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Frances Petit Venice

 

France is one of the worlds most popular tourist destinations, we constantly here about Paris and the cheeses that melt in the mouth, and I remember from my first French phrasebook that life is too short to drink bad wine, but what naive travellers we make when many of the jewels in Frances crown lie mor'e or less untouched by the international traveller. The jewel that we are going to introduce you to today can be found nestled at the foot of the Rhone-Alpes, with its own pristine mountain lake and historic town centre lined with canals, arched with stone bridges and adorned with excellent culinary delights, it is befitting the title of the Venice of France: it is the little town of Annecy.

 

A Savoyard Secret

When travelling to this part of the world -  no greater way to arrive other than the train. If travelling from the UK or most of northern Europe then we suggest the train from Paris in the early afternoon - which takes you through some beautiful French countryside before joining the mountain ranges of the Rhone-Alpes. You will arrive in Annecy in that case in the new side to the town which is somewhat unimpressive on first meeting and marginally nicer than Stratford, though it does have its charms and is actually rather lovely and quiet. But the old town, which along with the lake makes up the larger part of the town and houses many of the hotels (we suggest heading a little further out to either the excellent lake side Imperial Hotel or one of the Old Towns smaller but perfectly situated offerings) is simply wonderful. Strutting around the cobbled pathways, whilst admiring centuries old architecture, one just cannot help but be struck by the similarities to Italy s Venice, but this little piece of French heaven has a character and charm all of its own. At the weekends we were mesmerised by the food and antiques market. If you are a fan of Londons Portobello Road and Borough market - but want them all rolled into one, then you will be glad to know here is a place where you can get just that. Hunting through the various stalls though, it came apparent, that this is a much more rewarding experience then either of those markets with its broad collections of traditional Savoyard pots and pans, vintage postcards, dolls and cameras and even vintage perfumes and jewellery - all nestled between the exquisite scents of Raclette cheese being freshly scraped from the wheel on to eager potatoes below... Really, if you have not tried it - I suggest a quick round trip to dip your taste buds into culinary, or at least fromage nirvana! 

As if that is not enough to whet the appetite, just a short stroll away from the old town is the Lake - emerald in colour, dotted with boats and seated at the foot of the alps - it is a sight to behold. Though if you are the kind of person who cannot have fun in a small town surrounded by green and blue, then you are probably not going to stand more than a couple of days here - but for us, this is a dream destination. The locals are interesting and pleasant and there are enough activities to be had to keep you busy for months - boating, mountain biking (the bike roads here are often included in the iconic Tour de France), jet skiing, bungee jumping, hot air ballooning and of course there is the architecture - centuries old castles, medieval prisons and imposing mountain top cathedrals and the food - which many would refer to quite simply as mountain fare - but it can be much more than that if you only dare to dig a little deeper. 

 

A Tale To Be Told

One day, floating away on a the lake on a small but perfectly capable boat, we stared up through the dark lenses of our glasses at a beautiful big blue sky, the mountains poked it from all angles and the water glistened, and there was just a hint of background noise far away towards the banks of the lake. We sat in silence in a state of bliss, but then a turning point came. The water began to rock us to and fro, the powdery blue blanket above us became a mess of grey and a crack of lightning lit the sky, quickly followed by a heavy rainfall. At first we deigned to rush back to the shores with the rest of the boats, but looking up at the mountains provided us with a previously unknown cinematic experience. The mountains had all but disappeared into the smog of cloud, and the rain was beating down hard, but for the next few minutes our eyes were fixated on the lightning, illuminating the mountain tops, striking continuously to a chorus of loud bass heavy thunder and the consuming sound of the rain hitting water. We watched until the cold bit too hard and headed back to the shore where we succumbed to the majesty of nature and a nice hot cup of chocolate. 

 

Nightcap

We suggest heading to one of the old town restaurants, La Chalet, which is conveniently located right on the canal just a short walk away from the old prison - the Palais de I Isle. Sit inside and enjoy the dim lighting that gives the Chalet like interior a homely atmosphere - accompanied by an open fire in the colder months - and order a cheese Fondue to cap off the true and proper mountain fashion!

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