Actually, with a historical city like Annecy, that may be one and the same.
With its canals flowing throughout the old town, Annecy is known as the “Venice of the Alps”. This lends to its charm of pastel 16th-century buildings, stone bridges going back to the Medieval ages, and being lakeside to the shimmering Lake Annecy. To add to its swoon factor, the city in southeastern France is cradled by the alps of the Savoie Mont Blanc region. Curious? Follow me on Instagram and YouTube for more adventures!
If you’ve never been to Annecy before, or perhaps you’ve been during the peak season of summer and winter, this is your insider guide to the best of what to do in Annecy for the fall. Autumn in Annecy is special - if you’re going any time from September to early November (my absolute favourite time for the Savoie Mont Blanc region), you’re in for an extra treat. Get your cosy knits ready for colourful changing leaves, fewer crowds and more bustling local allure. This is how to spend the perfect 48 hours in Annecy.
Day 1 during the day: The heart of Annecy
The easiest way to get into Annecy if you’re flying is to arrive at Geneva International Airport in Switzerland. Then you can rent a car and drive about 40 minutes across the border to Annecy. As you drive closer to Annecy, the silhouette of mountains comes closer in range, rolling past your windows like a motion picture.
When you arrive in Annecy, the best way to explore the town is to start from its very heart: the old town. The old town of Annecy is like any pedestrian-friendly dream; small alleyways that lead into cobblestone streets and medieval arches. No matter where you turn, the waterways all around Annecy will leave an impression on you. This is the Alpine Venice after all. With the canals running throughout the city, you can’t help but feel an air of romance to it… Especially since the water’s colour is so light and wistfully blue.
Pont Perrière is an iconic bridge where these canals and rivers meet before pouring out into the lake. Standing on the bridge, on one side you’ll see the peninsula of Le Palais de I’île and on the other side, the rugged alps. If you continue strolling down the wide street of Quai du Semnoz, you’ll reach Jardins de l’Europe. This is the main city park in Annecy - right by its namesake lake. On the lush green sprawl, at any point of time during the day, lots of young locals come by to play football and have picnics. You’ll see skateboarders, cyclists and families enjoying the park with views of mountains and Lake Annecy on all sides.
On the outer edge of the park, cross on over the Pont des Amours, known as the lover's bridge. From this curved footbridge you’ll see a sweeping vista of Lake Annecy and, behind you, rows and rows of trees in full bloom with autumnal golds, reds, and yellows over the Canal du Vassé. You can walk down the wide canals with little boats moored along the waterway. It’s my favourite spot in the whole city since it feels like such a pause in time here. You may spot one of the swans of Annecy floating down the canal, or locals intimately paired off in twos up and down the benches under the trees.
Walking down the canal, you’ll end up back in the old town of Annecy. With notable architectural buildings like the Place de l’Hôtel de ville and Église Saint Maurice in front of it, already the city gets more bustling than its quaint lakefront. Église Saint Maurice is free to enter and take a peek around. It’s a Gothic Roman Catholic church which is the oldest in the city, with detailed stained-glass windows behind the altar.
For lunch, don’t miss out and experience a true taste of French gastronomy with Auberge du Lyonnais Annecy. It’s a classic restaurant right on the soulful crossroads of Quai de l'Évêché and the Rue de la République by the water. I ordered the seared arctic char with Nantes butter and chartreuse. What’s so impressive to me is that the fish is caught directly from Lake Annecy itself, and the restaurant really prides itself on homegrown ingredients and locally sourced produce like this fresh fish.
Now don’t skip out on desserts at Auberge du Lyonnais Annecy, because nobody does desserts like the French. I went all out with the French specialities from vanilla brioche in salted butter caramel with ice cream, to a melon tartare, almond lemon cake, red fruits, chantilly cream, and then the île flottante with praline - which basically means a floating island of meringue on vanilla custard. Whether you’re going on a date, with your family or just on a solo trip - treat yourself to the art of French cuisine here.
After lunch, continue exploring the storied streets of Annecy. In the old town, you may notice how there are a lot of commanding stone buildings. While it’s still historical - the materials are relatively new, since Annecy buildings used to be built out of timber and straw. Now imagine these cobblestones streets with lots of livestock running around the wooden arcades. But alas, after several fires since the Middle Ages, Annecy was reconstructed into stone with the stone arcade we see now.
Since you’ve been exploring the streets of Annecy, you may have been wondering - where would one go to get the best views of the ancient city and the surrounding French alps? Would you have to go up to the mountains themselves to be able to take everything in? Actually, a spot closer than you may think, that’s right in the heart of Annecy, will give you such privileged views. Head on up to Château d’Annecy, which had served as the residence to the Counts of Geneva in its heyday. Today, you can still explore inside, with the Queen’s Tower dominating as the oldest part of the castle - going as far back as the 12th century. Outside on the castle terrace is a sweeping grand view of the city and the French Alps. And behind those mountains? Well, that’s already Geneva!
