Grenoble: France’s Eco-Friendly, Nature Capital

IN Grenoble, a cable car over the Isère River takes passengers from the center of the city to Fort de Bastille, set on top of a hill. // Photography: Getty Images/ repistu

Grenoble is one of France’s most eco-friendly, outdoorsy cities, with some dated history and ancient secrets hidden up its sleeves. 

Located three hours away from Paris via the high-speed TGV, the growing metropolis nestled in the Alps serves up an against-the-grain, future-forward lifestyle to those who visit.

One of the largest cities in the Rhone-Alps region of France, Grenoble offers the best of both worlds — between bustling cityscape and rustic, calm outdoors, it is a hub of culture, art, business, research and nature all wrapped into one. With a public transportation system almost 100 percent green and over 40 parks and public gardens throughout the urban landscape, one could say that Grenoble may be one of the most ecologically conscious cities in the western hemisphere. 

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Place Saint André has two historic buildings, the former tribunal and the Collegiate Church of Saint-André. // Photography: Pierre Jayet

Yves Exbrayat, the director of Grenoble’s tourism office, says that the city paid attention to ecological problems with pollution long before other cities did. He says that this is not only technological, but an “art de vivre.” 

Eco-friendly travelers can make the most of their passion for all things green in Grenoble, from the plethora of outdoor activities within and outside the city limits to bike riding made easy by Métrovélo, and even in drinking Chartreuse, the region’s ancient green liqueur with a secret recipe. 

For the best view of the city, visitors can go by foot or by cable car up to the Bastille, Grenoble’s famous 16th-century fortress. The Bastille is the most visited landmark in the city, receiving some 60,000 visitors a year. From 1,561 feet above sea level, visitors get a 360-degree, panoramic view of the city below, as well as of the mountains surrounding the area. This landmark is not only accessible by foot, but by cable car — the first that Europe ever saw, constructed in 1934.

The Bastille, Grenoble’s famous 16th-century fortress located 1,561 feet above sea level, is the most visited landmark in the city, receiving some 60,000 visitors a year. // Photography: Pierre Jayet

Travelers can discover the Cuves de Sassenage, one of the “major natural sites of Grenoble,” canoe along the Isère River day and night with Canoe Grenoble, and ski only 20 minutes away from the city in Le Sappey-en-Chartreuse or at the Col de Porte, both of which are accessible by city bus line 62. For a food-themed excursion, travelers can also visit Le Grand Séchoir de Vinay, a set of orchards dedicated to la noix de Grenoble, or the Grenoble walnut — a regional delicacy. 

Grenoble is the only metropole that is nestled in the mountains in what Exbrayat considers “one of the most exceptional areas,” especially being situated next to skiing, mountain biking and rock climbing areas, and tied together with a lively, cultural and nocturnal social life.

Jardin de Ville, a historic garden in Grenoble, is a place to soak up the sun or enjoy a picnic. // Photography: Pierre Jayet

That being said, Grenoble has much more to offer its visitors on a whole other level of culture. For starters, there are over 20 museums to visit and 50 or so festivals to partake in each year — and as a city with over 2,000 years of history, Exbrayat says that both tourists and locals alike can benefit from not only the many museums and cultural sites, some dating back to the Gallo-Roman period, but from the city’s modern innovation, as well.

Some of the city’s most reputed museums include the Museum of Grenoble (le Musée de Grenoble), the primary museum of art and history in the city; le Musée Dauphinois, displaying works specific to the region; and the Resistance Museum (le Musée de la Résistance et de la Déportation de l’Isère), the building having once housed an ancient convent, which now focuses on the regional history and resistance during World War II. 

The Grenoble Street Art Fest, which began in 2015, brings together more than 60 artists from the region and around the globe. // Photography: Guillaume Rossetti

Less than an hour outside of the city by bus is the Domaine de Vizille, where the only museum dedicated to the French Revolution is located. The estate is also home to a park, classified as a “Remarkable Garden” by the French Ministry of Culture, acknowledging the site’s notable cultural, historical and botanical qualities. 

Old enough to sippy sip? The Museum of the Grande Chartreuse is only 45 minutes away from the city center by car, but is also accessible by bus line 7000 toward Saint-Pierre-De-Chartreuse, Plan De Ville. Being home to the mysterious green liqueur, only two Chartreuse monks know the exact ingredients to the ancient recipe. At the Chartreuse cellars in Voiron, there are special guided tours in English which end in a tasting session. There are also master mixology classes, where guests learn how to create their own Chartreuse cocktail. 

The Club at Okko Hôtels has a large terrace with views of the Hoche garden and the Alps.

Back in the city center, the festival scene continues to grow each year, creating a more diversified atmosphere for locals and visitors alike. Most notable, however, is the summertime Grenoble Street Art Fest — something very unique to France — which was inaugurated in 2015 and runs from the beginning of June through the beginning of July. This festival brings together more than 60 artists from the region and around the globe. Exbrayat tells us that the Office of Tourism offers guided visits of the festival’s art pieces, by foot and by tramway.

