Grenoble, capital of the French Alps, has much to be proud of. Visitors will enjoy discovering this mountain city for more reasons than one.
Café tables and chairs flood many of Grenoble’s squares when the weather heats up. During the chilly winter, locals warm up with hearty servings of gratin dauphinois, tartiflette, and raclette. It is easy to visit Grenoble thanks to the city’s compact size and efficient transportation system. For nature lovers, it will be hard to resist the call of the mountains-- three chains encircle the city, making it incredibly easy to get to ski resorts or to set out on an afternoon hike. Of course, the many internationally-recognized museums also attract visitors year-round.
While Grenoble has been inhabited since prehistoric times, it became an important site in 43 B.C. Its strategic position caught the attention of the Romans, who wanted it as a garrison town. They got their way, and established the city of Cularo. A few centuries later, Cularo became Gratianopolis, after the Roman emperor Gratien. He encouraged the spread of Christianity among the population and gave the city its first bishop’s palace in 381. When Gratianopolis became part of the kingdom of France, it took the name of Graignovol which evolved into today’s Grenoble.
Modern Grenoble is a mix of cultures, resulting from centuries of immigration waves. They say it is even rare to find a Grenoblois whose roots here go back more than three or four generations. From the late 18th to early 19th centuries, thousands of Italian immigrants crossed the Alps to work in Grenoble’s building and glove-making industries. They settled on the right bank of the Isère river and in the Saint Laurent neighborhood. Today, many Grenoblois head here if they want a good pizza—more than 20 pizzerias line the river bank.
In the 1960s and 1970s, Spanish, Portuguese, and North African immigrants came to call Grenoble home. In the city center, the North African immigrants settled in the oldest parts of town, in the rue Chenoise, rue Brocherie, and rue Très Cloîtres. Today, these streets, with their Middle Eastern restaurants, narguilé bars, and shops add a touch of exoticism to the city center. Many immigrants also moved into the former Olympic Village, in southern Grenoble.
It is impossible to talk about Grenoble without mentioning the mountains. Each of the three surrounding chains differs from the other. Belledonne, craggy and gray, looks over the city like a stern schoolmaster. Vercors, the flat plateau to the west, is known for cross-country skiing, the Resistance movement, and its organic farms. The mysterious Chartreuse mountains hide a millennium-old monastery famous for its namesake green liqueur. All three are easily accessible year-round, making Grenoble a mountain-lover’s paradise. More than a dozen ski resorts are within an hour’s drive.
Grenoble loves its mountains so much that it even built a cable car right in the city center. It was one of the world’s first urban cable cars, built in 1934. The “bubbles” as they are called, have become a symbol of Grenoble itself and transport 260,000 passengers per year. The bubbles take visitors up to the Bastille, a hilltop fortress that has been overlooking the city since the 1830s. No visit to Grenoble would be complete without a trip to the Bastille. Visitors can get there by taking the “bubbles” or by walking up a winding mountain trail.
Don't think that Grenoble is all mountain, all the time. Many world-class museums and festivals make this city an accessible cultural center. The Musée de Grenoble art museum houses one of Europe’s most prestigious collections of ancient and contemporary art. Le Magasin, located in a former industrial factory, is one of France’s main contemporary art centers. The MC2: Maison de la Culture with its 26,000 square meter of space, is big enough to host all sorts of cultural events, from opera to dance to electro concerts.
Visitors with some extra time can also venture out of the city. Many small towns offer interesting attractions, like the Walnut museum, the Chartreuse cellars, the Vizille chateau, or the Choranche caves.
The Skinny: Grenoble
Country: France Grenoble in numbers
Population: approximately 158,000 inhabitants within city limits; approximately 535,000 inhabitants in the greater Grenoble area Elevation: 204-475 meters (670-1,560 feet)
Average annual precipitation: 985 mm (38.8 in)
Average January temperature: -3°C (27°F)
Average July temperature: 26°C (79°F)
Major industries: nanotechnologies, chemistry, software technology, cement, tourism
Electricity: 220 volts, 50Hz, round two-pin plugs
Time zone: UTC/GMT +1
Country dialing code: 33
Location: Grenoble is located in the French Alps, in southeastern France: 567km (352 miles) SE of Paris; 55km (34 miles)
S of Chambéry; 103km (64 miles) SE of Lyon
22 Rue Thiers
9 Place Verdun
90 Chemin de la Bastille
42 Boulevard Clemenceau