By Tuula Rampont
It may surprise many to know that one of the nicest places to live in France is not along the sparkling coast of the Côte d’Azur, nor along the elegant boulevards of the City of Light. While splashy scenes of resort towns along the French Rivera are easy to imagine, as are nights on the town in cosmopolitan Paris, it’s arguably harder to connect the French lifestyle with cozy, lakeside living near the Swiss border.
Annecy, a dynamic, incredibly scenic town—tucked away in the mountains of the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region—was recently selected by a well-known French newspaper (Le Journal du Dimanche) as the best place to live in all of France.
The town is a rare gem when it comes to lifestyle options—for French residents and expats alike. Nicknamed the “Venice of the Alps”, Annecy enjoys an exceptional geographic location, allowing locals to participate in a diverse range of seasonal activities. Facing the formidable peaks of Mount Veyrier and Mount Baret, the historic center of town lies on the north and west banks of Lake Annecy—a large natural lake nestled among the mountains.
A bike trail encircles the lake, with boating, hiking, picnicking, and sunbathing among some of the favorite lakeside activities.
In winter, the snowcapped mountains are visible from the old town, when skiing and winter sports are the ordre du jour. Although, many inhabitants may prefer to stay close to home. The Vieille Ville (historic center), with its cobblestoned streets and pastel-hued, half-timber homes, is a magical picture of small-town French living. Flower-lined canals cap the scene, with a series of pedestrian bridges lending to the visual appeal of the historic center.
Retire in Annecy, France
When considering retirement in Annecy, expect a lifestyle rich in outdoor activities and social engagements. The town attracts sports lovers and connoisseurs of fine-living alike. Several sports complexes can be found near the historic center, including a municipal pool, tennis courts, and stadium area (Parc des Sports d’Annecy) which hosts track and field events, soccer, and rugby matches. The town’s soccer team, Football Club d’Annecy, plays in the stadium, and the complex also welcomes boules (petanque or bocce ball) competitions, tennis, and handball matches.
Annecy can be called the ville d’associations—city of clubs. The town’s official website lists 287 of them. Sports and leisure activities are widely represented (ice hockey, skiing, table tennis, bridge, squash, cycling, hiking, boating, and kayaking), with cultural associations coming in a close second. Patrons of the arts will lean to clubs like Amis du Patrimoine (Friends of the Arts), which supports Annecy’s local museums and proposes cultural visits, trips, and conferences. The group, Agitateurs de Rêves (Dream Shakers) promotes the performing arts and local theatrical productions
Retirees will also appreciate the dynamic restaurant and culinary scene. Given its regional and national popularity, Annecy has an abundance of excellent dining options. Everything from traditional bistro settings—featuring the hearty, French comfort foods of the Haut-Savoie—to 3-star Michelin dining is available. The historic center is a pleasant maze of wine bars, bakeries, cafés, and pastry shops.
Annecy can be reached by high-speed train from Paris (Gare de Lyon station) in around four hours, and several regional trains depart daily for Geneva, Switzerland—an hour-and-a-half trip. The town is served by three national freeways and a multitude of lesser highways. Residents enjoy efficient bus transportation, as well as a bateaux-navettes—boat shuttles that carry passengers to small towns and villages along Lake Annecy (Sévrier, Saint-Jorioz, Duingt, Doussard, Talloires).
Lifestyle in Annecy, France
In Annecy, you’ll find a decidedly elevated style of living. Although the town is surrounded by beautiful natural settings, it maintains a certain level of elegance not seen in other retirement destinations around France. While Southern France tends to be laidback and a bit unbridled, the region of Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes is quite low-key. Residents take advantage of activities in the great outdoors, but are also attuned to the finer aspects of French life. You’ll notice that great attention is paid to food presentation and dining, from the vibrant stalls at the weekly markets, to the windows of award-winning pastry chefs who have decided to call the town their home. Annecy is an aesthetically pleasing town, from top to bottom.
With such a diversity of activities to take advantage of, the days are never boring. You can imagine leisurely mornings at the market, picking up a few provisions for an afternoon picnic along the lake. In the evening, take a dinner cruise, or stay in town for an aperitif at a local wine bar. Take in a theater performance or pop-in for the latest exhibition at Annecy’s “castle-museum.” Other days, you might meet friends at the tennis club, or perhaps take a boat shuttle to Talloires—opting for lunch and a stroll through the streets of this exceedingly pretty lakeside village. Well-known locally, and internationally, Talloires is the site of Tufts University’s European Center.
Finally, retirees should anticipate a climate in line with Annecy’s mountainous location. Winter is cold and snowy, and the summer season is characteristically mild, with occasional storms. Additionally, the town had a significant summer tourist season which is a bit outside the norm for other cities in the Alpes region.
Cost of Living in Annecy, France
Annecy can be comparable, cost-wise, to other cities in France for the daily basics of transportation, food, and incidentals. It depends on how you choose to travel (public transport or car), where you’ll eat (bistros or fine-dining), and how much you’d like to spend on the town’s varied activities. For housing, the prices will be higher than the average for France. As a sought-after area, renting or buying will be costlier, but not prohibitive when compared to U.S. cities of similar size and stature.
On average, a two-bedroom, one-bathroom, furnished apartment of 680 square feet will rent for $1,450 per month in the town center. Prices will go down if you choose to move to the suburbs or surrounding villages. To purchase an apartment of a similar size (two-bedroom, one-bathroom), count on a budget starting at $389,000. Similarly, purchasing apartments and homes outside of the historic center can cut down on buying costs.