When the hiking and sightseeing finally becomes exhausting, the region is known for its spas. Most notably, in the confines of the city, are Les Jardins d’Amakrys, Hammam Café and Atlanthys Spa, all of which aim to offer the most of relaxation to its clients. Les Jardins d’Amakrys and the Hamman Café both offer saunas and restaurants, as well as hammam, a hot steam bath followed by a massage. The Atlanthys Spa offers well-being services of all sorts; some of their massages include chocolate massages or algae, vitamins and mineral massages. 

Okko Hôtels has 133 classic and five premium rooms crafted by French designer Patrick Norguet.

Once it’s finally time to pack up and settle in for the day, there are a handful of luxe hotels where visitors can kick up their feet and relax. Most convenient for travelers looking to stay in the city might be Okko Hôtels Grenoble Jardin Hoche, located in the city center. This four-star hotel has 133 classic rooms and five premium options. The rooms are designed by Paris-based French designer Patrick Norguet, who formulates his creative endeavors based on modernity and ecological thought: Qualities that go hand-in-hand with the Okko Hôtels brand. 

The classic rooms offer a double bed made exclusively by Greek brand Coco-Mat for Okko Hôtels, Italian linens, a bathroom with a walk-in shower, a flat-screen TV with both French and international channels (plus video on demand), a radio alarm clock, a Nespresso coffee machine, and Wi-Fi, along with access to The Club, the living and communal space for all guests that offers anything guests could ask for, from computers to snacks and drinks. The premium bedrooms offer the same as the classics, but in double the amount of space. 

We had the chance to chat with Solenne Devys, product and communication director, as well as spokesperson for the Okko Hotels brand. She points out the economic dynamics of Grenoble — how it is the second hub of public research after Paris, for example — as well its convenient location in the middle of the Isère mountain range. With its central location, the hotel offers guests a view of the mountains from the terrace, Devys says. 

The sauna at Okko Hôtels helps guests to unwind and relax.

The hotel’s clientele is principally composed of business travelers, though a handful of others come for conferences in the city or the luxury of its spas. The Okko brand’s hoteliers are also required to be the ambassadors of the cities they are in, Devys says, and thus they advise restaurants tailored around guests’ desires, tastes and budgets, while also being able to give them insight to other athletic and cultural activities as well as places to go out. 

Much like Grenoble, the Okko Hotels brand has integrated durable energy into each part of its conception, including products and services. To boot, the hotel is nestled in one of the city’s “eco-quartiers,” or “eco-neighborhoods,” and uses solar panel technology to supply 50 percent of the building’s hot water. “The managers of Okko Hotels have done everything with the thought in mind that hospitality is a very consuming industry in terms of energy,” she tells us. 

She also adds that the brand pays special attention to the design of their buildings, with the idea in mind that they must perform well from an ecological standpoint. They opt for bathroom amenities that provide them to limit water use and favor natural materials and local food suppliers over artificial or outside sources.

Located in the hyper center of the city, accessible by mere feet to most of the city’s touristic attractions, and elected the Best Family Luxury Hotel at the 2015 World Luxury Hotel Awards is Le Grand Hôtel. This lush and stylistic hotel is the only four-star hotel in the hyper center of Grenoble; it was recently renovated and is rated by clients on Booking.com and TripAdvisor as one of the best hotels in the city. 

The aperitivo served in the club of Okko Hôtels focuses on local products and flavors.

Ready for a night out on the town? First Stop: Dinner. Chez le Pèr’Gras is a restaurant that’s been open for over a century, and has always belonged to the same family. In 1996, three-Michelin-star chef Laurent Gras, a fifth-generation member of the family, took over the restaurant, which sits atop the summit of the Bastille, offering guests breathtaking views of the mountains as they dine. Holding the concepts of gastronomy and tradition close to heart, Chez le Pèr’Gras offers food and wine from the region and beyond. 

As its name suggests, Le Gratin Dauphinois serves up regional specialties in the luxury of the city center, just steps away from the central train station. Highly rated on TripAdvisor, this warm, charming address is perfect for anyone wanting to truly indulge in regional delicacy with convenience. Wine is a must, as well, and, here, bringing your own bottle from home is accepted — even encouraged. 

Le Fantin Latour, a restaurant by Michelin-star chef Stéphane Froidevaux, is situated in a 19th-century mansion and is known for modern, creative cuisine. // Photography: Pierre-François Couderc (Totem Studio)

Le Fantin Latour is another must-visit restaurant, situated in a 19th-century mansion with resident cockerel, hens, rabbits, frogs and bees, too. In 2017, the Michelin guide said that this address is “sensitive” and “full of character,” especially with Michelin-star chef Stéphane Froidevaux behind the magic. With nothing but fresh, seasonal products in use, visitors’ taste buds are in good hands here. 

To make things even simpler, the region recently set up direct flights three times a week between Grenoble and London with budget airline Ryanair for travelers coming from or traveling to the U.K. capital. To reach the Grenoble city center from the Alpes-Isère airport, take the ActiBus shuttle. Under normal conditions, the shuttle takes about 45 minutes from the airport to the Grenoble central train station. From there, most central locations are accessible by foot or by car.  

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