Firstly, I’ll start with how and why I came to a decision to base myself in Annecy. In the Tri World Annecy isn’t a well-known training location. A lot of other athletes suggested Aix-Les-Bains or Spain as potential training locations. However, among cyclists and Europeans it is known quite well for its amazing mountainous terrain and lakeside scenery.
When deciding where to base myself in Europe I needed somewhere with all my necessities to train like good weather, safe roads, pools, run trails and all at the right budget too. I also had my girlfriend travelling with me (who happens to be a physio, which comes in handy!) and the location also needed to suit her travel/holiday agenda. I had to find a location that she would enjoy in itself and that would be easy to travel to and from for other trips around Europe.
Annecy ticked all the boxes due to its lakeside culture, spectacular training environment and ease of travel (direct trains for travel throughout France and a direct bus to Geneva airport). Having been here for six weeks now, I’m writing to let you know it has not disappointed!
But, like all locations it has its pros and cons. I’m going to run through my three likes and dislikes about this beautiful spot. Many of which we did not expect!
#3 – Late Lifestyle
Like many endurance athletes late nights certainly aren’t my friend! I’m often seen asleep on the lounge by 9pm and back home my training days often start before 5am.
Being up early definitely helps me beat the crowds out on the bike tracks or into the mountains because Annecy (and I think Europe in general) seem to run on a different time-schedule! Maybe it’s the fact that it doesn’t get dark until around 10pm, because everyone here is about long lunches, afternoon drinks and evening events/performances (which often don’t start til 10.30 or later). To give you an example, recent local events like Bastille Day Fireworks or Annecy Street Art Festival don’t even start til 10:30pm. Over an hour past my bedtime and that’s just when it starts!
No-one starts exercising until about 9am, even the local pool doesn’t open til 10.30am! Nothing apart from the local bakery or newsagency is open before 9.30-10am, so forget a nice coffee during your long ride or a lazy breakfast out!
#2 – Smoking
It’s everywhere! This is one thing I miss about home. Heavy restrictions on smoking in Australia means that we are very well protected from second hand smoke. As a result of these restrictions people also seem to be more considerate of non-smokers in Australia.
Over here, it’s ok to light up wherever and whenever you please… in a café or restaurant,
out the front of shops and at the beach. As a result when you’re out exercising expect to cop a face full of smoke from an inconsiderate passerby. At a recent race I saw the sign (as pictured above) “Respect Athletes, No Smoking”, imagine coming into the end of your race after hurting on the run for 21km and copping a face-full of smoke from spectator!
#1 – Pool Etiquette (or lack there of)
The pool here in Annecy is almost perfect. Spectacular views (as you can see above) awesome facilities and a really clean and well-maintained pool! The big drawback… it’s almost impossible to swim with a purpose here.
Coming from a swimming background in Australia, I often take our swim/pool etiquette for granted. Back home most swimmers understand that if someone is faster it might not be a good idea to push off in front of them or if someone is doing a structured session you try and work around each other. To give you an example, last week I had a lady jump into the water in front of me just as I tumble-turned on the wall. I had to pull-up hard to stop myself from running into her, then after swimming another 2 laps I was forced to overtake her again (and this was whilst she was still completing her first 50m). Consequently, I decided that lane was no longer for me.
Here, it seems to be a free for all! There’s no slow, medium and fast lanes. As a result every lane has swimmers moving at different speeds and often attempting (often unsuccessfully) different strokes. It is a killer…. I’m sure a few of them hate me by now for accidently knocking or splashing them whilst I’m overtaking. I’m just attempting to finish a session whilst they are attempting to finish their kick session without getting their hair wet!
#3 – Bike Culture
The bike culture here is nothing short of impressive! Most people ride for commuting and exercise purposes and the bike paths are 1st class. They are well marked, car free and they travel between many key spots such as beach areas and other towns, making them perfect for commuters and the community.
Also if you happen to venture off the paths the motorists are also incredibly patient. Up in the mountains, motorists and buses will happily sit behind you until there is a safe section for overtaking. And people seem to appreciate or respect cyclists on the road, I haven’t copped a beeping horn or yelled curse whilst out on the roads here!
This awesome bike-culture isn’t limited to Annecy, so far I’ve noticed the same in Germany and Poland too. Communities are provided with great infrastructure for riding and they all seem to use it.
#2 – Scenery/Terrain
What’s not to like here? Down in Annecy stunning views of the Alps are set over the backdrop of a bright-blue lake, whilst … km’s away you are in the French countryside or ascending hairpin turns on the mountains. Whether it’s running, riding or even swimming (open-water) these views are sure to impress!
I have trouble picking which ride I will do. The options are endless, from Climbs with a more friendly average gradient of 3% and flat bike paths to more advanced hairpins and leg breakers that hit 14% gradients. There is something for all levels of experience.
The beauty in running here is the endless kms on uninterrupted paths surrounding the lake. Who wouldn’t enjoy a run with a backdrop like this?
#1 – Food
The food here has been incredible! I expected good wine, cheese and breads. But all of the produce has been amazing and so easy to find!
Annecy is a relatively busy town surrounded by country areas. 5km of riding and you are in rural areas with paddocks full of livestock and plenty of open space. The benefit of this is that these local farmers sell their produce in the markets every Tuesday, Friday and Saturday! The produce is high quality and affordable, so trips to the markets have become a regular part of our week.
What we don’t get at the markets we can grab at the local butcher/bakery around the corner from our apartment. Even the supermarket has great fresh produce, with fresh fish available daily.
Till next time,
Text and images by Michael Fox