Spatial variations in the abundance and diversity of the free-living bacterioplankton community of a large Alpine lake, Lake Bourget (France), were investigated in the pelagic zone by means of two two-dimensional samplings taken in 2003. Lake-water samples were collected in winter during water mixing, and in early summer during stratification. The population abundance in each sample was determined by flow cytometry. Denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis of PCR-amplified 16S rRNA gene fragments from organisms measuring less than 2 μm was used to assess eubacterioplankton community composition. In winter, no obvious differences were observed in either the abundance or the diversity of the bacterial community, on either the horizontal or the vertical scales. The only influence detected was that of river water input, but this was at a very minor scale relative to the surface area of the lake. In early summer, changes were found in the community composition on the vertical scale related to the thermal stratification of the water column. There were also marked differences on the horizontal scale at 15 m depth due to internal waves. The implications of these findings for sampling strategies are very important from the perspective of comparative studies of free-living bacterial community diversity and functioning in large and deep lakes.