Paris + Annecy Travel Tips
Alright friends… It’s time for a recap of our most recent trip to Europe. This time: FRANCE!
Unlike previous blog posts, I’m not going to do a day by day recap, because a lot of our days were spent wandering and relaxing without much of a schedule. BUT I will break down some of the logistics, some of our favorite things, and why we chose to do things the way we did.
First stop, Annecy.
A lovely, small city in the French alps. Known for its lake (Lac d’Annecy – the cleanest lake in Europe), its canals and colorful buildings (it’s known as the “Venice of the Alps”), and its food, primarily Savoyard cuisine.
Let’s jump right in.
I first saw Annecy on Instagram, and I was immediately hooked. The canals, the charming pastel buildings, the proximity to both mountains AND water (Tyler loves the mountains, I love the water)… It seemed perfect for both of us. It was a quiet alternative to spending a whole week in a big city like Paris without being too rural, and it had a great vacation vibe to it (maybe that had something to do with the neon blue water that looked like the Caribbean, I dunno….). Annecy is also home to one of the “best street markets in Europe” per the Michelin guide, so…. you know we were all over that.
Why did we really pick France? This was Tyler’s first trip to Europe. And while France is obviously beautiful and wonderful, it wasn’t at the very top of our bucket list, so it didn’t need to be the trip of a lifetime. I figured it would be a good first exposure for him to traveling in Europe, but we wouldn’t have too many expectations tied up in this trip. Everything didn’t need to be perfect, we just wanted something relaxing and romantic… And that’s what we got.
The best part of Annecy (and the part you see on Instagram) is the old city, and let me tell you… It’s pretty charming. The buildings really are as bright and colorful as they look in pictures, there really are street musicians playing accordions and cellos, and you really could spend a few days just wandering around canals and through tunnels and stumbling along cobblestone streets. The old city is small but dense – there are tons of restaurants and shops inside a relatively small area, so it is very walkable and easy to find your way around.
Transportation and flights: Instead of flying into Paris and taking a 3 hour train to get to Annecy, we flew into Geneva, and hired a taxi company to drive us into Annecy (which is only about a 45 minute drive). Because I was already familiar with Geneva, we originally planned to take a short train ride from the Geneva airport to the Geneva bus station, where we could take a bus to Annecy for about 20 euro per person. But we soon realized that those bus schedules weren’t published online until, like, 24 hours before. That seemed like too much of a risk, so we splurged on this taxi ride, and I’m so glad we did. We chose a company with drivers who spoke English, and a nice, spacious van picked us up after our flight (we landed at around 7:45AM) and we were inside our AirBnB in Annecy by 9:15 AM. For 100 euro and zero hassle after an 8 hour red eye, that taxi was worth it for us. We then felt like we got to start our trip with a full day in Annecy, and that was great.
We chose not to rent a car, and I’m glad we didn’t. You don’t need one here – Annecy is extremely walkable (we even walked to the train station to grab our train to Paris). Also, parking in the old city is not only nonexistent, but nearly impossible… We’re talking teeny tiny, narrow, cobblestone streets. When cars drive by in some areas of the old city, you have to flatten yourself up against the buildings. Yikes.
A quick non-sponsored digression – I would just like to give a quick shoutout to the Chase Sapphire Reserve card here. Because of this credit card, these flights were free (we paid with points) and we only opened that card about 6 months before booking those flights. This card also paid for our TSA precheck/global entry (which has always come in extremely handy) and gets us triple points on all travel and “eating out” purchases… So you better believe we racked up those points for our next trip while we were in France. I did a ton of research on travel credit cards before settling on this one, and I cannot tell you how glad I am that we went with this card. If you travel at all, you need this card. And if you want to get this card, shoot me an email and I’ll send you my bonus point code so we’ll both get an extra 10k bonus points.
Where we stayed: We decided to stay in an AirBnB in Annecy. Given the choice, I think I would do so again, purely because of the location (despite a few small issues with our AirBnB). The 2-3 main hotels in Annecy are technically in the old city, but they’re sort of on the outskirts. We stayed right in the middle of everything, in a very homey (and large, for Europe) apartment in a building that was about a million years old (because that’s about how old most of Annecy is). We didn’t have any issues with noise from the city – we just played our white noise app at night until things calmed down in the evenings, and woke up to church bells and chirping birds in the morning. Amazing. We also had a kitchen, so we could make some breakfasts and lunches with the food we got from the market (more on that below) – that saved us some money, and it was just nice to have. Our apartment also had… drumroll please… a THREE STORY PRIVATE GARDEN. Guys. This was amazing. And to top it all off, we were also directly above a gelato shop. Let’s just say we made friends there very quickly.
