Arriving in a destination on a cold, wet December evening can be enough to dampen the enthusiasm of any traveller. This can be especially frustrating in a city such as Grenoble which located in the Rhône Alpes region of France is surrounded by stunning, but invisible mountains. Built in a glacial valley on the confluence of the rivers Isère and Drac, it is an extremely picturesque city, especially from the high point of La Bastille.
On a clear day after the three minute ride in the bubble like cable cars it is possible to see the highest mountain in Europe; Mont Blanc so well worth the investment in time. There are multiple levels which provide breath-taking views over the city and the higher summits which dominate the landscape. They appear especially dramatic when the peaks are poking through low clouds, the mountain landscape at it’s majestic best.
There are few more spectacular scenes than snow covered peaks protruding through a blanket of cloud, appearing like sugar cones piercing a thick bed of candy floss. If the ride up has worked up an appetite there is a restaurant to try some of the regions famous cuisine. However enjoying a coffee on the terrace and soaking up the views is pleasant enough if the weather is favourable.
Moving around can be quite a challenge if the steps have not been cleared of snow they soon become icy and slippery. Ascending the steps requires care but it can take several minutes to just to climb down a few steps. Ropes and crampons would not have been out of place and it was surprising that nobody actually landed on their backside.
There are two ski resorts within a short distance of Grenoble; Autrans and Chamrousse and it is also the gateway to the southern Alps. The city has the largest population of the alpine region and is known by the French as the “capital of the Alps”. Although located at a low altitude and not completely snow sure it is still a suitable option for skiers and other snowsport enthusiasts.
The city has a number of museums, art galleries, a single covered and several open markets including a flea market. It is a centre for French cuisine so there are excellent restaurants and bars making it perfect for those not keen on snowsports or mountain activities. There are plenty of options to occupy the non-skier whilst their partner or friends are on the piste……. that was piste!
Browsing the usual style of museum or art gallery is not my style, I prefer more eclectic exhibitions, anthropological or human history and natural science museums. However Grenoble seems to have something for most people’s taste. The Musée de Grenoble has contemporary and traditional art exhibits with both temporary and permanent displays. The Magasin-Centre National D’Art Contemporain provides a constantly changing showcase of experimental art by partially established artists in a variety of genre. Only one exhibitor is displayed at a time for a three month period with subjects ranging from video to modern sculpture.
The Musée de Gagnon is an intimate little converted apartment of the region’s most important writer/artist Stendahl. It is an eclectic collection of paintings, writing, books and natural history spread around four rooms. There is also the Musée Archéologique a site which provides an contemporary view of a historical site. There are several skeletons still in place and this can be a little shocking.
Those that get excited browsing markets have a choice of three dotted around the squares, selling fresh produce typical of French markets. On the first Sunday of the month there is also a flea market where locals come to make a little cash selling their unwanted bric-a-brac. This is one kind of retail therapy even I appreciate as they always make great photography subjects and usually sell fresh local produce.
In common with any mountain town the weather in Grenoble can be changeable. Although it maybe wet and cold one moment, the following day or even afternoon the clouds will drift away and those majestic peaks will be revealed once more. It is a pretty place with the Isère snaking it’s way through the city so if the weather isn’t initially kind, persevere, it’ll soon change.
In the short time I visited the weather was both miserable and benign, it remained cold throughout but at least the views improved. I’m already looking forward to a swift return to sample some of those snowsports.