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Annecy: lakes, bikes, canals and catastrophes

It’s late and dark, we arrive at our Couchsurfing host’s place hours later than expected. Our journey to Annecy was a bit of a disaster. We’ve kept them updated but we still feel really uncomfortable for keeping them up so late. Yann and Cecile are super friendly though and make us a tea as soon as we get through the door. They’re only a little bit older than we are but seem like they’ve totally got their shit together. They’ve traveled the world, are fit and healthy, have good jobs and are kind and warmhearted. So much so that they even cooked dinner for us! The best part is yet to come though: They are pretty healthy but apparently have a weakness for chocolate and get their giant stash of Lindt bars out to share after dinner.

More Couchsurfing stories from Austria and Switzerland: Salzburg, Innsbruck, St. Gallen and Bern.

The flat is freezing – the heaters don’t work – but we have our own room again, yeeha! I’m feeling poorly but as the two of them will work all day tomorrow. They are gently hinting that they don’t feel comfortable giving us a house key or leaving us alone in the flat just yet, so we’re going to have to have a day out tomorrow. Yann is a star though and lends us his bikes so we can cycle around Lake Annecy. If I wouldn’t feel so ill and exhausted, I would love this idea but for now I feel like undergoing a “Zwangsbeglückung” – a “forced happy-making”. We soon head off to bed so we can gather as much strength as possible.

Bumpy ride around Lake Annecy

I wake up as the grumpy cat the next morning and scuffle my way out of the flat and onto the bike. Cecile is about half a meter taller than me and I can barely get onto the bike which doesn’t exactly improve my mood. Even worse, this is our last night at our hosts’ because they’re leaving for a climbing trip tomorrow super early in the morning. I don’t feel like moving on just yet, all the campsites are closed and accommodation is mega expensive here.

A cute turquoise wooden archway on a boardwalk to lake Annecy

Before we start our cycle tour we head into the old center to have a look around, and soon my mood lifts. French bakeries! The world is infinitely better after a pain au chocolat. Annecy is also super pretty. We’ve seen pictures and loved it already but they don’t even do the town justice! It is simply stunning with its canals and old buildings and stylish locals carrying baguettes (stereotype but true). No time to explore for now! We bask in the sun by the lake with a coffee to go and then finally set off. Lake Annecy and its surroundings are simply BEAUTIFUL!

Annecy’s quaint countryside

The best thing about cycling along water is that it’s usually flat. Not in France though! After a jolly flat bit we start to go up, and down, and up, and down. Soon we’re shouting profanities in French but this also has to stop not long after as we’re out of breath. We’re cursing the warm weather that we just enjoyed so much, only half an hour ago. Merde! Zut! On top of the next hill there is a path going on a detour to a lookout point that Yann recommended to us. Sweaty and grumpy, I refuse to go but Aydin soldiers on into the woods while I chill and wait for him by our bikes.

We cycle on, through some incredibly cute little villages with adorable tiny shops and cafes. Everything here is so quaint and just like we imagined the French countryside to be – picturesque and peaceful. We soon stop again for a break directly on the water because we spot some vintage architecture reminiscent of Wes Anderson. Cycling around Lake Annecy makes us feel like we’ve been thrown back in time several decades!

No entry

I’m starting to feel exhausted – we’ve been up and about for over six hours by now – but the cycle path flattens out and we’re heading towards the highlight of the tour: a castle right on the lake! Just before that we make a pit stop in another romantic village where all houses are made of stone and there’s only one commercial place, a teeny-tiny bakery. Éclair time! We deserve it. Aydin decides to eat his share in the water to cool down; I settle for the less exciting bench and stare at the marvelous turquoise waters (and my chomping boyfriend).

Aydin eating his eclair in lake Annecy

We soon realise that the castle, pretty as it is, is unfortunately not accessible to the public. It still looks gorgeous, what a shame that you can’t visit!

More beautiful lakes: Wolfgangsee, Vierwaldstätter See, Spiegelsee, Grüner See

Racing through Annecy

Now we’re running late – We promised to provide dinner for the four of us tonight! We should have normally been back by now but with me feeling poorly we take a lot longer. Off we go, zooming past all the closed campsites, little gardens and more tiny villages on the lake shore. The sun is starting to go down and smothers the lake in golden light. I only throw one more tantrum – hungry, tired, fed up, stressed out – and then we’re back in Annecy, racing through the streets to find the closest supermarket.

Yann and Cecile are happy with our pasta. Was it the food that convinced them to let us stay longer? While we’re munching on our pasta, I tell them about me feeling ill and the struggle of finding a hotel room. This is when Yann casually tells us that they have already decided to let us stay until Monday morning. They want us to go see Mont Blanc and recover properly!

Pizza points

We start talking about Couchsurfing and Yann tells us how they barely host anyone anymore because they just receive copy-and-paste messages these days. When they read our request (we usually spend A LOT of time personalizing it) they decided to host us, but only for two nights to see how we’d get along. Cecile mentions that as soon as they had met us on the first night they already knew they’d let us stay longer. We’re feeling all warm and fuzzy and immediately offer to make them pizzas when they return from their trip on Sunday night. More brownie points can’t harm, or should I say, pizza points?