To perfectly pair your medieval adventures in Annecy, visit the Palace of L'Isle. It’s actually on its own little island, that’s separated by the Thiou river. This is a historic monument that goes back to 1900. When you’re exploring the stone-ship-shaped building, you’ll soon discover how the name “palace” is deceiving… since the place is actually a prison. The dungeons that you can step into are the exact same preserved space that many have been held in, while the museum takes you through the history of Annecy.
Day 1 during the evening: Into the Mountains
As the sun slowly starts to set around the French alps, the temperature drops but the evening gets into full swing. The locals of Annecy know how to balance the city life with the good ol’ life in the mountains - and that’s what we’re going to do as well. Strap on your hiking boots, fill up your water bottle, and let's drive up into the alps.
About a 30-minute drive up the winding mountain roads out of Annecy, you’ll find Les Rochers Blancs on Semnoz. Semonz is already a mountain on the Bauges range. While Les Rochers Blancs is part cosy alpine lodge, part destination starting point,you can explore Semonz well from here. Also, if you need a place to stay, Les Rochers Blancs is highly recommended since it’ll give you an authentic alps experience with its rustic wood, red and white checked table setting, and intimate alpage interiors for whenever the weather outside gets frightful.
Just down the road from Les Rochers Blancs is a small hill that you can walk up on to the ski lifts at Crêt de Châtillon. From there, on a clear afternoon, you’ll be able to see Mont Blanc in all of its glory! Mont Blanc is the highest mountain in the Alps and Western Europe, shared by both France and Italy. The mountain dominates the alps, rising 4,807 metres above sea level. Year-round, you’ll be able to see that it’s brightly snow-capped. And right before sunset - the ethereal golden hour - Mont Blanc is the clearest from this spot in Semnoz. Also visible from up here is the wide breadth of the French alps, followed by the Swiss alps, as well as the Italian alps. It’s a trifecta of mountainous beauty!
There’s a trail just after Les Rochers Blancs that will lead you down to peaceful alpine meadows. If it’s clear weather, definitely take a stroll through the pastures - where you’ll hear the not-too-distant ringing of cowbells. There’s a French saying that’s often echoed in the Savoie Mont Blanc region, "Quand il n'y a rien... La simplicité est un luxe” which means along the lines of “When there is nothing.. Simplicity is luxury”. That’s what you’ll feel on this little hike in the alps. Especially when you’re standing in a clear opening and you can see a full view of Lake Annecy.
But to end the night, if it’s a weekend - definitely reserve in advance a spot at Eco Bivouac Igloo Village Annecy - Semnoz. It may only be a 10-minute walk from Les Rochers Blancs, but it’ll feel like a whole other world. Deep in the forest, a clearing will open itself up to an assortment of makeshift cabins, tents and a roaring campfire that’s surrounded by DIY wooden seats and pre-loved ski lifts. It’s indeed somewhat of a village in the non-conventional sense, that’s open all year round.
In the winter the tents become igloos that you can camp in for a wondrous experience. In other seasons, the igloos become mystical gigantic almost teepee-like tents. In one, there’s a whole cast iron fireplace for dining. The dining experience at Eco Bivouac Igloo Village Annecy - Semnoz is truly special, with everything focusing on sustainability and green. The food was a true pleasure in honest cooking, with utensils and plates all second-hand. Since there’s no electricity on the site, saved for a generator to play fitting laid-back music, everything gets brought down to be washed and nothing is overused and gets left behind.
Julien Gabriel Perbellini, the founder of Eco Bivouac Igloo Village Annecy - Semnoz, is also a mountain guide - who can lead you on different treks around the Semnoz area and take you on excursions like the one I did where we had a starlit walk through the alps. He handed us torches that we lit up by the bonfire, and then we walked through the forests to the alpine pastures where the clearing was best for stars. And up here, away from the city lights - the stars truly twinkle. Look up at night and you’ll realize just how detailed and clear the Milkyway is running above the French alps.
Day 2 during the day: Lake Annecy
Welcome to one of the purest lakes in all of Europe - Lake Annecy. With 34 communes and almost 200,000 inhabitants in the Annecy area, every resident uses tap water that runs from the crystal clear waters of this lake.
Fun fact about Lake Annecy: since the 1960s, the city of Annecy created a sewage system so the dirty water doesn’t end up in the lake... Hence why Lake Annecy is so pure and the quality of water is excellent. The lake is 80 meters in the deepest spot and 40km long. Each year there’s even a swimming competition to cross the lake! Taking one look at the big body of glistening water, you’ll see people do various activities from wakeboarding to sailing and boating on the lake to biking around it. Simply, life is water and water is life in Annecy.
There are a lot of campgrounds all nearby the lake, so no matter what type of accommodation you like - there’s a way to experience life lakeside.
