A Quick Tour of Southern France and Spain - Grenoble
Original: November 2013
This blog is the first from our November trip to France and Spain. Our initial stop was Grenoble where we mixed business and pleasure ... someone has to do it, but the trip to Grenoble from Galway is LONG ... and interesting:
1. Bus to the Dublin airport
2. Hotel stay for a night
3. Flight from Dublin to Heathrow
4. Flight from Heathrow to Lyon
5. TGV train ride from Lyon to Downtown Grenoble
Yes, we could have taken Ryan air from Dublin airport to Lyon, but we were flying the wrong day of the week, and life is better when one has status ... we had access to the British Air Lounge in Dublin and Heathrow for breakfast and lunch to help make our stops leisurely. The TGV is France's high speed luxury train and it was fun to watch the speed meter, at the front of each passenger car, as the scenery went whizzing by. The TGV is run by SNCF and you can buy your tickets at their website. The rail station at the Lyon airport is very impressive architecturally ... spacious, light, airy, and projects a pleasant view and a very short walk from the Lyon airport ... like attached at one end.
The Grenoble train station is in the city center and our hotel was just across the street, Suisse et Bourdeaux. It is a 2-star hotel, with 2-star rooms (but en suite WC), a 2-star breakfast (very edible and filling), and a 2-star price ( less than €70 per night); BUT a 5-star location ... across from the train station in the city center and a terrific view of the Alps from our room. Don't plan your leisure time around this room; it is a place to sleep and shower and maybe surf the net for your next restaurant or tourist attraction. We made our hotel reservations at link. (booking.com)
View from Room at Suisse et Bourdeaux
I was in Grenoble for a technical conference, but took time off one morning to do a little sightseeing by walking up La Bastille, a hill in the center of Grenoble with an old castle or fortification at the top. The walk took about an hour; we went up the short, but steep side, and came down the long, but less steep side. The view at the top was well worth the walk. We could have taken the "Bubble", a tram, up and down, but the coffee we had at the top tasted better after the walk .... or was more appreciated ... In reality, this was the "off season", and the bubble didn't start until later in the morning. At the top we enjoyed the coffee and admired the view for about an hour. This is an attraction that is well worth the detour.
Along the Walk Up La Bastille
View Along the Walk
View from the Top
Great Coffee at the Top
Gate to La Bastille
This is France, and Grenoble is a relatively big tourist destination, so Grenoble has plenty of restaurants. The only problem for Americans is that the restaurants don't open until 7 pm, and the service doesn't really start until 7:30. If you are used to eating before 6:30 then I advise finding a snack at about 4:00. There is PLENTY of good pastry in France that goes down very well with a strong cup of coffee. Also while waiting for the restaurants to open, we sampled the excellent house wines at a couple of the sidewalk cafés (at €3 to €3,50 for a generous pour, we almost didn't want to leave). Yes, I said the sidewalk cafés; and yes it was November. The weather was unseasonably warm with the highs for the day over 70F. Of course the night we arrived, it was about 50F and pouring rain. In general, Grenoble is very comfortable and appears to be prosperous. It's another Techno-Suburban town ... High tech companies, a University and Tourism, particularly skiing. The city or town size is also comfortable, about 160K people and about three times larger for the metropolitan area.
Grenoble Street View
We were in Grenoble for three nights, but were only free for dinner for two, and we broke one of our major travel rules: We ate in the same place twice.
Carol and I both love Fondue, and this is the region for Fondue, so we found a place on the internet appropriately called La Fondue (you may find the English language tripadviser.com details more useful). Each night we had plenty to eat including dessert and plenty of house wine for about €70. The staff was patient with our lack of French (the cook came out of the kitchen to take our order the second night, when THE English speaking waitress was off for the evening). We ate here on a Tuesday and a Thursday night, and the staff was sending people away after about 8:30 both nights. That's when the place filled and the tables out front were filled with people waiting for a table... But we never felt rushed.
Cheese Fondue with Bread and Dried Beef Dippers
The first night we ordered the "Cheef Special", this was basic cheese fondue with bread and a local dried beef for dippers. We followed this with chocolate fondue that came with plenty of fruit and marshmallows, and it was topped off with a complimentary shot of Gènève .... More on this later.
The third night we cooked our fondue dippers of beef and chicken in a pot of boiling wine, shallots, and garlic. We exercised some restraint and "only" had Sundaes for dessert. Carol had a praline and chocolate sundae, I had a Chartreuse Sunday. Again this was topped off with a shot of Gènève.
La Fondue is not a fancy restaurant, it's "French country/mountain food" ... No subtle flavors here. Just the kind of food we like. And from what we could tell ... This place was heavily visited on traditionally light nights, by locals and tourists "in the know".
Now for the discussion about Gènève and Chartreuse, the local liquor/liqueur. It defies description: it is sweet like a liqueur, but the 80-110+ proof makes it burn like a liquor ... Think brandy or cognac but sweet.
Here is my attempt at a description, but it is much more pleasant than my description ... unless you talk to Carol, my wife.
Start with the sensation of Scope mouth wash, but take a little of the mint flavor off, and add some herbal flavors... think Herbal Essence shampoo... Add the pleasant burn of your favorite liquor, and multiply by 2. Despite this description ... I LOVED IT and we bought a few bottles. (OK ... I bought a few bottles)
Chartreuse has a long and intriguing history and is usually only found in the Grenoble area. The history or legend starts in the early 15th Century and progresses to present day. The liquor is produced by the Carthusian Monks.
Chartreuse and Gènève Advertisement
We found Grenoble to be very pleasant, a place we would like to revisit with a little more time. The city center was very walkable; there was no reason for a rental car and the parking hassles that come with it. Mass transit and taxis appeared to be abundant, but we didn't feel the need to use them, although in retrospect a taxi would have been wise the first night when the heavens dumped as we walked to dinner.
You might want to consider Grenoble as part of a TGV tour. There seems to be some very pleasant cities and towns all up and down the TGV. I think together these cities and towns would make a very pleasant one week to ten day tour.
See You in The Pub!
Jack Lag Jack