Annecy is a small French town approximately 1 hours’ drive south of Geneva. It is surrounded by mountains and has a large lake called Lake Annecy, funnily enough. It’s an outdoor activity holiday haven, with so much on offer and amazing scenery to do it in. In the winter there are ski resorts nearby and in the summer you can do everything from sailing, swimming, hiking, paragliding, cycling, mountain climbing and pretty much anything else in between.
Why go to Lake Annecy?
I went to Annecy at the end of May. The idea was to go there for a training weekend because my friend and I had entered a triathlon race so we wanted to get some swimming, cycling and running practice in where it was made for it. Annecy looked like a perfect spot because we could cycle up into the mountains, run around the lake and swim in Lake Annecy.
The lake has a smooth cycle path running all the way around it, which is 45km long. The path runs right alongside the lake for the most part so you can enjoy the views across the lake with the mountains in the background while cycling. For the more adventurous, there are some seriously good, steep climbs around the area. Some of the routes have been used in recent years of the Tour de France.
Cycling in Annecy
It really is a cyclists paradise in Annecy and the surrounding areas. There are roads going high up into the mountains, such as the road from Annecy to Le Semnoz which has a ski station at the top. During the summer months there are hardly any cars on these roads so you have a peaceful ride ahead of you.
Before I went cycling in Annecy I did some research and found this cycling website which has some very good details about some routes you might like to ride around the area.
We rode on three different days while we were there, so I’ll go over each one in a little more detail and include some tips and advice from my experience.
Start: Lake Annecy, 214m
Summit: Le Semnoz, 1,496m
Elevation Gain: 1,282m
This route starts right in Annecy itself and follows a D41 road all the way up to a ski station called Le Semnoz. For someone who is used to cycling in London where the steepest hills are only about 200 metres long, this was a wake-up call! The climb is 18km long and is just one long, relentless hill. Just when you think it can’t be much further you turn a corner to be faced with another long stretch of uphill road. You just keep on the same road all the way up to the top where you will eventually turn a corner to see the ski station.
The route goes through forests and there are very few cars on the roads so it’s peaceful and when you get a break in the trees the views over Annecy are stunning. The road surfaces are really good, no major potholes, cracks or dodgy drain covers to get your wheel stuck in. They are certainly much better than the roads in London.
Top Tip: If you get up quite high and you are in the clouds, and it’s snowing, cold and wet and you do not have the correct clothing for the weather make sure you turn back. We didn’t because we wanted to get to the top and we were hot because we were working hard to climb. The problem was coming back down, our hands were so cold we had to stop every minute or so to warm them up. It was really bad. There was snow on the ground and it was snowing so the signs were there, we just didn’t take notice of them.
Because of the cold we had to go really slowly to prevent the wind chill against our hands. We averaged 11kph down the mountain which is about the same speed we had gone up it!
Annecy – Thones – Faverges – Montmin
Summit 1: Thones
Summit 2: Montmin
Elevation Gain: 2,000m
Because of our adventure the previous day we decided that we didn’t want to head up too high into the clouds where it would be freezing cold, snowing and possibly raining. We had a look at the map and decided to take on a slightly different route and allow ourselves to go up higher if the weather was good. This was our route:
We started off with a gentle cycle around from our hotel on the west side of Lake Annecy to the east side and up towards a place called Thones. The roads are great, few cars and if you have a TT bike you can really get some good time in down in the aero cockpit! There is only around 200m of climbing so it’s not much over that distance. The route then takes you back down into Faverges, where you can either ride back to Annecy or tackle another climb. We opted to tackle another climb as the weather was really good.
So we made our way up from Faverges to a place called Montmin. It’s a really steep incline in places, up to 13%. It’s a killer on your legs and you will definitely need all of those gears. On our way up we had seen a lot of vans going past with paragliding equipment on them. As we got higher we saw that there were a lot of gliders around the area as it was a great point to jump off at the top and the views of the lake and surrounding mountains was amazing.
The way back down was really fast! The descents are amazing, the roads very good so you don’t have to worry as much about potholes. At one stage we had caught up to a BMW 6 series in front and were stuck behind him, we were much faster than him. He ended up pulling over to let us overtake him! We finished the day off with a well-deserved meal.
Just a word of warning, if you have all the aero gear you might find you get extreme speed while descending…You have been warned!
Getting to Annecy
We decided to drive from London to Annecy, and use the Euro tunnel. Two pieces of advice about driving.
1) Don’t put your expensive bike on a roof rack
2) Don’t forget that you put your expensive bike on the roof rack. More on that later…
The drive was actually OK, apart from the satellite navigation deciding that going through Paris was the best route because it wasn’t. We were stuck there for a while in heavy traffic when we could have just gone a slightly longer but quicker way around.
The roads in France are amazing. The motorways were smooth with few cars on them. Maybe one explanation is that they cost a lot to go on them. They seem to be mainly toll roads, unless we missed a trick and should have gone round…? The drive from Calais to Annecy cost around 60 Euros. We were stuck at 80mph though because of the bike on the roof.
Swimming in Lake Annecy
The water in Lake Annecy is reported to be one of the clearest in Europe and I can confirm that it is incredibly clear. You could see the bottom of the lake very easily. The water from the lake also meanders through channels throughout the small town, under bridges and besides houses. It looks clean enough to drink. It really is amazingly clear.
We were planning on going swimming in the lake until we found out that the water temperature was only 11 degrees. That’s really cold in case you were wondering and is no fun at all. Luckily we found a 50m outdoor swimming pool (heated, I should add…) where we could train in our wetsuits for just 4 Euros. The place was called Piscine des Marquisatsmore and is right next to Annecy. Apparently it is filled with the water from Lake Annecy.
Back on Home Ground
All in all we had a really good trip. The weather for the first couple of days was bad but it certainly got better and good enough for us to get some good hill climbing in. I feel as though since I have been back there is no hill that I cannot take on much more easily now. Nothing can compare to those steep mountain climbs.
On our way back we were feeling a little hungry after getting off the Eurotunnel so decided to stop off at the first service station for a KFC. We saw one pretty much straight away and pulled in. Unfortunately I had forgotten about the bike on the roof and there were some stupidly placed height restriction barriers at the ends of each row for parking…As I drove underneath the barrier there was an almighty crashing sound, which was my friend’s bike being ripped away from the roof and bouncing off the rear of the car! I stopped, we got out to see his bike dangling by the back wheel which was still attached to the roof rack, swinging back and forth scraping against the paintwork…
As we sat there silently eating our very expensive KFC, with just the sounds of the arcade machines ringing in the background of the deserted service station, we assessed the damage. It was terminal. The bike was a one piece carbon frame and it had been cracked. Even if it was repairable it would never be the same again. So we moved on, and started to think about upgrades…The first one that came to mind was a rear mounting bike rack!