Sunday in Annecy

After our trip to Mont Blanc the next day we have one more day left in Annecy. The weather is not on our side but it clears up for a bit in the early afternoon and we quickly hop outside to look around. We’ve not really had any chance to appreciate it properly and it’s so, so beautiful! When you research Annecy you often will read that it’s the Venice of the Alps and that’s not wrong. Canals are running through the town and the old buildings are just as colourful and charming as their Italian role models. There are less pigeons here though which is a massive pro for me.

The medieval vibe captivates you immediately when you enter the town center. We’ve already fallen in love with all the wonky, pastel houses and the narrow streets and alleyways bustling with locals and tourists alike. And the Alps towering behind them. And the stunning lake. What a perfect place! Also what a perfect day: Sunday is market day in Annecy! The center is filled with fruits, vegetables and all sorts of farmer’s produce… and food stands with every cuisine imaginable. Even the sun is trying to come out for a bit. We procure some Thai snacks and keep on walking the little cobblestone streets.

Last supper

Again we’re running out of time and are running to the shop to get pizza ingredients. After we’ve finished, we’re waiting for Yann and Cecile. Aydin quickly runs out again to snap more pictures of Annecy and gets caught in the pouring rain while I’m attempting to bake a Sacher cake which unfortunately is falling apart but is still tasty in the end. Food is a success, our hosts are happy and we head to bed for an early start. Tomorrow we’ll go all the way from Annecy to the South coast of France.

A move in the wrong direction

Already anticipating problems with hitchhiking, we’ve booked two spaces in a car share via BlaBlaCar. It’s a four hour drive to Aix-en-Provence, and from there we want to hitchhike to Nice to enjoy the famous Côte d’Azur for a few days. The ride down south is pleasant enough. The driver takes the scenic route but this time not to show us around like in Switzerland, but to avoid the excessive motorway tolls. We enjoy the landscape and get dropped off in Aix-en-Provence after a few hours, not far from the point we want to start hitchhiking from.

Here our bad luck begins. It’s our first time attempting to hitchhike in France and it’s not going well. We’re standing by the side of the road for hours and are becoming increasingly frustrated. It’s getting pretty late in the day but finally a car stops. Marie, a woman in her fifties, is not going to Nice but to La Ciotat which lies south of where we are. We’re only realising this after we’re already in the car because my French is not the best: This is not where we want to go! Marie is adamant that more people are going to Nice from there so we try to calm down. She also tells us that hitchhiking in France is super hard and barely anyone takes you with them. Great.

Stranded on the motorway

I’ve got a banging headache when Marie drops us off right before the toll station where the motorway goes – you guessed it – back north again, direction Aix-en-Provence. Seriously? It’s roasting and we’re grumpy. We unsuccessfully try to get a ride for almost two hours before I give up. I feel like crap and just want to cry. That’s it with the French Riviera. We’re stuck in the middle of an industrial zone with no public transport, no shade, no water, no solution.

Eventually I find an Ibis hotel about half an hour walk from here, in the middle of all the factories. The way there feels longer than a three day hike, just horrible and disgusting surroundings. The hotel is super expensive and on top of this we also need to have dinner there because there is no other option anywhere here. We try to calm down and make the most out of it. At least we get to sleep in a bed tonight, and whatever, it’s just money, right? The hotel restaurant is surprisingly nice and after a few beers, the situation doesn’t seem to be so bad anymore. Let’s hope tomorrow will make us believe in France again and we’ll get a ride to where we want to go!

FACTS FACTS FACTS

How to get there

Motorways link Annecy to pretty much all major cities in France. The motorways are super expensive though! The closest airports are in Geneva (Switzerland) and Lyon. There is a direct high-speed line to Paris and lots of regional trains to the surrounding bigger cities. BlaBlaCar is used a lot in France and you can get from A to B for a reasonable price. We’ve used it several times in France, Spain and Portugal and always had a pleasant experience.

Things to do in Annecy

  • Enjoy Lake Annecy in any way you like: swimming, cycling, walking, picnicking
  • Stroll around old town and enjoy its beauty and atmosphere, including Château d’Annecy
  • Visit Palais de l’Île to learn about Annecy’s history
  • Explore the Gorges du Fier, a canyon just outside Annecy. A path there leads you to a natural pool where you can swim!
  • After the canyons, go and see Château de Montrottier!
  • Walk from Angon village right on the lake to the Cascade d’Angon (waterfall). You have nice views over Lake Annecy from the waterfall.
  • Download the Mhikes app for hiking trails in the area.
  • And last but not least, go on a day trip to Mont Blanc!

Accommodation

Hostels are basically non-existent – Annecy Hostel looks alright for a “budget” option although we can’t vouch for it personally. Their website doesn’t seem to work in English which is basically the most French thing ever to happen. Most campsites are on the western shore of Lake Annecy, easily to be found on Google Maps. They were all closed for the year already when we arrived in October. We found hotels to be quite pricey in Annecy and were glad to have found a Couchsurfing place. You might find some good deals on the Booking.com widget below though.

Booking.com

Pro Tips

Definitely visit the Sunday market in Annecy to shop inexpensive groceries and try delicious foods and snacks from lots of different countries for very little money!

You can rent bicycles from the train station starting from €8 a day.

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