Europe, Travel & Adventure

Adventures in Annecy, France

Annecy is one of the most incredible places I have ever visited in my life. Only 2 hours by train from Lyon, this beautiful town is located in the southeast of France in the Haute-Savoie region, just 30 minutes from Geneva, Switzerland by car and not far from Italy either. The culture of all 3 worlds is evident in Annecy including the architecture and canals. The Haute-Savoie region is also home to Mont Blanc, the tallest of peaks in the Alps mountain range and in western Europe.

Everyone I met in Lyon told me “Ah tu restes sur Lyon pendant un temps? Il faut que tu visites la ville d’Annecy! C’est si beau!! C’est une belle ville!” (Oh you’re staying in Lyon for a time? It’s necessary that you visit Annecy! It’s so beautiful! It’s a beautiful town!)  After hearing multiple people mention it, I decided to book a train ticket back in November. I originally planned to visit the weekend of November 14th, but that was the day after the Paris attacks and I decided I didn’t want to travel that day. It ended up being the perfect timing to visit Annecy during the weekend of December 5th-7th, mainly because of the Christmas market!  I would have missed it had I gone in November, and visiting Annecy during the Christmas season is truly a magical experience. It’s like a fairy tale town to begin with and then you add Christmas lights, music, local markets, and all the charm — well it’s just overwhelming in the most joyful way! If you are ever in France, please visit this town. You can also do an excursion to Switzerland before or after since it’s so close!

On December 5th, with just a backpack and my purse for the 3 day voyage, I was off by train through the mountains. On the way there, we passed lakes and rivers and chateaus and villages — it was incredible just seeing the scenery on the way to Annecy. As soon as I arrived around noon, I stepped out of the train station into the cool and crisp winter air and saw my first view of the Alps again. They surround the town and the lake and you can see the mountains from almost anywhere in the city as they tower over the landscape. I headed straight to my AirBNB host’s apartment and it was such a delightful experience! Harriet and her husband Gustavo greeted me at the door along with their cool and adventurous cat, Miu. (This cat was literally the coolest cat I’ve ever met — his personality, playfulness, and all around unique character for a cat was precious.)

Harriet, a beautiful blonde from England with short pixie-style hair and a charming accent and smile, showed me to my room. She made me a cup of tea and we began chatting in the kitchen about life, France, and what to see in Annecy. Their apartment was truly delightful and quaint and the view of the mountains from the kitchen window was unbelievable. What a view to wake up to everyday.

Harriet and I are kindred spirits it seems and it was so fun to connect with her about culture and perspectives and life. I was so curious about her story and how she ended up in France. Her story of coming to France was similar to mine in many ways. She found that she wasn’t enjoying life fully in her town in England, just working and living there mostly, and decided that she must find another place to live and a new adventure that is fitting and true to herself. Though, my move was for a shorter term, it inspired me toward the potential of moving long-term one day and it was refreshing to meet someone with a similar story. I do appreciate my hometown of Franklin, a quaint little historic town in Tennessee and I appreciate growing up in America. There are perks there and opportunities and I’m grateful for all of them. I just found that I perhaps wasn’t supposed to stay there long-term, that my heart was made for another place.

It is also slightly easier for European Union (EU) nationals to live anywhere else in the EU because of the Free Movement Agreement. They have the right to work in any country in the European Economic Area (EEA) without a work permit. Harriet’s parents were already living in Annecy and run a Bed & Breakfast there, so she moved to Annecy to start a new life. She eventually found work in Geneva, Switzerland (being only a short distance away) and met her husband, Gus, in Spain on holiday! Gus speaks Spanish of course and also French, so all weekend it was three languages — Harriet and Gus speaking Spanish, speaking French with Gus, and I spoke English with Harriet.  It was quite a cultural experience and I even learned a little more Spanish!

That afternoon I headed out into the town to explore, only needing to walk about 10 minutes to reach the town center. I stopped at a cafe that was very inviting, located on the street corner with beautiful rose bushes outside the windows. I ordered a piece of brioche stuffed with salmon and feta which came with a green salad and the famous French vinaigrette dressing that I have come to love so much. I also ordered a cappuccino which came with a homemade tiny cake on the side.

