When I traveled to Geneva, the best option for lodging was an Airbnb rental 30 minutes away from the city center, which happened to be in France. When my host, Manuela, greeted me at the door of her expansive seventh-floor condo, she asked me to join her and a neighbor for some lemonade on her patio, from which we could enjoy beautiful views of distant mountains. I enjoyed chatting with the two ladies, both professional single women in their 50s.
When they asked how I was planning to spend my three days in the area, I asked for recommendations. “There’s not much to see in Geneva,” the neighbor stated matter-of-factly. “You can really only spend one day there. One day you must go to Annecy, and one day you must go to Chamonix.”
The two ladies, each with strong opinions, filled about an hour with a debate about the features and merits of all three cities. Since I had only planned to visit Geneva, the conversation was enlightening as well as entertaining.
In the end, I didn’t make it to Chamonix, but I did decide to visit Annecy. During that evening on the patio, Manuela indicated that the transportation would be simple. “You just catch the bus over there,” she said, pointing vaguely in the direction of the main road.
I should have asked for clarification at that moment, but I didn’t. Unfortunately, I didn’t have another chance to get specific instructions before the day I planned to leave for Annecy, and the online bus schedules only confused me further. I ended up riding and walking around Geneva, asking questions of non-English speakers who didn’t understand me, and searching for the correct bus. Two hours after leaving the condo, I finally boarded a bus to Annecy at the main Geneva bus station, only to discover that it was heading back in the direction from which I had come that morning, passing the bus stop just outside Manuela’s condo. Sigh…
My only choice was to laugh and to process the lesson: when in doubt, ask for clarification!
When I arrived in Annecy, a town in the Haute-Savoie region of eastern France about 20 miles south of Geneva, all of the morning’s frustrations were forgotten. I stopped, leaned forward against the railing of a pedestrian bridge, and stared at the scene before me. Annecy is beautiful in an impossibly picturesque way, as if it materialized from the pages of an illustrated fairy tale. Aptly nicknamed “Venice of the Alps,” Annecy’s medievil Vielle Ville (old town) is intersected by canals and footbridges surrounded by rainbow-painted houses, castles and sidewalk cafes.
There are a few museums in old town Annecy, but because it was such a beautiful day, I elected to skip the admission fees and instead spend my time wandering around the beautiful old city. Its cobblestone, pedestrian-only streets are filled with small boutiques and gelato shops. An upbeat and entertaining band was performing on one of the bridges, adding an even more pleasant ambiance to the day. Instead of just walking by as I usually do, I stopped along with the crowd of spectators and listened to a few songs.
Later, I was lucky enough to score a table right next to the canal at one of the nearby cafes. I ordered a limoncello and made it last as long as possible while I listened to the live music in the distance.
I also stopped into Eglise Saint Francois de Sales (Church of St. Francis), which is just steps away from the Thiou River. The interior, with its white and marbleized green walls, was a departure from many of the ancient stone cathedrals I’ve visited in Europe.
This church was used as a barracks during the French Revolution, then converted to a factory in 1794, apartments and shops in 1812, and finally back to a church in 1923. Admission was free and it was a nice quiet spot to explore away from the crowds.
After thoroughly exploring the Vielle Ville, I took a short walk to the lakeside. A wooded park provides shade for numerous park benches facing the incredible Lake Annecy. A paved walkway provides plenty of space for bike riders, walkers, joggers and dogs to coexist comfortably.
I was so amazed by the incredible views – the turquoise water, the tree-covered mountains and the beautiful blue sky – that I just sat down on a park bench near the water and spent more than an hour absorbed in my thoughts and the scenery surrounding me. These photos have not been edited…it was really this beautiful!
In the early evening, I walked back to newer section of Annecy to catch the bus back to Manuela’s condo. (This time, I got off at the nearest stop instead of riding all the way into Geneva!) Outside the old town area, Annecy offers a wide variety of hotels, parks and more modern shopping and dining options. Because I was only in town for the day, I didn’t explore the area exhaustively, but there is certainly more to do.
If you have an opportunity to explore Annecy, don’t miss it. The best time to visit is when the weather is clear, but there are things to do indoors as well. Annecy is definitely worth a visit and is an easy day trip from Geneva.
And don’t forget…when in doubt, ask for clarification!