A Grenoblois’ Grenoble: Five hidden gems in the capital of the Alps

Travel Tips — By crebuffet on August 5, 2010 at 10:53 am

You’ve taken the Bubbles up to the Bastille. You’ve marveled at the Matisses of the Musée de Grenoble and gone gaga over the gratin dauphinois of La Table Ronde. Now it’s time to scratch the surface and discover parts of Grenoble that some locals don’t even know about (but that they should, because these places are worth the detour).


Pumpkin's downstairs dining room

Tell most locals there’s an American restaurant in Grenoble and they’ll respond “Oui, le McDo.” As the French would say, yes but no. The best American restaurant in Grenoble (and possibly in the whole Rhone-Alpes region is Pumpkin’s. A Franco-American couple runs the restaurant and it serves American dishes we all know, love, and occasionally miss when abroad. Plus the brunch is just plain heaven on a plate.

Although things are changing, many French people don’t know about American cuisine or that an American cuisine even exists. Since Pumpkin’s is in a residential neighborhood with few other attractions, only in-the-know diners cross the threshold.

If American is synonymous with fast when it comes to food, Pumpkin’s may not be your best choice. With only one, sometimes two cooks in the kitchen, wait times can vary (but if you have the time, you won’t regret it).

Les Halles Sainte Claire

Produce stalls at Les Halles

This one is a Grenoble institution, but not many tourists know that. The city has a lot of markets and visitors may mistake the Saint Claire Halls for just another pretty outdoor produce well. Sure, the fruit and vegetables lay the foundations for great dishes, but the real surprise hides inside. Traditional French cheese stands, an organic bread shop, a Harley-riding chicken vendor, and homemade Italian dishes will leave you feeling fat and happy.

Many tourists may not dare to venture inside the Halles, just because there’s nothing outside to tell you what’s inside. Sure every French person knows that Les Halles means there’s some sort of market, but visitors sometimes needlessly hesitate before entering.

Shoppers used to endless variety and exotic produce may not find what they are looking for at Les Halles Sainte Claire. Those looking for an authentic experience, however, will come away satisfied.

CNAC – Le Magasin

Generally, I don’t recommend museums as escape-the-tourist attractions, but Le Magasin is a little different. In fact, this place offers a

Inside the CNAC-Le Magasin

two-for-one experience. The Eiffel-style building is huge and between the stone walls and the giant, factory-style windows visitors immerse themselves in part of Grenoble’s industrial history. Temporary, whacked-out contemporary art exhibits fill the space, many of which are created on-site.

Contemporary art is not easy to understand and it seems many people just don’t get it. I certainly don’t. That’s part of the fun if you keep an open mind. Since it’s on the outskirts of Grenoble (they used to manufacture hydraulic equipment here, not exactly something you want in the city center), it often dodges the tourist radar.

People who think art should be a pretty picture may feel overwhelmed by the creations on display at Le Magasin. They would be better off at Le Musée de Grenoble.

La Bobine

This is the place to enjoy bands before they go big, sign with a major label, and charge ungodly prices for their concerts. The place has everything

La Bobine

Inside the bar of La Bobine

to please indie music fans with quality programming and a bar-restaurant with wood terrace overlooking the Parc Paul Mistral. The whimsical decoration between a 1960s van that serves as the ticket counter and the vestiges of the bowling alley that originally occupied the building makes the place unique in Grenoble. Plus, an association and a team of volunteers run the place, lending a human, friendly air to the atmosphere.

Since La Bobine doesn’t pull in the big names of the music business, it remains a real hidden gem. Locals come here to eat, enjoy a drink, and listen to good music in a relatively intimate setting. From the outside, there’s not much to let on as to what goes on inside, so keep a sharp eye out.

If you don’t like kicking back with people you don’t know, La Bobine isn’t for you. Lock your uptight side in the basement, give your language skills all you’ve got, and just go have fun.

Saint Bruno market

Saint Bruno hardly hides from locals, but tourists may easily bypass this shopping experience, unlike any other in Grenoble. From the loudmouthed merchants to the dressing room vans, Saint Bruno offers local color at its best. Here, shoppers will find a little bit of everything,

Spools of fabric on sale at St. Bruno

which can be good or bad, but that’s half the fun. The prices are more than reasonable and you can sometimes find designer jeans for around 15 euros. You’ll have to dig though, so don’t try to rush through the Saint Bruno market—you’ll miss out on the joy of treasure hunting.

The Saint Bruno market may set up six days a week, but after 1:00 p.m., the square turns into an unsightly parking lot. The Place Saint Bruno is outside the historic center, so except for the market, the neighborhood offers little in terms of things to do.

Getting swept up in the ambiance and scrounging for that perfect item best describes a shopping trip at Saint Bruno. If calm, quiet shopping in neatly-arranged boutiques is more your thing, skip this lively hodgepodge of a market.

Tags: "La Bobine" "local attractions", "Le Magasin", "off the beaten track", "Pumpkin's", Grenoble, local


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