Since the time we moved to France, our weekends have been fairly busy. Not just over the summer but even during the winter, we made sure to take short trips out of Paris. On one such weekend in November, we took the high-speed TGV train to Annecy. Trains leave almost every hour and the fastest, direct train takes under four hours.
Annecy, sometimes called the Venice of the French-Alps, is a beautiful alpine town in southeastern France, in the Haute – Savoie department. It’s only 35kms from Geneva – so almost the French-Swiss border – and located on the northern tip of Lake Annecy, one of the largest lakes in France, and one of the cleanest in Europe.
Things we did in Annecy
Walking around the Old Town
Annecy’s old town is full of narrow alleys and streets that are mostly open only to pedestrians, making it a joy to walk there and explore the hidden lanes and shops. The cobbled streets are lined with colourful houses, cafes and restaurants with pretty flowers hanging out of boxes even in the cold winter months.
The river Thiou runs through the city and the Palais de l’Île splits the river into two canals. This historic building was built in the 12th century and was at one time a prison, mint, courthouse and lord’s residence. Now it serves as the town’s local history museum.
We had assumed that November would be a quiet time in Annecy, but because we had decided to travel on a long weekend, the city was busy as ever. Looking at the crowds, I decided to pop into one of the restaurants to make a dinner reservation for later in the evening, and it turned out to be a really good call!
Trying raclette for the first time
The Haute Savoie region is very famous for raclette. It’s a semi-hard cheese made from cow’s milk and sold in huge round chunks, which is melted in front of an open fire – or an electric top grill – and eaten with boiled potatoes, cured meats, gherkins and salads. This cheese originated in Switzerland and was originally eaten by peasants in the Alpine regions. It has since become very popular throughout France and especially in the Haute Savoie region. Almost every other restaurant in Annecy specialises in raclette!
Le Chalet with it’s wooden log cabin decor looked like the perfect place to try the dish. We ordered a portion for two – that’s the minimum you have to order – along with the accompaniments.
When the cheese first arrived at our table, we were gobsmacked. It was at least 500gms if not more! There was no way K and I would be able to eat even half of it, let alone finish it. We asked the waiter if people actually finish it all and he pointed out several tables that already had, just that evening!
The entire experience of melting the cheese and then scraping it onto our plates was quite fun. Similar to a fondue but not quite – raclette is not meant to be as melty as fondue and you don’t dip into the raclette but you scrape!
Cycling along Lake Annecy and the surrounding villages
Cycling is very popular here and there are dedicated cycle paths which makes it fun and safe. We needed to burn off all the cheese we had consumed the previous evening and so we decided to cycle all around the lake – a 40km path that loops around the entire lake, taking us through beautiful villages and amazing alpine scenery. There are lots of bike shops in Annecy which rent out bikes. Just be sure to get there early and carry an identity card.
We cycled in a clock-wise direction – i.e. starting from Annecy and heading towards Menthon-Saint Bernard, Talloires, Duingt, Sévrier and back to Annecy. Most of the route is car-free and is called Voie Verte. However, there is a small section between Veyrier du Lac and Menthon Saint Bernanrd where there is no dedicated cycle path and you have to share the road with cars. I was a bit nervous at first, but drivers here are used to seeing lots of cyclists and are very careful.
We took around 4 hours to complete the ride as we kept stopping to explore the different villages we were passing through. The quaint little villages were really picturesque and perfect for quick stop overs be it for coffee, lunch or some dessert to keep the energy levels high.
The ride along Lac d’Annecy was definitely one of the prettiest I’ve ever done.
Dining at a two-Michelin star restaurant
Normally, K and I don’t usually splurge on food. However, this time we made an exception. It was after all, our anniversary! I had made reservations at the famous Auberge du Père Bise located in the quaint little village of Talloires.
Headed by chef Jean Sulpice, the food at the restaurant reflects his love for nature and the outdoors. Each dish is beautiful crafted and made with the freshest produce available in the season.
It was a six-course meal and we were serenaded with beautiful looking food, bursting with flavour, for over three hours! After feasting with our eyes as much as our mouths, we were barely able to waddle back to Annecy. It was a good thing that we had called a cab!
Thus ended our gastronomic weekend full of beautiful food and beautiful places.