When I think of Annecy I’m just flooded with so many memories. But the strongest is the night before we were to leave Annecy. We’re about to sleep - we had a really early and long tomorrow - including changing three trains. And I’m bawling my eyes out. Without any explicable reason. Sahit asked “what’s wrong with you?” Once in earnest and once in rhetoric and decided I had clean gone mad and quickly went to sleep. While I bawled and cried and sobbed in a pretty little room bathed in elfin moonlight, that poured in through the skylight. What can I say? Annecy stole my heart. And right now, the thought of leaving it was smashing my heart to pieces. It’s as simple as that.
Annecy is a sweet alpine French town that lives up to all the imagery “Sweet Alpine French Town” conjures up in your mind. It’s a bit off the beaten track, which translates into a loud and resounding “All the better to love you my dear”. The tourist scene, though vibrant, is mostly local. The train ride from Paris to Annecy took us through rolling hills, pretty woods and past startlingly turquoise lakes that could very well be a monster’s open eye. We took a taxi from Annecy station to Cran Grevier where our Airbnb was. And to our delight, we found out that taxis were quite reasonable in Annecy. Not cheap. But quite reasonable.
Our Airbnb was in bang in the middle of a fairy settlement. The houses had an elfin quality and the hedges were a shade of green that was a spell itself. Even the BMWs and Audis parked in the driveways couldn’t convince me that the houses didn’t have magical residents. Our hosts Astrid and Guy turned out to be truly warm and welcoming people. Guy spoke very little English, but Astrid was quite fluent and she was straight out of a fairy nook - quite like Merryweather in Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. Most of our day had been spent on the train, so we hadn’t had much of a breakfast or lunch so as to speak. By late afternoon, we were starving. Our host told us that there was a restaurant somewhere on the road. We’d just turned a couple of very steep bends and the heaven decided to give us a bit of a challenge and turned themselves inside out. It’s quite an interesting feeling - strange place and being cold, wet and hungry - and having no idea where we were going.
After about two kilometres of following a very, very challenging (read too steep for empty stomach) road we spotted a Moroccan Restaurant. Did we have any idea how good this place was? Nope. Are we into Moroccan food? We didn’t know. All we knew was that we were ravenous and anything in the name of food was good enough. But the La Menara restaurant was everything we needed and more. The staff was welcoming - spoke very little (bordering on zero) English and yet, so entertaining. The hot tea and the hot couscous and the vegetable broth and the lamb and the chicken all went down very, very well and hugged our insides with such warmth. We were glowing with happiness after our meal. Every memory of Annecy seems to be punctuated with tastes and textures of food thereon. Warm bread. Homemade “confiture”. Creamy honey. Delectable cheese. Easy-to-pop-in-your-mouth saucisson. Crunchy nougat. Hot, hot churros. Olives in spices. Epicerie and Boucherie were our favourite words. About all that in good time.
Next day we woke up all happy and refreshed. Our Airbnb was a delight. Our room had a skylight and there was a tree with pink flowers for limbs. An old doggie called Bayou grunted with pleasure and displeasure. And in the living room, a cute little fire place. Astrid is the kind of person whose laugh comes from the deepest recesses of her being. It courses through her veins and other channels, till she is laughing with her whole self. And she laughs often. Yours truly was truly smitten. After breakfast with our hosts (croissant, three types of homemade jam, creamed honey, fruit, coffee, juice and conversation) we decided to try the Sunday Market. Astrid said that Guy would show us a shortcut. We expected him to walk us down a couple of meters and show us to the next trail or something. But the man walked halfway to our destination, just to make sure we didn’t get lost. We walked through some really bewitching woods with a green tongue of crystal clear water running through it.
