The French Alps provide magnificent scenery with tranquil lakes, atmospheric medieval towns and fresh clean air to revivify even the weariest of holidaymakers. With its dramatic backdrop of sharp mountain peaks, the turquoise Lake Annecy is one of Europe’s most romantic lakes. It’s also reputed to be the continent’s purest.
Annecy itself, capital of the Haute-Savoie province, is a chocolate-box of a city with old quarters dating back to the 12th century. Often referred to as “the Venice of the Alps”, it makes a great base for activities on and around the lake. You can take a tour of the whole lake either on foot or using the cycle paths; you can also go paragliding over it or take a leisurely boat cruise to one of the many enchanting lakeside villages. Water skiing, jet-skiing, rowing and fishing are all possible too.
Try and make time to visit Faverges which offers simple summer pursuits like bathing at the source of Lake Annecy and walking in the surrounding mountains. Also within close proximity is Le Semnoz, a vast nature reserve and protected mountain with views from the summit of the legendary Mont-Blanc on a clear day. Discover the fast-flowing waterfall at Angon or Menthon with its fairytale castle, said to have inspired Walt Disney himself. Then there’s Talloires, a picturesque resort created around an 11th century monastery. Cézanne painted several well-known views of the lake from here. If you can, squeeze in a trip to the impressive Gorges du Fier canyon.
Northwest of Annecy lies a popular hiking path that crosses the ridge of the Montagne de Vuache with a view out over Geneva and at Aillon-le-Jeune in the forest mountain range of Les Bauges, nature lovers can follow a wild orchid trail. Les Bauges is also a major centre for hang gliding. The mountains in this part of the world are home to a multitude of little-known herbs that the Savoyards use in cooking. One of France’s most famous chefs, Marc Veyrat, finds ingredients like briar and meadowsweet here to create his signature dishes. With hints of verbena, mint and aniseed, Genépi is a sparkling yellow liqueur said to be good for digestion as well as a cure for mountain sickness. Other regional specialities include lean charcuterie from the Arve valley, Reblochon cheese made in the Aravis area and Cloches d’Annecy, bell-shaped chocolates filled with hazelnut praline.
The elegant spa town of Evian sits on the southern shores of Lake Geneva, known locally as Lac Léman. Facing Switzerland and the foothills of the Chablais pre-Alps, it retains all the charm of its heyday as a fashionable Edwardian resort frequented by the aristocracy. It is also of course the birthplace of Evian mineral water, historically believed to cure kidney trouble and nervous disorders. Today, more than four million bottles of Evian water are produced every day in the factory where visitors can learn more about the bottling process. On the lake itself, take a paddle steamer over to the Swiss side, discover the water gardens which are only accessible by boat, or go sailing or surfboarding. Those with a head for heights might fancy flying high along the banks in a hot air balloon. However you choose to spend your time, be sure to uncork a bottle or two of fine Rhône wine at the end of another action-packed day.
Looking for natural swimming spots in the mountains or the best places for watersports, read more.