10 Top-Rated Lakes in France
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Tourists flock to Paris, Nice, and other cities of France year-round; crowd the beaches of the French Riviera in summertime; and head to the ski slopes of the Alps in droves during the winter. However, many foreign travelers overlook the lakes of France.
To vacation as the French do, head to one of France's lake resort destinations. The relaxing ambience appeals to families or anyone who is looking for a slower pace. The serene scenery allows vacationers to experience a sense of tranquility and rejuvenation.
In addition to soaking up the fresh air and participating in outdoor activities, travelers can add sightseeing to their vacation itinerary. Many of the lakes have cultural attractions, such as castles and quaint villages, right along their shores.
Enchanting lakes are found in several different regions of France. Some of the most awe-inspiring places to visit are at high elevations in the French Alps, the Pyrenees, the Vosges Mountains, and the Auvergne region.
Learn about some of the most popular lake destinations, and plan a wonderful vacation, with our list of the best lakes in France.
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1. Lac d'Annecy
Encircled by forested mountain peaks, the Lac d'Annecy in the French Alps has a storybook quality. Dotting the edge of the lake are majestic ancient castles and fetching villages, including the picture-perfect medieval town of Annecy, which is full of tourist attractions.
The sublime Alpine scenery delights nature lovers, while water sports enthusiasts appreciate the lake's clean, crystal-clear turquoise waters. Lake Annecy is a great place for swimming and water sports, such as sailing, canoeing, kayaking, and paddleboarding.
A more leisurely way to explore Lake Annecy is by boat. Many of the touristic cruises include commentary (in French) about specific sights around the lake.
Lake Annecy also charms visitors from its shores. Along the lake's perimeter are spacious sandy and grassy beaches with excellent facilities: public restrooms, showers, picnic areas, volleyball courts, and lounge chair rentals.
A scenic lakeside path (43-kilometers long) is used for walking and cycling. It takes about three hours to bike around the entire lake.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Annecy
2. Lac du Bourget
Densely wooded hillsides surround the Lac du Bourget, an Alpine lake prized for its idyllic setting in the French Alps, as well as its cultural attractions. Overlooking the lake's placid waters is Aix-les-Bains, an internationally renowned spa town that has been a destination for therapeutic holidays since the Belle Epoque.
Today's visitors can enjoy both spa treatments and recreational activities at the Lac du Bourget. There are about a dozen beaches (most accessible by bus) along its shores, including well-equipped beaches in Le Bourget du Lac and in the town of Châtillon, which are ideal for swimming, boating, and other water sports
Several noteworthy monuments stand on the banks of Lake Bourget, including the Château de Châtillon and the Château de Bourdeau, a romantic turreted castle (that once hosted Queen Victoria), which has been converted into a hotel and restaurant.
The most-visited sight is the Abbaye d'Hautecombe, a 12th-century Cistercian abbey built at the edge of the lake. Classified as a Historic Monument, this magnificent abbey has a lavish Neo-Gothic Troubadour-style church that contains exceptional works of art. The Abbaye d'Hautecombe is open to the public and hosts temporary exhibitions. Mass is celebrated at the church.
A highlight for gourmands is Le Bourget du Lac, a tiny village with two Michelin-starred restaurants. The family-run Lamartine restaurant serves modern French cuisine in a stylish dining room or on the lake-facing outdoor terrace. The Atmosphères restaurant serves seasonal cuisine of the terroir and also has lake views from its dining room and outdoor patio.
The Lac du Bourget is the most expansive natural lake in France, and its ecosystem is untouched by development. This protected environment provides habitat for an abundance of birdlife, including ducks, herons, and cormorants.
Active types can plan an outdoorsy vacation here. The lake is ideal for recreational boating and water sports.
3. Lac d'Aiguebelette
A gem of the Savoie Mont-Blanc region, the Lac d'Aiguebelette dazzles visitors with its pure emerald waters and verdant mountain setting. The bucolic scenery gives the lake an ambience of serenity, and the pristine environment makes it popular for fishing.
Quaint country villages dot the green, rolling hills that surround the lake, while the banks feature small boathouses and waterfront houses on stilts. Especially appealing to tourists are the handful of communities along the lake's peaceful banks that provide beaches with excellent facilities.
The Plage du Sougey in the town Saint-Alban-de-Montbel is a grassy beach with a restaurant, snack bar, and parking. Families appreciate the lifeguard supervision during summertime and the children's playground.
