In the heart of south-eastern France, Isère has exceptional natural attractions and a rich range of cultural offerings – from outdoor activities year-round, to art de vivre (the French art of living), plus fine cities to explore, including Grenoble and Vienne. Here is our pick of its slow tourism and outdoor offerings.
1. Green Grenoble
Capital of the Alps and European Green Capital 2022, Grenoble continues to make big steps towards improving the sustainability of the wider alpine territory. Grenoble Alpes Tourisme, as the town’s official partner, is committed to more responsible tourism and offers a programme of specially prepared guided tours (including one on nature and biodiversity in the city), numerous eco-friendly activities and low-carbon holidays.
Keen to explore on two wheels like the locals? Grenoble has once again been crowned Bicycle Capital by the Fédération des Usagers de la Bicyclette (FUB). Other activities include exploring by canoe and a unique urban via ferrata, which starts in an old quarry just five minutes from the city centre.
2. To Market in Vienne
Vienne has the second largest permanent market in France, with 350 stalls that make it a must-visit destination. Every Saturday, it fills the main streets and alleys with more than 6km of stalls. Early risers might bump into the two Michelin-starred chefs who are regular visitors, Philippe Girardon and Patrick Henriroux.
If you love jazz, head to the town’s Ancient Roman Theatre, Jardin de Cybèle and other venues for the annual festival. Jamie Cullum, Nate Smith, Michael Kiwanuka, Black Pumas, George Benson and Herbie Hancock headlined this year.
Bike lovers make a note: the planned ViaRhôna cycle path alongside the Rhône river between Saint-Romain-en-Gal and Condrieu will feature an eco-designed surface composed rather ingeniously of local gravel and a plant-based product from the paper industry.
3. Terres de Berlioz
The Terres de Berlioz area boasts 300 farms producing everything from saffron to beer, meat to cheese and fruit to vegetables, all of which can be bought in situ or at local markets. One of the lesser-known products features on the menu of a Michelin-starred restaurant down in Lyon: the squab, or fledgeling pigeon – a little known but delicious and refined dish. Sonia Guillon, of the Pigeonneau des Terres in Pajay, near La Côte-Saint-André, breeds more than 400 pairs of pigeons fed mainly on cereals produced on the farm.
Composer Hector Berlioz might be called the father of the modern music festival – from 1830 he organised a series of musical events. These days you can enjoy symphonic music at concerts in La Côte-Saint-André and throughout the Isère department in August and early September.
4. Very Vercors
The great plateau of the Vercors massif rises above the encircling valleys like a fortress, culminating in an incredible escarpment. Behind lies a vast richly forested nature reserve, home to ibex, chamois, black grouse and vultures. This is a fine destination for nature lovers to explore, with 4,000km of marked walking and hiking trails, 700km of mountain bike trails, three French Cycling Federation-labelled mountain bike sites, 50km of greenways and picturesque roads ideal for cycling, 230km of bridle paths, 32 canyoning sites, 31 climbing school locations, 3,000 caving spots, eight paragliding sites, an 18-hole golf course and 16 orienteering courses.
The Vercors Regional Natural Park has numerous projects to preserve and promote its natural and cultural heritage, and is committed to responsible tourism and development, an approach recognised at European level by the European Charter for Sustainable Tourism mark. www.inspiration-vercors.com/en
5. Terrific Trièves
Just an hour from Grenoble in the south of Isère, there is an area known as Trièves, with 27 villages surrounded by the Vercors and Dévoluy mountains. There is a wide agricultural plateau plus the turquoise waters of Lake Monteynard-Avignonet – great for water sports such as windsurfing, fishing, kayaking and kite surfing. This area, where the Northern and Southern Alps meet, has an exceptional natural diversity with varied species of plants and abundant wildlife.
