Known as the Venice of France, Annecy, which is nestled within the south-eastern area of France and bordering Switzerland, is a perfect combination of mountains, lakes and outdoor pursuits. It's easy to see how Annecy has been likened to the famous Italian city: small canals and streams run through the medieval town, with cobbled streets linked by bridges, leading you to churches, museums and castles.
What to do
Start in the Vieille Ville (Old Town) in Annecy and follow the signs to the Château d’Annecy, a beautifully restored 12th Century building standing guard over the town. Then head downwards to the triangular inlet of the Palais de l’Isle (Palace of the Island), which sits, like a ship which has run at ground, anchored in the middle of the Thiou river. Once a jail, courthouse and lordly residence, you can now visit the museum for an insight into the history of the town and the building's various guises.
History aside, the beauty of Annecy is due to its buildings and surrounds: forget crumbling stone streets, instead, you'll find prettily restored pastel-coloured houses, covered in bright, tumbling flowers, and during our Christmas visit, festive lights. Stroll along the cobbled streets, many of which are pedestrian-only, where high-end clothing stores sit cheek-by-jowl to old-fashioned fromageries, boulangeries and wine caves. Fresh fruit, vegetable and cheese markets (Reblochon is the famed local produce) are around every corner, stock up on their wares for your picnic before heading to the lake. Indeed, it's Annecy's Lac which is the real star of the town.
Surrounded by the Alps, the lake is a picture-perfect setting for a cycle tour. There's a safe, 40km, cycle route which runs alongside the water, taking you past restaurants, playgrounds, pontoons and sandy inlets. Once you've exhausted the path - or yourself - enjoy a picnic at one of the many shaded and sheltered lakeside spots, overlooking the azure water (the lake has the cleanest water in all of Europe). If cycling isn't your chosen sport, you could swim or dive from the various pontoons, diving boards and slides situated around the lake, or go water-skiing, canoeing, paddleboarding, sailing or diving.
If you're visiting during the winter months, head upwards to one of the four ski stations within a short distance from the town. Cheaper, and less flashy than Chamonix, this is where the locals go for an easy day on the slopes. Visit lakeannecy-skiresorts.com. If it's summer, outdoorsy types will love the numerous hiking trails. For a panoramic view of the lake and Old Town, head to Mont Veyrier - it's a four-hour hike, but well worth the effort.
Where to eat
You're spoilt for choice in the Old Town. Families will enjoy pork-based dishes at Le Cochon à l'Oreille, with it's ideal view of Palais de l’Isle (Quartier Centre Ville Mairie, 04 50 45 92 51, cochon-annecy.com).
If you're feeling thirsty, visit the aptly named Beer O'Clock. Craft beers from around Europe are available on a 'debit card', which you pre-pay for and serve yourself. Enjoy with a plate of cured sausage.
Where to stay
For easy access to the Old Town's attractions, stay at Les Priviloges, (9 rue Royale, Annecy, +33 4 50 88 50 00, www.privilodges.com or booking.com). Comfortable, self-catering studios (parking available), and easy access to the lake and the Old Town. Prices start from $108 (Euro 70). Breakfast, which is served on the terrace or breakfast room, is additional.
If you prefer a touch of luxury, quiet, and breathtaking views, head south-east towards Talloires, a fifteen-minute drive from Annecy through some charming little villages. Book a room at the Chalet Christine, (181 Le Thoron, Talloires; 04 50 02 03 03; chaletchristine.com). Spectacular rooms with matching views, relax after a day's activities in the jacuzzi, pool and hammam.
For an easy overview of the area, book a tour on the lake for a a cruise or traditional wooden boat. Length of time varies and the opening dates vary, so it's best to check first. Visit annecy-croisiers.com for options.
Lake Annecy Tourism office (+33 450 45 56 66). There are six offices located around Annecy to help.
Nearest airport: Geneva airport in Switzerland is the closest airport to Annecy. (When leaving the terminal, leave from the French exit to pay less in car hire fees). Or Chamery Airport, France, is a little further.
Train: Situated just five minutes from the town centre, the TGV and regional trains travel to Annecy. Visit raileurope-world.com for destinations.
Autoroute: Follow the A41 Nord from Lyon or Grenoble or the A41 Sud from Geneva. Remember that France has considerably high tolls at various places along the motorway: cards or cash payment is accepted.