Freshwater snorkeling in the French Alps: explore a mysterious -and fascinating- aquatic world

The French Alps are home to hundreds or even thousands of lakes, but only a dozen large lakes located at low altitude are really suitable for snorkeling.

Lake Annecy, renowned as one of the most beautiful and purest in Europe, is arguably the best place in France to discover freshwater snorkeling. Fed by mountain springs, its water is clear and offers good visibility. There are many places around the lake that can be snorkeled, from beaches to rocky shores. The sites of the Pontons Suspendus in Annecy-le-Vieux, La Madeleine in Talloires, the Château de Duingt, as well as the drop offs of the Roc de Chère (which can be accessed from the bay of Talloires or the southern end of the promenade in Menthon-Saint-Bernard) are some of the most famous spots. On these last two spots, diving and any other aquatic activity are however prohibited during the arctic char breeding season, from October 15 to March 30 each year.

Snorkeling dans le Lac d'Annecy
Lake Annecy, where crayfish are easy to spot (above, a signal crayfish), is probably the best lake in France for snorkeling.

Located 35km south-west of Annecy, Lake Bourget is the largest natural lake of glacial origin in France. Its clear water and unspoiled shores make it a great location for snorkeling. The most accessible spots are located between Aix-les-Bains and Viviers-du-Lac. We especially recommend Cap des Séselets and Plage du Lido, where snorkelers can discover reed beds and aquatic plants meadows. Much of the western shore of Lac du Bourget, bordered by cliffs, can only be reached by boat. The neighboring Lac d’Aiguebelette, very close to Lac du Bourget, is another option if you are staying in the region, but the water visibility is often poor.

The French shore of Lake Geneva, which borders the Europe’s largest lake for nearly 54km, is also suitable for snorkeling. Smaller and less crowded, Lake Paladru, in Isère, is one of the best-preserved in France. Nicknamed “the blue lake”, it has several protected natural areas and archaeological remains. However, its private management and strict regulations limit swimming and diving to certain specific areas.

Snorkeling dans le Lac du Bourget
Lake Bourget crystal-clear waters are a great environment to discover freshwater aquatic life, such as the common perch (photographed at Cap des Séselets).

The French Alps are also home to hundreds of mountain lakes, nestled in cirques or deep valleys. Their difficult access (often several hours of hiking), their very cold water (including in summer), and the little information available on their interest in terms of aquatic life, however, make them spots reserved for a handful of insiders.

The freshwater snorkeling activity is starting to develop and you will find at Lake Annecy, Lake Bourget, and Lake Paladru a few snorkeling tours to discover the local aquatic life. It can be a good option to make sure you’re exploring the best spots around.

Freshwater snorkeling allows to discover a unique aquatic life, which will undoubtedly surprise you if you are used to snorkeling at sea. The beds covered with rocks, mud, or aquatic plants allow snorkelers to spot common perch, common roach, tench, freshwater blenny and black bullhead. With a little luck, you might also encounter a northern pike or a zander, two famous freshwater predators. In total, most French lakes are home to around 30 species of fish. Several species of crayfish (some exotic, like the signal crayfish) also live in these lakes, and are rather easy to see (especially at Lake Annecy).

When to go snorkeling the lakes of the French Alps?

Surrounded by mountains, Lake Annecy, Geneva and Bourget experience an Alpine climate. Summer months, with their sunny and warm climate (temperatures frequently exceed 86°F/30°C during the day in the region) is the best season for snorkeling. The average water temperature in Annecy is 71.6/22°C at the surface in July-August, and 75.2°F/24°C in Lake Bourget (which is at a lower altitude). May, June and September are also great months for snorkeling in the Alps, but a wetsuit can be useful to protect against cooler water. Aquatic visibility (which can reach 20m on the surface in Annecy) is best in spring and early summer and deteriorates when the water temperature increases and after heavy rains.

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New snorkeling spots to share in the French Alps?

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More than 300 spots have already been published on Snorkeling Report, but there are still many spots to be added! You too can contribute to populate the map by sharing your favorite snorkeling spots around the world. The more snorkelers will contribute, the easier it will be for you, and other snorkelers, to find sites and enjoy the underwater world!

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