When you think of winter holidays in The Alps, it is likely that you will either picture yourself shredding the slopes or knocking back drinks in a lively après bar until the early hours (no judgements here!). But winter breaks to The Alps can also be about soaking up the culture and taking in the sublime natural surroundings!
Unquestionably, the greatest place to do this is the picturesque French town of Annecy, found in the Haute-Savoie region of Eastern France and 22 miles south of Geneva. A fairytale town surrounded by woods, mountains and the epic Lake Annecy; Annecy is affectionately called the “Venice of the Alps” and it will not take you long to see why.
Here you are treated to cobbled streets, winding canals and pretty pastel-coloured houses, all within a beautiful alpine setting. Annecy is also bursting at the seams with sights and activities, so those with an appetite for culture are well catered to.
The Palais de l’Ile
You may have a ‘penny drops’ moment when you see this sight, as it is highly likely that you have seen it before on a postcard. The incredible view of Palais de l’Ile from Pont Perrière is one of the most photographed sights in all of France – and this is for good reason. The fortified house separates the River Thiou into two canals and almost appears like a ship sailing down the river, with the pretty colourful buildings on either side creating a picture-perfect view – be sure to pack your camera!
It also has a fascinating history, having previously served as a prison, a courthouse, a mint and a lordly residence. It is now a fascinating museum and gallery.
Heading to Palais de l’Ille for the day? Here is everything you need to know.
The Chateau d’Annecy
Standing tall as a symbol of Annecy’s medieval past, this imposing castle has the beautiful Old Town at its feet and looks out over the lake – expect to have your breath taken away. It can be seen from many places around Annecy, but it is well worth visiting and walking around the impressive complex and taking in the views before relaxing in the Old Town.
Cathedral of Saint-Pierre
No trip to Annecy is complete without visiting the Cathedral of Saint-Pierre. First opening as a chapel for the Franciscan monastery at the start of the 16th-century, the church was later dedicated to the Holy Cross and St Francis of Assisi (this is engraved on the façade). Interestingly, it has a renaissance style exterior, but the interior has a gorgeous Gothic style of architecture. Inside, you will see an 18th-century pulpit showing St François de Sales preaching before the Senate of Savoy, an intricate great organ, and many other gems.
The Bishop’s Palace
Adjoining the cathedral is The Bishop’s Palace, which is an enormous building which was built at the end of the 18th century by Monsignor Biord. However, the law separating Church and State saw the building allocated to the Administration of Finance, the municipal police and the National School of Music and Dance in 1906. Take a stroll around the area by passing over the pretty bridge and exploring the gardens, perhaps stopping for a picnic, before strolling along the Quai Madame de Warens till you reach the Rue de la Republique. This will give you great views of the river and surrounding area.
The Church of Saint-Maurice
Built in the 15th century, this church features a unique and flamboyant gothic style which is sure to amaze. The former church of the Dominicans has many interesting paintings from the 15th and 16th centuries, including the notable “trompe l’oeil” which can be found to the left of the choir. This is the oldest church in Annecy and a national monument; it is, therefore, an important historic landmark that is well worth ticking off your list.
Basilique de la Visitation
Out on the edge of Annecy and near Crêt du Maure forest you will find the 20th century Basilique de la Visitation. This is where the tombs of François de Sales and Jeanne de Chantal are found, both of which buried in lavish copper sarcophaguses. The building itself is an impressive sight and the tip can be seen from miles around. Whilst inside, you will find intricate mosaics and stained glass windows which recount the lives of the former bishop and Roman Catholic Saint.
Boat Tour on Lake Annecy
At the top of your checklist should be the boat tour on Lake Annecy, which gives you astonishing views from the crystal clear waters of one of Europe’s purest lakes. You can also get your bearings and learn a little more about the area thanks to the one-hour commentary that accompanies the cruise. Even in winter, this tour is highly recommended and is special in its own way – just remember to wrap up warm!
Marche de Noël
Christmas is a wonderful time of year to visit Annecy and you can’t help but get wrapped up in the festive spirit. The entire town comes to life with street lights and illuminations, Nativity scenes, animations and enchanting Christmas markets – all with the snow-capped mountains as a backdrop. The markets take place in front of the Town-Hall, near the Palais de l’Ile and the Village des Alpes; each has their own distinctive charm, but expect to find arts and crafts, carol singers, train rides, Santa’s grotto, decorations and a magical atmosphere throughout the town.
How to Get to Annecy
The great news is that it is also quick and easy to reach Annecy. The most popular way to get there is by air and fly into Geneva (GVA) airport, which is 50km from the town and roughly a 40-minute journey. There are dozens of nonstop flights from a handful of major airlines. As an alternative, you can fly into Lyon (LYS), which is 125km away.
Another option is to catch the high-speed train directly to Annecy from Paris.
Upon arrival, you will want a reliable and comfortable onwards journey to Annecy and you accommodation. A pre-booked Shuttle Direct transfer can pick you up from the airport and whisk you away to this dream-like town.
About Shuttle Direct:
Shuttle Direct are a leading transfer company who provide a professional, reliable and affordable service.
They are experts in winter transfers in the French, Italian and Austrian Alps and can handle all of the logistics of trips between airports, train stations, hotels and places of interests.
Book your shared or private transfer today and see how they can make your travel stress-free.