Highlights of Annecy:
- The food: It’s a unique experience eating in the Haute-Savoie region, and I’m really glad we did it. One awesome thing about visiting this particular region (I mentioned this in my Switzerland post, too) is that you can experience a lot of different types of cuisine in one area. You can find some phenomenal Italian food because you’re about 45 minutes from the border. Germany isn’t far, either, and you’re basically on the Switzerland border. So in one town, you get traditional French cuisine, Savoyard cuisine, Italian cuisine, and some Swiss and German cuisine. Pretty awesome.
- Favorite restaurants in Annecy: Le Petit Chalet for the mussels and the raclette (and the decor and service), Le Freti for tartiflette, and Rive Gauche for Italian. BEST gelato was at Le Palais des Glaces. We never tried Glacier des Alpes (the one everyone recommends) because the lines were so long, but I honestly cannot imagine how it could possibly be better than this stuff.
- The market: Just as incredible as we thought it would be, and very affordable. The market basically takes over the entire old city, so we’re talking miles of booths here. It’s a thing. They bring out the big guns for this market – you kind of feel like you’re walking through a very nice outdoor Whole Foods, meat cases and all. The market opens at 7AM, but most Europeans are still asleep at that hour. We got up and were ready to go around 6:45, and we were basically the only people there, which felt weird. So we bought some pastries, walked around the lake for a bit, and then came back around 9 and it was packed. You can get everything from local fish, meat, and cheese, to handmade jewelry and soaps.
- Favorite market purchases: Local jam, local cheese, a TON of cured meat, French soap, and some beautiful herbs.
- Renting a boat on the lake: Definitely a highlight of the trip. This was a splurge, too – about $175 for 3 hours – but it was an amazing way to see the region, and it was probably one of the prettiest things my eyes have ever rested on. We brought some champagne and a picnic out on the boat, had lunch, and went swimming. We went allll the way out into the middle of the lake so it was very, very quiet, and I’d recommend doing that because the boat traffic is a little crazy right around Annecy (all the boat rental places are in one area on the lake, so on a sunny day, it’s pretty packed).
- You have a bunch of choices when it comes to boat rentals and they’re all nearly the same price-wise. You don’t need a license for any of them, and they’re all just lined up in a row on the lake not far from the Pont des Amours.
- The beaches…?: I say this with a question mark because there aren’t really any sandy beaches on the lake. In Annecy, you’ll find more rocky beaches, grassy beaches, or docks you can swim off of… But we still had so much fun on our beach day. I did find one sandy beach that was about a 15 minute walk from the old town. It cost about 5 euro to get into the beach complex (there were volleyball courts, docks, large grassy beach areas, etc.), so on our beach day, we decided to head there. We swam off of the grassy beach first, and it was lovely! Then we tried to go to the sandy beach, and we found out it cost an additional 20 euro to get in there… BUT you can sit in the cabana area of that beach for free and order drinks to be brought to you, so we did that instead. We loved it, the bartender was very kind, and dang did they mix their drinks heavy.
- Favorite beach: Moon Beach (the one described above)
- Biking/hiking/outdoor activities: Annecy is a stop on the Tour de France, so biking was a must. We rented bikes one day and planned to bike about halfway around the lake, but were stopped halfway by a thunderstorm. Still, the bike paths around the lake are very well marked and well traveled, and it’s easy to stop in the smaller villages along the lake for a quick bite to eat or a glass of wine. For the most part, this isn’t super challenging cycling, so it’s a pretty leisurely activity. There’s also some great hiking in the area – the area around the lake has some cool trails, and you’re only about an hour’s drive from some great day hiking on Mont Blanc. (We had planned to rent a car to drive to Chamonix and hike a section of the Tour Du Blanc one day, and this was the only big bummer of the trip: rain in Chamonix forced us to cancel. Sad face. But the Tour Du Blanc is on our list to do soon, so we’ll be back!)
- Nightlife: Loved it. The city comes alive at night, but wasn’t super rowdy.
