In December we loaded the children and dogs into the car and headed to France for a few days. It’s our annual ‘escape’ from the commercialisation and endless marketing in the run-up to Christmas Day. So, for the last few years we’ve headed away to relax and explore somewhere new. We are huge fans of the French Alps (especially Chamonix) and this year we decided to head to Grenoble.
Where is Grenoble?
Grenoble is located in Southeast France. It’s at the bottom of the Alps, where two rivers meet (the Isère and the Drac). It is known as the Capital of the Alps due to its size and proximity to the mountains. For us it was an approximately 8 hours drive from the Eurotunnel in Coquelles near Calais. We of course made regular stops to change drivers and to drink/eat/use facilities – so a bit longer than this.
There are lots of options for places to stay in and around Grenoble. We needed somewhere that was dog-friendly, had secure parking, as well as being within walking distance of the main attractions of Grenoble. After all the driving to get there we wanted to spend as much time walking as possible. We used booking.com, who found Apparthotel Opéralia Grenoble Les Cèdres for us. This one-bedroom apartment (with an additional sofabed double bed) had a bathroom and kitchenette, and a small terrace outside. A tram station is directly outside the Apparthotel – perfect location, though we walked to the city centre in about 15 minutes.
Highlights of Grenoble
We spent just three full days in Grenoble, so we couldn’t possibly see and do everything. However, with a little more time, these are the highlights you should try to see.
Grenoble-Bastille Cable Car
The cable cars (or ‘bubbles’) are the first landmark you notice as you drive into Grenoble. A short ride takes you over the L’Isère river and up to the Bastille Fort. From here you get some amazing views over the city and to the mountains beyond. There’s plenty to do in and around the Fort – the Mountain Troops Museum, the Mandrin Caves, the Bastille Art Centre, and a couple of restaurants. It’s also a starting point for several walks back down to the city. A challenging 30-minutes hike up Mount Jalla, above the Bastille, leads you to the national memorial to the Mountain Troops.
Within the fortifications of the Bastille, there’s also a ‘Go Ape’-like rope challenge course.
Parks and Squares
There are lots of green, open spaces in Grenoble. In late December they are a bit cold, but in the summer, we imagine they are well-used recreation spaces. There are three parks to specifically mention. Firstly, the large Paul Mistral Park. This 67-acres urban park contains a focal-point tower and is surrounded by lots of paths and trails. Plenty of playgrounds and fountains, and a sports stadium within the park.
Second is the City Gardens (Jardin de Ville Park). This used to be the private garden of a duke. This formal space is surrounded by lovely old buildings. It is very close to the Grenoble-Bastille Cable Car base station.
Finally, we recommend the Dauphins Garden. This is reached via one of the paths leading down from (or up to) the Bastille. It’s a beautiful space worth exploring.
There are lots of museums in Grenoble. We unfortunately only had time to visit the Mountain Troops Museum. Had we longer, we could have chosen from the Grenoble Art Museum, the Old Bishop’s Palace Museum, the Museum of Grenoble, The Isère Museum of the Resistance and Deportation, Musée Dauphinois, the Museum of the French Revolution and the Jarrie Museum of Chemistry.
Markets (and Christmas Markets)
Opposite the Tourist Information centre in Grenoble you’ll find the Saint Claire Covered Market.
You cannot take dogs in (understandably) so we only got to peruse the stalls surrounding the outside. A lovely market selling good quality fruit and vegetables, flowers and wild mushrooms.
Another market to mention is the Estacade Market on the Avenue de Vizille. Open during the mornings (6am to 1pm) Tuesday to Saturday, this is a very popular and atmospheric market. If you like markets, make sure you visit.
Of course, we were there during the run-up to Christmas, so we were able to walk around the Festive Markets. We definitely recommend the Hot Wine, waffles, crepes and churros!
Visiting Chartreuse from Grenoble
Grenoble is in a beautiful valley surrounded by mountains and hills. We were limited as to how far we could explore because our car is not fitted with winter tyres. Much of the hillside was covered in snow and the ski season was underway. However, we did journey to Chartreuse, about 25 miles outside Grenoble. Here we visited the famous Chartreuse Distilleries and Cellars in Voiron.
Afterwards, in the same town, we visited the very (very) popular Bonnat Chocolatier shop.
Grenoble is a lovely city to visit, with lots to see and experience. For more information, please visit the Grenoble Office de Tourisme.