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How to Weekend in Annecy

An overnight bag will do. Medium sized. You won’t need much; no laptop, no mp3 players, no other time consuming electronics. The new cashmere sweater you recently picked up on sale? That, you can pack.

The Soldes in Europe have come to a close and spring, only a few weeks away, is already fighting to make an appearance. It’s time for a break in the routine to regain some resilience. What better place than one of the most beautiful French cities: Annecy?

Nicknamed the Venice of the Alps, Annecy is tucked away in the Haute Savoie region of France, lying 60km south of Geneva. Although a recognized resort town of the French Alps during ski season, Annecy is unknown to most, aside from regional locals. There’s a reason you decide to weekend here: Italian-esque canals, waterfront cafes, azure colored lake, and all delicately wrapped by the famous Alps. This place is absolutely the foil to the mundane workweek.

Alexandra Hotel, Hotel Le Pre Carre, and Hotel des Alpes: Take your pick. One thing this city isn’t lacking is flawless hospitality. You decide to book a room at Hotel Spendid, an accommodation set in perfect location: walking distance from the train station, inside of the Centreville, and easily accessible to all of the shops, bars and restaurants that Annecy has to offer.

Arrive early and park in one of the two nearby car parks, offering free overnight parking. The hotel staff will greet you, warmly. You ask them hoping, “Parlez-vous Anglais?” They do. Relief. They will ask if you would like the breakfast buffet option (which you do) and then offer up your room key with a detailed map of the city and local suggestions.

You drop off your bags in the room and momentarily marvel at the view of the canal across the street and Lake Annecy. This is only the start. Head off to explore.

Spend your first day discovering the veille-ville that gives this town its antiquity charm. Walk up the quays that line the canals and down through the cobbled streets. Have no direction. Walk left, turn right, circle the same area several times and breathe in the atmosphere. You have no one to tell you otherwise. You will browse through the open-air market and marvel at the array of local products: hand crafted jewelry, breads, pastries, jams and a rainbow of fresh produce extending the length of the street. There are the famous French sausages infused with accompanying flavors and wheels of cheese in gluttonous amounts: Beaufort, Reblochon, Gruyere de Savoie, Tomme de Savoie, and the like. You will wonder how much to buy to bring back home. Don’t forget to pick up Fromage de Chevre.

This medieval town centre is built around a restored 14th Century chateau that once served as the residence to the Counts of Geneve and the Dukes of Genevois-Nemours. You will take a tour of the chateau and gape at the notable history: The Tour de la Reine, the courtyard with the tower of Logis Perriere, and the stone built walls. Murmur to yourself, “They definitely don’t make architecture now like they used to.”

Finish the tour on the castle terrace and absorb the view overlooking the old town, sprouting with decorated red roofs and rushing crisscrossed canals. You feel like you’re in a time capsule.

You look at your watch and exclaim, “It’s noon, already?” You will ask your partner if they’re hungry, too. You mutually decide on Le Petit Zinc, one of the oldest restaurants in Annecy, serving up a feast of traditional Savoyard cooking: a variety of cheeses, sausage and full-bodied wines. It’s what this region is known for. Since red wine is good for heart-health, you both order a glass along with the truffle-infused fondue for two. Wait impatiently.

Between bites of fresh baguette dipped and covered in melted fromage, you ask your partner, “What should we see after this?” You can’t help it; you like to plan and this medieval fairytale town has brought out your inner History-Buff.

“There’s the Palais de l’Isle,” you suggest, mid-bite. “It’s the triangular castle in the centre of the Thiou canal, not far from here.” You passed it on your way.

Palais de l’Isle was built in 1132 and was the primary residence of the Lord of Annecy. It was changed into the administrative headquarters to the Count of Geneva, and then changed again to a courthouse, and finally a jail from the Middle Ages through World War II. There’s now a local history museum housed inside. You enjoy museums; especially when they’re small and quaint. It makes them feel accomplishable compared to those of Paris.