- Favorite bars: Beer O’Clock for tasting some local beers, Les Caves du Chateau for wine
- The views: You’re in the alps. It’s beautiful. And while these are definitely the lower Alps, they’re still breathtaking, especially set behind that beautiful neon blue water. We did a lot of just sitting by the lake eating pastries and quiches and drinking champagne. (In fact we did that so much, we also made a friend at the liquor store – is that bad?)
- The people: I cannot overstate how kind and sweet the locals were. While Annecy did feel a little more crowded than I expected (but still very manageable) and slightly more touristy than I expected, we had some wonderful conversations with some of the nicest people I’ve encountered in any part of Europe. This really surprised me (the French are supposed to be rude, right??). Annecy is a warm, homey place, and for the most part, everyone’s English was phenomenal. We made friends with some vendors at the market, some curators at the Chateau d’Annecy museum, the liquor store, our favorite patisserie, and the gelato shop. I do think that part of this was because we always at least tried to speak French with people in shops and restaurants. I think if we had just barged in speaking English, things would’ve been different. So learn a few key phrases before you go, try to at least ask for a table and order your meal in French, and you’ll be fine.
And now… onto Paris!
We just had a few days in Paris, and there are plenty of other resources out there if you’re planning your first trip to Paris. So here are just a few of my overall thoughts:
- First of all, I cannot recommend the Hotel St. Jacques more highly. SUPER old and charming, beautiful rooms (most with balconies!), and all 4 of the different concierges that we encountered were exceptionally kind and helpful, even at 2 AM. They booked our aipport transportation, gave us advice on where to eat, allowed us to stow our bags in a safe, locked room before check in…. Our experience with them was actually a highlight of our time in Paris. Keep an eye out for deals with them on Booking.com, and if one comes up (or even if it doesn’t) GO FOR IT. Also, an Audrey Hepburn movie was filmed there. So cool.
- We loved staying in St. Germain/the Latin Quarter (we were right on the border, so I’m not really sure which one we were actually in). It’s a super pretty and quiet neighborhood, and our hotel was very convenient to two different metro stations. You’re not quite walking distance to the Eiffel Tower, but you are definitely walking distance to Notre Dam, Luxembourg Gardens, the Louvre, Jardin des Tuileries, and the Musee d’Orsay.
- Taking the train into Paris is super easy. We walked to our hotel from the train station and while it was a super long walk, it was really nice to see the city that way.
- The metro in Paris is also very easy, and felt very safe. We just went with the paper tickets rather than getting a metro card which worked out fine, just make sure you throw out your used paper tickets after you’re finished with them so you don’t mix up new and old tickets! (I did that. Had to toss my wallet over the ticket barrier to Tyler so he could buy another ticket when we had a perfectly good pre-purchased ticket… sitting back in our hotel room.)
- Buy something from the bouquinistes. My goodness, how charming…
- See the sights, but be prepared for HOARDS of tourists around the museums and the Eiffel tower, especially on Saturdays. We did the Musee d’Orsay instead of the Louvre, and I’m glad we did. It was very manageable and easy to do in a few hours, as opposed to the Louvre (where you could probably spend weeks wandering around and still not see everything). Big thanks to my dear friend Amilia for this recommendation ;)
- Be ready to repeatedly turn down people trying to sell you alcohol/souvenirs around the Eiffel tower. We didn’t encounter a ton of this in the rest of the city, though, which was nice.
- Take a riverboat cruise AT NIGHT! I know this sounds touristy, but we went at night and the entire lower level of our boat was empty. We even found a little balcony off to the side, and it felt like we had the whole boat to ourselves. Amazing.
- Personally, we found the Charles du Gaulle airport to be kind of confusing, but that might be because we were arriving at the airport at 4:00AM after being up all night. Still, just plan for some time to figure things out if you’re departing from CDG. (We were also flying on a Norwegian Air flight that was operated by United, so figuring out which terminal we needed to be in when none of the help desks were staffed so early in the morning was stressful.)
- Favorite restaurants: Crêperie Framboise near the Eiffel Tower for crepes, The Smith’s Bakery in St. Germain for breakfast, Le Comptoir in St. Germain for traditional French cuisine!
PHEW. I think that about covers it! Overall, we had a wonderful experience in France. The Savoyard region is beautiful, the people were lovely, and for Tyler, I think it was the perfect place to go for his first trip to Europe. I’m glad we crossed it off of our list :)