Commitment to eco-tourism is big here: the Trièves Eco-tourism Charter showcases accommodation and activity providers committed to an eco-responsible approach. Among them is La Poulânerie, in Prébois, where you can enjoy a holiday on an organic farm. Guests can stay in the farmhouse, a fox’s hut, a Kyrgyz yurt or a round straw and earth hut. Host Mireille rents donkeys for hiking trips so she can share her passion for hiking with everyone.
Seeking a unique, peaceful escape to get away from it all? Lying between lakes and mountains in the south of the Isère department, the little known Matheysine area is an unspoilt plateau full of character between Trièves, Écrins and Dévoluy. The area also bears witness to the rich mining activity that has shaped its identity throughout the centuries. The Mine Image Museum, the Matheysin Museum and the Petit Train de La Mure highlight this aspect of history.
Head up to numerous passes and summits, spotting superb turquoise lakes – there are six lakes and reservoirs in total, plus 900km of marked hiking trails and 800km of marked mountain bike trails and a Bike Park. All of this, plus there are eight cultural sites that boast the ‘Heritage in Isère’ label.
Fancy some eco-friendly accommodation? L’Oriel du Sénépy gîtes sit in a secluded spot at the foot of the largest mountain pasture in Isère, making them the ideal place for an ‘unplugged’ holiday with family or friends.
This is the place for holidays with altitude: the Oisans mountain region in the southwest of Isère is full of majestic glaciers, crystal-clear lakes, natural parks, rivers and refreshing waterfalls – spaces that make vast playgrounds for active visitors, with long-distance hiking, mountaineering, cycling and summer skiing on the list of great outdoors adventures. There are 24 mountain huts to spend the night in, five mountain guide offices and guides to help you discover the regions (take a 13-day trek with a bivouac on the GR54 Tour of the Écrins in the company of Cyril Valois, a mountain guide based in Le Bourg d’Oisans), plus 37 artisans who make up the ‘Oisans Savoir-Faire’ route.
Notable resort Alpe d’Huez is offering some free ski lifts this summer to make it easier to move from one part of the resort to another. The strategically placed lifts include Télécentre, Alpe Express and Télévillage.
The Belledonne massif is a wild, preserved mountain range in the Alps extending over two departments (Isère and Savoie) and peaking at almost 3,000 metres. Full of lakes, jagged peaks, scree slopes and mountain pastures offering a multitude of landscapes, the area is an endless source of adventure, whether it be gentle or sporty. This is a true paradise and a natural backyard for outdoor activities. There are 770km of marked trails in Isère alone, plus nine mountain refuges and about 60 unmanned huts to spend the night in. There are five Natura 2000 sites and 72 Natural Areas of Ecological, Faunistic and Floristic Interest. Oh, and 70 lakes and 18 mountain passes as well!
New for 2022: La Maison du Chef at Uriageles- Bains – two Michelin-starred Christophe Aribert’s new hotel complex in the heart of the landscaped Uriage Park. The Maison du Chef is designed and built around the theme of the tree, a symbol dear to the chef ’s heart.
Chartreuse Regional Natural Park – aka ‘The Emerald of the Alps’ – with its wild landscapes and spectacular panoramas, is at once mysterious, unspoilt and fascinating, truly a place to awaken the senses, and the perfect place to breathe in fresh air, work out or unwind. What’s more, it is right on the doorstep of Grenoble, just an hour from Lyon and three hours from Paris.
There are many new experiences to be had here, whether gourmet, meditative or sporty, all with the unique landscape centre stage. It boasts 1,300km of marked hiking trails, more than 300km of marked trails for running, more than 10 fishing sites, including major sites in lakes and rivers, and seven hang-gliding schools.
Among the new hiking itineraries is ‘Escape into the Wild & Unusual’, a beautiful and easily accessible six-day journey with a qualified guide on hand to supervise the trip. The tour introduces hikers to the secrets of the Chartreuse: its unique landscapes, traces of history, tales of life in the past, a visit to the Grande Chartreuse museum and a whole host of other interesting places.
Find out more here: www.alpes-isere.com
From France Today magazine
Lead photo credit : The delightful city of Grenoble © Pierre Jayet
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