For The Love of France… part deux
Last year I visited France for the first time. I didn’t know how I would feel in a new country. Sure, there would be new experiences; food, wine, language and new sights to feast my eyes on but for me, a holiday is also about connecting with the people, the culture and the vibe of the place too. I’ve written many reviews of Italy, a country that stole my heart many years ago and continues to cast a spell over me, even when I’m not there. France has seduced me in a different way but with similar effect. Firstly, I knew after my first time in this wonderful country that I would be back. I had hoped to visit a different area but this month I found myself back in Grenoble, where my fascination with la belle France began.
Surprisingly, getting to Grenoble and staying there wasn’t that expensive. In fact, the earlier you book flights, the cheaper it is. To be absolutely honest, between my flights and accommodation, I spent less than two week’s shopping and general expenses of two normal weekends at home but I’ll come to the nitty gritty of that later on. For now I want you to enjoy the virtual experience with me and open your mind to a new destination that you might not have considered before. Grenoble isn’t just about ski-ing, you know!
Nestled on the banks of the River Isere, Grenoble is at the heart of the Rhone-Alpes region of south-eastern France and primarily opens its doors to tourists in winter as the ski season commences but it’s a great city to visit all year round, it’s just that flight availability is more abundant from October to April, especially if flying from Scotland, which I was.
Belledonne Mountain Range
Three stunning mountain ranges wrap around Grenoble – Vercors, Chartreuse and Belledonne. I don’t ski but I do love mountains and the sight of these snowy summits is overwhelming and really adds to the alpine vibe. Not content with being pretty and easy on the eye, Grenoble is steeped in history and culture yet remains at the cutting edge of technology, boasting some of the world’s leading scientific research centres.
Old Parliament Building Of Dauphine
You might also be surprised to learn that the stirrings of the French Revolution began here before it reached Paris. If you spend some time in the historic Place Saint Andre, you can see the old Parliament building of Dauphine.
Grenoble Old City Fountain on Place de Grenette
You will also be able to soak up the atmosphere of one of France’s oldest watering holes, Café de la Table Ronde.Grenoble is easy enough to navigate on foot and often you will happen upon a quaint bar, café or museum along the way that you hadn’t put on your ‘to do’ list but a great way of seeing the highlights and significant spots of the city is to take the cute little tourist train that runs regularly from Place de Grenette (just next to the fountain) usually from April to October. There is a very interesting and informative guide to the city narrated in several languages and tells you just about everything you need to know about Grenoble in just 45 minutes!
Cafe in Grenoble, France
So far, so high brow and so historical but if you simply want a city break where you can chill out and enjoy the ambience of the place then that’s fine too. There’s certainly no shortage of cafes, bars and restaurants to while away a few hours.
In fact, there’s nothing I like better than to sit and watch the world go by whilst sampling some of the local delicacies, washed down with delicious regional wines. It’s a nice way of seeing a city go about its business and listen to the chatter of the locals talk about their day over a glass of wine or a beer. I also enjoy ordering lunch or dinner in the language of the place. I really got to practice my French with the owners and waiters of these lovely cafes. It’s a great way to immerse yourself into the way of life and try to join in with conversations, making new friends along the way.
Again, I rediscovered my love of French on this trip and despite no formal training apart from high school (many years ago!) I was surprised to find how much had actually stuck and as I dug deep into my memory bank I found I was able to communicate fairly well and after a day or two I immediately began a conversation in French without chancing my arm in English first. It really went a long way, even when I got it wrong, I still loved making the effort and I think it was appreciated. See, I told you I like to connect with the people!
Eating and drinking is big business here and socializing is at the heart of French culture.
Place de Grenette | Grenoble, France
As I said before, there is a fabulous choice of cafes and restaurants but if you want to be at the heart of the action, settle yourself in Place de Grenette, the main thoroughfare which boasts fabulous shops too, all in the shadow of these majestic mountains that keep watch over the city. Sure, you might pay a little more for the privilege of dining on the main square but it’s worth it in my opinion. There’s a real European, cosmopolitan vibe and if the weather is fine you can sit outside and take in the sights and sounds of this charming yet thoroughly modern city.
Forte de la Bastille | Grenoble, France
Another ‘must do’ during your stay here is to take the trip up the Forte de la Bastille.
If you’ve a head for heights and can’t resist a good vantage point for taking pictures then this will thrill you to bits. Ride the short but exhilarating journey up the telepherique (bubble style cable cars) over the Isere before landing at the top of the magnificent fortress built into the mountains. The views of the sprawling city below are just jaw droppingly awesome. You’ll be hard pushed to find a better backdrop for your selfies!
Don’t worry if you fancy a bit of retail therapy in Grenoble, your euros and credit cards will be put to good use. If you like to shop ‘til you drop, you will be in your element here. There are perfumeries, bakeries, boutiques and chocolatiers in abundance. For serious shoppers, Galleries Lafayette is unmissable. It’s pretty much the French equivalent of John Lewis or Debenhams, stocking all the usual designer offerings but with some great French brands, a massive make up and perfume section and lavish home interiors. If you get a rainy day, spend a few hours browsing in here.
You’ll also find fabulous chocolatiers and patisseries on just about every corner. Each one more tempting than the last and you simply must try some divine macarons.
Now, the important part…how to get here. As I said earlier, flights are available year round but you might have to connect elsewhere, particularly if flying from Scotland.
From December to April you can fly from Edinburgh with easyjet and prices are pretty reasonable but the earlier you book, the better.
Another tip: If you can’t get booked onto direct flights to Grenoble, don’t worry; there are other easy options. Lyon, Chambery and Geneva are all within a reasonable transfer time and all of the airports have local shuttle services to ferry you to your destination. Or if you feel adventurous, hire a car. You will be able to enjoy some stunning scenery along the way.
Or you can take a local taxi or book a private transfer service that will be a bit pricier but for ease and peace of mind, it’s worth doing. I did it this way as we flew into Lyon Saint Exupery this time and as there were five of us; it was cost effective to do so. We used Hoppa for our Grenoble taxis and transfers.
Depending on your preferences there are plenty of great places to stay and to suit every pocket. I stayed in handy serviced apartments during my stay which gave me the freedom of coming and going when I liked, which was ideal with two teenagers in tow who weren’t that keen on early rises for breakfast.
I was able to make tea and coffee, along with some fresh croissant and pastries in the little kitchen area of our apartment. This allowed us to take things easy in the morning before heading out for something more substantial. Nutella and sugar crepes washed down with café au lait were the hot favorites!
So, if the stunning Alpes region is calling you and you fancy somewhere a bit different, I can’t recommend it highly enough. My love of France is growing and I have now started to look at options for 2017. The Cote D’Azure and the Dordogne are tempting me and I’m ashamed to say that at 44 years old, I have yet to see Paris! I have vowed to keep up my interest in the language and I can assure you my love of French wine and patisserie show no signs of abating. So, to la belle France I have to say au revior for now but I’m all yours and will be back as soon as I can.
I love travel. I’ve been fascinated by other countries and cultures since my first foreign trip in 1985 and I’ve had serious wanderlust ever since.I also love to write about where I’ve been and tripsology lets me indulge that passion. I’m thrilled to be a regular contributor and editor. When I’m not writing I also run my own PR and publicity company.