A long weekend in Lake Annecy: high thrills and haute cuisine

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Catherine Henderson enjoys high thrills and haute cuisine in Lake Annecy – arguably one of France’s most beautiful areas

With flights to Geneva now from 10 UK airports, its never been easier, or indeed cheaper, to experience the surrounding areas. Heading south, one of the options is Lake Annecy which lies less than 40 minutes by car from the airport; France’s second largest lake and a potentially scenic base from which to take part in a wide variety of activities to keep adults and children alike amused for a long weekend.

Arriving during the Easter break, we decided to test out just what the Annecy area could offer our family of four – comprising two adults, 10 year old Beth and teenager Kate – each of us with our own very distinct holiday likes and dislikes.

 Navigating Annecy’s one way system proved to be the first unexpected test of the holiday, but one that I’m relieved we persevered with, given the delights that were in store. After 40 minutes circling the town, it was with much relief that we deposited our car in the hotel car park and headed out on foot to sample the rejuvenating delights of one of the many Salons de Thé which populate Annecy’s old town.  In true French style, patisseries and tea shops can be found on most streets, and at this time of year were adorned with Easter bunnies and chicks in quality French chocolate.

Lake Annecy's old town

The town’s population is just shy of 50,000, though the main old town is compact and easy to navigate on foot, canals dissect cobbled streets, decked out with spring flowers on every bridge.  Views of the lake with snow-capped Alpine mountains provide jaw-dropping scenery and meant that photo opportunities were not in short supply, however with active kids on the lookout for their first weekend activity, a Segway tour had the potential to be a sure-fire hit.

Our tour guide and franchise owner – Julie, formerly a Parisian communications professional had arrived in Annecy a couple of years ago to move from the rat race that life in Paris has become. Proving to be a patient tutor Julie quickly taught us the basics of Segway driving and we headed off down to the Lake.  Moving your weight, even subtly, around the Segway platform causes a shift in both direction and speed, I couldn’t help wondering whether any Segways and their accompanying tourists had plummeted into the lake on previous expeditions – at a cost of €7,000 per Segway, Julie seemed perhaps too confident in our newly-found abilities.

Segway is now the second most popular TripAdvisor experience in the town, and as we glided along the edge of the lake, already expertly weaving around bemused tourists at 10km an hour it’s not hard to see why; this is a fun and different way to get your tourist bearings. Segway tours can be taken not just around Annecy but also in the nearby Semnoz forest where cross country Segways with extra wide tyres are proving a popular activity.

Dining Savoyard-style that evening meant a high fat content meal, with the local dishes of tartiflette, raclette and fondue, seeing us consuming the annual recommended cheese intake in less than 60 minutes. If you haven’t been partaking in strenuous activity (and climbing aboard a Segway clearly doesn’t count) and you
want to live beyond 40 then perhaps these dishes shouldn’t be recommended as a regular part of your diet.  You know what they say about cheese and vivid dreams – our cheese-laden evening meal had me dreaming of falling for much of the night, perhaps not that surprising given that our next day’s activity would be paragliding.

 Annecy is one of the paragliding capitals of the world due to the unique wind conditions delivered by the combination of mountains and the lake below, which together create the perfect uplift for paragliding fanatics from around France and beyond. With five take-off and landing areas in the surrounding mountains and valley
there are now several companies in the area providing beginner-level tandem flights, so that even paragliding novices can experience the sport.

We chose to fly with Laurence and Vincent, co-founders of local company Takamaka (which also provided hire cycles for the next day’s leisurely cycle ride around the lake) and who have between them more than 40 years of paragliding experience; local boys they understand the complexities of the local thermals and despite the amount of flying hours accrued clearly have maintained a huge love and energy for gliding.  We rendezvoused in the pretty lakeside village of Tailoires, 8 miles out of Annecy, from where we were then taken up to the take-off site at Col de La Forclaz.

As the mini bus slowly climbed from the valley floor my anxiety levels similarly rose, according to Laurence no two flights are the same, it all depends on the unique thermals that day. I was unsure as to who, out of the four of us, would have the courage to do what Vincent nonchalantly told us we would need to do –  run towards the edge of the cliff which stood 800m up from the valley floor, and then keep running. As Vincent took our pre-flight photo all the drama queen within me could think was that this could be the last photo of all four of us alive and a poignant memory for grandparents back at home who forever more would rage at our parental insanity.

To read the second part of Catherine’s Lake Annecy adventure, don’t forget to log onto  CD-Traveller tomorrow!

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