Annecy: my 24-hour crush

If Geneva is the aloof OCD uncle, Annecy is the laughing, crush-worthy small-town girl with flowers in her hair, wearing a gossamer dress that flutter in the breeze (“oh, this old thing?”). Unlike the uncle, she’s surprisingly approachable — perhaps she doesn’t know how pretty she is. Those green-blue eyes lock with yours; she smiles and holds out her hand – startled, you glance around, place your head on your chest (“me?”) and she nods yes, you — and you think mon Dieu, I think I’m in love.

Eventually yet reluctantly, you notice that she smiles that way at everyone; that her approachability reflects her lack of discernment, and that perhaps she might not be all that bright. And yet – knowing there’s no future and that you’ll soon lose interest – you flutter around her like a moth, colliding with all the other moths, hundreds of them, all trying to capture and steal away her essence.

Annecy is not a girl, but a medieval town of 100,000 in western France. She was born in the times of the Romans, and is now known as the Venice of France. I have fallen in and out of love with Annecy twice since I’ve been here, which, according to my watch, has been exactly 23 hours and 5 minutes.

Early in the day when the market vendors are setting up their stalls, and the canals are quiet save for the soft yet insistent peep of ducklings… when hordes of happy flowers in their little wire baskets sip their sunshine coffee … yes, this is the time to be in love with Annecy. This particular morning I sip my latte and write; by the time I finish, the market is in full swing.

Oh, the market! Orange citrus and grassy green cucumbers; peppers and cherries bleed red into the air. And can you smell it? The savory smoke of sausage and musky cheese; the nutty tang of ripe olives. Over here, the perfume of sweet bright melon, and of course, everywhere, the homey kitchen aroma of fresh-baked bread. I’m tempted by it all, but I can’t take it all on the train with me.

From the market, a narrow and steep cobblestone street leads up to the 15th century chateau, once home to Dukes and now a museum, perched high on the hill overlooking the village. A 5.50 Euro admission fee buys yet another workout, circling round and round and round its endlessly vertical spiral stone staircases to various exhibits on each level; the collection is small, but their contemporary art and photography are quite good. The chateau itself is a stunner, perfectly preserved; it’s easy to imagine life centuries ago.

Then back down to the village, taking another pass through the now-crowded market (more photos), to a sunny patio where I’m writing this article right now, dear reader, while enjoying a tasty quiche with petit peas, mint and cheese followed by a demitasse of strong espresso.

I remember my quarrel with the lovely Annecy yesterday afternoon. The first few hours after my arrival were heavenly: I strolled along the flower-laden canals, sipped a crisp rose at one of the sidewalk cafes, and watched the children’s sailing class slowly navigate the sparkling lake. But Annecy’s spell lost its power as evening fell.     

To describe Annecy as “pretty” is woefully unimaginative, like a one-note flute. You may wonder, as I did, whether you’re in a computer-generated dream world; the only thing that alerts you to the contrary are the tourists. What are they doing here? From every corner of the world they come, drawn by a universal appreciation for beauty, jostling for the same predictable views with their damn cameras. Yes, yes, I know; don’t remind me.

The beautiful, friendly Annecy loves everyone, and everyone loves her; which means no one is special. She’s been discovered; she’s not yours. If you’re looking for something that still feels, well… virginal, your only hope is to visit in the off-season; but what fun would that be? No, summer is Annecy: when the magical green-blue lake beckons you for a swim, couples kiss on their picnic blankets, teens dive off paddle boats, and children choose their favorite ice cream flavors.

After my little quarrel I’d decided to leave for Lyon early; I prize authenticity, and the touristy vibe just doesn’t work well for me. But this morning I succumbed again to Annecy’s spell when I ventured out for coffee. I’ve noticed that the locals are patiently friendly; they smile at this tourist asking for directions, or that one with the camera, and perhaps at you, dear reader, not knowing a word of French yet falling under Annecy’s spell. It’s a sad, knowing smile; they gave up their jealousy long ago, having accepted their mistress’ infidelity.

Tips

Annecy is 2 hours by bus from Geneva or Lyon. The old town is only a few blocks from the station, so it’s very easy to get around.

The lake, Lac d’Annecy, is billed as “Europe’s cleanest lake.” Don’t come without your swimsuit, like I did!

The market is on Tuesdays (produce only), and Fridays and Sundays (bigger, and also includes manufactured goods)  

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