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France: Annecy, Chamonix Mont Blanc, Paris, Versailles
Annecy, France: Blessed by nature
by Prakash Bang, Editor in Chief
Annecy is probably one of the oldest inhabited sites in the Northern Alps. In fact, the recent digs carried out by Archaeologists; allow dating the lakeside village which has been identified off the bank at Annecy-le-Vieux at 3,100 years before Christ. A special destiny has permitted a town with origins that reach far into the past to exploit all the resources of a site blessed by nature, knowing how to seize opportunities and how to survive through the centuries while remaining always of its own time.
I arrived in Annecy from Paris at 8:35PM. It was raining. Not a good start especially if you want to explore the great outdoors. I was booked at Novotel Atria which is adjacent to the train station. The location couldn’t have been better for a tourist using the train to explore France. I was informed at the reception desk that the weather wouldn’t get better the next day either.
My final destination was Chamonix Mont Blanc. However, going there directly from Paris was not a good idea, especially when I realized that a stopover could be made at the beautiful lakeside town of Annecy. I had a few hours to spend in Annecy the next day.
Annecy is a small town. Exploring it on foot is certainly the best option, especially if the target is the Lac (lake) and the Old Town. In summers, the story could be totally different. On a chilly winter morning with rains above, there’s very little that one can achieve. For die-hard tourists who are hell bent on fulfilling the ‘been-there-done-that’ theory, nothing really matters.
A lock town at the exit from a lake on a road crossing the great routes from Italy to Geneva, its site puts in contact with two zones: the pre-Alpine mountains of the Bornes and the Bauges on one side and the plain with the Albanais district on the other.
Annecy is particularly blessed with the lake which has become its symbol, the Thiou, a former industrial river route that has now become a tourist attraction; the Semnoz forest which has remained wild; the spacious Fins plain well-suited to unlimited urban development, and finally the sloping border of Annecy-le-Vieux, the pleasant beginning of the northern landscape.
As for its history, the nearness of Geneva was to be the cause of successive rises in status as the town became in succession capital of Geneva County when the Counts chased from that city settled there in the 13th century, then a bishopric after the triumph of Calvinism in the 16th century.
Promoted in the 15th century to capital of an attached territory of the House of Savoie, it was to experience a radical transformation at the beginning of the 19th century by becoming an active industrial centre, a role which grew stronger in the 20th century without slowing the growth of tourism.
Post breakfast the next day, armed with an umbrella and the camera, I set out to explore Annecy. Walking along damp streets, my first stop was the Annecy tourism office which was located very near to Lac d’Annecy. Despite my limitations with the French language, I could understand that the best thing for me to do, in the given time, was to explore the lake and the Old Town.
If you have a few days on hand, Annecy offers 4 specific walking tours, namely, The Old Town and it’s Churches; Off the Beaten Path; The Canals and The Lake. Each walk is for about 2 hours. If you do them all, you would have seen it all. I gave myself 3 hours and found a fifth route that had a little of everything!
Across the road from the tourist office is Champ de Mars – a huge green patch that leads to the lake. Walking along the shores I crossed Pont des Amours, a very romantic arch bridge made of iron. The bridge leads into Les Jardins de l’Europe, a garden which is also the home to Hotel Deville. The garden offered panoramic views of the lake and the snow-capped mountains behind, not to forget a beautiful island named Ile Des Cygnes.
Crossing another bridge named Pont De Halle, I entered the Old Town. The view reminded me of Venice… nice little homes touching the canals. The highlight of course was Palais De I’lle, which for centuries were a court house and a prison. Standing right in the middle of the canal, the waters must have worked as good barricade for the inmates!
From thereon I walked the Old Town’s many cobbled streets along the Thiou negotiating churches, castles, houses, early morning market life, stores and restaurants. Two hours just flew past.
I was back in the hotel at 11:15. Though I had my train later in the afternoon, I was able to board a train at 11:32 that left for St. Geravis. From there I would board another train for Chamonix Mont Blanc.
Annecy Image Gallery Photo viewer
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