When you grow up in Florida, mountains become an exotic thing. As is even the smallest patch of snow.
That’s why I fell head over heels for Grenoble!
Located in the river valley of several mountain ranges, this town is a popular ski getaway. It even hosted the 1968 Winter Olympics.
Dan has relatives, Anna and Emmanuel, that live just outside of Grenoble, in Coublevie, and we couldn’t wait for an opportunity to visit them. In addition to this being a vacation for us, there was an element of business – Emmanuel teaches English and had scheduled a day of American English immersion for his students that we would help with!
We took the train from Toulouse > Lyon > Grenoble, about a 6 hour trip.
We woke up to this view and cold, clean air.
Anna met us on the platform and we immediately set out! She took us along the river to a place called Pizza Row, i.e., heaven.
It’s called this because of the large population of Italian immigrants who, decades ago, set up pizzeria after pizzeria. The French do so much magic in the kitchen, but pizza might not be one of those things. Daniel and I have had some strange, yet earnest, attempts at pizza in Toulouse, but this was the real Italian deal. One bite and I was back in Florence 2008.
Sitting in the sunshine at the foot of the French Alps with Italian wine and pizza, I couldn’t help but feel we were getting the best of both worlds.
From our table, we could see les bulles, the cable cars that would take us up to the Bastille, a fortification perched above the city that has been around since the Middle Ages.
Ready to ascend!
We hiked back down into town to walk through the Christmas markets and get some vin chaud. It was Friday evening and the city was bustling.
After a full first day, we headed home and ended the night with a big meal, ice cream, and Chartreuse. We were going to need our rest, because the following day was the American English immersion outing!
Emmanuel, Daniel, and I met his students in another nearby town, Voiron, at a cafe where we introduced ourselves and went through the day’s plan. Emmanuel instructed them to act as our tour guides and to speak only in English. They did very well!
There happens to be a world famous chocolate shop in Voiron called Bonnat. In the knowledgeable hands of the Bonnat family, cocoa beans from all over the world come here to be artfully made into bars and truffles.
This particular day was a busy day in the shop. Staff members were quickly wrapping gift boxes and coming in and out through the swinging door to the factory, each time wafting steam and chocolate aroma into the lobby.
Together, we spent several hours in Voiron visiting other spots including the church of St. Bruno and the produce markets.
Every street we turned down was picturesque. The buildings are pastel colored and terraces are often covered in hanging vines. In Voiron, be sure to look up, down, and behind.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to visit the Chartreuse distillery, but that’s because it was time to return home for lunch.
Earlier, I wrote the French do many things well (excluding pizza) and one of those things is obviously CHEESE. I am forever amazed by all the different kinds of cheese and ways to eat cheese that the French indulge in. That day, we were in for a treat because Anna was preparing raclette. Traditionally a large wheel of cheese is held in front of a fire and as it melts, the cheese is scraped off and poured over potatoes and charcuterie. It’s beloved in Switzerland as well as in France, especially after a long day of skiing. Nowadays, people have handy table top grills where the potatoes are warmed on top and slices of cheese sit in pans under the grill, slowly becoming molten. Then at peak bubbly goodness, you remove your pan of cheese and pour it over the potatoes and charcuterie. Repeat until forever.
In effect, the day was not just an English immersion experience, it was also a cultural exchange. We all got to ask questions and compare customs and Daniel and I took a lot away from the whole day.
The town where Anna and Emmanuel live, Coublevie, is just as picturesque as Voiron. They live in a house that is at least 200 years old and surrounded by mountains.
A short drive away is the Grande Chartreuse monastery in the Chartreuse mountains where Carthusian Monks reside in silence and hold the secret recipe to the beloved liqueur. The original manuscript was introduced in 1605 and currently only two monks are allowed to know the recipe, which is distilled from 130 herbs, pants, and flowers, no other additives. It is one of the handful of liqueurs that continues to age and improve in the bottle.
You can hike around the monastery, but entering is prohibited. The zone of silence is respected by visitors and adds to the feeling of isolation set off by the imposing mountains.
This was our last day in Grenoble and we ended the cold day of hiking with Cast Away (I cry like a baby every time) and “green chaud” (hot chocolate with Chartreuse!)
It could not have been a better ending to an amazing weekend. Anna and Emmanuel really put out all the stops for us and made this trip unforgettable.