If you’d like to explore the Alps while you’re here, Chamonix’s location on the border with Italy and Switzerland gives a perfect opportunity. Here’s a few of our favourite days out.
Annecy is region’s capital – a cgraceful lakeside city with a network of canals running through it giving it the nickname “The Venice of the Alps”. The setting is sublime, on a lake ringed with mountains. Go boating on the lake to enjoy the views, or just stroll around the romantic streets of the old town, taking in the atmosphere of a modern, living city that’s carefully preserved its stunning architectural heritage. The 12th century Palais de l’Isle, on the river, is one of France’s most unique and beautiful monuments. If you’re here in early August, it’s worth the trip to the Fete du Lac – one of the Europe’s finest firework displays
The cycle path now extends entirely around the 40 km lakeside – there are cycle hire shops all along the way. Electric bikes make it much easier in case of winds, and there are a few hills where the bike trail leaves the shore. Cycle time is about 2 hours but it nice to stop for dips, snacks, ice-cream, lunch etc.
On the water
“The cleanest lake in Europe” is one of Annecy’s glories and on a hot day it’s wonderful to swim, paddleboard, kayak or just install yourself at a beach for a paddle. Public beaches surround Annecy, I especially like the ones at Talloires, or on the other side of the lake, St Jorioz has a fantastic diving board.
Some of the more developed ones do not allow dogs but there are plenty of places which do. There’s a nice public area with a jetty and good size public parking spot next to it, between the boat launch spot at Talloires and Les Cassines restaurant.
Lots of walks in the mountain surrounding the lakes – Cascade d’Angon is a lovely shady option on a hot day, and is nice if the weather isn’t great also, since it’s spectacular rocky setting doesn’t depend on clear views.
Annecy, like Chamonix, is a huge centre of Paragliding and to fly with a view of the lake is as wonderful in its own way as flying in Chamonix.
It has a great selection of restaurants, especially of you’re a bit done with cheese. It does have a fair few that are not so good, so always check reviews!
In the old town, Cafe Brunet is a super traditional French bistro. If you’d like a change, Yatta does excellent ramen (I like to get it to take away and picnic at the lakeside) ans Table d’Ébène does great African food in a lovely setting.
Much of the enjoyment of Annecy is found in its ring of lakeside villages, of which I like Talloires the best.
Bistrot de Ponton is all about being on the pontoon when the weather is good. It’s a nice friendly bistro where I’ve always had good food.
Les Cassines is very nice, quite upmarket. La Guinguette attached to the restaurant is a lower-key place that opens all day and has good food. Both have an almost Caribbean feel on a hot day.
Petit Paradis is a classy and beautiful lakeside affair, painted in lovely soft blues with pianist and spectacular pier table.
To really push the boat out (see what I did there!), Jean Sulpice cooks his very, very high class food (2 Michelin stars) at the Pere Bise in Talloires.
Just half an hour away via the Mont Blanc Tunnel, the elegant Italian town of Courmayeur has a beautiful old centre with wonderful shops – and most importantly, an abundance of brilliant Italian restaurants. Though it’s so close to Chamonix, the mountains divided them until the tunnel opened in 1972, and it’s packed with real Italian character. There are lovely paths all around, especially in the Val Ferret area, and it often has completely different weather to Chamonix due to Mont Blanc dividing them – if you get a rainy day, it’s always worth checking Courmayeur in case it’s sunny over there.
If your glimpse of the Matterhorn from the Aiguille du Midi makes you want to see it close up, it takes around two hours to get there. The drive takes you over the dramatic Forclaz pass, through the pretty village of Trient and past the historic towering monasteries and castles of Sion, which are well worth a visit in their own right – the old town of Sion is a lovely place for lunch
Zermatt, the picturesque setting of Switzerland’s most famous peak, is accessed by rail only, so you park at Tasch and ride up. No matter how many photos you’ve seen, nothing can quite prepare you for the sight of the Matterhorn, it’s truly one of the world’s most unique and beautiful mountains. There are lovely paths all around where you can watch the light changing on the twisting granite spire, or for a more relaxing experience, take a cable car up to one of the excellent mountain restaurants
Yvoire is an exquisite medieval village on the shores of Lac Leman, which has incredible displays of flowers in the summer – see their site for photos. It’s gorgeous, but can get very busy on summer weekends – try and visit midweek to appreciate the lovely setting at its best. Lake cruises are available including some in a solar powered boat.
In all honesty not the most interesting of major cities but due to the airport you may find yourself there with time on your hands. The lakeside is nice to walk along and admire the colossal Jet d’Eau fountain. Lake cruises are lots of fun and recommended in the Belle Epoque steamers. It also has some excellent museums – the Red Cross Museum is harrowing but fascinating, and the Museum of Ethnography is an exquisitely displayed collection in a beautiful modern building.