After leaving the quiet beauty of Serrières we drove over and down the mountain to reach the neat, bustling town of Annecy. The only central carpark suitable for motorhomes that we knew of was full to bursting and the busy traffic dissuaded us from attempting to stop elsewhere. We were staying close by and could return easily by bike, a much more convenient way to see the main town. We had booked ourselves in for four nights at a campsite, Les Rives du Lac on the western lake shore, one with a private beach, taking full advantage of their last days of cheap ACSI rates before peak season began. We serviced and signed in and were given a prime spot, with shade, only a few spaces from the beach that we soon snuggled into and called home. Then we were off to survey our domain.
We scanned the site and were quietly amazed with the mountainous backdrop behind the shimmering blue lake, and smiled smugly that this was our home for a few days. After an enjoyable celebratory night chilling, we got up early the next day for the short cycle into Annecy town, as it was their market day. It was an easy cycle on a well-utilised cycle path, with many joggers, bikers, walkers, rollerblading maniacs and even the odd summer cross-country skier rolling along its smooth tarmac. We passed a long line of almost static traffic heading into the centre and were glad to be able to roll past it easily under our own steam. After spinning around the lake frontage and through several busy and beautiful parks, we locked our bikes up next to a quiet portion of canal and walked to the historic centre.
There was a sudden explosion of noise and colour as we reached the covered markets, along with a huge increase in English being spoken, although mostly with American accents. We followed the stalls along winding streets, dodging the crowds and taking in the wares. The centre was as curving, winding and steep as any medieval centre we had walked before, interesting and fresh. The managed rivers had piercing blue water that defined each scene, lifting each vista to a different level. We walked up a steep, narrow pathway to reach the Château d’Annecy in the heart of the old town, before dropping back down into the heart of the market stalls. We later passed a complicated fish sculpture exhibit being slowly built over the water near le Palais de L’Île, its very construction drawing in a crowd.
We returned to our bikes and cycled slowly, always aware of the milling crowds around us and giving ourselves time to observe the local sunning rituals. Every small patch of grass in the burning sun was filled with supine, unclothed bronzing bodies soaking up the intense heat. We passed the casino on the north shore and reached a packed public beach where we joined the party, found a space and began our personal sun worshipping. We had a few refreshing dips in the shallow lake, so necessary to cool our burning skin. We ate snacks listening to the conversation buzz of locals at lunch. On our return we were passed on the cycle path by a few road bikers in time-trialling mode, and considered attempting a chase, but thought better of it on our rickety old mountain bikes. We’ll get ‘em next time.
Arriving back at base, we rewarded ourselves with more dips to cool off, reading and relaxing on the beach in proper holiday mode. The beach led straight into a lake of soft sand. Its texture was like groping mud, offering a weird gripping sensation on our skin as it enveloped our sinking feet. We could swim 300 or 400m out from the pontoon and still stand up, the whole beach basin was like a wave pool of constant depth of 1.5m, with a soft, sandy bottom. We later sat in the shade, drinking chilled wine and picking at bruschetta as small birds hopped around on our pitch, searching for discarded crumbs, showing no fear. It sparked memories of afternoon tea at Grantchester Meadows near Cambridge where greedy birds once ate cake crumbs right from our hands one glorious summer afternoon.
Another day we got up earlier than is usual for us, ate a small, quick breakfast and set off down to the pontoon. We had planned a longer swim in the still morning waters before the wind picked up and lifted the surface waves to a sea-like chop. We set off for a distant beach we could see across the curving bay, having no idea how far it was away. We were coolly passed by three ladies on SUPs as we swam, along with happily floating coots and grebes, all with cute young. Sun-worshippers lay supine on their anchored small leisure boats, incuriously watching us go by. The beach turned out to be almost a mile from our pontoon, or 1580m as measured on my watch, it attached to the handle on Nicky’s visibility tow float rather than my wrist for a more accurate read. We exited the water to rest a little.
We paused here for a few minutes, watching a small, vocal group undertake lifeguard training. A Dutch couple sat near us on the beach with their fun-loving black collie, throwing a ball into the lake. Two floppy ears approached us out of the water and with a very friendly manner proceeded to shake themselves dry all over us, to much hilarity. We took this as a sign to get ourselves back in the water and dropped in from an old concrete digue to begin our swim back. The waves had picked up in the time we had sat, so rather than stopping for casual sight-seeing as we did on the way out, we swam straight and true, back to base. We climbed back out onto our pontoon with a little over 3km swam, in beautifully clear 24deg water, feeling buzzed and happy. And it was time for second breakfast.
Another day we decided to try the voie verte in the opposite direction to Annecy, to reach the village of Duignt. A pleasant ambling along the traffic-free cycleway brought us to the shadow of an impressive château, set on a narrow peninsula, although it was privately owned and inaccessible. Deciding we had better places to swim, and to not linger due to the busy through-road, we instead detoured through the lovely village centre, replete with colourful hanging baskets. We meandered through their ancient streets then returned to our campsite, to enjoy chilling for the remainder of the day. We spent time planning out longer swims to various spots we could see around the lake, but ones we may never find the dedication to undertake. It was all too easy to slide into doing as little as possible.
On our last night, we packed up slowly over the day, then sun-bathed and swam for much of the afternoon. This wasn’t like us at all, but the sun was too repressive to attempt much more. Later after dinner we returned and sat at the water to watch the slow red glow light up the faces of the mountain rock opposite. The next morning we slipped out and got back on the road, but we were not finished with the lake just yet. After discounting stopping at a golf course, we parked on the side of the road and walked back to a set of stone steps leading up through a tall retaining wall to reach a path into the Réserve Naturelle du Roc de Chère. We followed shady woodland tracks through the park, searching for a way to drop down to the coast of the lake. We eventually found a route that would serve us.
We followed a steep downhill path with metal bars drilled into the cliff face to assist descent, finding a glorious swim spot. White rocks and clear blue water combined to create a special corner of coastline, perfect for a cooling dip after a hot, hilly walk. Bikinied girls sitting chatting on SUPs glided past, and a bearded guy on a small sail dingy nodded a hello. After drying off, the path led into Talloires town centre. This was the posh end of Annecy, with a scattering of high-priced hotels and neat restaurants. We heard American accents pass us by, them seeing Annecy through a different, more monied lens. There was a gyrating patchwork of colourful paragliders circling the nearby peaks above us, and new wooden pontoons with sunning bodies lying all over them. A scene of casual perfection.