In the town of Novalaise, the Plage de Bon Vent offers gorgeous scenery and opportunities for paddle boating. This beach has a snack bar and a pleasant shaded lawn that's ideal for relaxing and sunbathing. Lifeguards survey the waters during summertime.
The most extensive facilities are found at the beach in Plage d'Aiguebelette-le-Lac, which features a picnic area, snack bar, restaurant, lifeguards on duty during high season, and an area for water sports. Visitors can rent lounge chairs, canoes, paddleboats, and stand up paddleboards.
Families will love the Plage de Lépin-le-Lac, a kid-friendly beach with mini-golf, water sports rentals, and a children's playground. Little ones adore the Saint Alban Plage in Saint-Alban-de-Montbel because of its bouncy castle and aquatic park with a waterslide and splash pool. The Saint Alban Beach also attracts boating enthusiasts.
4. Lac de Gérardmer
The Lac de Gérardmer delights visitors with its picturesque environment and pristine waters. A highlight of northeastern France's Lorraine region, it is the largest lake in the Vosges Mountains.
Visitors are drawn to this tranquil lake for relaxation and recreational opportunities. Things to do include sailing, canoeing, hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. The area has excellent facilities and six kilometers of well-groomed trails.
The lakeside town of Gérardmer is a favorite resort destination in summertime, as well as during the ski season. The town offers a good choice of accommodations and restaurants.
5. Lac de Genève
Central Europe's largest lake, the Lac de Genève (also known as Lac Léman) spans two countries: France and Switzerland. Slightly more than half of Lake Geneva falls in Swiss territory with the cosmopolitan city of Geneva standing alongside the lake. On the French side, lovely towns and villages grace the waterfront.
Known as the "Pearl of Lake Geneva," Yvoire has earned a place on the list of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France (The Most Beautiful Villages of France) because of its attractive port, stately medieval castle and garden, wisteria-trimmed alleyways, and old stone houses with flower-bedecked balconies. From the port of Yvoire, tourists can embark on a cruise around the lake.
Several French spa towns and resorts are found along the banks of Lake Geneva, including Thonon-les-Bains, a historic spa resort with a 17th-century château; Excenevex, a summer holiday destination with a sandy beach ideal for sunbathing and water sports; and Evian-les-Bains, a Belle Epoque spa resort renowned for its summertime theater and music festivals.
6. Lac de Gaube
Nestled in the mountains along the border of France and Spain, the Lac de Gaube is one of the highlights of the Pyrenees region. The lake's crystalline waters reveal a reflection of the Pic du Vignemale, the highest peak of the Pyrenees Mountains.
This lake appeals to those seeking solitude and breathtaking Alpine scenery. It is possible to arrive here by foot from the Pont d'Espagne near the spa & ski resort town of Cauterets. It takes about one hour to complete the walk along an easy hiking trail.
As this is a protected nature site, the Lac de Gaube is not developed for tourism. There is only one restaurant, the Hôtellerie du Lac de Gaube, that is open during the summertime. The restaurant options include a traditional rustic dining room and a more casual brasserie, plus outdoor tables next to the lake.
7. Lac de Madine
A favorite summertime destination among French families, the Lac de Madine offers opportunities for water sports along with other kid-friendly activities. Parents can take kids paddle boating or to visit the Aqua Parc Madine for an exciting day of outdoor games, swimming, and whizzing down the waterslides.
Surrounded by the gently rolling Côtes de Meuse (the Meuse Hills), the Lac de Madine is at the heart of the Parc Naturel Régional de Lorraine in the Lorraine region. The lake is located just 45 kilometers away from the Metz and about 60 kilometers away from Nancy.
Besides being the water supply for the city of Metz, the Lac de Madine is a wildlife reserve and a recreational area. Holiday goers will find many hiking trails, cycling paths, and a sandy beach that's great for swimming and has lifeguard supervision.
Outdoorsy types will love the water sports opportunities at the Lac de Madine. Visitors can take classes at the sailing school, rent a paddleboat, or join a guided canoeing expedition.
A wide choice of accommodations is available around the lake, from four-star hotels to cozy cabins and rustic campsites. Younger travelers can opt to stay at a youth hostel. Families often prefer the gîtes (farmhouse accommodation).
