Lake Annecy, in the Haute-Savoie department of the Rhône-Alpes, is big enough to hide more than a few secrets. Amidst its mountains, forests, country roads and obscure legends of the lake – there are dotted many beautiful and serene little villages. It’s difficult to say which of these is the most beautiful, prettiest and quietest – but if I have to – Menthon-Saint-Bernard will be in the top two (I have a weakness for the tiny village of Duingt on the other side of the lake). You can reach Menthon-Saint-Bernard relatively quickly from nearby Annecy – by a 10 minute road or lake trip, or if you’re up to it – a half an hour bike ride through the pretty Veyrier-du-Lac.
Sleeping Beauty’s Castle
The Castle of Menthon (Château de Menthon-Saint-Bernard) sits as a silent protector perched on the mountainside above the little village. Its history spans all the way back to the 12th century, though the latest additions to the chateau were made as late as 1880 – when several new towers were added – creating the oddly alluring, fairytale-like romantic façade that we see today. It’s this castle in its current state that would eventually inspire Walt Disney to go on to create Sleeping Beauty’s Castle.
The castle is relatively easy to reach, start from the old centre of the village, by the church and head on foot via one of the trails towards the castle. If you’re going by road – you can take the road by the side of the lake to Annecy-le-Vieux, through Veyrier-du-Lac and followthe sign “Château de Menthon”, eventually taking the Col de Bluffy.
Le Palace De Menthon Hotel
There are two large traditionally styled spa hotels around Lake Annecy – this one and L’Imperial Palace – this one is by far the most beautiful. The neo-Classic façade overlooks Lake Annecy to the front and is surrounded by forest and mountains to the back. The hotel is kept within beautifully manicured landscaped gardens and has a private port as well as a couple of restaurants. If you’re visiting over the summer then stop off at the Palace Beach on the water’s edge, which is housed under an authentic tent from Marrakesh.
Below the hotel bathhouses are a collection of what remains of the Roman Baths that once inhabited the area. The original spring is no longer in use but was reinstated in the 19th century until 1930 – and was one of the first true attractions in Menthon-St-Bernard.
There are a variety of walking and cycling routes that pass through Menthon-St-Bernard. The main cycling route goes the full length of the lake and is one of France’s most popular cycle routes. The opposite side of the lake is the most pleasant as there’s a dedicated cycle path that stretches from Annecy to Albertville and includes a re-dedicated railway tunnel! The walk between Veyrier-du-Lac and Menthon-St-Bernard takes around 45 minutes, while the mountain side trails that stretch beyond the castle and through the mountains and forests are anything from under an hour to a full days hike. It’s easier enough to join the trails from the village centre.
The very centre of Menthon-St-Bernard doesn’t amount to much more than a restaurant (cafe de la place), a church, a bakery (le fournil de mon père – which actually sells great pizza), a pharmacy, the mayor’s office and a collection of houses. We accidentally stumbled through the side entrance of the church last time we were there and inadvertently explored a completely deserted building. Take a few minutes to look inside if it’s of interest and also look out for the various village crosses that are built into the roadsides of the village.
The walk from the centre of the village to the lake and to the castle is relatively short – and there are plenty of roads to take but in general – you can simply point yourself towards your destination and you’ll arrive eventually – and discover a nice view or two on the way.
If you’re in need of a little refreshment, you’ll find better restaurants in Annecy so I would recommend the bakery over the restaurant if you just want a light snack or lunch.
If you want something a little more substantial – then I would suggest heading towards the lake front restaurant Le Pêcheur in Veyrier-du-Lac. It’s nothing special – but serves a good selection of salads and locally caught fish (pêchette from the lake) with outdoor seating right to the edge of the lake!
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