Grenoble, popularly known as the ‘Capital of the Alps’, is the capital of Isère. Its position is fantastic, between the Drac and Isère rivers and surrounded on either side by the mountain regions of Chartreuse to the northeast and Vercors to the southwest.
A famous university city, and the cultural heart of Isère, Grenoble attracts high-tech industries. It all makes for a lively city, with bars and restaurants filling the maze of streets where medieval and modern buildings merge.
The old town is fascinating, with museums ranging from the Musée de Grenoble, which has one of the best art collections in France, to the Musée de la Résistance et de la Déportation de l’Isère, telling the story of one of the major centres of the Resistance in France during World War II.
Grenoble provides a wonderfully alternative city-break, with first-class museums, history-filled castles, as well as Les Bulles cable cars up to the mountains above, where the views are simply stunning. Here, more than 40 festivals take place throughout the season, mixing music, wine-tasting, literature, as well as street performances and movies.
Strolling, or the efficient city tram service, provides opportunities to view architecture throughout many periods, including the former military barracks of Bonne that is now being transformed into an eco-housing neighbourhood.
The city is perfect for walking with no hills, plenty of cafés and lots to look at. When you stand in Place Sainte-Andre, the square in the middle of the city, you have historic monuments all around you. This is an impressive sight along with a good cup of coffee. Naturally, you will be drinking it at the Café de la Table Ronde that is the second oldest café in France. The café was the favourite place of Sara Bernhardt, Jacques Brel and the city’s son, the novelist, Stendhal.
Art is found on most streets in Grenoble, thanks to the Street Art Festival, which takes place annually in June. Up to now, more than 200 works have been created, with international artists as Shepard Fairey, Wild Drawings and Nevercrew.
Enjoy the terraces of the old town and immerse yourself in the contemporary and electro ambiance of the Grenoble night life.
At the foot of the Chartreuse Massif, venture to the 18th century-Bastille Fortress boarding the famous “Bubbles” gondola, and once at the top, enjoy one of the most beautiful mountain panoramas at altitude.
Gourmet lovers – get your spoons ready! Grenoble is a dream location if you enjoy food. The region is renowned for using local produce in recipes that have been handed down generation after generation. A local dish is Gratin Dauphinois, a creamy potato gratin that is available at most restaurants.
But one of Grenoble’s big pleasures is ambling slowly through the city, people watching and trying some of the local food. The streets and squares are lined with open air cafés for coffee as well as pastries, sweets and even savoury dishes featuring the Grenoble walnut which grows nearby.
Other local specialities include the delicate disc-shaped Saint-Marcellin cheese, which dates to the 15th century and Ravioles du Royans — thinner and finer than traditional ravioli, these are usually filled with cheese and herbs. Try both at Le Casse-Croûte à Dédé, an informal spot that’s ideal for a well-priced lunch.
For inspired local food, it’s difficult to beat Le Fantin Letour, run by award-winning chef Stéphane Froidevaux, whose previous restaurant in Provence was given a Michelin star. Now settled in Grenoble, Froidevaux creates dishes inspired by the mountains. In summer he spends his free time foraging for wildflowers to include in his menu, while in winter, his seasonal ingredients include truffles and spices combined with root vegetables.
Set in a beautiful 19th century house, or hôtel particulier, the location is idyllic, with chickens, rabbits and beehives in the garden shaded by a 200-year-old linden tree. The brasserie-style lunchtime menu changes every day, using products from the Marché de L’Estacade and herbs from the garden, costing around £22 for two courses.
Some of Grenoble’s hotels are housed in the city’s historic buildings too — Le Grand Hotel Grenoble with its central location and modern interiors is one of the best. Or why not check in to the eco-minded OKKO hotel, around a 10-minute walk from the centre? The rooms are well-thought out and comfortable, with hip, crumpled linen bed sheets, although they are small; perhaps better suited to solo travellers than couples. There is an evening aperitif with cheese and other snacks, plus a beer or glass of wine included, as well as free soft drinks and snacks around the clock in the large bar/lounge area.
Other good spots to visit…
Take the lift to Chez le Per´Gras, which is located beside La Bastille, and you will be rewarded. The restaurant has a view that extends to Mont Blanc on clear days. The kitchen offers both French and Alpine cuisine and the food is prepared with seasonal fruit, vegetables, meat and fish. Chez la Per Gras is known for its gastronomic dishes where tradition meets modern. www.pergras.com
Located in the heart of the old city, Le Poppa is the perfect place to discover new flavours. Inspired by local products, Simon and Brice invent new dishes every week. The cocktails and the brunch are as original as the lunch, found on la Place aux Herbes!" www.lepoppa.com
For a fun and an entertaining dinner show, come and visit Café des Arts that provides theatre shows, jazz, French songs and world music alongside delicious dishes. This establishment has been going strong ever since its creation in 1981. www.lecafedesarts38.fr
Le Fil Rouge A new trend popping up in France is when a wine bar is also a clothing shop. You can taste different wines from small producers as well as beers and enjoy yourself in a cozy atmosphere. www.facebook.com/LeFilRougeGrenoble
Located in a 19th century chapel, find La Chapelle, an international restaurant, with high ceilings and stained-glass windows. Good options for vegetarians and a nice cocktail menu too. A unique experience in a converted chapel, an all-round great meal. www.lachapellegrenoble.com
La Petite Idée is a small and cosy café/restaurant that is popular among locals and tourists alike. There is a nice outside area if you prefer to sip your coffee while flirting with passers-by.
Evening: Aperitif at La Mercerie, (speakeasy cocktail bar) www.lamercerie-bar.fr
Or why not try the new Restaurant Chez Nous Grenoble? In a warm and friendly place, find childhood friends, Charlotte and Benjamin, who invite their guests to taste dishes prepared with fresh, local seasonal produce (fruit and vegetables from Meylan and Saint-Quentin, Angus beef from Saint-Martin-de-la-Cluze...). A responsible restaurant in the Championnet district. www.facebook.com/cheznousgrenoble/
Most visit Le Gratin Dauphinois to try perfectly cooked parfait, profiteroles and gâteau. According to locals, waiters offer delicious wines or cordial plus good coffee can be found here. www.jaimelegratindauphinois.com
Other activities available…
Biking discovery of contemporary Grenoble
Grenoble, green and innovative city (ongoing projects and architecture)
Grenoble, city of street art (street art frescos and festival)
Cheese dairy Les Alpages www.les-alpages.fr
Glove-making shop Lesdiguières
Pasta shop Saint Jean www.saint-jean.fr/les-ravioles
Guided visit of Les Halles Sainte-Claire (covered market) and tasting of local products