Unmissable things to do around Lake Annecy, France | Talloires bay, Lake Annecy | Travel guide | Girl with a saddle bag blog

9 unmissable things to do around Lake Annecy, France

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Whether you’re planning a short city break, or a mountain adventure for a week or more, there’s an incredible variety of things to do around Lake Annecy. Here are my tried-and-tested recommendations for activities that’ll delight all your senses and help you discover hidden alpine gems.

If you’ve read my guide to Lake Annecy: France’s best-kept secret you’ll know that this beautiful region of alpine France is one of my favourite places to visit in Europe.

What makes it worth returning to? Aside from the awe-inspiring scenery, it’s the sheer variety of things to do. Whether you fancy a city break day or a mountain day, you’ll never be bored here.

So I’ve assembled my ultimate list of nine of the best things to do around Lake Annecy. Consider it a guide to the unmissable and the downright beautiful.

Want to know more?  You can find helpful tips for planning your stay in Lake Annecy, France: A practical guide to travel and accommodation. Plus check out my guide (and printable checklist) to packing for the mountains in summer.

1. Head to Col de la Forclaz for the best panoramic views

There are stunning and ever changing views all around Lake Annecy. But if you really want to get a feel for the area there’s no place better than Col de la Forclaz, perched at the southern end of the lake above Talloires.

Here, at the top, the vista unfolds to include the whole lake, city of Annecy in the distance and Massif des Bauges to the south.

You’ll find a couple of café restaurants, a working alpine dairy farm and a whole lot of cyclists and paragliders at the Col. It’s a mecca for sporty types who like going up mountains, and for those who like jumping off them. There’s a fabulous spot for watching paragliders set sail, and if you’re a keen cyclist there are serious cycle hire centres that can kit you out for the 10km climb from the lakeside. I tackled it for the first time this year – and it was breathtaking in every sense of the word! It’s not for the faint-hearted, but it’s an irresistible climb if you’re a two-wheeled enthusiast.

For top quality road bike hire, try Basecamp in Talloires (and pop into their cafe for a delicious snack on your return).

Unmissable things to do around Lake Annecy | View of Lake Annecy from Col de la Forclaz, France | Travel guide | Girl with a saddle bag blog

2. Take to the water on Lake Annecy

Locals here live for the water. It might not be the first place you’d think of for a beach break but let me persuade you otherwise. Lake Annecy is Europe’s cleanest lake and is home to some of the most idyllic swimming spots I’ve ever found.

If you’re here between June and September, follow the locals and head to the lake the moment the sun comes out.

You’ve got two options – settle down for the day at a beach, or rock up at the side of the lake (quite literally wherever you fancy) and go for a dip. This what you’ll spot the locals doing.

You’ll find a beach in almost every town and village around the lake, with some well-maintained parks with sandy beaches between the old town of Annecy, Sevrier and Saint-Jorioz on the west side of the lake. On the east side, make a beeline to Talloires. You’ll have a pay a few Euros to enter la plage but it’s more than worthwhile for the extraordinary settling. Imagine a large, shaded park running down to the water, mountains ahead and behind, and a vast expanse of deep blue water opening out ahead of you. It’s pretty darn wonderful. There’s a nice little bar in the chalet at the back of the park, lifeguarded swimming, a diving board and shaded children’s paddling pool – so it’s popular with families and all ages.

Watersports are also a big deal around here and you’ll find boat, kayak and paddleboard hire around the lake if you fancy exploring on, rather than in, the water.

Unmissable things to do around Lake Annecy, France | Talloires bay, Lake Annecy | Travel guide | Girl with a saddle bag blog

3. Explore Annecy by night

Sometimes it’s all about the timing, and I think the evening is hands down the best time to explore the old town of Annecy.

The soft twilight makes the stone buildings glow with jewel-like colours, and the canal twinkles with lights reflecting in the water from the restaurants and bars along its length. Whilst it can be a little challenging to escape the ubiquitous alpine offering of tartiflette (delicious, but not made for mid-summer) there are some great restaurants to be found, as well as old-fashioned bars that spill onto the street where you can people-watch and sip a cool beer as the sun goes down.

Take a stroll around town, grab an ice cream from the Glacier des Alpes (an institution that’s been in business since the 1960’s, and that I’ve frequenting since the early 90’s – it’s that good), and walk down the waterside to enjoy the lights glittering over the lake.

