All it’s Cracked Up to Be
Known as the "Capital of Alps," Grenoble in southeast France sits where the river Drac joins the Isère in the Rhône-Alpes region. Just two hours from Lyon and about three from Paris, watch the landscape change from your train window. Grenoble is surrounded by mountains – to the north lies the Chartreuse, to the west the Vercors, and east you'll find the Belledonne range. It's no wonder the X Olympic Winter games were held here back in 1968.
Historically, both Grenoble and the surrounding areas were sites of mining and heavy industry. Abandoned mills and factories can be found in small towns and villages, such as the coal mine at La Mure. Rather than sit on their abandoned lump, this town (10 miles from Grenoble) has created a delightful tourist treat.
The Little Train of Le Mure travelers board vintage 1930's coaches for a splendid journey of discovery and wonder. Travel through 18 tunnels and over bridges that look down on the turquoise water of the Monteynard lake and gorges that lead to valleys. Each new landscape is a new painting. The train takes what some have called "the most beautiful road of the Alps."
Back in Grenoble, the Bastille sits on the mountainside overlooking the city. One of the city's most visited tourist attractions, climb to the top for a good vantage point of the town below and the surrounding mountains. The Bastille has been credited as the most extensive example of early 18th century fortifications in all of France.
Today, most know Grenoble as a center of academic excellence, just as it's been since the 14th century. Hosting several Grande Ecoles in physics, chemistry, electricity and computer science, the graduates go on to work in the scientific research centers throughout the city, including an outstation of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory.
And now, a word on walnuts – they thrive in this region. During the Middle Ages, you could pay your rent with a pint of them. As a profession, one could be a walnut measurer. When grape phylloxera wiped out the vineyards, locals turned to walnut cultivation. Today, Grenoble produces the finest walnuts in the world. And just as fine French wines are strictly controlled for their quality, so are these nuts. They are ubiquitous here. Enjoy candied, savored in banana bread or as an apertif – the eau de Noix is a sweet drink made from walnuts.
Grab your France Rail Pass, come crack open a walnut and taste the soul of Grenoble.
Contributed by: Lothaire, a Marketing Manager in the eBusiness team, has lived 4 years in Paris and used to take overnight trips on the Eurostar to go clubbing in London.