Annecy city guide: Where to eat, drink, shop and stay in France’s Alpine adventure park

Waterfront restaurants and bars in picture-perfect Annecy (Getty)
Waterfront restaurants and bars in picture-perfect Annecy (Getty)

Annecy is a city for people who hate cities ‒ one wrapped in countryside, where days in the office can be punctuated with stand-up paddleboarding, paragliding and mountain hiking. The cobbled streets, tight-packed medieval houses and traditional festivals like Le Retour des Alpages (celebrating the cows returning from the mountains) may make Savoie’s former capital look quaint, but don’t be fooled.

An influx of young people moving from Paris ‒ swapping metro crushes for pre-work ski sessions ‒ has breathed new life into the city, creating craft breweries, chic cocktail bars and some of the finest dining in France. Take its seven Michelin-starred restaurants for starters…

What to do

Get outside

“Annecy” is usually used to refer to the lake as well as the city, and 43km of largely flat pedalling will get you around the whole mass of water in just a couple of hours. But it’s worth spending the whole day exploring Lake Annecy (bike hire from Roul’ ma Poule from €23/£20 day). Go anti-clockwise to avoid the one steep section at Talloires.

If you love sightseeing on foot, take the day hike to Mont Veyrier. It starts from the shores of the lake, is well marked, and you’ll see panoramic views of Lake Annecy and the surrounding mountains from the summit. In the summer months, everyone here hits the water in different styles: paddleboard yoga, row-boat and pedalo rentals, canoeing, wakeboarding and even freediving. It’s no surprise that Annecy has churned out world-class athletes by the dozen, but for those feeling less than Olympian, grassy “beaches” lined with ice cream trucks and pizza joints act as a base for lazy days and languid swims. The closest one to town is Plage d’Albigny, roughly a 20-minute walk from the centre.

Meanwhile, the truly hardy dive in all year around. The GlaGla Race (annually in January) sees hundreds of amateur paddleboarders race 15km across the lake in a kind of “the floor is lava” balancing act, traversing winter waters that sit at a bracing 4C.

The Lake Annecy cycling circuit (F Cavazzana)
The Lake Annecy cycling circuit (F Cavazzana)

Explore the old town

The compact warrens of Annecy’s old town are an adventure in themselves. Hidden passageways weave in and out of canalside streets lined with overflowing window boxes of Alpine flowers. Particular highlights include the old prison Palais de l’lle (€3.90, open daily) in the middle of the Thiou Canal, whose interior walls are still decorated with the graffiti of prisoners of days gone by. See also the Pont des Amours (Lovers’ Bridge), now covered in initial-scrawled padlocks, where soldiers billeted in Annecy would go to to meet their beloved; and Annecy Castle (€5.60, closed on Tuesdays), parts of which date from the 13th century.

Get a culture fix

Annecy’s cultural centre, Bonlieu, is just about the ugliest building in town, but don’t judge a book by its cover. Inside is an ever-changing range of art installations, regular science exhibitions, and even circus performances (free entry; check website for theatre/cinema schedules).

The mountains outside Annecy (Shelters Experience)
The mountains outside Annecy (Shelters Experience)

Where to stay

Cheaper than frites is Annecy Hostel, centrally located and with a vast garden equipped with ping pong tables. Partiers of all nationalities rub shoulders with long-distance cyclists here. Dorm beds cost from €26/£22 a night (open from April–October). Or the HI Youth Hostel is open year-round. Dorm beds from €28 a night, plus an annual membership fee of €2;

If even outdoorsy Annecy isn’t enough green space for you, Shelters Experience (recommended for travellers coming by car) has a range of quirky little cabins and bunkers enjoying shepherd’s hut views over the lake, with breakfasts hearty enough to fuel a mountaineer. Doubles from €340, B&B;

For lakeside luxury look no further than Hotel les Tresoms, a spa hotel 20 minutes’ walk from the town centre, with superb views and a Michelin-starred restaurant (La Rotonde, run by chef Eric Prowalski). Doubles from €120, B&B;

Brasseries in the old town (F Cavazzana)
Brasseries in the old town (F Cavazzana)

Where to eat

Beware the tourist traps that flank the Thiou Canal, mainly bistros that offer “traditional” Savoyard dishes on menus as long as encyclopedias. Quality French cuisine at a reasonable price tag is available at Le Bouillon, which serves set lunch and dinner menus that pop with colour and are almost too pretty to eat. Chef Mathieu Chauvin sources much of his produce from the local market. Get the scallops when on offer – they melt in your mouth.

