Tuesday, 19 July 2016

A Week in Annecy

A lot has happened since we visited Annecy in late May. Brexit, terrible events in Nice and an attempted coup in Turkey. Oh, and I got a massive freelance project to work on which has pretty much put paid to any blogging time. But it's the hottest day of the year - too hot to sit in the sun - and remembering the clean, fresh air of the alps while I try and cool down in the shade, added to a healthy dose of blogger's guilt, has combined to provide the perfect "I really should write that blog post" moment. So here goes...

The alps has been on my travel wish list for ages but without the funds to take the family skiing and the worry that it might be too wet for a summer holiday, we've never quite made it there. So I was pretty chuffed to stumble on bargain flights and even cheaper accommodation during a half-hearted internet browse one cold day in March. Turns out you can get to Alps for less than a grand if you travel out of the ski and peak summer seasons; as I was looking for May half term, prices were less than you'd pay for a week in Cornwall (whether this will be possible in a post-Brexit landscape, who knows...)

We bagged cheap flights from Bristol to Geneva and a fantastic deal on a mobile home through Eurocamp, bringing the total cost of 5 days' holiday - including car hire - to just over £700 for the four of us. I cannot recommend Eurocamp, Canvas or any of the outdoor holidays companies highly enough for helping to make family breaks more affordable. They can be expensive in the summer, but out of season there are some amazing deals to be had if you're prepared to stay in relatively basic accommodation and perhaps not have the full array of facilities at your disposal (pools may not be open, and other site facilities - shops, entertainment, etc - may be running to a more restricted schedule, for example.) We've stayed at other Eurocamp sites out of season (when we visited Paris and Normandy) so we knew what to expect. 

We stayed at the fantastic La Ravoire campsite, in the small village of Doussard overlooking Lake Annecy. The nearest airport is Geneva but be warned that if you plan to hire a car in Switzerland a new law came into force this year which makes it illegal to drive a Swiss rental car into either France or Italy...we were unaware of this but were advised to cross the 'quieter' border, however for peace of mind I'd advise checking this issue out when you book your car or requesting a car with a German or French number plate, rather than one emblazoned with a Swiss plate and CH stickers. 

The journey to Annecy is straight-forward and takes about an hour from Geneva. Our trip took in pretty much one whole side of the gorgeous lake which quickly counterbalanced any travel stresses - it's just spectacular. Our small site was perfect for our requirements - the lake was accessible by foot, there were two small pools on site (indoor and outdoor) a games room, playground and snack bar...perfectly adequate for our stay. We really liked this site; perhaps it was the compact size that the kids could explore unsupervised and the wonderful setting that really stood out, but it was also a very clean, orderly place, with helpful and efficient staff, as well as two of the best reps we've encountered on our many years holidaying with Eurocamp (a lovely husband and wife team, Karen and Colin, who were really visible and contactable on site.) 

Exploring this part of France is a real treat, with pretty lakeside towns to explore and mountains to ascend. Those in the know say that Annecy is one of the best places in the world to go paragliding and throughout the day you'll see the skies filled with colourful parachutes descending over the azure lake. We didn't quite have the stomach to try it ourselves, but we visited the village of Montmin, high up in the hills and a popular take-off point for those that do have the daredevil gene. If you don't, you get to gaze at the outstanding panoramic view of the lake, with just the gentle tinkling of cowbells in the background to distract you. It's a truly stunning place.

You should obviously visit Annecy itself during your stay. This picturesque lakeside town is heaving with character, defined by the canals that cross its centre, lined with restaurants, cafes and boutiques. A bit like Bruges or a small-scale Venice, the water is never far away, giving Annecy a true fairytale quality. As well as exploring the canals you can head to where the lake opens out and take a boat ride or hire a pedalo, neither of which are prohibitively expensive activities.

Be sure to visit Annecy by evening, too, when the restaurants come to life and the town bustles with activity. There's a huge choice of restaurants where you can sample the hearty fare of the Haute Savoie, including rich cheese-based dishes such as fondue and tartiflette (the latter is yum...just don't think of the calorie content.) Ice cream is also big in Annecy, plus we stumbled on the cutest Breton crepe restaurant, serving a huge variety of sweet and savoury options. This part of France is perhaps not the cheapest for eating out (we had a very expensive meal further up the lake at Doussard) but you are rewarded with delicious lake-fresh fish and amazing cheeses, such as the locally produced Reblochon. 

Other places to visit include the pretty lakeside village of Talloires and Conflans, a medieval village perched in the hills with a picturesque main square. If time and weather permits (it was too wet and overcast on the day we intended to visit) you could drive east towards Chamonix and Mont Blanc. No doubt spectacular on a clear early summer day, be prepared to pay some pretty serious cash if you want to take the family on any of the Mont Blanc attractions (the cable cars and trains seemed quite pricey to me.) 

In the other direction lies Chambery but we didn't want to make too long a journey so got our mountain fix in the lovely ski resort of La Clusaz, about an hour away from Annecy. It's a hairy ride if the cloud descends and the fog obscures the hairline bends (which it did on our journey) but worth the white knuckles if you're confident of driving in those sorts of conditions. Not being very acquainted with the whole skiing thing, we were interested to see what a ski resort looks like (minus the snow, of course) and enjoyed gazing at the typical cow-filled, chalet-studded Alpine scenery (as well as tucking into an epic lunch of more cheese, ham and potato rosti than I thought was humanly possible to consume.)

We returned from our Alpine adventure a little more intrigued by the idea of skiing and a lot more in love with this part of France. The perfect counterpoint to the relentless pace of urban life, we really slowed down on this holiday, took time to look at the sky and the mountains, and really savoured the atmosphere of one the most tranquil places we've visited. I think we'll be back..as long as low-cost travel is still a thing post-Brexit...

For more information about La Ravoire campsite, visit the Eurocamp website.

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