Our final leg of our summer vacation had us travel from the ski town resort of Chamonix to the sleepy alpine town of Annecy, in southeastern France. The town is located where the River Thiou meets Lac d’Annecy. Johnny Depp, the Hollywood heartthrob is believed to have fallen so in love with this romantic little French town that he purchased a beautiful home here.
The town is known for its Vieille Ville (old town), with it’s tiny cobbled pedestrian streets, it’s winding flower lined canals, it’s many stone bridges and pastel-coloured houses and the fabulous crystal blue lake with the French alps as a backdrop.
After checking in at our hotel, we asked the young lady at the reception how far the old town was? Chantal pulled out a city map and with an ever friendly smile explained that it would take us all of 7 minutes to reach Vielle Ville. As we followed the route on the map, we walked under tall stone arched gates and came upon a magnificently charming part of Annecy, which we guessed was the old town. Free of vehicular traffic, the place was buzzing with excitement. We saw an abundance of restaurants, bars and cafes and happy looking people walking everywhere. Many were strolling hand in hand, oblivious of the world around them while a few appeared hopelessly in love and as thrilled as we were to be in this magical little old town of Annecy.
We walked by a church which I noticed had a beautiful gold statue of mother Mary on the roof. We decided to learn more about this neo-classical style religious structure and walked up to the wooden door. Notre Dame de Liese, also known as Our Lady of Joy, we learned is a french catholic church that was built between 1846 to 1851. The original church was demolished during the French Revolution, however the 16th century clock tower survived and today forms part of Notre Dame de Liese. After stepping into the church and saying a prayer, we spent some time at the side altars dedicated to St Francois de Sales and to the Rosary.
We stepped out feeling spiritually rejuvenated and walked around some more, building up an appetite for what promised to be a fabulous meal at Restaurant le 7367. A french jewel in Annecy, highly recommended by Chantal.
As Laveena and I treated ourselves to the talent of street musicians and tap dancers, performing by the canals and side streets, we grew to love this little town and were excited to call it home for the next 3 nights.
As the sun set on Annecy, we found ourselves at the entrance of the recommended restaurant. Once seated, our friendly French waitress, Amélie, introduced us to the specials on the menu. She recommended we try the fresh cod, the pork and coconut muesli, the whipped basil with mozzarella, the salers steak and the salmon tartar. Feeling partial to her french accent and hungry too, we relented to all of her suggestions and settled down for what promised to be a gastronomical adventure, packed with Michelin styled surprises along the way. The restaurant sommelier, Emanuelle, recommended the Alphonse Mellot Sancerre Rouge Generation XIX, a world class burgundy, a pinot noir which had a depth and complexity, which was just delicious. The food more than impressed. Every bite was like a special gift to our pallete. We were not in a hurry and did not rush through our meal. Instead, we savoured every delightful bite and celebrated with a chocolate fondant lava cake and a creme brulle, both of which tasted like they were made in the kitchens of dessert heaven. At the end of our meal, Ameile, gave us a box which had dice in it. She said if we rolled 7367, we wouldn’t have to pay for our meal. I of course didn’t mind paying for this fabulous three course authentic french treat, but I wasn’t going to ignore the theatrics on offer. I never was a gambler and strongly believe in the maxim, ‘ lucky in love, unlucky in gambling’. I offered Laveena the dice to throw. She didn’t come up with the required number. Amelie insisted I too try. I did give it a go and was excited to see a 7 and a 6 on the table, however the other two digits were far off. We still happily paid for our meal and walked out into the chilly night, with brightly lit streetlights bouncing yellow hues of the cobblestone narrow streets.
As we headed back to our hotel, we noticed a long winding line of people outside what seemed to be an ice-cream shop. Curiosity got the better of us and even though we had sinned and feasted like gluttons at the restaurant, our holiday spirits overpowered our will, as I asked a waiting customer about this place. He smiled and incredulously asked, ‘you are in Annecy, and you do not know Le Palais Des Glaces?’ Laveena cleverly responded that we did know about it now and we too stood in line, befriending Jerome and his lovely lady Eva, who highly recommended we try the rhubarb and the kinda bueno gelato flavours. Even though we were bursting, we ordered single scoops of Eva and Jerome’s favourite gelatos after which we headed back to our hotel for a good nights rest.
