the Christmas market on the lakeside (more on the Christmas market later), we went and found a place to eat for dinner. We had not booked and given the time of year, we were turned away from a few places. Eventually, we found a table in a place called Le Chalet. The service and the food were both very good. We shared a raclette, which although is a fairly common dish for us, here the method of grilling the cheese was novel. The waiter brought a small grill out to our table and suspended a wedge of cheese under the arms of it. The advantage of this is that you can grill as much or as little as you want at one time just by moving the grill-arms. We ate the lot!
Cheese-based dishes are popular Alpine food, and perfect for warming up when visiting Annecy in winter. You can learn how to make a delicious cheese fondue in our post about 3 reasons to love home-made fondue.
Exploring the Old Town of Annecy in winter
The next day we explored Annecy Old Town. The two main sites of the town are the Chateau d’Annecy and the Palais de l’Isle. The Chateau sits atop a small, steep hill and dates back to the 12th century. Today, it houses two museums and an observatory. It is absolutely one of the top Annecy attractions. The Palais de l’Isle is the gem of the old town and is best viewed from the canal bridge next to it, which is usually full of eager photographers. At one time the Palais was a courthouse, today it houses a local history museum.
You prefer to explore Annecy on wheels?
Then check out this cool Segway Tour!
Christmas Markets – the best of Annecy in winter
Most French, Swiss and German towns have their own Christmas markets and Annecy in winter is no exception. However, unlike many of the Christmas markets, the Annecy Christmas Market was still open over the New Year period. The markets of Annecy are split between the lakeside and the main town square which is set further back from the lake.
The market stalls are set up with many cute and unusual gifts, like the cake-shaped candles that look almost good enough to eat! There are also various food stalls and eateries around them. Tom got himself some escargots to go with his vin chaud, whereas I decided to stick with a chocolate crépe. When visiting Annecy in winter, the Christmas markets are a must-visit. If you love Christmas markets, then check out our post about the Strasbourg Christmas markets.
More cheese, please
We had booked a table at O Savoyard, a restaurant close to our Airbnb which specialises in local cuisine. For the starter, we shared a dish of local goats cheese with dried beef. The cheese was divine, like a small light cloud of creamy delight.
For the main course, I had a tartiflette, which is a local dish of potatoes, onions, lardons and Tamié cheese (yes, more cheese!) cooked in a skillet. It was melty and stomach-warming and the perfect dish for a freezing day in Annecy in winter. Tom had traditional Savoyard sausages cooked with, yep, yet more cheese with white wine and served with polenta. His verdict was that this Annecy food was full of umami flavours and the ultimate comfort food. If you want to get more inspiration for food in the French Alps, you should read as well A FOOD ADVENTURE IN THE FRENCH ALPS: EVIAN.
After another cheese-based meal, we went down to the town hall where they had a really spectacular little light-and-sound show beaming on to the front of the building. I guess most people had already seen this as we were the only ones watching, but we were mesmerised – it was freezing cold but we stood to watch this show for a good 20 minutes! This is one of the more unique attractions of Annecy in the winter.
The next day, we decided to go for walk around Lake Annecy. Firstly because nothing was actually open. It was New Years Day and the good cafe-owners of Annecy were taking advantage of their hard-earned lie-in. Secondly, we really needed to start walking off some of them cheese kilos.
Are you looking for a “cool” winter city trip?
Then check out our post about Tallinn!
We went to the lakeside and started walking around clockwise. Although we knew that at 38km, walking the perimeter of the lake would be beyond us for New Years Day, we made it a good 4km around before we started walking back just to find somewhere to get a hot drink. The mountains and much of the lake were shrouded in mist for most of our walk. Although this meant the views were not so spectacular, it gave the lake an ethereal, mystical sense that simply cannot survive when the sun emerges and the mountains start doing their majestic thing. Walking around the perimeter is one of the best ways to experience the lake of Annecy in winter and for us one of the best things to do in Annecy.
“Venice of the Alps?”
The Venice of the Alps is not an entirely apt nickname. In some ways, it is justified: there are canals and tourists with cameras. In others, the charm of Annecy in winter is a million miles from the bustle of Venice, particularly down by the lake on a misty morning.
As our trip ended, we decided we would love to visit again in the summer to enjoy the activities on the water and the mountains in warm weather. There are so many things to do in Annecy France and we definitely want to go back! Either summer or winter, we can recommend this little jewel of a town to anyone who is looking for something to do to while away a couple of days in the French Alps. Particularly if that something involves cheese.
If you want to go there immediately now, then have a look at Booking.com to find the best Annecy accommodation:
If you loved our post about Annecy France, then you may also enjoy our other France posts.
Or if you want to see some photos of other “Venices” then check out our post about Walking Regents Canal (to Little Venice of London), or our Venice photo gallery, which is the real Italian deal!
Disclaimer: Please note that this post may contain affiliate links. If you use these links to make a purchase or a booking, we will receive a small commission from the vendor at absolutely no cost to you.
[…] If you enjoyed this post, you may like our gallery of pictures from our trip to Strasbourg Christmas markets. We also visited the Christmas market in Annecy during our winter visit there. […]
Yum! All the delicious gooey cheese is making me hungry! Lac d’Annecy looks so pretty and it’s amazing how clear the water is. Would love to check out Annecy sometime–looks like an adorable town. Love the light displays and holiday lights too!