(Side Note:  One thing I love about the traditional cafes in France is that you always receive a little piece of chocolate, cake, or cookie with your coffee or espresso beverage. Unless it’s an English-style cafe that specializes in English espresso drinks, you probably won’t get the petite dessert on the side. That’s also a different cafe culture but equally good.)

This cafe, Sur Les Pas de La Petite Botte, (In The Footsteps of The Little Boot) was a cross between an English tea parlor and a typical French cafe. It had a vintage feel and a certain poshness to it, British tea pots and cups everywhere, mixed and matched in design, served on a tray. Also accompanying the ambiance was a thrifty, vintage collection of furniture and a piano located against the wall with a guitar and djembe next to it for anyone to play. Old books were spread throughout the cafe for guests to pick up and satisfy their curiosity of literature from centuries past.  No Wi-Fi of course, as it wasn’t needed.  People were chatting and enjoying the food and coffee and that was enough.

After I left the cafe, I began walking towards Lake Annecy which I was told was straight ahead. I passed river canals that looked like Venice and cute storefronts and people on bicycles wearing berets. I saw people greeting each other on the streets with the bise kisses (cheek to cheek) which is something I love about the French.  It’s an interesting part of the French culture — when you meet for the first time or part ways, you do this manner of greeting. Usually if you’re close to the person it’s a real kiss versus the sound of a kiss. Occasionally, men will shake hands. Sometimes friends will offer both a hug and the kisses. But typically, it’s just the cheek to cheek. That’s one thing that’s sweet about being here and something that is natural with the people that I’ve met. It’s so culturally different and inviting at the same time. It’s not rare to see couples and families often holding hands in the streets, embracing, hugging, and kissing, or sometimes nose to nose all at the same time.

Affection — it’s a beautiful and expressive part of the French culture that I have come to love so much.  The French are not afraid to show affection publicly.  No one even notices the couple making out at the cafe or hugging for long periods of time outside the restaurant.  It’s cute and it’s cultural and it’s very, very French.

I continued toward the end of the street and eventually the space opened up to a grand park and the view of the mountains and lake right in front of me. It was just unreal. I was there around sunset to see the pink hues hitting the mountainside with the blue sky and the clouds hovering over the water. Swans and ducks of all kinds floated on the surface. The waterfront was gorgeous and inviting and as I walked around the lake I could see down the valley in between the mountains. The vast snow-covered Alps seemed so close yet extended far in the distance, all encompassing Lake Annecy and towns further away. This place brought a calmness to my soul. I sat there for a while on the dock and just watched the sun disappear, the water flowing, the families walking, and the simple beauty.

That evening I walked through the old town briefly, through one of the Christmas markets, seeing the lights all around, buying a few things here and there. I heard live music in the street and then Christmas music to follow. There was a Christmas themed light show projected on Hotel de Ville (the town hall) and it was designed exactly to match the structure of the building. With music to accompany, the show was something I had never seen before and was made to look like a view inside Santa’s workshop. Annecy definitely housed the Christmas spirit all around. I passed booths selling hot chocolate, hot apple cider, hot wine, pretzels, beignets, and more. I saw a giant Christmas tree lit up with a giant star on the top. Families, kids, couples and friends wandered the streets. It was definitely the place to be in the Christmas season.

With a few bags in hand I headed back to the apartment since it was getting colder that night. I ran into Harriet at the front door and we climbed the stairs to her 4th floor apartment. She asked if I wanted to join she and her friends that night for a little soirée. She and a few friends were going out and there would be expats there from other places too. I said, “of course!” and was delighted by the invitation.

That night I met more locals and friends of Harriet and Gus from several nationalities: French, American, and even a Canadian. I spoke with the Canadian for a while about North American culture, politics, French culture and lifestyle and more. I had so much fun that night and enjoyed more conversation with Harriet over a glass of champagne.