The next morning, after breakfast, we stepped out to visit Château d’Annecy, once home to the counts of Geneva. The Chateau, we learned, is a restored castle, bought by the town of Annecy and transformed into a museum, le musée-château d’Annecy. Steeped in history and a victim of many fires, the castle was abandoned in the 17th century and later repaired to serve as barracks until 1947.The castle is listed as a monument historique by the French Ministry of Culture. The museum houses numerous regional sculptures and paintings, a collection of vernacular furniture, dating from the 15th century onwards and photographs and models of Alpine chalets.
After the museum we headed to The Palais de l’Ile , popularly called the “old prison”. Built in the 12th century, The Palais de l’Ile was a court house and a prison. The prison cells can be seen at the site while one can also visit the exhibition on display highlighting the architecture and heritage of the time. A popular symbol of Annecy, the Palais de L’lle is said to be one of the most photographed places in France.
For lunch we stopped by one of the restaurants at the old town and sat by the canal, watching the lazy ‘town world’ go by. Locals happily interacted with tourists, and everywhere we looked, cameras and cell phones were being used to capture memories of Annecy, fondly referred to by many as “the Venice of the alps”. The Plein Sud is situated on the side of the canal leading to the prison in the old town area of Annecy. Our waiter, Fabien, recommended some great french beers which he insisted went fabulously well with the local french cuisine on offer at the restaurant.
Post lunch we walked over to The Cathedral of Saint-Pierre. Built in the 16th century, the Cathedral houses some fabulous baroque artworks from the 19th century. Right next to the cathedral is the bishop’s palace. We walked over a bridge into the garden of the bishop’s palace and along the Quai Madame de Warens to the Rue de la Republique. From the Pont de la Republique we had some breathtaking views of the river Thiou, one of the shortest rivers in Europe.
Laveena and I returned to our hotel and rested for a while before heading out in the evening for a lake side picnic at Jardins de l’ Europe. The landscaped garden dates back to 1863 and is a perfect setting for a picnic. With a picnic rug crafted from beautiful soft wool, a polyester reverse that we were told would protect us from wet grass, an Olga Raffault, 2006 Cabernet Franc and some sandwiches and salad prepared by our hotel, we lay out our picnic treats onto the blanket on the cold grass. As we talked about the magic of this place, I sipped on my red wine, which I thoroughly enjoyed. There was a certain elegance and opulence to this franc which I am glad I experienced. As we feasted, we held hands and stared out at the expanse of lake Annecy in front of us. We noticed other couples too had spread out their blankets for a picnic. Romance was everywhere and we felt it only natural to walk to the Pont des Amours (Lovers’ Bridge) after dinner. The delicate-looking iron bridge was constructed in 1907. We took pictures and then walked on through the garden and to a beach where many locals were out with their friends, sitting by the lake, singing and strumming on their guitars and celebrating ‘life’. A group of young locals asked us to join them and we did. Although they were singing french songs, they asked us where we came from. They were surprised to learn we were from India and when they did, the guitarist belted out a few notes and words from the Bollywood film Dhoom. He sang ‘Dhoom Machale’ and with our new found French friends, we got up and danced by the lake, gleefully joining in the singing and the fun. We were sad to say goodbye and as we were leaving, one of the girls, Celeste’, presented us with a flower and said that she had never met an Indian couple before and that she was very happy to meet us that lovely evening by the lake. We started to walk back to our hotel, but not before one more night walk through the old town, with it’s brightly lit gothic style buildings and winding narrow streets. We were in love with Annecy and it’s people, and like Johnny Depp, we too hoped we could have a home here someday…..but to afford that I would have to audition for the role of Jack Sparrow’s Indian friend on the next Pirates of the Caribbean.