The first time you visit Paris, there’s absolutely no reason to leave the city proper—though I still find it hard to tear myself away despite having visited the City of Light on more occasions than I can count on two hands. Even so, its glorious proximity to other regions in France makes it hard not to consider a day or overnight side trip. While repeat offenders such as Versailles, the Loire Valley châteaus, the beaches of Normandy, Mont-St-Michel, wine jaunts through Burgundy and Bordeaux, bubbly 101 in the Champagne region, and Claude Monet’s house and garden in Giverny are all worthwhile in their own right, I found myself looking for something different upon my last trip.
I was taking my Mother, so keeping her interests in mind, I started thinking about the mountains versus the countryside since Switzerland had always been on her bucket list. While there’s no doubt that the alps are within close proximity to France, I only wanted to spend one night outside of Paris, so a train trip that was four hours or less was key. After a little bit of research, I discovered that the beautiful little alpine town of Annecy, France fit the bill on all levels:
- Providing you get a direct route sans transfers, it’s just under four hours away on the TGV from Gare de Lyon station.
- You’re surrounded by the French alps, so perfect if skiing (or fondue and red wine) is your thing.
- The charming medieval “old” town is the heart and soul of Annecy. Think winding cobblestone streets, the coziest restaurants (did I mention fondue?) and watering holes you’ve ever seen, and charming shops that you’d read about in an weathered old novel.
- Despite being a historian’s dream, you can still find accommodations that satisfy those seeking the conveniences of a modern-day world, too…
For us, this was the stunning Imperial Palace hotel, located about 15-20 minutes by foot from the old town, as well as the train station where you arrive from Paris. Make no mistake: this is not a new, modern hotel. Rather, its origins date back to 1912 when the surrounding land was purchased by René Leyraz with the intention of building a luxury hotel right on the banks of Lake Annecy, which to this day is considered the purest lake in Europe. The hotel opened its doors on July, 14 1913 and quickly started catering to esteemed guests such as the future George VI to the Sultan of Morocco, Winston Churchill, Edith Piaf, Charlie Chaplin, and more.
Sadly, due to the war, the hotel fell onto hard times and was forced to close its doors in 1965 after struggling to be saved for several years as an apartment building. It wasn’t until the late ’80s that a German group, Jung, purchased the vacant property and brought it back to life as a hotel, congress center and casino. Today, the Imperial Palace is owned by La Clusaz PVG Group and is going through a complete room and property renovation that is expected to be completed by early 2016.
We were able to see a partial part of the renovation, as well as a “sneak peek” of what’s to come in the new year. Fresh paint and new furnishings aside, one thing’s for certain: This hotel has amazing bones and a killer location, so it’s already a gem. Here are a few takeaways:
- The hotel is located right on the lake, so definitely try to book a room in the back so you can partake of your balcony while soaking in those stunning mountain/lake views.
- While there are an abundance of great restaurants in town, don’t dismiss the eateries that are right in front of your nose. Imperial Palace offers two main options: La Voile, an upper-scale gastronomic restaurant; and La Brasserie, a comfortable all-day restaurant offering everything from an impressive breakfast buffet to satisfying French-inspired mains made with local ingredients. There are also lighter options available at Le Hip Bar (Tip: Grab a light bite and listen to the nightly music!) and La Rotonde du Casino. Speaking of which….
- The casino was in the midst of a renovation when we were there, but the end goal is to make it look more Monte Carlo than Las Vegas, complete with gaming rooms and lounge areas that boast stunning views of the mountains and lake.
- There’s a spa slated to open in the spring, so there will be yet another reason not to leave the property.
- Planning a wedding or a special occasion party? A fête in the back ballroom (again, breathtaking views) would be one that your guests would be talking about for years to come.