Visiting the french lake district
15 years ago, I was 14 years old. Our family summer holidays consisted of camping, caravaning and trailer-tenting. You’d usually find us in Cornwall or the north west of France, in Brittany. Living on the south coast, and being so close to Portsmouth, a trip across the channel was a pretty easy option. One year, we changed things up and my parents booked us two weeks in, what I now know as, the French Lake District. I know – I wouldn’t have associated France with lakes either, but after taking the 10 hour drive down to the mid-east of the country, we spent 14 days enjoying what the area had to offer – and it was so good, 15 years later, we made a return trip!
My parents are spending almost three weeks down there this year, but Sam and I just returned from a whirlwind 4 days in an attempt to capture some sun and adventure as a break from what has been a manic few months. When I heard my Mum and Dad say they were heading to Annecy this summer, I jumped at the chance to go back. Although my memory is fuzzy, I do remember just how beautiful the first of the three lakes in the district is – set amongst the Rhone Alps and what a picturesque setting Lake Annecy was. Perfect for a short break – it was decided and our were flights booked!
So, why’s it so good?
I love the beach, don’t get me wrong. Being by the sea is one of favourite places, but there’s also something about the mountains I love too. The French Lake District is home to three lakes, as I say, nestled in the Alps. Driving from the north, Annecy is the first town, and lake of the same name, you’ll come across and this is the lake we spent both our holidays on. In fact, we stayed further down the lake than Annecy itself – not far from Doussard, a slightly quieter area. As the third largest lake in France, it’s thought of as Europe’s cleanest lake due to regulations passed in the 1960s and was formed 18,000 years ago when a glacier melted. I think those facts alone are impressive, but I can assure you, seeing the lake against the mountainous backdrop for yourself is a must. The area is also a drive away from the ski region, where Europe’s highest point resides – Mont Blanc. We ventured up Mont Blanc on both trips and I’ll have a post on that soon, but it’s worth noting what a varied holiday area this is. Annecy is also known as Europe’s parascending capital, as well as all kinds of watersports, cycling and white water rafting. I can see why it’s so popular with young families.
But if the thought of all that exercise and activity makes you breathless, I can assure you, the lake has something to offer those who want to relax too. First, let’s chat about the lack of sand – isn’t that just the dream? The lake offers multiple spots to set up camp – whether that’s on a secluded grassy patch, or on the public ‘beaches’, the only sand you’ll see is the man-made stuff brought in for some private areas. Sunbathing on grass is so much more comfortable and because there is so much space (the lake is 14km in length), it rarely feels crowded, even in peak season. The lake, as I mentioned, is the cleanest in Europe but the lack of salt water is also an absolute dream – I swam a number of times off the shore and the boat and didn’t have to worry about the revolting feeling you get after being in the sea. I just love how laid back lake-life is – although a popular area (and other than the road into the town of Annecy), no where is ever busy. Popular with British, Dutch and French tourists alike, I can’t help but think of this area as France’s hidden gem.
One thing I will point out is the fickle weather, and this is something we remember from our first trip. Due to the mountains (and some science to do with hot and cold air meeting), the Annecy area can be pretty stormy – but fear not, they’re short lived and a torrential downpour will not only last just 15 minutes, but will also clear out any humidity lingering, meaning it’s warm but never sweaty. One afternoon, we took a drive up into the mountains when a pretty impressive storm came over. We sheltered under cover and enjoyed chocolat chaud whilst we watched the lightening strike over in the next valley, before the sun reappearing and a trip down to the lake ensued. For me, that kind of variation is key to a holiday and although I was keen to catch some rays, the different options for things to do in the area is second to none. The town of Annecy provides the classic French architecture, with markets (Tues, Fri and Sun) and a beautiful old town, the mountains gives views and adventure for those who want it, and the lake is the perfect setting for some R&R. On our final day, we hired a small power boat and spent some time swimming and relaxing on the water – my idea of a day well spent.
Where to stay?
Accommodation wise, we camped both times. This seems to be the popular choice in the area – as I say, it’s a destination for alot of young families, but a little research tells me there are plenty of self catering options too. We stayed at Camping La Ravoire, which was a little crowded. We discovered Camping Lac Bleu which is right on the lake front and the one we’re eyeing up for our next trip!
How to get there?
We flew into Lyon airport because we were coming from Southampton (my god, flying from somewhere 5 minutes from your house is such a dream) – it’s around a 90 minute drive to Annecy and on the way there we caught the Ouibus. Kind of like National Express, it’s a super cheap (£10pp) and efficient service. There are other options to fly to, such as Geneva which is closer, but some flights only operate in the ski season so you need to take a look at that. I’m always so impressed with public transport in Europe! If you’re wanting to drive, it’s around a 7 hour drive from Calais.
Where to eat?
We mostly BBQed as we were camping but had one particularly lovely meal on the lake at a restaurant called La Cuillere a Omble near Talloires, and enjoyed a drink at a place I’d love to return to – Chez Ma Cousine. In Annecy itself, I’d heard good things about the creperie called La Bolee and ice creams at Glacier Perrière (although I didn’t get to either!).
Any down sides?
My only two criticisms of this area is a) the aforementioned weather, which can be a little on the odd side. But you pretty much guarantee sun in the summer months, and definitely warmth (30 degrees plus most days from June-August), just be prepared for rain too! And b) the road into Annecy. If you want to visit the town, go early. Because of the lake, the west side gets incredibly busy and can take a long time to get through. For that reason, we tended to stay south and enjoy the lake rather than the town.
I’d highly recommend skipping the Mediterranean for one year and trying out in-land France. The views and scenery are stunning and the authentic way of life is something I’ve always loved about France. If you camp, this can be a really great chance to switch off and go back to basics (unless of course you want to shoot blog photos and you’re *that* person (eye roll)). It’s most definitely somewhere I’d recommend to anyone and has landscapes you wouldn’t think were in Europe.
You won’t be disappointed!