With its mountain backdrop, right on the doorstep of the Écrins National Park, Grenoble has long been a favoured destination for those who want a city break in a spectacular countryside setting. Most people get around by bike, which is especially easy thanks to city-wide rental scheme MVelo+ (£4 per day). There are some 200 miles of cycling routes in and around the city. Ride out along the Isère or Drac rivers passing walnut groves, lakes and meadows. If you’re weary by the time you reach the town of Tullins, return by train back, bike and all.
Europe’s Green Capital of Culture for 2022 has plenty to offer visitors on a city break. Start with street art, such as the mural by artist duo ReSkate called Eco Vs Ego (1 Place Doyen Gosse), an environmental message rendered in the style of a 1940s advertising poster, which was added to Grenoble’s ever expanding outdoor gallery in 2020 as part of the annual Street Art Fest (June).
The city’s architecture is equally as eclectic. Art deco is a common theme and one of the more hidden examples is the Garage Hélicoïdal, a multi-storey car park with an extraordinary entrance. Built between 1928 and 1932, its seven levels of concrete balustrades spiral around a central hall capped with a glass roof. The tourist board’s Art Deco Tour gets you inside, or you might just be able to peep in if the doors are open. Another architectural highlight is the post-war Tour Perret — at 95 metres tall, it towers over the city’s biggest green space, Parc Paul Mistral, where you’ll find ponds, play areas and walking trails plus a good selection of dance classes, yoga sessions and music events in summer.
Grenoble’s proximity to the mountains puts swimming lakes and walking trails within easy reach, all well-connected by public transport. Take the number 15 bus to the Bois Français for a dip in the lake, or bus 47 out into the Vercors for the Ruisseau de la Pissarde hiking route: seven miles of trails flanked by waterfalls and a stream.
Green and serene, evenings in Grenoble can nonetheless be lively. Head for the old town and its warren of narrow streets that open out into elegant squares. By 7pm, the alluring boutiques have turned their signs to ‘fermé’ and the city’s thriving bars and restaurants take over. Fans of good beer are spoiled; pure mountain water lends itself perfectly to brewing, and so bars such as Brasserie Neptune make their own.
Meanwhile, restaurants offer everything from traditional Savoyard cuisine (try La Ferme à Dédé) to innovative dishes using only local products, including mountain herbs (try Jeanette). Star chef Christophe Aribert gives his own twist on the local Grenobloise fare at Bouillon A on the Presqu’Ile.
To rest weary limbs and enjoy a few beers, check into modern Okko Hotels Grenoble Jardin Hoche in the ‘eco-district’ of Zac de Bonne, where doubles cost from £100, including a daily aperitivo hour with local snacks.