Unmissable things to do around Lake Annecy, France | Annecy old town by the river Thiou at dusk | Travel guide | Girl with a saddle bag blog

4. Enjoy village life

The city might be at the heart of this region, but to really experience Lake Annecy don’t miss exploring some of the smaller towns and villages that punctuate the lakeside.

People have been living and working by the lake for centuries and these lovely little towns reflect the changing lives of the communities over the past half millennium. You’ll find everything from historic abbeys to contemporary marinas, ancient alpine churches to breathtaking bays. It’s a little bit French, a lot alpine and an awful lot friendly.

On the côte ouest, the town of Saint-Jorioz has a glorious terrace that sweeps down from the rustic creamy-coloured stone church to a fantastic turquoise-blue expanse of water, with the jagged peaks of La Tournette ahead and the elegant little château at Duingt to your right.

On the côte est, Talloires and Menthon-Saint-Bernard have a special place in my heart – they were the places I first explored as a child. In Talloires, ancient stone buildings cluster around a spectacular natural bay, fringed with little boats and a vibrant flowers.  Menthon-Saint-Bernard has a lively village square with an unassuming bakery that’s been run by the same family since the 1940’s who make the most incredible artisan breads and pastries. However it’s the waterside here that’s best, where turn of the century villas sit in rambling gardens running down to the lake. An Art Nouveau hotel looks down over a little patch of park where families and friends gather daily after work and every weekend over the summer, to picnic and pass the time (it also happens to be my favourite, free swimming spot).

You can find more tips on travelling to, and staying, the villages around the lakeside in Lake Annecy, France: A practical guide to travel and accommodation.

Unmissable things to do around Lake Annecy, France | Alpine chalet in Menthon-Saint-Bernard on the edge of Lake Annecy | Travel guide | Girl with a saddle bag blog

5. Tackle the Tour du lac

One of the best ways to get to know Lake Annecy is on two wheels.

This region is hugely popular with cyclists, but don’t assume they’re all here to tackle huge mountain climbs. The lakeside is home to a fantastic cycle path that’ll let you explore the villages along the lakeside. And, as a bonus, it’s beautifully flat.

Depending on your enthusiasm and legs, you can cycle the full Tour du lac (do-able in a day at a leisurely pace) or just explore sections. The main path or Voie Vert, is a converted railway line that runs from the centre of Annecy to Doussard at the southern end of the lake, and beyond. From Doussard, it’s more of a patchy route back into Annecy along the east side of the lake (parts are still under construction as of August 2017) but it takes you through yet more pretty villages and past some great swimming spots.

Cyclable Annecy is situated right on the edge of the old town, and is a thoroughly recommendable bike hire shop. I hired one of their standard bikes last year (2016) and was impressed with how well it stood up to our 50 mile day out (I earned my beer at the end of that ride).

Unmissable things to do around Lake Annecy, France | Cycling the Voie Vert cycle path around Lake Annecy | Travel guide | Girl with a saddle bag blog

6. Delight all your senses at Annecy’s market

The old town of Annecy plays host to a market three times a week – on a Tuesday, Friday and Sunday.

France is home to many great food markets, but Annecy has to be up there as one of the best. It’s a feast for all the senses; fragrant with fresh produce and cured meats, noisy and bustling with shoppers, cool and shady in the shadows of the narrow cobbled streets. The setting is atmospheric and lively, crowded largely amongst the narrow ancient streets of the old town and spilling onto the flower-draped bridges over the canal.

The market is biggest and busiest on a Sunday. If you’re keen to discover and stock up on alpine produce try a weekday market and arrive early, before 11am, to shop with the locals and enjoy a bit of banter with the store holders. Don’t leave without field-fresh vegetables and Tomme de Montagne or Reblochon cheeses produced on the mountains around the lake.

Unmissable things to do around Lake Annecy, France | Annecy market in the old town | Travel guide | Girl with a saddle bag blog

7. Hike to your heart’s content

You could spend a lifetime walking and exploring the mountains, woodlands and villages around Lake Annecy and never bore of the ever-changing scenery.

So here’s a starting point: some of my favourites that never fail to delight.

