It’s so hard to shift back into real life after being in vacation mode… my mind has been continually wandering back to languid days spent lakeside earlier this month.
My family and I traveled to Lake Annecy, France, and I realized I had never really spent time on a lake before. Aside from having seen a dozen or so movies to memorialize this all-American classic vacation—Beethoven’s 2nd, the Great Outdoors, etc.—the family road trip to the lake house was a complete novelty to me.
I’ve visited a few lakes over the years, though… lakes Masaya and Apoyo in Nicaragua… Lake Gatún in Panama… Lake Peñol-Guatapé in Colombia… Lake Nakuru in Kenya… and Lake Bled in Slovenia.
This extended stay at Lake Annecy prompted me to compare it to my other favorite lake spot in Europe: Lake Bled.
Slovenia is a tiny country tucked up just to the northeast of Italy, but it’s bursting with culture and charm. Ljubljana, the capital city, is almost dead center of the country, and just 20 to 30 minutes to the northwest, depending on traffic, sits the town of Bled.
It’s a parochial feeling town, with a prominent old church rising out of the middle of the lake, proselytizing from its island. Much smaller than Annecy, both in area and population, Bled is home to less than 9,000 people, while just the official neighborhood of Annecy claims 125,000.
While Annecy has many autonomous little villages all around its shores, Bled has but the one, which sprawls around the lake edge. To help visualize this difference, Lake Annecy has an area of 25 square kilometers, whereas wee Lake Bled doesn’t even quite measure a square kilometer-and-a-half.
Each of these are Alpine getaways, almost mirroring one another on the far limits of the range, Annecy to the far west and Bled to the far east. As such, they both enjoy snowy, wintry months and offer the infrastructure to enjoy the cold weather.
As you’re beginning to see, these two lake towns aren’t very similar in terms of size and location. However, they have much in common. It’s just a matter of scale.
With similar average weather conditions every season, both are as enjoyable during winter as during summer. Enjoy skiing, snowboarding, ice skating, ice wall climbing, and more when it’s cold… and take advantage of the renowned hiking and biking opportunities of each, with countless trails for all experience levels originating in and around both towns, when it’s not.
These are both rural locations on the whole… Bled more so than Annecy. You’ll find all the basics, but neither destination could be called cosmopolitan. Instead of passing shopping centers on the highways coming in, you enjoy long views of fields and mountains.
However, this is about where the similarities between these two top European lakesides living options end…
In terms of cost, there’s no competition. While Annecy isn’t expensive, Bled is super affordable. A full dinner out for two in Bled, with starter and wine, might cost 60 or 70 euros; in Annecy, budget 80 to 100. The cuisine is excellent in both locations, but Annecy has many more options than little Bled. Bled makes up for quantity with quality, though. I had tasting menus on the lake that would rival those I’ve had in Paris (and at a fraction the cost).
Annecy has more going on than Bled does—many beaches, châteaux, surrounding ski resorts, etc. Bled has all these things, but fewer of them. It has its historic church on the island, plus an imposing castle that looms over the lake from its cliffside perch. Inside, it’s like a living museum, with characters in costumes waiting to tell you all about their castle domain. It’s also home to one of the few surviving original Guttenberg presses, which you can use yourself to create your own printed pages. But these are Bled’s only real historical attractions.
That said, Bled is just 20 minutes from Ljubljana by car, and in the capital you’ll find just about anything you want be it entertainment, shopping, or more crowds.
If you don’t speak French or Slovenian, you might wonder how you’ll communicate in either place. In Annecy, I was surprised by the number of waiters and apartment rental managers who spoke English. That said, you won’t get much further than checking into your apartment or ordering your meal in English. You really need to speak French to do much more than eat here.
In Slovenia, on the other hand, English is the de facto language for tourism, you could easily get by in English without any problems. Slovenians all speak excellent English, especially those under 40.
When it comes to accessibility, Annecy is a few hours closer to North America, Slovenia just a little bit farther and harder to get to, though not much.
In either case, you’d have to get a connecting flight in Europe once you landed on the Continent, so it doesn’t make a huge difference. The roads in both countries are fantastic, so getting around once you land is easy and enjoyable.
Housing options are notably dissimilar. In Bled, the lake has much less perimeter, which means housing on the lakefront is just about unheard of. These shores are fully developed, and there’s no room for further construction. In Annecy, though, with its many, many miles of shoreline, it’s possible to find a shoreside house.
Both towns offer new construction in little gated-community-type neighborhoods, but, if you spent some time on the ground getting to know the market, you’d be able to get into resales, which is where I’d be looking if I were buying or renting in either town.
After falling in love with lakeside living, I know Annecy and Bled are both in my family’s future. We hope to get to Slovenia this winter to enjoy Bled in the snow, and perhaps next spring will see us house shopping in Annecy.