Thursday, July 8, 2010

Annecy, France (Part I)

I spent most of last week in southeastern France—the Savoie region of the French Alps bordering Switzerland and part of Italy. Specifically, my destination was the city of Annecy.

Savoie is the region where my holy patron St. Francis de Sales (whose name I took when I made temporary vows) lived for most of his life (b.1567, d.1622). The patron saint of writers and the Catholic press, for the last 20 years of his life he was bishop of Geneva—but lived in and presided from Annecy because of the Calvinist stronghold in Geneva during the Reformation.

Annecy is about 30 miles south of Geneva on the northwest tip of Lake Annecy, which sparkles with the cleanest fresh water I have ever seen. I traveled there by train, about a six-hour ride from Einsiedeln through Zurich, Bern, and along the northern shore of Lake Geneva into Geneva and then south into France. Annecy is about 90 miles east of Lyon.

Today, I thought I would simply post some information about Annecy along with some photos. In a separate post in the near future I will mention a little more about Francis de Sales and my spiritual pilgrimage of sorts in Annecy.

Annecy is a very popular tourist area—more so for nearby French, Swiss, or Italian residents than for international tourists, I believe (although I did encounter some British citizens). It has a lot of old-world charm, and would probably be a good spot for a honeymoon. It is popularly referred to as the “Venice of Savoie” because of Le Thiou canal that runs through the city’s center (first photo). Adorned with flowers and iron rails, crossed by stone bridges, and managed with waterfalls and locks, the canal is lined with sidewalk cafes and restaurants. As one dines, it is not uncommon to see a swan or two glide by in the canal.

It is a very old city. Many of the buildings date to medieval times, although the area shows evidence of being settled much earlier. Jutting into the narrow cobblestone streets are ramparts and colored stucco buildings covered with ivy (many now housing shops, bars, hotels, restaurants, souvenir stores, and, yes, gelato stands). There are also a number of old churches, but I will post later on that.

If you are into medieval castles, the Savoie region is a good place to see them. There are several in the Annecy area and surrounding countryside (including the birthplace of Francis in Thorens). Hanging over the town of Annecy is an imposing castle around which the town arose (second photo). Through the centuries, it has housed a number of lords, dukes, counts, and other such notables (peasants like me would have lived in the town below—or worse). One of the city’s landmarks is the Palais de L’ Isle (third photo). It is a little island castle seemingly cutting through the canal like a ship. For centuries it was a dungeon. Later it was an “old folks” home. Can you imagine?

An enormous park on the city’s edge looks out over the lake (fourth photo). The more sporting types hang out here. Jogging and biking trails, rollerblading—you name it. I am not sure what to call some of the things I witnessed going on there—all in good fun, of course. The lake beckons with sailboats, rowboats, pleasure boats, and fishing boats, and hiking trails wind through and up the surrounding mountains.

However, except for the abundant gelato shops (a pleasant surprise!), I did not partake much in these aspects of Annecy. I came to the city for St. Francis de Sales. More on that later …


John said...

Wonderful post, gives a good sense of the city -- I think -- having never been to Europe! The more I know of history, the more I love the Catholic church.

Waiting for Part II.

Br. Francis de Sales Wagner, O.S.B., said...

Thank you.

Br. Francis