WHEN imagining that quintessential French holiday, Paris immediately comes to mind. However take a look beyond the beguiling City of Lights, and you will find France is a country full of many beautiful places waiting to be explored. And the city of Annecy, about 5 hours drive south of Paris is just one of those places you should experience.
Nestled at the southern tip of the azure waters of Lake Annecy, and framed by the majestic peaks of the Haute-Savoie region, Annecy is a bewitching city that embraces the true French provincial way of life.
In the city’s heart, the medieval village houses countless cafes nestled among pastel coloured buildings that line cobbled-stoned streets. Aperitifs can be sipped while watching resident white swans glide across near-still waters of ancient canals that sweep beneath centuries-old footbridges.
Annecy is also home to one of France’s most photographed monuments, the twelfth-century, Palais de l’Isle. Built in 1132, this ancient building sits in the centre of Thiou, the city’s most famous canal.The distinctive Palais de l’Isle, once the primary residence of the Lord of Annecy, became a jail from the Middle Ages until 1865. Classified as a Historical Monument in 1900, today it houses a local history museum and is a willing model for both amateur and professional photographers the world over.
For market lovers, the medieval village in the old town quarter comes alive three days a week. Here you can forage among stalls loaded with local produce and a mouthwatering array of cheeses, wine and freshly baked breads.
Although Annecy is said to be one of the most expensive places in France, a visit to this picturesque place won’t necessarily break the bank. Affordable accommodation can be found in Gites, rooms or fully self-contained apartments in local homes. They are a great way to experience the local culture and the helpful staff in the Tourism office located in the centre of town can assist with bookings.
Annecy is a city that caters to all seasons. In summer, kayaking, canoeing, cycling, hiking or recreational swimming can be enjoyed. Or for skiing buffs, Annecy is a great base during the winter months.The Olympic city of Albertville, or resorts such as Chamonix and the ultra-chic Megeve are only a short drive away. Along the way you can soak up the charm of provincial life by visiting the many charming villages and castles that dot the landscape.
Regardless of when you visit, you are sure to be embraced by the charm and beauty of this magical French city.
HERE’S a tip when travelling to Los Angeles, hire a car and drive.
Once a regular visitor to the City of Angels, I found driving a great way to explore the city and its surrounds. Signage is easy to follow as freeways are labelled numerically and by direction, which makes getting around quite easy and when it comes to hiring the car, the range is as big as everything else in the US of A.
On one trip, I cruised Hollywood Boulevard in a sleek black Hummer, which was fitting as while driving this infamous road I found myself caught up in a media frenzy courtesy of the latest Terminator movie premiere. With red carpet laid out and barricades in place, super sized limos were lined up outside the Kodak Theatre depositing the beautiful. For a moment I thought they mistook my black Hummer with tinted windows and a mysterious air as containing someone of interest, but no, I was waved on without thought.
On another trip my friend and I were given the choice of hiring either a red Dodge or a silver convertible Mustang, our choice was obvious for our trip to Santa Barbara and so we were soon driving along the 101 freeway with the roof down, while Bob Segar crooned to us about his love of Hollywood nights. From LA proper the 101 carves through the hills framing the Los Angeles basin and eventually hugs the coastline. This route is a pleasure to drive, even if you don’t have the luxury of a convertible.
After a few hours exploring the sights of Santa Barbara we were headed back to our base at Long Beach when the Mulholland Drive turnoff caught our eye. As this road is home to many famous people, an exploration of this area beckoned. But instead of Mulholland, a wrong turn had us navigating the Mustang around the winding Topanga Canyon Boulevard through the Santa Monica Mountains. Being late afternoon on a clear spring day the view we were afforded was nothing short of spectacular. We chose to take advantage of a lookout which offered the opportunity to stop and further take in the view of Los Angeles and its surrounds without fear of plummeting off the road into a rocky canyon below.
Our unexpected exploration of the mountains ended when Topanga Blvd deposited us onto the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), just north of Santa Monica and Third Street Promenade where a myriad of shops and restaurants awaited our patronage. With stomachs rumbling we settled on dining at Bravo, a quaint Italian restaurant. A good Pinot Grigio accompanied by a delicious serving of bruschetta as local buskers serenaded us in the relaxed atmosphere was just what the doctor ordered. As night descended, fairy lights illuminated the tree-lined promenade creating a wonderful ambience. To walk off our meal, we wandered past shops such as Abercrombie & Fitch, American Eagle, Gap, H&M and Victoria’s Secret.
Without the luxury of a car, we would not have had the opportunity to experience LA as we did, so when you are next in LA, drive. And if you do happen to find yourself a little lost or daunted by the freeways, stay positive as you could find yourself having more fun than expected.