An Exceedingly Humble Guide [Part One]: Annecy

Dear reader, it is to you, the curious and enlightened, that these exceedingly humble guides are addressed. Truly they are intended to be amicable, for in the wake of such novelties as the Internet and television this culture finds itself lacking in goodwill and classical sensibilities. Surely there is no better way to restore them than to become acquainted with France—that heart of classical beauty. France is a country rich in history, culture, and diversity. Therefore, it would behoove you to explore it a little, either in person or in contemplation.

Furthermore, dear reader, if you ever happen to find yourself working in the French Alps as an English teaching assistant, you shall find the following guides to be of especially great utility (and they may mirror your experiences). In such a circumstance, you will be working only twelve hours a week in a tiny city, and you will have both the time and the desire to organize some excursions; your only hindrance shall be your pocketbook. Without further ado, here is the first episode.

Annecy is the most beautiful city in France.

Actually, upon further reflection, Annecy is the most beautiful city on planet earth.

Actually this second claim could be considered modest: while science has yet to explore extrasolar planets and the potential civilizations thereupon, it seems probable that Annecy is a significant contender for the most beautiful city in the observable universe.

If you, dear reader, are in the region of Savoy someday, you will be humbled by the mere thought of your proximity to Annecy. As it is only a short train ride away from where you might reside, you will no doubt make multiple pilgrimages to adore this crown jewel of a city. Truly you will be a pilgrim, for there are no tourists in a settlement as glorious and hallowed as Annecy.

If you arrive by train and intend to make your way into the town center, you will be greeted shortly by Annecy’s picturesque canals, the first of many gifts this place will bestow on you. These waterways of the Thiou River, while few, form the vital arteries of this city of fifty thousand. The pristine alpine currents of the canals put to shame the matrices of lagoon and rubbish found in Stockholm, Amsterdam, or Venice. 


The Thiou River


These arteries are lined not with flesh but with benevolent walkways and delightful houses, whose walls of windows sometimes push right up to the water. It is common to see these paths and bridges filled with booths from which locals sell their foods and wares. There is one particular booth that traffics in Native American flute covers of such classics as, My Heart Will Go On. The vendor is generous enough to project this music, filling the air with a soundtrack perfectly suited to a French mountain town.


Street markets


Follow the current upstream, and you will eventually arrive at the Lac d’Annecy. If the canals are the arteries of Annecy, the lake is its heart. What was one of the most polluted bodies of water in France fifty years ago is now crystal clear and exceptionally pure. The lake is hemmed in by Annecy on one side and a crown of mountains on the other. On a calm day, you can witness the breathtaking marriage of peak and heaven numinously mirrored on the surface of the water. Truthfully, the allure of Annecy does depend largely on the weather. There is, however, only one imaginable reason that the Fates could deliver anything but beautiful conditions to Annecy’s shores: jealousy.


Lac d'Annecy


Dear reader, there is no greater temporal pleasure than to stroll along the edge of the Lac d’Annecy. If you follow the path northward, you will encounter the Pont des Amours: the Lovers’ Bridge. It arches over the tree-bordered Canal du Vassé, simultaneously dramatic and humble. Here, like on all of Annecy’s waters, pairs of swans pass the time together. Of course, they are not the only ones! Any place called the Lovers’ Something is bound to attract lovers; it is not so much descriptive as prophetic. These couples are frequently seen gazing into each other’s eyes, holding hands, and (even!) kissing. It is also common for lovers to take self-portraits with their portable telephones—framed by a flawless backdrop worthy of their everlasting commitment.


Canal du Vassé


If you have the good fortune of making a pilgrimage to Annecy, you will encounter no shortage of attractions. After all, such a destination is certain to have many other pilgrims, each demanding as much entertainment as the last. Go visit the Château d’Annecy: the previous residence of Geneva’s nobility is filled with historical objects, as well as windows so clean that American girls are prone to collide into them with great force in their haste to take a picture of the view. Explore the Palais de l’Île: a really really old building whose purpose is difficult to understand but whose charm is not. Absorb one of the most transcendent sunsets of your entire life while resting in a field of perfect grass.


Palais de l'Île

Dear reader! There is one last attraction that absolutely necessitates your attention. It could only be the last subject of this humble guide, for it dwarfs all other natural and cultural treasures found in Annecy. In the old quarter, past the clock tower, nestled on the first floor of a building from the seventeenth century, is a boulangerie. This bakery is unlike any other bakery anywhere, because it produces what can only be described as the apex of the culinary arts and the human experience of taste: the maxi pain au chocolat. Not only is this French pastry infinitely superior to its bumbling Anglophone cousin, the chocolate croissant, its dimensions are unparalleled in the history of mankind. The maxi pain au chocolat alone, dear reader, justifies any amount of effort required to visit this corner of our planet!


The Supreme Maxi Pain au Chocolat

An apology is warranted here: perhaps it was imprudent to begin the series with this installment. It is likely that now every successive guide will pale in comparison to Annecy, the most beautiful city in the observable universe. 

Panorama at sunset