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Skip the coast: three of Europe’s loveliest lakes to visit – by travel experts | Europe holidays

Skip the coast: three of Europe’s loveliest lakes to visit – by travel experts | Europe holidays

Lake Annecy, Haute-Savoie, France

A light breeze ruffles the palm fronds of our parasol as we sip Orangina and gaze at the windsurfers skimming across the water. The beach cafe is playing gentle Balearic beats. But this isn’t the Balearics and that shimmering expanse of blue is not the Med. We’re in the foothills of the French Alps and the nearest coastline is over 250 miles away.

Annecy is an absurdly pretty medieval town on the shores of a beautiful Alpine lake of the same name, an hour from Geneva. It is known as the “Venice of the Alps” due to the network of canals which crisscross La Vieille Ville (old town) and – just like the real Venice – Annecy’s narrow cobblestone streets and flower-decked bridges can become overrun with tourists in summer. But Annecy has an ace up its sleeve – a fantastic network of reliable local buses, free to use in July and August, that whisk tourists and locals around the perimeter of the lake and up into the surrounding mountains. There is also a cycle path which follows the shoreline if you’d prefer to explore under your own steam.

At nine miles long and two wide, Annecy is the third largest lake in France, so escaping the crowds isn’t difficult. Each morning we pack beach towels and a picnic, walk from our rented apartment in the old town to the bus station and hop on whichever local bus is ready to leave first. As we skirt the lake, we catch tantalising glimpses of turquoise water and dreamy waterside villas and hotels with private pontoons and beaches.

A peaceful bay at Talloires on Lake Annecy. Photograph: Jaubert French Collection/Alamy

Jump off at whichever stop takes your fancy: Menthon St Bernard with its chateau, which is said to have inspired Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty castle; romantic Veyrier-du-Lac with its hiking routes to the top of Mont Veyrier, and views to Mont Blanc; or low-key Doussard with its nature reserve and handful of family-friendly campsites.

There are a dozen or so public beaches dotted around the lake, from sandy Saint-Jorioz, with its beach volleyball courts and children’s pool, to the lively Marquisats, which is easily accessible on foot from Annecy town. Our favourite is the “plage municipale” at Talloires, where we spend the day sunbathing on the grass, playing pétanque, swimming in the lake (not as cold as you might think) and watching teenagers…

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