8. Lac de Sainte-Croix
The Lac de Sainte-Croix is one of the top destinations in Provence for water sports such as boating, sailing, and windsurfing. With several villages and beaches around the shoreline, the lake is well designed to welcome tourists.
Originally part of the Verdon River, this artificial lake was created in 1973 with the construction of the Sainte-Croix Dam. However, the fact that the lake is manmade does not detract from its beauty. A typical Mediterranean landscape of shrub-covered hillsides surrounds the lake's crystal-clear turquoise waters.
Less than 10 kilometers from the lake is Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, one of the Plus Beaux Villages de France. A tiny community of around 700 permanent residents lives in charming old buildings with pastel-painted shutters and red-tiled roofs, clustered on the slopes of rocky limestone hillsides. The village is brimming with locally owned shops, small bistros, and gourmet restaurants as well as hotels, gîtes, and bed and breakfasts.
Connoisseurs of fine cuisine will want to dine at La Bastide de Moustiers, a restaurant and auberge created by famous French chef Alain Ducasse. This inviting place to stay and enjoy a meal is tucked away amid lavender fields and olive groves. A shaded outdoor terrace overlooks the stunning landscape of the Alpes de Haute Provence. The restaurant bases its seasonal menu of classic Provençal dishes on fresh ingredients from the property's vegetable garden.
The Lac de Sainte-Croix is located within the Parc Naturel Régional du Verdon, as well as the Géoparc de Haute Provence, a UNESCO-listed nature reserve. The area around the lake has camping sites.
Within the natural regional park is the Gorges du Verdon, a dramatic canyon with stunning natural scenery. The area offers a wide variety of outdoor adventures, including canyoning, white water rafting, kayaking, sailing, fishing, mountain biking, and hiking. One of the top-rated hikes in France, the Blanc-Martel Trail, is located here.
9. Lac du Der
In the beautiful Champagne region of northern France, the Lac du Der is a must-visit destination for bird-watchers. The lake is designated as a Réserve Nationale de Chasse et de Faune Sauvage (National Hunting and Wildlife Reserve); its protected ecosystem has allowed over 200 bird species to thrive here, including endangered and rare species. Birders can admire swans, white-tailed eagles, goldeneyes, and other migratory birds.
Besides bird-watching, other outdoor activities at the Lac du Der include boating and cycling. A bike path is found right alongside the lake. For those who enjoy swimming, the Lac du Der has six sandy beaches with lifeguards on duty during July and August.
Visitors can choose from accommodations in the nearby towns of Giffaumont-Champaubert and Châtillon-sur-Broué. A well-equipped campground on six hectares of forest, Le Clos du Vieux Moulin, is located in Châtillon-sur-Broué. There are also other accommodations and a lakeside campground, Camping de la Cornée du Der, in Sainte-Marie-du-Lac-Nuisement.
French history buffs will want to stop in the town of Brienne-le-Château to visit the excellent museum dedicated to Napoleon Bonaparte, the Musée Napoléon (open year-round every day except Mondays, with reduced opening hours in the off season). This town also has a few hotels.
About an hour and a half drive away, the city of Reims is renowned for its many cultural attractions including a splendid UNESCO-listed Gothic cathedral that dates to the 13th century. The extensive selection of hotels in Reims includes something for every type of traveler.
10. Lac de Guéry
The Auvergne region in central France boasts a distinctive topography, unlike anywhere else in the country. The Parc Naturel Régional des Volcans d'Auvergne protects this rugged landscape of volcanic mountains, forests, and crater lakes.
The Lac de Guéry is tucked away in the Monts Dore, volcanic mountains within the Parc Naturel Régional des Volcans d'Auvergne. The lake stands out as a very special place because of its refreshing high altitude, lush forested setting, and deep blue waters.
Nature lovers, outdoor enthusiasts, and those seeking solitude and serenity will appreciate the unspoiled natural environment.
Things to do at Lac de Guéry include hiking and fishing or simply meditating in nature. It's a wonderful spot to take in panoramic views of the Chaîne des Puys and the Massif du Sancy mountains in the distance.
Swimming and boating are not allowed on the lake, and the area is almost completely undeveloped for tourism. Facilities are limited to a parking lot and just one hotel.
The Auberge du Lac de Guéry treats guests to refined rustic-chic accommodations and gourmet dining. The auberge has an elegant gastronomic restaurant that serves traditional cuisine of the terroir, and a casual bistro with an outdoor terrace next to the lake.