For an afternoon stroll – explore the Roc du Chere between Menthon-Saint-Bernard and Talloires. A protected nature reserve, this rocky outcrop is cool and shady in summer. There’s a secret path that leads to a viewpoint overlooking the bay of Talloires and a scramble down to the lakeside that’s more adventurous than it first looks.

For a mini-adventure – discover the Cascade d’Angon. A perfect circular walk from Talloires, you’ll climb out of the village on the old road to the church of St Germain, paved in places and loose stone underfoot in others. It weaves through a few small hamlets and then woodland before emerging at outside the church, where you’ll find panoramic views of the southern end of lake. From here, return back to the lakeside through the village of Verel and a wooded path that’ll bring you to the Pont du Fer and cascade – a spectacular gulley of rushing water hewn into the rocky hillside that suddenly gives way to a crashing waterfall.

For the adventurous – clamber up Mont Veyrier for a stunning view over Annecy itself. There are several routes to choose from, of differing difficulty and from diverse starting points. But all promise adventurous climbing and a spectacular moment that’ll take your breath away when you reach the viewpoint.

Unmissable things to do around Lake Annecy, France | Mont Veyrier, overlooking Annecy, France | Travel guide | Girl with a saddle bag blog

8. Hit the nearby pistes

You’re less than 30 minutes from Les Portes des Aravis ski area here – but don’t assume it’s just for winter visitors. The towns of La Clusaz and Grand Bornand are well worth a visit at any time of year. Aside from the more modern snowsports infrastructure, you’ll find charming village squares, ancient alpine chapels and more mountain cheese than you can shake a stick at.

Spend the day walking amongst the wooded slopes above either towns, indulge all your senses at the Monday morning market in La Clusaz (not as big as Annecy, but featuring many of the same local producers) or head to Col des Aravis to be greeted by spectacular rock formations, glorious herds of grazing alpine cattle and a breathtaking view of Mont Blanc.

Tip:  Try the ridiculously enjoyable summer luge in La Clusaz, which includes a trip up the mountain in a modern cable car (kids and big kids will love it).

Unmissable things to do around Lake Annecy, France | Col des Aravis, near La Clusaz | Travel guide | Girl with a saddle bag blog

9. Watch the sunset over Lake Annecy

Very much weather-permitting, my last recommendation is one of the simplest of joys in the Alps. Watch the sun sink behind Annecy in a cacophony of colours. Because my goodness, it’s beautiful. Rather than find words to persuade you, I’ll let the pictures do the talking.

Unmissable things to do around Lake Annecy, France | Sunset over Lake Annecy, France | Travel guide | Girl with a saddle bag blog
Unmissable things to do around Lake Annecy, France | Sun setting over Lake Annecy, France, at the Fete du Lac 2017 | Travel guide | Girl with a saddle bag blog

Tip:  The sun sets over the west side of the lake – so the best views overlook Mt. Semnoz  and Annecy itself. You’ll find great spots to watch the sun sink alongside the lake in Menthon-Saint-Bernard and Veyrier.

Of course there’s much, much more to this vibrant region than this list alone. But you’ve got to start somewhere, and these are great places to begin.

Explore, eat, sleep, repeat – it’s a simple recipe to enjoying a stay on the glorious Lake Annecy.

Have you visited Lake Annecy? Let me know your favourite things to do, and any surprise discoveries you’ve made, in the comments below. I might try them out!

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A checklist of unmissable things to do around Lake Annecy, France | Girl with a saddle bag travel blog
9 unmissable things to do around spectacular Lake Annecy, France | Girl with a saddle bag travel blog
9 unmissable things to do in Annecy and around Lake Annecy, France | Travel guide | Girl with a saddle bag blog
9 unmissable things to do around Lake Annecy, France | Travel guide | City guide | Girl with a saddle bag blog
  • Christopher Larson
    Posted at 23:23h, 26 July Reply

    just got reading your post on Annecy. Thank you so much for putting this together. Extremely helpful!

  • Paul
    Posted at 15:54h, 26 April Reply

    Great rundown of the best spots around the lake Annecy… And you’re right that the bike riding and hiking is so great. Stunning views, but also very accesible – and usually with a great cafe at the end too!
    It’s why we love living in the Aravis mountains and exploring as much as possible… either on bike or by foot! Having the lake so close is a real bonus and great for summer.