The next day I ventured out again and stopped at a little Thai place for lunch (oddly enough) with an appealing menu of a “Thai box to go.” This was actually one of the most delicious and authentic Thai meals I have ever eaten. The chef prepared it fresh right there on the spot and it was a blend of fresh chicken, rice, vegetables, and seasoning. I took this little meal and headed down to the lake again. I couldn’t get enough of that view. I sat there on the pier and ate my lunch with the incredible view, a special dining spot for one. This time it was the afternoon, so the lighting was different, the water was a unique turquoise blue. The water is so pure there and flows from the mountains of course. It is said that Lake Annecy has the purest water in all of France. Possibly in all of Europe, but I’m not sure about that one. It’s possible!

I then headed through the old town again, walking down the streets from the Middle-Ages, in awe of the architecture and design of the buildings. Window shutters and building fronts of all colors, canals and bridges, flowers in window sills, abounding in French and Swiss culture. I visited the Palais de L’Île (Chateau of the Island) which was the old prison and is now a museum. The outside is quite beautiful and the interior preserved. It was full of history. I also bought a few things at the Christmas market that evening and ate dinner at an authentic Italian restaurant.

My last day in Annecy on Monday started bright and early. I stopped by the same cafe again for a little breakfast and coffee.  This time, I saw two men playing chess there at the table which was just simply awesome. In fact, they were teaching each other chess moves. Brilliant.  Before I left, I thanked the woman who runs the cafe for her delicious food and the experience and said a farewell.

I headed into the old town again with plans to see the town castle. I had no idea there was a castle until Harriet mentioned it! I didn’t look closely enough at the brochure from the Office of Tourism I guess to notice the Museé Chateau d’Annecy. Nonetheless, I was thrilled to venture through the town on my last day and see new things. I went through little passageways this time, tunnels under buildings, and ancient pathways.

I stumbled upon another cathedral in the center of town on this beautiful sunny Monday. It was called Cathedral Saint-Pierre. The door was open, as most cathedral doors remain open all the time for visitors, and I wandered in. It was a little dark but the sunlight was shining through the beautiful stained-glass windows. There was no one else in sight. I was the only one in this beautiful, age-old cathedral.  I was silent and in awe as I walked to the front. I turned around and looked up, and I was eyes-wide open at the beautiful site before me. I think I managed to whisper a “Wow….” out loud and that’s it.  In that beautiful moment, right after noon, the sunlight peered through the round stained-glass window at the top of the cathedral. Me standing there, alone and content, full of boundless joy, in the spotlight of the sun shining through colorful glass with Jesus pictured in the center and the saints in the circle all around him. I couldn’t help but accept this as a sweet, little gift from God. A little smile from heaven on my last day in Annecy and during this incredible journey. I stood there for a few moments to take it in, and then I walked out into the sunshine gleaming with a smile on my face. I don’t think anything or anyone could’ve caused that smile to disappear that day. I recognized the freedom I had on this journey, the joy, the gifts, all of it.

This town made my heart sing. In fact, all the time here in France I’m constantly singing! When I walk through the streets, maybe even while preparing dinner, most days, I’m singing or humming. The times in my life where I have been so happy in the simplest of ways, even in other places in the world, I sing. France has been one of those places, and most definitely the town of Annecy.

That afternoon I wandered up the hill through the old town following signs towards the castle. It was a steep, beautiful hill. I saw the old farmhouse on the left with little apartments woven in now, reminding me of something out of a fairy-tale. The streets, the design of the town, the views, everything.

In fact, many villages like this one in Annecy in the Haute-Savoie region, as well as the region of Alsace, and various castles in France have inspired movies that we know today such as Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (La Belle et la Bête*) which was originally written by French novelist, Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont and published in 1756.  Some historians say the true original version of La Belle et la Bête was authored by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve but that the version was much different from the version we know today, which is the version rewritten and published by Beaumont.  I was so intrigued by this place and how it reminded me of a fairy tale I had seen that I even looked up places that inspired Disney films!  During my search, I found this really cool article:  20 Real World Places That Have Inspired Disney Movies

