Exactly a week ago, I took a day trip to the city of Grenoble, located east of Lyon in France and near the foothills of the French Alps. In fact, Grenoble is nicknamed as “the Capital of the Alps” for its proximity to the iconic mountains– you actually get views of them wherever you are in the city, thereby making for gorgeous views everywhere!
Grenoble had been on my bucket list of places to visit while in France for a while. I’d actually had serious thoughts about going two weeks prior with a friend for the weekend, but we ended up not going, just because the weather forecast didn’t look so promising then (i.e. rain and *possible* snow). That said, we decided to postpone our trip for another time, although we hadn’t been certain just when would be the next opportunity.
It wasn’t until that Thursday when my friend and I were having lunch that she brought up the idea of going that weekend: she’d looked into the weather forecast and it appeared more promising than the last time. Although I didn’t think of going to Grenoble that weekend, I didn’t have any weekend plans otherwise, so with that, I was on-board to go! We booked our Flixbus tickets (about 18 euros round-trip), and waited until Saturday rolled around.
The day came and, after a rather-delayed tram ride to the bus meeting point, I managed to get on the bus bound for Grenoble within a few minutes to spare before it departed– my friend had been earlier to arrive, so we were good to go otherwise. It was a peaceful, smooth 2-1/2 hour ride in the early morning; granted, it was rather foggy outside, but we hoped for it to clear once we arrived at our destination.
We made it to Grenoble around 11:15. Upon getting off the bus, we headed directly for the Isère River, which cuts through the city and offers lovely scenic views along its source. We strolled along the quay where we saw some cute, colorful houses along the shore, the Alps in the background, and the famous “les Bulles” which are bubble-shaped cable cars that take visitors to the top of the Bastille, an old fort at the top of one of the mountains for a 360-degree view of the city.
However, we didn’t take the cable car that morning, since we decided to save it for later in the day– instead, we headed into the historic center with narrow, cobblestone streets and stone buildings that seem to lean in for a claustrophobic feel. Again, we saw the mountains in the distance wherever we walked, and it’s no wonder just how picturesque Grenoble was!
Nearing noon, we ended up settling on a creperie where I ordered a ham-onion-Reblochon galette for lunch. It was piping hot and hearty, and in general, I love Reblochon cheese– it’s also a regional cheese for the area, which was good to have ordered.
It was after lunch that we returned to les Bulles, where we paid a one-way ticket to take the cable car up to the top. Admittedly, it was a tight squeeze as we ended up taking the trip with four Russian tourists, but the views as we ascended were lovely and detracted from the claustrophobic conditions otherwise.
At the Bastille, we spent some time wandering the old fortress, snapping photo after photo of the amazing views of Grenoble– unfortunately, the fog didn’t clear by then, but despite the haziness, it made for a gorgeous, somewhat mysterious, atmosphere. Especially with the mountains just barely peeking out from the foggy shroud, it gave an ominous, almost sublime, feeling to the viewing experience!
We also explored some nearby caves, known as “les grottes de Mandrin.” There wasn’t too much to them, but the fact that they were carved from the interior of a mountain was pretty darn incredible.
After our time at the Bastille, we made our descent back to the city center on-foot: besides being cheaper than having to pay round-trip for the cable car, it was also a way to see the lovely natural path along the way– plus, the descent is always easier than the ascent!
The walk down took about an hour, and upon returning to the base of the hill, we returned to the historic center where we checked out the Place du Verdun, a large plaza which had architecturally-lovely buildings surrounding it on all-four sides. Granted, they’re just administrative buildings (one of them being a museum for mountaineering), but the square was nevertheless a sight to see.
We wandered the historic center some more, eventually popping into a salon du thé for an afternoon tea break. Thing was, we didn’t actually get tea, but instead we got la tarte aux noix grenobloise, a sort of walnut tart that’s a specialty of Grenoble. It turned out to be one of the most heavenly pieces of dessert I’ve ever had, with its shortbread crust, caramel-chocolate filling, and walnut pieces blended into an absolutely sweet symphony (literally and figuratively). Definitely worth the experience.
Our time in Grenoble was drawing to a close afterwards, since we needed to catch the 17:15 bus back to our town. We headed to the bus station, passing through the bustling shopping center where Christmas market stands and decorations were already being put up. Lights came on as it got dark, which gave it a wintry, holiday feel that put me in good spirits, despite the chilly weather. We caught our bus home, where we arrived back around 19:30– after a long day of visiting, I was ready to go to sleep.
Altogether, it turned out to be a semi-spontaneous, but well-worth day trip to Grenoble. Especially with good company, it made it even more wonderful. I’m glad to have finally visited the “Capital of the Alps,” and I hope to return soon when the weather’s clearer to get the full experience of the beautiful mountains. Until then!
— The Finicky Cynic
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