  • Roy Goldammer
    Posted at 00:56h, 20 May Reply

    the US Marine Detachment at the United Nations in Geneva loved sailing on Lake Annecy nice break from life in the big city 1976-1979

  • NS
    Posted at 15:07h, 28 September Reply

    Your tips were fantastic!!! We had a great time!!! Thank you!!

    • Alice
      Posted at 17:58h, 01 October Reply

      Thank you so much! I’m thrilled you had a wonderful time 🙂

  • Cindy
    Posted at 19:32h, 27 August Reply

    Hi. Thank you for the info. You have a nice website. We’re off to Lyon, Annecy and Geneva in a few weeks. I’m doing the research and came across your site.

  • Pippa Martin
    Posted at 00:30h, 22 August Reply

    Great blog, I am going to start following you on Instagram as well. I was wondering, the photo you have at the top of the article (and it is also the one after point 2 on lake swimming) – where exactly is this spot? Thank you so much!

    • Alice
      Posted at 19:59h, 23 August Reply

      Hi Pippa! That photo was taken in the village of Talloires – one of my favourite places around the lake. I toook the shot in a spot where boats are moored so I wouldn’t recommend swimming in that exact location, but it’s just a few minutes walk from my favourite beach. Entry costs a few Euros but it’s really easy to get into the water, there’s a lifeguard throughout the summer season, it’s clean and there’s a lovely cafe/bar. I’d really recommend heading here if you’re in the area.

  • Julie Hudson
    Posted at 14:13h, 03 August Reply

    Stumbled across your site whilst in Annecy and wanted to thank you for the tips. Sadly we are not cyclists but hope that you will forgive us! On your advice went to Talloires for lunch and onto the breathtaking views at Carol de la Forclaz.. thanks again!

    • Alice
      Posted at 12:39h, 16 August Reply

      Julie, thank you you for your kind words! I’m thrilled that you enjoyed your trip, Talloires really is one of the loveliest villages in this area so I’m glad you stopped by.

  • Olga
    Posted at 22:07h, 01 August Reply

    Wonderful guide! Do you have any hotel suggestions?

    • Alice
      Posted at 12:40h, 16 August Reply

      Thanks Olga. I prefer to stay in apartments when I’m in or near Annecy but there are some fantastic ones around. If you find anywhere you love do let me know!

  • Travel Bloggers share the most beautiful lakes in the world
    Posted at 06:02h, 11 May Reply

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  • Lizzy Rhodes
    Posted at 17:30h, 06 May Reply

    Oh I love Annecy! You pictures have me wanting to go back 😊

  • Kelly
    Posted at 17:20h, 06 May Reply

    Wow! Lake Annency!! It looks so lovely. I love the views and how much of an escape this is from the city. I really need to explore more of France than Paris!! Thanks for the inspiration!

  • Christina
    Posted at 21:55h, 05 May Reply

    I’ve wanted to go to Annecy since FOREVER! ahh maybe this year will be the year. I actually had no idea there were so many great things to do. I was mostly tempted by the pretty colourful buildings 😉 this is probably the most thorough guide I’ve seen on the city! amazing job <3

    • Alice
      Posted at 11:07h, 06 May Reply

      Thanks Christina! The city itself is beautiful, but there is so much more to enjoy here. If you love the look of the city centre, you’d really like some the pretty villages with traditional houses and painted jettys on the waterside. Talloires and Menthon-Saint-Bernard are my favourites, but they’ve all got something special 🙂

  • Violeta
    Posted at 21:24h, 05 May Reply

    I had no idea the Annecy area was so good for hiking. I’m definitely adding it to my bucket list for next year. Are the trails on the mountain properly marked?

    • Alice
      Posted at 11:10h, 06 May Reply

      Thanks Violeta, some of my favourite hiking in all of France is around this lake – the locals love to hike so it’s really well set up. Walking maps are easy to get hold of and many routes are signposted. The signposts aren’t as detailled as it Switzerland and Germany (they give directions rather than times or distances) but they’re popular routes and it’s unlikely you’ll be alone on the trail. There are many popular routes (such as those up to the top of La Tournette) where you can start at different points along the route if you have a car with you, then you can walk as much or as little as you’d like.

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