Grenoble & Alpe d’Huez

18 Oct

From Cauterets to Grenoble

Well, unlike me, SendMoneyPlease had a destination: an airport, on a certain day, at a certain time, to catch a certain flight. So, we knew we’d be going to Grenoble. (At this point, you may be wondering how it is that we decided to jump from the western, Spanish border of the country all the way over to the Alps – and, rest assured, there is more to the story: the beautiful Mediterranean coast. But more on that later.)

Leaving Bourg-d’Oisans, near Grenoble.

A quick TGV ride delivers a dramatic change of scenery into mountains of another name. Why Grenoble? Well, once again, we can thank RyanAir for its choice of airport, but also, I’m sure the proximity to one of the more famous Tour de France mountain stages played into this as well. (A quick footnote here: the Grenoble airport, although being situated in a relatively large university and ski-country city, only serves one destination in the summer. If you ask for the airport, or the bus to the airport, you’ll be sent to Lyon. We asked at 3 different offices to find the bus to the actual Grenoble airport. Why? It only runs twice a week – and only at one time: before the only scheduled flight.)

View from the Bastille, Grenoble.

The city is a seamless mix of old and new, urban and outdoors: cosmopolitan boulevards and an above-ground streetcar line boutique after boutique of high-end shopping; expansive cobblestone squares have outdoor tables set against a cathedral backdrop; the information office and (really well-staffed) national parks office handle tourists and returning university students in search of bus passes and hiking maps. Nestled in a valley, the city is completely bike-friendly-flat – surrounded by steep mountains on all sides. The student population is immediately evident – we encountered more joggers/runners and Indian restaurant options than anywhere else on the trip.

The teleferique, Grenoble.

A very manageable walking destination, the flowery city park leads directly onto the hiking path up to the main lookout point over the city: the Bastille, a fortress complex of 18th century fortifications and underground (or really, through mountain?) tunnels. Tourists in search of elegant dining with a view take the iconic, albeit Jetsons-like cable car over the river – and meet up with via ferrata cliff climbers at the top of the hill. The small, but superb (and free!) Museum of the Mountain Troops has multimedia displays explaining challenges of military maneuvers in difficult terrain, and the equally superb (and free!) Dauphinois Ethnography Museum shows models of mountain houses, lace making, cheese fabrication, and explains just how much bread the average Alpine family ate (um, impressive!).

Finally, a real bike. Bourg-d’Oisans.

For competitive cyclists, the town name Alpe d’Huez conjures images of raw manpower, of mind over matter, of polka-dotted jerseys, of world class athletes conquering a mountain by using sheer willpower. (Or so I can only imagine. Sorry folks, no first-hand experience of competitive cycling here for me.) However, once again, my travel companion has the good taste to appreciate such things, and this warranted a scenic bus ride out to the bottom of the hill: the Alpine ski village of Bourg-d’Oisans. If you’ve been following the blog entries, you’ll be happy to hear that SendMoneyPlease finally found a rental bike up to his racing bike standards, and a mountain course to challenge him. Me, I found free Internet access outdoors along a scenic canal and a SuperCasino grocery store for lunch in the most charming of Alpine villages.

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