“If I could live anywhere, I would pick Annecy, the best place in the world. Ahh Annecy,” My friend in Paris would say rolling her eyes and swooning about this city, as though she were talking about a lover. When I visited the Gallo Roman Village in Savoy region of France on beautiful Lake Annecy, I finally understood her infatuation.
Combine water, mountains and historical buildings, throw in a 12th century castle and you have the perfect making of a tourist trap. Yet, there are no lines in this open air museum. Footpaths and walkways absorb the crowds and excursions and sites fulfill every interest.
In the Old Annecy, narrow winding cobblestone streets beckon tourists to step into the past. Lake Annecy’s natural spillway flows through the heart of the city. Artists paint along the Thiou canal in what’s known as the “Savoyard Venise.”
Lake Annecy surrounded by gray cliffs and white peeked Alps is the cleanest lake in Europe, so clear you can see the bottom. The waterfront, lined with parks, benches and boardwalks, is ideal for strolling and lounging. Steamboats excursions offer birds eye views into ports of call on the lake.
Above the lake, the medieval city is wrapped around a cliff where the 15th century castle overlooks the red roofed village. But what I liked the best was wandering the streets lined with arcades. Entering the St. Claire gate with its worn hinges, machicolations and bell turret, was like stepping into another century. I followed the rue St. Claire, a sinuous winding cobblestone lane, which takes the shape of the rock base on which the castle stands, and dates to the origins of the town.
On the pedestrian streets lined with open air cafes, visitors can dine on lake perch and fondue. Even more tempting are the ice cream shops boasting of homemade ices. Each tiny scoop costs $3, but one bite of the fuchsia sorbet will send you to raspberry heaven.
Like the other tourists, I snapped a family picture in front of one of France’s most photographed spots, the Isle Palace, a well known French monument. The Isle Palace’s triangular form in the shape of a ship’s bow evokes a galley anchored in the river whose water it divides. The governor of Annecy lived here in the 12th century, then it became a seat of the justice, the mint, the prison and now it has retired to status of historical monument and houses exhibitions.
Dogs and cats doze in the sunlight. Colorful cafes filled with the clatter of plates and chatter of voices speaking different languages mingle with the sound of street musicians strumming guitars turning this lively street scene into a live film blending modern times with yesteryear.
No wonder, Annecy rates number one in France for the quality of life. It expanded economically, yet despite the influence of industry, it retains its old world charm. Annecy –ever faithful to nature and her past — may hold the secret to the future, a way in which modern technology can exist harmoniously with an ancient village.