If you have never heard of Annecy, France, I don’t blame you. It’s by no means a big city and since it’s far from Paris and the French Riviera, it’s largely off the tourist radar.
The first time I heard about this town was in 2016, when the Icelandic National Football Team participated in the UEFA Euro in France. Between matches, the team stayed in the town of Annecy to recuperate and prepare for the next match. Therefore, I caught a glimpse of Annecy while watching some Euro-related programme on TV and became curious about the destination.
After some research, I found out that Annecy is not just incredibly pretty, it’s also a perfect place for all kinds of outdoor activities. I was desperately craving some fun outdoor activities after school was dismissed in the spring of 2017, so I decided to place my bet on Annecy. I spent a few days cycling, swimming and hiking in the nearby Alps and had an amazing time.
The town of Annecy. Travelade/Nina.
This article is focused on outdoor activities in Annecy, but note that there’s much more to the town than just watersports and cycling. The town of Annecy is situated right on Lake Annecy and its townscape is characterized by wide canals, pavement cafés, historical monuments and Medieval buildings. The town has actually been dubbed “The Venice of the Alps” because of the canals.
I was in Annecy in late May which was perfect for outdoor experiences. The weather was warm enough for swimming in the lake and not too hot for hiking and bicycling. Just perfect.
We did the tour in late May and the weather was amazing. Travelade/Nina.
Cycling around Lake Annecy can be done in less than half a day. This 42 km route is very accessible and offers breathtaking scenery of the Alps and the lake. There are bikeways surrounding the lake, enabling cyclists to ride around the lake on a bicycle.
When I did it in 2017, the bike paths around the lake were in construction so some parts of the route were missing bikeways. Instead, you had to bike on the streets, which was fine. But they should be finished by now.
In 2018, Annecy was actually the starting point for one of the routes of Tour de France. If you want to do your cycling tour “Tour de France”-style, you could opt for mountain biking in the nearby Alps, but I prefer cycling on a flat surface.
I did not bring my bike with me from home but I found a bike rental close to Annecy and rented a bike for the day.
You'll have a fantastic time kayaking on Lake Annecy, especially in good weather. Travelade/Nína.
Kayaking on Lake Annecy in good weather is a delight. The lake is so clean and nice and then there’s the amazing Alpine backdrop.
You can rent kayaks and paddle-boards in various locations around the lake. I rented a kayak at some rental in the town of Annecy and spent an hour on the lake.
Kayaking is easy and there’s not much you need to know before you try it out, except for maybe knowing how to swim.
We saw these adorable goats en route. Travelade/Nina.
The view from the top. Travelade/Nina.
Annecy’s location in the Alps region makes it an attractive travel destination for hikers. You can choose from so many trails in the nearby mountains that differ in length and difficulty.
I did a half-day trek up a summit next to the "La Tournette" summit that departed from Montmin, which is a mountain village east of the lake.
The first half of the trail is marked but for the summit, you’re on your own. The scenery at the top is absolutely breathtaking (you’ll see Mt. Blanc and the surrounding Rhone Alpes to the east and the lake to your west).
A paraglider. Canva/snowturtle.
This is an activity that I decided to save for later. However, when you see paragliders hovering peacefully over the lake and the mountains, you might get tempted to try.
There are several different companies by Lake Annecy that offer paragliding, some are in Annecy town while others are on the opposite side of the lake.
I’m sure that the views you’ll get while you’re gliding in the sky are amazing. And if you’re not up for spending half a day hiking a mountain to enjoy these views (like I did), paragliding might be a good idea.
The Plage St. Jorioz. Travelade/Nina.
In my opinion, nothing beats the feeling of swimming in a serene lake on a hot summer’s day. Lake Annecy is an excellent lake to swim in and the water is clean and fresh.
There are several mini beaches and grassy riverbanks by the lake that allow you to sunbathe in good weather and go for a dip when you start feeling too hot.
In late May, the water was still rather cold, but I still really enjoyed swimming in it. During the height of summer, I can imagine that it’s just perfect.
Make sure you choose your swimming spot wisely, especially if you intend to spend the whole day there.
I went to two beaches, Plage St. Jorioz and Plage Municipale. I prefered the former one and that one also has a pretty cool water slide for kids (and energetic adults such as myself).
Golfing: There are several golf courses close to the lake for golf enthusiasts.
Visiting the The Bauges massif Regional Nature Park: This state park is a great place for hiking and river rafting.
Skiing in Le Grand Bornand: If you visit Lake Annecy in the winter, you’re in for a treat. Le Grand Bornard is a top rated ski resort around 20 km northeast of Lake Annecy.
Where to stay while in Annecy?
We stayed in an Airbnb somewhere on the west bank of the lake. We had a rental car, so we could drive anywhere we wanted. If you do not intend to have your own car, you should rather opt for Annecy-le-vieux (the Old Town of Annecy) and I guess I will actually stay there next time.
Do I need to have a car?
I’d recommend it, makes everything more accessible. But there are buses in the area if you prefer to use public transport.
What’s the closest international airport to Annecy?
Geneva (GVA) is only an hour’s drive from the lake. I flew directly from Iceland to Geneva, rented a car at the Geneva Airport and drove straight to Annecy. It was pretty hassle free.
The best travel recommendations come from locals. Check out these Wanderguides from France by locals sharing their travel tips and hidden gems.