Catherine's son on the via ferrata at Roche à l’Agathe de Thônes.
Catherine Cooper.
Catherine's son on the via ferrata at Roche à l’Agathe de Thônes.

A Family Break in Annecy and its Mountains, France

As a family of skiers, we’ve passed through Annecy, the capital of the Haute Savoie region, many times on the way to the French Alps, but we've never really stopped. Last summer, we decided to see what the town and the surrounding area have to offer.

Annecy has an extraordinarily pretty town centre. Highlights for kids include the Glacier des Alpes with more than 45 flavours of hand-made ice cream (be prepared to queue – it is very popular) and the ancient jail, where prisoners lived in horrific conditions centuries ago. 

Most interesting to most kids, though, are the lake’s many beaches, both private and public, dotted around the lake (most of the private ones only cost a few Euros to enter). We tried out Imperial Beach, with grassy areas and sand, trampolines, crazy golf, a water-slide and a great bar. It also has the advantage of being next to the Imperial Palace Annecy, where we were staying – a beautiful, Belle Epoque hotel overlooking the lake, with family rooms as well as stunning suites. It’s not a budget option but worth splashing out on for a special occasion.

We then headed to Thônes around 30 minutes away. A pretty little town at the gateway to the mountains, this is a relaxed place that many people seem to go to for the walking. The highlight for my family though (not me – I was too scared) was the four-hour climb up the via ferrata. The terrifying, near-sheer Roche à l’Agathe de Thônes can be scaled by both adults and brave kids aged around eight and up. It’s not technically difficult and you're attached at all times, but you need nerves of steel. Having an excellent guide like ours, Didier, also helps, though if you know what you’re doing, you can apparently do it alone. 

For those with younger kids or looking for a gentler activity, the Ecomusée du Bois et de la Forêt helps families discover more about local trees and wildlife via a short walk through the forest. Our guide Nicolas pitched it just right, enthralling kids with his bird impressions and offering just the right amount of information.

We stayed at Hôtel l’Hermitage, a small, friendly and well-located hotel with a little garden. There are a couple of restaurants in the town that deserve a special mention. Le Talinum in the main square does incredible pizzas with everything prepared from scratch, some topped with amazing fresh mozzarella. La Cabane in a beautiful spot just outside town specialises in trout dishes made from fish freshly caught on the premises (you can also go along during the day to catch your own).

From Thônes, the Haute Savoie ski resorts of La Clusaz, Grand Bornand and Manigod are just a short drive. They have plenty going on in summer as well as winter. We went for a morning’s e-bike ride with guide Laurent, who showed us Le Grand Bornand and its amazing views and told us a little about its history. It’s incredibly peaceful – apparently there is the same number of residents as there are cows in the resort. E-biking is brilliant. It’s not the same as being on a moped as you do have to pedal, but you can have as little or much assistance as you like. It also means that you can get to places which would be almost impossible to get to (or at the very least, exhausting) on an ordinary mountain-bike.

We then spent the afternoon at the resort’s outdoor pool, which has shaded grassy areas, a separate kids’ pool and a café. Towards the end of the afternoon, staff brought out a trampoline for people to bounce off into the pool, as well as putting on a trampolining display. You don’t get that just anywhere.

Read more about holidays in the Annecy mountains.

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