In Annecy, a random change of perspective made me re-consider my whole impression of the place.
I was drawn to Annecy after people told me of the turquoise waters of its lake, its beautiful mountain landscape and its fantastic outdoor sport scene. As I drew closer, all I saw was a town built around cars. Junctions, lanes, exits, mergers, ramps, viaducts and roundabouts, worthy of the Parisian region, opening onto soulless industrial and commercial estates, were squeezed by the mountains. The town is a nightmare to drive through, one giant gridlock, polluted and noisy. Welcome to the Alps.
When I finally got through, the splendid, indeed turquoise, Annecy lake awaited me. Its banks are colonised by roads, cycle paths, luxurious villas and hotels, big car parks near the beaches. They smell of money and showing off – Switzerland is not far.
But the lake itself is a liquid gem. Its blue waters, melted from glaciers, don’t reflect the peaks and cliffs of the Alps all around. Instead they seem to illuminate them from below in a soft, cool glow. And they are covered in cormorants, grebes, coots and mergansers.
I stayed in the valley, found a spot with a beautiful view of the lake, but away from the rush and folly. Once again (read more here), I gazed at the mountains and the rhythmical dancing of clouds. I watched from afar the sailing and rowing boats, windsurfs, parachutes, like flies around a carcass. The luminous blue lake and the peaks all around, contrasting with this bustle, felt eternal.
I reluctantly drove back towards civilisation, and joined a festival called “Cuisiner demain”, “Cook tomorrow”, around permaculture, local food producers, sustainability, food independence and security. And good food, of course, this is France, and this is Savoie, with its gastronomy based on cheese (reblochon, abondance, tomme, made into fondues and raclettes), and mountain produce: wine, honey, apples and pears.
And there I met another side of Annecy. A network of quiet but determined people; determined to pay attention to their food, where it comes from and through it, to nature. They ride bikes to work, grow food in their gardens or in the collective vegetable patch just outside Annecy. They swap recipes, but keep to themselves the good spots for wild mushrooms; they gather wildflowers to make herbal teas and concoctions. They open “tiers-lieux”, “third-places”, non-for-profit, to reduce food waste, repair broken good, talk about water quality, let children play in nature.
In a mountain range suffocating from climate change, people see glaciers disappear. In a valley dedicated to the plastic industry, people are reaching out to nature and the land to find solutions to the crisis, to change their lifestyle and give it meaning, connection to their patch of land and the people around them. At this festival, some talked openly about their faith in Mother Earth, Mother Nature.
It seems the huge lake and mountains inspire people to think big and act local. May they continue.