Decide that so far, you really adore Annecy. You will wonder why it is that you never spent a weekend here before. With the afternoon sun still above you, start your stroll over to the famous lake to sit and relax. Ask your partner if they’re enjoying themselves. “Absolutely,” they will answer, but they have their eye on the Gelato shop with a kaleidoscopic of flavors and a line of people down the cobblestone street. Annecy has some of the best gelato in France. Damn your sweet tooth. You will stand in line.

With your cone brimmed full of Noix Coco and Chocolat, take a seat on one of the benches outlining the Lake. “Good God,” you exclaim, “I’ve never seen a lake this color, before.” And it’s true; you haven’t. The closest thing to this cerulean blue and emerald lake was the vacation you spent in Cote D’Azur, last summer.

You notice the boat-rentals framing the city side of the water. Paddleboats, kayaks, taxi boats and tour boats; speed boats, slow boats, boats where you stand for wake surfing, boats where you sit for tanning, and everything in between. You mention that the kids would love this. Perhaps next time you’ll bring them. A moderate red and white cruise on the lake towards the town center: Le Libellule. Le Libellule translates into dragonfly; squinting your vision and cocking your head to the side, you see that it actually does resemble one. You were told it’s a charming place for a romantic dinner. Marvelous.

That evening, well groomed and stylishly dressed, you will head back through the town towards Le Libellule. Welcome aboard. Seated in the panoramic dining room overlooking Lake Annecy, you will scan the menu. Chef, Phillipe Chirat, will prepare a traditional savory cuisine using only fresh local ingredients. You recall all of the fresh food you saw earlier at the open-air market and your mouth will start to water. Splurge and take the Couronne de Savoie fixed menu option including a starter, gourmet entrée, main dish, cheese plate and dessert. The cruise will depart from the dock, beginning the tour of the lake and you’ll watch the city lights pepper the distance. There will be wine; there will be dancing; there will be cabaret-style music (singer included). You eat, you drink, you indulge, you dance. Repeat and rekindle the flame. Marvelous night, indeed.

Sunday is always known as a day of relaxation. After the nonstop exploring you ventured on yesterday, some R&R would be practical; But when have you ever done what you’re supposed to do?!

Instead, you feel the need for some adventure, to which you will decide to, literally, take the plunge: Parapente. Annecy is one of the paragliding capitals of the world and on any given day, you can look up towards the mountains to see numerous colorful parachutes tracing the sky. It’s no wonder with the jaw-dropping panoramas of the Alps and open valley. In addition, the wind and weather conditions from the mountains and lake below combine to create a great updraft for paragliders.

The most difficult part is deciding on one of the many paragliding companies in the area. You’re a novice, but it’s okay. Annecy houses 5 takeoff and landing areas in the valley, which is good for beginners. You appreciate options. You will decide on one of the companies that do beginner tandem flights so you can soar with an expert.

You are ready, you are set, and you will jump! Exhilaration and adrenaline is all you can feel, but as for the view, you can see everything. Not a cheap adventure, but one of the most memorable and elating experiences.

All things must come to an end, so after a morning of soaring, you will ground yourself for a post-flight lunch in one of the many creperies. Passion Gourmande Cafe: savory and sweet crepes– an excellent choice. Decide that perhaps you should see the lake one more time because one thing that you didn’t make it to, situated at the edge of Lake Annecy, the Pont des Amours (Bridge of Lovers). It was built at the beginning of the 20th century; it marks the mouth of the lake inside the city; it’s a must-see. You will have your camera in hand. Be cliché and ask a passerby to take a picture of you and your partner. Yes, it’s the small button on top, you will instruct them. You will pose, you will kiss, and you will be united for life. Legend says so.

Back at home, you will unpack, but you won’t store your suitcase away. After a winged and whirlwind weekend tour of Annecy, you know a revisit will be sooner than later. Open up your laptop, upload the photos, and relive the adventure all over again, sitting with your plate of Gruyere de Savoie and saucisson and fresh baguette.

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