Elegant swans hustled their way through. (You'll see a lot od swans in my pictures. As a child, swans were the one thing I could draw. As an adult, I photograph them like crazy.) Big fish and people fishing for big fish hung out in their respective sides of the bank. The Sunday Market turned out to be a treasure hunt of every sort. We ate our way through the Market. We walked aimlessly in the old town and then found ourselves face to face with the Palais de l’Isle - one of Annecy’s prime landmarks. This pretty little 12th century building began its career as a prison. Later on a coin-minting workshop was set up in the castle. And by the 16th century, it went back to being a prison and a courthouse. We satisfied ourselves with an outside view. The day was too pleasant for holing up with history. We crossed the bridge and walked by the Church of Saint Francis de Sales - it had a brief career as a calico factory when the events of the French Revolution deemed its higher purposes a bit too non practical. Bit of a travesty considering that the church housed the remains of Saint Francis de Sales and Saint Jane Frances de Chantal. Beyond, the sparkling waters of the lake or the Lac beckoned.
To call this waterbody a lake feels a bit commonplace. It’s a jewelled pool. The water is so clear. The air around is so clear. The people around it, are so full of life. And there are so many happy doggies strolling around. Some of them, breaking free of their leashes and bounding happily away into the lake. Swans hustling on the bank for bread. This one husky pup was so thrilled at finding a human he could look in the eye, that his excitement might have cost the little boy a fear inches of his eventual height. The boy squealed in fright, realised that he overreacted and flung his parents the most accusatory look. Meanwhile husky boy bounded away, in pursuit of other happy doggie pursuits. We looked longingly at the boats. And then we decided to just go for it.
Next thing we know, we’re in the Matéo - taking turns at the wheel. I was too busy having the wind in my hair to bother with steering wheels. Annecy is truly one beautiful experience. If you want to explore the castles, I would recommend at least three days. Take time to hike around. Swim in the lake. Eat. Buying ridiculous but beautiful hats like my cousin did. Annecy is quite close to Geneva - incase you want to make a day trip of it. Though a very, very expensive day trip.
Chamonix. The base of Mont Blanc, Chamonix is one of France’s favourite winter vacation spots. The cablecar of Aiguille du Midi is one of the highest cablecars in the world. We had originally planned for Chamonix - but on the day of our plans, the temperature had sunk to -2 degree C and we didn’t have warm clothing for that kind of weather.
La Clusaz. Yet another winter vacation spot with a very small French village feel.
Gorges du Fier. This day-trip is again highly recommended. It’s a narrow canyon with some breathtaking rock formations and dizzying heights. We couldn’t go for it, because it was raining a lot during our time in Annecy and we didn’t want to try slippery, steep slopes at all. Also, we weren’t quite clear about the availability of transport.
Drink Genepi. Absinthe’s chilled-out cousin, this Alpine liqueur made from wormwood, packs a nice, aromatic and delicious punch.
Menthon Saint-Bernard. While cruising the Annecy lake, you might spot regal turrets at a distance. In all probability it’s the majestic castle of Menthon Saint-Bernard - the place where Bernard of Menthon, the patron saint of skiers, and the eponymous breed of rescue dogs, was borne. The castle is also believed to be the inspiration behind Disney’s Sleeping Beauty castle. The castle is open from May to September and have tours conducted by actors, who relive the castle’s very illustrious Savoy past.
Chateau de Montrottier. Another medieval castle with a lot of artefacts curated by the last owner, Leon Mares who was a prolific collector.
Chateau d’Annecy. A walk up a steep hill rewards you with this 12th-16th century residence of the Lords of Geneva - a junior branch of the House of Savoy. Other than offering a splendid view of Annecy, it also houses antiques and artefacts used by the erstwhile Savoy rulers.
Aix-les-Bains. A spa town with scattered cases of Belle Epoque hangovers, this town that has been known for its healing waters since the days of the Romans offers a nice day trip from Annecy.
Make friends. The people of Annecy are generally very nice and welcoming. If I had a dollar for every friendly smile I received, it would sure as hell fund flight tickets for another trip to Annecy. The day before we were to leave, I sat in Astrid's fireplace warmed living room and told her that I was extremely upset about leaving her dear house and her town and her company. She nodded knowingly and said "I can tell".