Le Cadre lac d'Annecy is a laid-back spot right on the lake to enjoy a drink or a coffee. It’s attached to Skiwake74, a water sports centre where you can take individual lessons for wakeboarding, wake surf, and water skiing, right from the port of Doussard. This area of Lake Annecy, Doussard, is the quietest part of the lake - which is where you’ll want to be to enjoy the water. Since in Annecy itself, that side of the lake is quite busy with a lot of boat traffic, out in Doussard’s side you can feel like you have the whole lake to yourself (even if it’s just around the long bend).
Up above you can see people paragliding on a clear day, and one can only imagine what breath-taking views it must be to paraglide from here! Col de la Forclaz is a famous takeoff spot for paragliding in France, that’s right by Doussard. It can’t be beaten because of the view of the lake with the surrounding mountains. Each mountain has a different silhouette no matter where you turn.
For a more leisurely activity at Skiwake74, stand-up paddle boarding or kayaking makes for great ways to explore Lake Annecy. The waters on this side of the lake are relatively calm so it’s easy to balance on your board! But if you fall in - don’t even fret, the water is still warm in early autumn. In late September, the lake is on average 21 degrees! So it’s actually warmer in the water than it is outside of it.
Afterwards, shake off the water with a nearby stroll through the Reserve Natural Bout Du Lac. The pathways are perfect for families with kids and trams since they’re all well maintained and smooth - which makes it a lovely afternoon walk. It’s a nature reserve created to protect the wildlife and beaches around Lake Annecy. Since there are plenty of ski lodges and summer homes around the lake - the protection is to help avoid people from building things around this pristine spot.
60% of the natural water of Lake Annecy comes from the springs, which are flowing from the mountains. This nature reserve right by the lake covers an area of 84 hectares and has a great diversity of fauna and flora including the European beaver!! Which, as a Canadian - I did not know there were beavers outside of North America.
Walking through spring flowering meadows of Reserve Natural Bout Du Lac as well as its dynamic riverside forest, you can see how the peacefulness and space here is also a sanctuary for numerous water birds. In the reserve, all the different types of rivers join each other to make the river L’lre - which in old French means anger, even while this river is calm now it can get quite rough in the winter.
At the near end of the walkway, you’ll reach a dedicated spot in the reserve that looks out into Lake Annecy - and it’ll feel like such a local’s secret to be here. With this opening, you can really see how blue the waters are. The colour of the lake actually comes from plankton that’s at the bottom of the lake. Hence, the emerald-like crystal blue colour looks quite unreal to what we usually picture of water.
Day 2 during the evening: Lake Annecy
If you’re up for an evening exploration around Lake Annecy - there’s a dedicated cycling track all around the lake. This smooth and well-maintained track makes it easy and safe to bike or e-bike around 39 kilometres of a scenic ride.
You can stop along the lake and sit on the rocks as the locals do. If you do a whole bike adventure, it only takes about 3 hours to go all around Lake Annecy! (Ok, give or take depending on how much wine we consumed prior and during pit-stops on the journey)
For a romantic evening - or, just a beautiful spot that you should definitely unwind at, make a reservation at the much locally beloved La Cuillère à Omble Café Restaurant.
This restaurant and cafe sits on a pristine area of Lake Annecy - with an open deck terrace that is as atmospheric as the food is tasty.
Every fish that we eat here at La Cuillère à Omble Café Restaurant is fresh from the lake to the point that the restaurant doesn’t even have a freezer! This restaurant also has a house drink - Soleggiato, which means sunny in Italian - a tempting red cherie liquor with champagne and ginger that makes for yummy sips by the water.
At La Cuillère à Omble Café Restaurant, your catch of the day depends on the restaurant's catch of the day. One of the highlights to try gastronomy that revolves around Lake Annecy is the crayfish bisque. The crayfish are caught each day from the lake. While alpine cheese and meats are often associated with the mountains - Annecy has the privilege of seafood from its lake balancing the local gastronomy.
Wrap up dinner by walking around the lake. If you’re feeling for desserts, in Annecy’s old town is La Glacier des Alpes where you can get ice cream specifically made from the alps. If there’s a line out here - don’t be put off, it comes well recommended by locals as it is eye-catching for travellers. The ice cream spot is known for its generous scoops of artisanal flavours served in waffle cones.
If you’re planning a last-minute adventure, or a weekend getaway - autumn and spring is the perfect season for travelling around Lake Annecy. In summer and winter, as beautiful as they are, the lake’s small roads are often packed with traffic and cars. In this cosier, fall season you can have the trails and swimming spots to yourself. Come September, it still feels like an Indian summer and the water is still warm to swim in. In October and November, the surrounding foliage is bursting with autumn crimson and gold colours. After all, the perks of autumn in Annecy are a special joy that only a few have yet to discover.
If you have extra time in the French Alps…
Annecy is just the first bite into the Savoie Mont Blanc region of France, if you will. Right outside the city, there are plenty of more gems to be discovered - and if you have more than 48 hours, definitely check out Thônes and the heart of the alpine valley here.