If you’re exploring the lake, make for La Cuillere a Omble, which serves up fresh-caught seafood on an extensive terrasse overlooking the water. Don’t miss their namesake “omble” (char) caught fresh from the lake.

For a grab-and-go lunch before you hit the mountains, Annecy’s numerous bakeries serve Savoyard sandwiches filled with charcuterie, gherkins and copious amounts of raclette cheese (a yellow feast, but as the nation that invented chip butties, who are we to judge?). On the other end of the spectrum are the city’s seven Michelin-starred restaurants. The crowning glory is the thrice-starred Clos des Sens.

For sweet tooths, a gingerbread house of delights awaits at award-winning patisserie Philippe Rigollot, with cakes and desserts so glossy that they could have been varnished.

Where to drink

Watering holes have been sprinkled and scattered with wild abundance in Annecy. Hobbit-hole La Queue du Coq has inventive cocktails under moody lighting (it’s tiny, prepare to queue). The amicable owner always takes time to explain his creations to you.

Craft beer lovers should head to Beer O’Clock, where a prepaid card system allows you to fill your own glass and keep the beer flowing for hours. Oenophiles, take the pilgrimage down one of the city’s numerous covered passageways to sample the seemingly never-ending wine list at La Cave. There are enough Savoyard wines to quench your thirst all trip.

Drinking hours here are rather British: the bars are open early and tend to wind down by midnight or 1am latest, even with the influence of emigrating Parisians. Exceptions to the rule are electro-club Le Telephone Rose (open until 5.30am, Thursday to Saturday, year-round), and Le Pop Plage (until 5am, Thursday to Saturday, April to October); the latter is a beach-club-meets-nightclub with a waterside terrasse for dancing until sunrise.

Enjoy a boat ride on Annecy’s canal (Olivier Allamand)
Enjoy a boat ride on Annecy’s canal (Olivier Allamand)

Where to shop

There are a lot of distinctly average souvenir shops in Annecy, but good regional produce is possible to find. Beer supermarket Bieronomy has an artisan selection capable of quenching the thirst of a whole troupe of skiers, and the best reblochon, Savoie’s creamy discs of cheese made from raw cow’s milk, can be bought from La Cremerie des Marches.

Worth travelling out of town for is concept cafe and events space Lo Garajo in Manigod Village, where everything, even the chairs you’re sitting on, is for sale. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better selection of local booze, cheese, and even arts and crafts anywhere in the region. Time it right and you can tie in your shopping trip with one of their regular live music concerts. Buses take 25 minutes between Annecy and Manigod and cost €5.

Architectural highlight

Annecy Castle is impressive, but Chateau de Menthon across the lake, often rumoured to be the inspiration for the Disney castle, takes medieval grandeur to a new level (€11, closed December to March).

Nuts and bolts

What currency do I need?


What language do they speak?


Should I tip?

It’s not expected, but always appreciated.

How should I get around?

The city centre is compact enough to explore on foot, and for explorations in and around the lake, hire a bike, or even a boat. Bus connections to ski stations and outlying towns are regular and reliable. If visiting during high season, leave the car at home; traffic jams are frequent here.

What’s the best view?

The question here is where in town doesn’t have a great view – but if we have to pick a winner, it’s watching the sun set over Annecy from Le Petit Port (a 30-minute walk along the lake from the old town). Grab a beer en route to enjoy on the pontoon.

Insider tip?

Go in shoulder season (autumn and spring): you’ll avoid the crowds and see the surrounding mountains bursting with colour.

Getting there

Trying to fly less?

Catch the Eurostar from London St Pancras to Paris Gare du Nord and get the metro to Gare de Lyon, from where the train to Annecy takes under four hours.

Fine with flying?

Geneva Airport, just across the border into Switzerland, has regular bus connections to Annecy, taking roughly an hour and a half.