Not much beats cycling around the Annecy region. Well, maybe eating freshly made nutella and banana crepes after cycling around Annecy. That might do it.
Annecy is an alpine town in southeastern France, 40km south of Geneva. It sits on what is rumoured to be the cleanest lake in France, although I was told this by my Airbnb host so maybe this was just a bit of marketing speak. Whether true or not, I can attest to the lake being absolutely stunning, and I didn’t see one cigarette butt floating in it.
We spent three nights in Annecy in June this year on our Nice to Milan cycling tour. The town is often referred to as the “Venice of the Alps”. Canals run through the beautiful old centre that is set a stone's throw from the lake. An impressive castle set high above the city shadows the old town, and you could easily while away an afternoon wandering the narrow streets, or chilling in the lovely park that flanks the water’s edge.
Annecy was our first proper rest stop on the trip and we planned to simply relax and catch up with a friend who lived in the area.
However when we arrived we realised what a fabulous area it is for cycling. The lake is 14km in length and high mountains rise up from it’s crystal clear shores. We’d just cycled down from Albertville after three big days in the Alps. Our legs were crying out for a rest, but it was hard to resist the call of the mountains.
If you are thinking about visiting the area with your bike, here are my top ride suggestions:
The Lakeside loop
Distance: 42 km
Elevation: 464 m
Difficulty: One croissant
We were pleased to find that a 42km flat cycle path circumnavigates the lake. Perfect for our weary legs. We caught up with a friend who lives in the area and she took us on a guided tour around the lake. The path was not particularly busy when we were there in June, however I can imagine it may be a different story in July/August when the Summer holidays are in full swing. It is a two way path dedicated to bikes that is mostly off the road, however there are a few spots where you do enter the road again, so be careful of traffic.
If you ride clockwise from the centre of Annecy (towards Talloires) you skip the one and only hill. Well, there is still one little bump but it’s not much compared to the Alps around you. If you go in this direction you get to fly down what would be a short climb if you’d chosen to ride anti-clockwise
We stopped in Talloires for a coffee as it’s right on the water and has a few good cafe options with lovely views.
One thing to watch for is eager cycling bunches who seem to use the path for their training rides (who knows why as there are more appropriate roads that don’t have so many tourists tootling around...but maybe none of them are flat…?) If you don’t single up and get out of the way quickly you will probably get cursed at.
We finished the ride at Wyn Restaurant for a steak and glass of rose. Bliss.
Lake to Lake: Annecy to Yvoire via the Valley Verte.
Distance: 95km (one way)
Difficulty: Three croissants
If you want to try a longer ride, then I’d highly recommend cycling over to Yvoire via the Vallee Verte (Green Valley). We did this en route to Switzerland, but if time permits you could stay in Yvoire and cycle back to Annecy the next day, or if not do a round trip if your legs are up for it. Another option would be to ride back to Geneva and catch the train to Annecy.
This ride is lumpy. The first and second half are almost mirror images of each other. It’s basically climb, descend, climb, descend...repeat. The climbs are not steep and are generally not much more than 7-8 km long. If you start early on a clear day the first 20kms are just beautiful as you climb your way through the forested hills away from the lake.
You soon leave the high mountains behind you and the countryside turns into rolling hills that are incredibly green. Hence the name I guess. Some parts of the ride are quite exposed, so if it’s a hot day beware and make sure you take lots of water and wear sunscreen.
One of the highlights is when you come to the top of the final big climb and are welcomed by views of Lake Geneva stretching out in front of you. From there it’s a great descent down to the lake and your final destination. Yvoire is a lovely little tourist town on the lake. It’s smaller than Annecy, but well worth a lunch stop.
We stopped en route in Bonneville which is a rather ugly commercial town, but we had the best pain au chocolat of the trip there! If you are passing through make sure you stop in to La Maison des Pains on the outskirts of town and try the pastries. So good. I think we ate six.
Distance: 16 km
Difficulty: Three croissants
If you want to experience the lake from above, a ride up to Semnoz is a must-do. Pack your climbing legs as this is an HC climb, 16 km in length (when cycling from Annecy) with an average gradient of 7%. This climb featured in the 2013 Tour de France where Nairo Quintana attacked from the group he was in with Chris Froome and won the stage.
We didn’t actually do this one as we decided to rest our legs, but next time we’ll put it on the list. Apparently the views of the lake from top are pretty epic, but it’s deceptively brutal.
2013 Etape du Tour route: Annecy to Annecy-Semnoz
Difficulty: As many croissants as you want!
If you want a big challenge, then you could take on the route that was featured as stage 20 of the Tour de France in 2013. The 127 km ride starts in Annecy and finishes up at Semnoz. It’s basically a circuit as you can cruise back down to Annecy after you finish the final climb.
There are only three categorised climbs over the 130kms circuit, but don’t become complacent as there are a few uncategorised climbs that will sap your strength.
You will only have a few kilometers to warm up before you hit the Cote de Puget which is 5.4km at an 5.8 percent average gradient. After this there are a trio of climbs - the Col de Leschaux, Cote de Aillons-le-Vieux and Col de Pres that lead to the second categorised climb - the Col du Mont Revard which is 16kms at a 5.4 percent average gradient.
The final climb is the Semnoz which from this direction is 11km long with an average gradient of 8.3 percent.
I’m pretty sure you will be ready for a aperol spritz after this!
And if your legs haven’t had enough…
You can always hire a paddle boat and pedal your way around the lake. A dip in the chilly water is the perfect way to refresh those tired muscles!