Whether they’re made by Mother Nature or man, there are some wonderfully beautiful lakes in France. Some are tiny, with an aura of peacefulness that makes you want to gaze at them for hours on end. Others are large and beg to be surfed or sailed on. Be they surrounded by mountains or rolling hills, a day (or two) spent at a French lake will recharge your senses and create memories for years to come.
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Mother Nature didn’t decide when, where or how Lac du Salagou would be created in southern France’s Languedoc region. Man did. The lake is a reservoir created when the Salagou River was dammed in the 1960s. The lake presents a pretty picture for visitors since the blue water contrasts nicely with the reddish orange soil that surrounds it. You can drive around the lake, but if you have time, you gain a better appreciation of its beauty by walking or biking around it. The lake is surrounded by hills, with tidy fields behind it. The lake is popular with visitors who like to sunbathe au naturel.
Gaube Lake is the lake so nice, they named it twice. Gaube translates as “lake” in Gascon, so this pretty lake is actually named Lake Lake. Located in the French Pyrenees, Gaube Lake is surrounded by the chain’s highest mountains, which hover over its glacial blue water. Most people come here for the panoramic views, especially of Vignemale, the highest peak in the French Pyrenees. It takes about an hour to hike into this small alpine lake, but you can do it quicker if you take a cable car from the Bridge of Spain.
Lac de Capitello is Corsica’s contribution to France’s list of pretty lakes. It’s a small circular alpine lake surrounded by craggy mountains in the Restonica Valley. It is Corsica’s deepest lake and a good place to savor the scenic deep blue water. A visit to Lac de Capitello is usually combined with a visit to Lac de Melo. Lac de Capitello is about an hour’s hike beyond Melo; this route is more challenging than the trek to Melo. Once at Capitello, you’ll pretty much have the lake to yourself since only about 1,200 people make the trip during the summer.
Lac du Mont Cenis is an alpine lake located in the shadow of Mont Cenis. It lies entirely within France, but is near the border with Italy. Though it wasn’t a lake then, Lac du Mont Cenis lies on a route that was a major way between Western Europe and Italy during the Middle Ages. The lake, with its pretty blue waters, is artificial, created when a hydroelectric dam was constructed at Mont Cenis. It is one of the largest reservoirs in France. The lake is noted for its vegetation, with some plant species found only here.
Lac d’Aiguebelette has been described as an “emerald pearl,” which is fitting since the name translates as “beautiful little waters.” The blue-green lake oozes tranquility, but don’t let appearances fool you. Rowing competitions have been held here. Lac d’Aiguebelette is one of France’s largest natural lakes, boasting two islands and several hot springs. Like many lakes, this one has a legend attached to it. One day Jesus Christ, disguised as a beggar, showed up asking for help. No one would help him but one woman. The next day, Jesus flooded the village with lake water, leaving only the woman and her daughter’s houses unscathed.
Lac du Bourget is an elongated lake that is considered the deepest lake within French borders. Formed by glacial action 19,000 years ago, Lac du Bourget is surrounded by mountains (it’s in the Savoie Mont Blanc region) on one side and towns on the other. A good place to view the lake is from Dent du Chat, reached by driving up to Relais and the walking to the viewpoint. Biking and hiking around the lake are popular activities. Or, you and your kids can roller-skate along the east coast. Lac du Bourget has a nice beach with views of the Alps.
France’s third largest lake hasn’t been around for eons like many other French lakes. Indeed, it dates back only to 1973 when the Sainte Croix dam was built across the Verdun River. There’s nothing artificial about this lake, however. It’s just as pretty as its little sisters. Lac de Sainte Croix, surrounded by hills and forests, has sandy beaches with swimming area; lifeguards are on duty, too. The lake is a popular place to kayak, sail or windsurf. Unless they’re sail or human-powered water craft, only boats with electric motors are allowed on the lake.
Lake Geneva, which separates France and Switzerland, is stunner. Its deep blue water ripples in some places, while at others it is as smooth as glass. And, always, it is surrounded by the Alps. The largest lake on the Rhone River and one of the largest in western Europe, Lake Geneva is popular with rowers and yacht racers. Cruise the lake to see the medieval castle of Chateau de Challon, quaint towns, vineyards and French villas on its shores. Be on the lookout for celebrities since many have holiday hideouts here.
When you drive along Lac de Serre-Ponçon in southeastern France you’ll see craggy mountains dropping steeply into the water. In other places, you’ll see gentle hills rolling into this man-made lake. One of Europe’s largest artificial lakes, Lac de Serre-Ponçon was created in the 1960s as part of a flood control project. Alas, some villages were flooded to make way for the lake. Camping is allowed along the lake, which is popular with swimmers, windsurfers and sailing enthusiasts. Past visitors recommend avoiding this lovely lake in September because the weather is so unpredictable.
With an atmosphere of gaiety, Lake Annecy in the Savoie region is just made for holiday makers. You can stroll or bicycle a paved path along the lake, enjoy a meal at a lakeside café or venture out into the water on a rental boat. You can also swim in the lake without fear of contaminated water. Thanks to strict environmental regulations, Lake Annecy is known as Europe’s cleanest lake; visitors give it high marks for water purity. Lake Annecy, one of the largest lakes in France, is quite scenic. It’s surrounded by mountains and villages including beautiful Annecy, also known as the “Venice of the Alps”.