At the summit of the hill, I turned around and I saw the castle.  Hovering over the city, there it was.  I understood why this place inspired many with its fairy-tale village ambiance.  I felt like a little kid exploring that day. I think it’s a gift to be able to experience joy like this.  I think we can choose to live our lives being numb to feelings, including sadness or bitterness, refusing to be real with ourselves or others. Or, we can allow ourselves to feel. That requires allowing in all the emotions on the scale in our life. I think in order to know what joy is we must have also experienced sadness. We’re human. All the emotions count. I can say that I have done the work to process all kinds of feelings in my life. I strive to be real with myself and others. And that day, I experienced real, pure joy along with a grateful heart for the gift of this place and this voyage.

I continued on and arrived at the castle doors in the front courtyard, seeing a beautiful view of the city. I thought, “How do I get in?” “Is it closed?”. Then someone walked up to the door, scanned a badge, opened the tiny door in the middle, and walked on through. I saw a peek of the inside courtyard. “Wow!!!” I thought, “Wait a minute, how did you get in there?”  (He went through the door so quickly, and there were others standing there with me, also looking at each other with confusion.  We laughed because apparently we needed a badge to enter as well.) Sometimes museum and business hours are strange on Mondays, and I forgot that it was Monday.  Another person, and apparent staff member, walked up to open the door and I said, “Excusez-moi, c’est fermé?” (It’s closed?). The man said, “C’est ouvert à 14 heures.” (It’s open at 2:00pm).  It was now 1:25pm and I wanted to also take a tour of Lake Annecy for just 14 Euros which was at 3:00pm. I thanked the man and said I would be back.

I headed down the hill and wandered through the Christmas market again trying to figure out my plan of action. My train was going to depart from Annecy at 5:53pm so I had to have enough time to make it back to the apartment on foot and pack up my few things and head to the train station that evening.  I didn’t want to carry my backpack around with me all day of course, so I just planned to come back to the apartment briefly before I left town.

I saw the port straight ahead where the boat tours depart from, and as I was about to cross the street in that direction, I was lured to the Christmas market booth right next to me by the smell of something savory. I needed a little lunch so I wandered over there and saw all of these people eating some kind of orange soup. I asked a lady, “Excusez-moi, madame, mais qu’est-ce que c’est? La soupe?” She said, “c’est La Soupe Paysanne.”   I saw the sign for it and I asked the woman at the booth for a cup of whatever that was and a hot chocolate.

I then walked over to the port and into the park around the lake and sat down at a bench and looked up.  Tall giant sequoias towered over me and I could smell the scent of pine sitting there!  Moments like these allow me to understand the meaning of the word “merry.”  I was merry that day and in that moment.  I started to eat the soup and I can say that this was the best soup I have ever tasted to date.  I ate it all in a matter of 5-10 minutes I think.  It was absolutely delicious.  I appreciated all the senses that day. Sometimes we forget to stop and smell the roses, or the pine trees. And I think life is meant to be enjoyed in that manner, in the simplicity of our senses.


If you are intecountry-soup1.jpgrested in trying this simple and  delicious soup, you can find the recipe here:      

La Soupe Paysanne 

The version of the soup at the Christmas market had all the vegetables minced from a blender, or chopped finely, no zucchini possibly; and instead of dill, they used bay leaves, or fresh, dried aromatic herbs.  I used bay leaves/aromatic herbs when I made it myself after returning to Lyon and the taste was very similar.

I headed over towards the boat and saw a guy jump over the boat deck and walking my way. I stopped him and asked if I could purchase tickets there and he told me yes, that was the location and that he would be back in a few minutes. We chatted for a bit about the castle and how I wanted to see both the castle and do the tour of Lake Annecy. He informed me the tour was a duration of one hour and that the castle closed at 5:00 p.m. so I would have to hurry up the hill (a 10 minute walk) after the tour ended.

I had about 45 minutes to spare so I walked around the lake a bit and saw a different view of the mountains from the park. I then walked back towards the spot from where I first saw Lake Annecy. I knew that I would only get that complete view just one last time before I left. I sat there on the dock for about 30 minutes just taking in the view and the sunshine.

