Annecy comes with a host superlatives attached. The ‘Venice of the Alps’ or the ‘Jewel of the Haute-Savoie’ is regularly listed as one of France’s most beautiful towns. A couple of years ago, it was declared the best place to live in France. It beat 34,840 other French municipalities to the top spot in a competition that didn’t even consider its wealth of historic charms as part of its allure … and Annecy is the sort of place that defines the image of a medieval fairytale town.
Sitting on the shores of beautiful Lac d’Annecy, fed by Alpine waters and said to be the cleanest lake in France, and ringed by mountains, Annecy can probably claim to be the best situated town in France as well. People come here (in droves) as much for easy access to nature, as to explore the narrow streets, canals and small squares in Annecy’s Vieille Ville, the historic heart of the town.
That’s not to say Annecy is not without its issues, the Vieille Ville is tiny and on an August afternoon can rapidly take on the appearance of a modern-day tourist hellscape. In the early morning and evening though, history oozes from its 16th and 17th century buildings and cobbled streets. The Old Town is clustered at the bottom of a steep hill, on top of which sits the Château d’Annecy.
The Counts of Geneva ruled Annecy from the 10th century and it was they who built the castle that is still seen today. They took up residence here in the 13th century before it passed to the Dukes of Savoy at the start of the 15th century. The views over the town, Lac d’Annecy and the Alps, make the climb to reach it worthwhile, but it’s also a building with a history befitting the power and wealth of its former owner.
That though wasn’t enough for some people. In the 18th century a legend was invented that linked the castle to the scandal of Lothar II and his much abused Queen, Theutberga. Lothar, a great-grandson of Charlemagne, wanted a divorce and accused Theutberga of incest and infanticide. The Pope didn’t believe this nonsense and refused the divorce, but not before Theutberga had to undertake a divine trial.
Theutberga had to survive a trial of boiling water by picking up a stone from the bottom of a cauldron of boiling water with her bare hand. Hard to believe, but divine trials were pretty common, and she won the trial. What didn’t happen, was that Theutberga was locked in cell in the Queen’s Tower, one of the oldest parts of Château d’Annecy, before being helped to safety by a priest. A rare case of legend being less interesting than reality.
Back in the Vieille Ville we walked the streets and visited some splendid churches. The Cathédrale Saint-Pierre, Église Notre Dame de Liesse and Église Saint Maurice underline the importance of the Catholic Church to the town. The Protestant Reformation swept across Europe in the 16th century, reaching Geneva in 1520s. In 1533, the Catholic Bishop of Geneva was ousted by the Protestants and fled to safety in Annecy, never to return.
Geneva became a thoroughly Calvinist city, and Annecy became a centre of the Counter Reformation. So much so that it got the nickname ‘Rome of the Alps’ to add to all its other monikers. After a day of exploring the town, we walked by the lake before going to dinner at a small brasserie away from the centre. We’d planned to stay longer, but Annecy was too crowded and in the morning we’d head to the wonderful Jura region.
1 thought on “Legends on the lakeside, Annecy”
Nice. Another city where I had College friends from and visited. I don’t think I’d recognize it now…
Happy Easter Paul