Hi Jenna, thank you for reading our post. The cheese is really delicious in Annecy! We can absolutely recommend you to visit this wonderful French town. I’d love to swim in that lake in summer 🙂
Have a fantastic day
I discovered Annecy on my way to Chamonix quite a few years ago – it is a such a beautiful place. I have heard it compared with Venice, and agree it has a very different vibe. Your photos are lovely and have left me longing for a return trip.
Hi Nancy, we heard the comparisons with Venice as well, but I think it’s actually a bit prettier than Venice because there are a lot less tourists 😀 The canals are absolutely lovely! I hope you’ll find your way back to this charming town.
Have a fantastic day
Interesting how things work. Just another day I was reading an article about over-tourism in some European destinations. By the end, there were recommendations for worthy albeit lesser-known alternatives. Annecy was on the list. Since the name didn’t ring a bell, I thought that I would do some research later. How handy that the next day I found your article. I can see why it was recommended. The lake looks so dreamy and mysterious (especially love your photo of the fog). The canal on your way back with the lighted bridge is so cool. The candle is hilarious – I would definitely try to bite into it 😉
Annecy is definitely not yet over-touristed and that was one of the reasons we loved it so much. All the people we heard about Annecy from, were French as well 😀 We can highly recommend you to visit this little paradise. Thank you for the compliment on the picture 🙂 I agree with the candle! I was kind of disappointed that it wasn’t food 😀 Thank you very much for your comment.
Have a fantastic day
Annecy is so pretty! I can just imagine the charm of a holiday visit. Cheese-based meals are my fav so I’d have no problem indulging here! I always love to read about towns who’ve taken their own environmental responsibility into their own hands. How refreshing to hear the lake is as clean as it is. It adds to the beauty of the canals and the town itself.
Hi Jackie, thank you vor visiting our page. We absolutely agree that it is wonderful that the people of Annecy keep their lake so clean. It makes the stay so much better! The cheeses are one of the reasons I want to go back there 😀 And of course to take a swim in that lake <3
Have a fantastic day
Annecy does look picturesque, loved all your photos. Great tip about driving. I’ll have to remember it should I visit. I’m a huge cheese fan and would eat at lot of that raclette too! That chocolate crepe looks heavenly.
Thanks for reading Debra! The cheese dishes in the Alps are just one the best things – so warming and filling! The train is also a good option, just quicker to drive if you are in a hurry. Thanks for your comment and wish you a great week!
Switzerland is definitely on the top list of my most fave countries in the world. I attended hotel school in Luzern long time ago so yeah, I used to call this beautiful country my second home. I haven’t got the chance to explore the French part though but I will definitely put Annecy on my list. Gawd, I really miss Swiss fondue, ice cream and chocolate now. You took really gorgeous pictures by the way 🙂
Thanks much Debbie for reading and for the compliment! Although Tom and I both live in Basel, Switzerland, Annecy is over the border in the French Alps – although you could be forgiven for thinking those views are of Switzerland 😉 Still recommend it for a visit if you are around the Geneva area, it is not far away and easy enough to drive or take a train. Wish you a great start to your week!
I I LOVE Annecy! I live in Paris and visited the city in November. The trees were on fire with the colors of fall and the Christmas market was just opening. It’s such a lovely city. I intended to visit this summer, but the months got away from me. Thanks for bringing back my lovely memories.
Hi Leah, thank you for reading our article! The Christmas market is really cute with all the lights and scents and the light show on the facade of the town hall was just amazing! Living in Paris, I’m sure you’ll find one summer to visit this wonderful place 😀
Have a fantastic day
We visited Annecy last February, and loved being at the cleanest lake of Europe! When we arrived, the mountains and lake were also shrouded in mist. When the sky cleared up on the next day, we were totally amazed by the wonderful landscapes! But just like you, we’d love to visit the city during summer. By the way, we also visited Lac du Bourget in Aix-les-Bains, another lovely place to visit. Have you been there yet?
Hi Mei and Kerstin, thank you for your comment. The fog in Annecy is amazing, isn’t it? And how cool would it be just to jump into the lake <3 We just shortly stopped in Aix-les-Bains on our way home, but i think the whole region has so many beautiful places! I hope you'll find the occasion to visit Annecy in summer as well.
Have a fantastic day
I need to try a raclette! I have only been in Swiss airports and have not yet been able to get out into the country. This spot is now on my list.
Raclette is amazing and even though Annecy is in France and not Switzerland, you get really nice Raclette there as well 😀 Thank you for your comment.
Annecy looks really wonderful! I hope to go there soon.
Thanks for your comment Sarah! I hope you can make it there, it is a beautiful part of the world and well worth a visit.
Beautiful article and photos on Annecy, a town I first heard about from the team at CookMe (a spice company headquartered there) when shopping at their Lyon Part-Dieu shop. Now I really need to plan a trip to Annecy – thanks for sharing your experience!
We definitely recommend it Linda, we are planning to go back again at some point but when it is warmer so we can enjoy the lake a little more. I don’t recall seeing that shop but will look out for it next time. Thanks for reading and for the comment!
In summer, this is even better : the lake is warm and the old town is greater (ice cream and fondue are weird together but so tasty).
We would love to visit during summer! Although not sure about the ice cream/fondue combo 😀 Thanks for reading and for your comment