I then headed back over to the port again to jump on board for a tour of the lake.  I smiled at the guy as I boarded and had returned as I promised.  I sat on the front deck outside, willing to be cold out in the winter wind on the lake with the rest of the crowd, all of us there together because we wanted the best possible view!  I bundled up in my hat and gloves and off we went! We passed all the other towns and villages on the lake, hearing the history behind each one. We saw 2 more castles on the lake and closer views of the rest of the mountains that you can see from the shore.  Breathtaking.

After the tour, I was the first one off the boat and I thanked the young man operating the boat for the information and the lovely tour. He said, “Allez tout droit au château! Profites-en! Bonne soirée! Au revoir!” (Head straight ahead to the castle! Enjoy it! Have a good evening! Good bye!)  I thanked him and waived goodbye with a smile and said, “Merci beaucoup! Au revoir!”

I had no time to waste and knew I must walk quickly if I wanted to see the castle before it closed and also not miss my train. I headed out of the park and crossed the street, running through the Christmas market, over the bridge, through the town, straight to the foot of the hill. I saw what I thought was a short cut to the right – a little hidden passageway up the hill, adjacent to the castle.  So I ran up and sure enough it was a little passageway!  I saved some time that way and continued to the front of the castle door. It was open this time and I saw the full view of the courtyard. I walked up to the ticket office and the girl mentioned that they close in 45 minutes. I assured her I knew and that this was my last day in Annecy so I wanted to be sure to see the castle since I had to leave town that evening. She understood, smiled, and gave me my ticket.


This castle was constructed starting in the 13th century and continued with additions until the 16th century.  The Counts of Geneva resided there for a time. It was abandoned in the 17th century and used as barracks until 1947. The town of Annecy took over the castle in 1953 and restored it alongside the historical association and turned it into a museum which it has remained ever since.*  The museum has temporary expositions of artists, fine art, contemporary art, and more.  IMG_0836

I entered the castle and quickly walked through each part and through little corridors. I climbed the stairs and saw each level. I hardly saw anyone else and basically was wandering through on my own. About 15 minutes till 5:00, I was the only one left!  I had the castle all to myself!  I couldn’t believe it!  I wandered through the last accessible level and stood in one of the towers overlooking the city as the sun was starting to set.  I then saw a giant hallway with more art and a passageway with an arch design.  I knew I had to go explore that, so I walked down the hallway and on through.  It was a dark, giant room, probably used for banquets back in the day.  The floors were so old they squeaked and to the left was a giant corridor with a view from the largest tower. I went through there and just stood in awe as I looked out the huge window.

I knew they were closing in 5 minutes so I quickly headed back through each of the chambers and descended the stairs and headed outside, walking to the edge of the interior courtyard which overlooks Lake Annecy and the city. You can actually see a full view of the castle from out on the lake from the boat.  The castles were built on the hills of course to have a protective view of the town and surrounding areas. The sunset was happening right then as I stood there alone, taking in the view above the rooftops and the cathedrals and the lake. It was incredible to be there in that moment. My heart was full of gratitude for the gift of that experience.

It was getting dark and I knew I had a train to catch. So I left and walked back through the main castle doors at the entrance and quickly descended the hill.  I realized my train was going to leave in about 45 minutes, so I started running through the old town and back to the main city center, continuing down the street in the direction of the apartment.  I knew I didn’t have much time to get back and grab my belongings and head to the train station so I hustled!  I arrived at the apartment and quickly packed up and said goodbye.  The train station was only 10 minutes away and the train was departing in 20 minutes, so I thought, “Ok, I can make it!!”  It was well worth the hustle to see everything I saw that day!

I walked quickly to the station with my backpack and pizza box in hand (leftovers from the Italian restaurant the night before). I ran into the lobby, saw the train was departing from Platform B, and ran down the stairs and onto the train.  I sat down and caught my breath and had literally 5 minutes to spare.  “Quelle journée!”  I thought.  I actually thought in French!  {What a day!}

*References:  Google, Wikipedia, Good Reads

Top Things to See in Annecy, France