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Annecy, a first-rate lake

Annecy, a first-rate lake

Georges Rouzeau - 2010-01-05

This superb lake, left by glaciers, and the surrounding mountains are the realm of all sports lovers-be it on land, water, or in the air.

Even the hearty local cuisine, with its many cheese-based dishes and delicious cooked pork meats, requires an excellent physical condition…
On arriving on the shores of Lake Annecy you are immediately struck by two things. First, the splendid setting, very rightly celebrated since the 19th century by painters and writers: imagine a huge swath of blue-green water surrounded by a snow-capped summit (the Tournette), sharp rocky ledges (the Dents de Lanfon), passes, high mountain pastures, dark forests and deep valleys. Second, the place is incredibly lively: it’s as though the whole of the town of Annecy had agreed to engage in sports activities. The town’s most famous citizen (who devotes forty pages to sport in his Confessions), Jean-Jacques Rousseau, would have appreciated this muscular effervescence, he who recommended open air activities in his Émile. On the quaysides and on the lawns, joggers, inline skaters and cyclists perspire in unison. On the water and in the water, people go waterskiing, canoeing and kayaking, pedal boating, swimming or diving, while pleasure craft and fishing boats head outwards to deeper waters.  And that’s not all. In the air, above Col de laForclaz, a multitude of brightly coloured strange birds float silently – paragliders!
And don’t forget your swimwear, especially bearing in mind the irreproachable purity of the turquoise waters of this 23 mile long lake. Totally protected from pollution since the 1950s and the pioneering installation of a sewage collection system, this Alpine ambrosia is so good that you can drink it directly from the tap in Annecy! So it will come as no surprise that noble fish like dace and char prosper here alongside perches, saugers and pikes for instance... With all these fish means the local cuisine is delicious.
The other lively spot, apart from the shores, is to be found in the old town which is also intimately related with water. Three rivers, bridges, arcades that all differ from one another, three churches, fountains, and pink, salmon, mustard or pistachio-colour roughcasted façades have justifiably earned it the name of ‘Venice of Savoy’.  In Eglise Saint-Maurice, Annecy’s oldest church, don’t miss a superb trompe l’œil fresco painted in grey with ochre highlights – an almost avant-garde technique given the supposed date of the work, 1458 –  representing the skeleton of the noble Philibert de Monthouz lying on his tomb before his resurrection in heaven. In the courtyard of the bishop’s palace, a bust commemorates the place where Jean-Jacques Rousseau met Madame de Warens. The town’s most emblematic monument remains the Palaisde l'Isle (former prison and law courts) which forms a kind of ship’s prow advancing towards the River Thiou. Visiting the dungeons and seeing the thickness of the bars is a chilling experience. You should also climb up to the château by the Chemin de la Tour de la Reine. The former residence of the counts of Geneva and dukes of Genevois-Nemours offers a splendid viewpoint over the brownish mass of tiled roofs.
A pleasant way of getting a feel of the old town is to go for a walk through the market which is held mainly between the Porte Sainte-Claire and Rue du Pont-Morens. Here you’ll see the best local produce direct from the high mountain pastures: mountains of cooked pork meats, avalanches of cheeses, and pyramids of pots of honey. A young organic farmer even sells young nettle shoots and Bear’s garlic (a mountain flower already appreciated by prehistoric man),  spruce buds and mountain dandelions. It is a very creative manner of cooking, similar to that of the most famous Marc Veyrat, who, at his Auberge de l'Éridanin Veyrier-du-Lac (2 miles from Annecy), uses wild mountain herbs and plants... Last but not least, mention is also to be made of the old town’s flea market which is not to be missed and where you can still find fine pieces of furniture as evidenced by the many citizens of Geneva and Turin searching here.  
With your basket full of goodies, it’s time to head for the lake’s shores. Everyone is catered for: industrial tourism with the Paccard bell and foundry museum;  folklore with the Savoy costume ecomuseum (both situated in Sévrier); sport with several mountaineering spots and a superb 12 mile bike path following a disused railway line free of exhaust fumes; architecture with Château de Duingt and Château deMenthon Saint-Bernard which has been inhabited by the same family ever since the 11th century. Our preference would perhaps be for excursions in the open countryside, the exhilaration of summits (the Tournette, Col de la Forclaz, Crêt de Châtillon) or that of dark forest like the Combe d'Ire in the Bauges mountain range – for the solitude and sublime viewpoints over the lake. Mention should also be made of two nature reserves: the Roc de Chère, with its sheer cliffs falling into the lake, and its Mediterranean flora and varieties from the glacial period growing on peat  5000 years old; thereed bed Bout-du Lac reserve that can be crossed by walking over railway sleepers… The refinement of Annecy is matched symmetrically by this swamp which gives a good idea of the original lake.  
Savoy gastronomy consists foremost in cheese-based hearty mountain dishes. Once you’ve eaten a tartiflette, a fondue savoyarde or a raclette you won’t feel hungry for a while! Tartiflette is a dish with alternating layers of sliced potatoes, thin slices of reblochon (cheese made with whole raw cow milk) on several layers with cream, lardons, and onion and fine herbs seasoning; fondue savoyarde is a mixture of cooked cheeses ‘melted’ on a low light in a casserole with garlic and white wine; raclette, originating from the Valais region in Switzerland, consists in ‘scraping’, as it melts, half a whole comté or beaufort cheese accompanied by Grisons meat, potatoes, onions and gherkins.
For lesser appetites, friture de perchettes (fried young perches) is fine. The most conscientious cooks dip the alevins in milk before rolling them in flour and briefly frying them twice in boiling oil. Crisp on the outside, the fish remains tender inside. Emblems of Lake Annecy, dace and char can be enjoyed in many a way.
Practical information
Cruises: ideal complement for discovering the lake
Compagnie des bateaux du lac d'Annecy
2 pl. Blois. Tel.: 04 50 51 08 40
Bureau des guides (canyoning and rock climbing guides)
Centre Bonlieu. Tel.: 04 50 45 00 33.
Office de Tourisme
Tél. : 04 50 45 00 33
A host of excursions around the lake (Roc de Chère, Bout du Lac reserve, Combe d'Ire, Crêt de Châtillon) are detailed in the  Guide Vert Alpes du Nord.
Markets in the old town: Tues., Fri., Sat.
Flea market: last Sat. of the month 6 a.m. – 7 p.m.
Fête du lac in Annecy: First Sat. of August. Star attraction with fireworks by the lakeside, attracting 200 000 people.
Musée de la cloche et fonderie Paccard (Paccard bell and foundry museum)
RN 508, 74320 Sévrier. Tel.: 04 50 52 47 11.
L'écomusée du costume savoyard (Savoy costume ecomuseum)
Next to the church, 74320 Sévrier. Tel.: 04 50 52 49 27.

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