Wooden boat

Once upon a time

Navigating the lake

from the past to the future
Oct 2021

The history of navigating Lake Annecy reflects how people living in the area view this vast expanse of water, as much a source of concern, contemplation, and enjoyment, as a window into the priorities from one era to another: a time lapse reflecting our ever-changing lifestyles.

A healthy dose of caution

Through the 18th century, the lake, considered a murky span of water with untamed shores covered in reeds, frightened people. Navigating its dark waters served only as a necessity to fish and to ship goods. The topography made going around the lake difficult, so traversing it served as the quickest way for lakeside communities to communicate, and it made trading iron, wheat, salt, and other goods between Geneva and the Savoie much easier. By oar or by sail, flat-bottom boats made maneuvering and approaching the shore much easier. In extreme cases, some boats took up to two weeks to cross the lake.

A source of contemplation: the dawn of tourism

Starting in 1860, two major events accelerated tourism development. Once the Savoie region became a part of France, a spectacular Venetian festival (now the “Fête du Lake”/Lake Festival) was organized to celebrate Napoleon III and Empress Eugenie’s visit. It left such a lasting impression that on her deathbed she cited the festival as one of her life’s three most memorable experiences, shining an unexpected spotlight on both the city and lake. Truly amazed, the imperial couple offered the city a 32-meter, steamboat with a 10-paddle wheel as a gift. It was christened the Couronne de Savoie. In 1866, the new railroads allowed wealthy tourists enjoying their stay at the hot springs in Aix-les-Bains to venture to Annecy for a visit. The picturesque lake and mountains proved a more than pleasant surprise! During the Romantic era, Lamartine, Rousseau, and Cézanne passed through the area, nature became a focal point, with the lake a place to walk along to enjoy views of the shoreline and the surrounding landscapes. Lake Annecy’s steamboat company prospered. The number of boats and embarcaderos increased: Annecy, Beau-Rivage, Sevrier, Saint-Jorioz, Duingt, Bredannaz, Doussard Bout-du-Lac, Angon, Talloires, Menthon-Saint-Bernard, and Chavoires.

Paddle steamer Le France

© Lac Annecy Tourisme / Paddle steamer Le France

The lake as a place to enjoy: it’s time to play!

Right after the First World War, recreational boats started to appear everywhere. Small “Beauquis” (the brand name) boats took over the canals. These artisan wood boats were made in Sévrier through the 1980s. The excitement and enthusiasm grew along with a never-ending search for adrenaline. Water sports developed: sailing, paddle boating, motor boating, wind surfing, water skiing, etc.

The tragic end of the prestigious steam paddlewheel boat, La France, remains in the area’s collective memory. The Libellule, a festive vessel, entered the waters. Today it navigates the lake alongside the Cygne, Allobroge, Belle Etoile, and Savoie, which constitute the Compagnie des Bateaux du Lac d’Annecy’s fleet of ships, which also now includes the boat company that navigates lake boats just down the road on Lake Bourget.

Boat cruise in Duingt

© Gilles Piel / Boat cruise in Duingt

Espérance III, hope in a boat built in Annecy!

Since 2017, locals, partners, and donors have been working together to rebuild an identical replica of the Espérance, an 18-meter long Latin-rig sailboat that used to transport materials and goods from one side of the lake to the other. This scientific and educational heritage project has united people around a common passion. Following several years of construction, the boat was launched in Sevrier during summer 2021. The official inauguration took place in September, during European Heritage Days, along Napolean III Pier, its home port. Tours on board offered Annecy locals the chance explore the boat up close. Crew training is currently underway so that this spring the Espérance will finally be able to lift anchor and cast off. There will be an inaugural celebration to mark the start of the season.


© Espérance III / Launching

By joining the non-profit association, those who would like to dedicate their time and energy to this project can participate in crew training to learn how to sail the boat.
From lessons on navigating the lake, to workshops and conferences, this 12-passenger boat-observatory will provide a clearer understanding of today’s key environmental issues, and explain the immediate steps needed to preserve mountain aquatic ecosystems and the pristine waters of Lake Annecy. A symbol of the past setting a bearing towards the future, the boat will be equipped with a backup electric motor, the latest in sustainable technologies developed by a company based in Annecy. The goal is to take Annecy locals for a ride… in their brand new boat!


Espérance III


  • © Sémaphore – P. Leroy / Wooden boat

Journalist : Aude Pollet-Thiollier

Translation : Darin Reisman