When asked if I fancied mountain biking, snowboarding, via ferrata, high ropes, fine food and even an art gallery, in one long summer weekend? It took me all of ten seconds to shout out, “Yes please!” Even if it did mean leaping off the city’s bastille walls.
Grenoble is a city I’ve driven past many times, en route to the mountains of France, having never even stopped there for a coffee - so when the idea of staying there was aired as part of an active city/mountain break, I jumped at the chance and I wasn’t disappointed by my leap of discovery.
Grenoble is a compact university city with a medieval heart, filled with alfresco cafés and a vibrant street culture, surrounded on all sides by the snow-capped mountains of the Rhone Alpes, and dissected through its heart by the Isere River.
My first port of call was the first ever cable car in Europe, which has the most fantastic 70’s globe pods, which takes you – leisurely - up to the old mountainside bastille, with its ‘Acrobastille’ high ropes course.
For foodies, the fine Restaurant du Teleferique, also at the top, serves a great lunch and also makes an atmospheric place for dinner, with the lights of the city twinkling far below.
Dangling from a cable high above the ground is always a little unnerving, but the Acrobastille course, built into and along the bastille walls, high above the city, is sometimes - quite frankly - terrifying. Having said that, the views are fantastic, and once over the initial fear, its great fun to whip along the very high zip lines and tackle the well thought out and exposed obstacles.
There is also a fantastic child friendly course built into the bastille’s old store rooms, with illuminated animals and witches; a sort of high ropes haunted house, about ten foot from the ground.
Back down in the city I rented a bike from the train station. The yellow bikes, from Metrovelo (kids and trailer bikes available), are perfect for touring this cycle friendly city, and only cost €3 for a day’s rental. The city is totally flat and well signed, so after a quick stop at the central food market, I headed for the river and followed the traffic free path along the Isere, where there is summer canoe rental.
The evening was spent at the museum of Grenoble. After perusing the surprisingly fine collection of 13th Century through to contemporary art, I stuffed myself at the very good Le 5 restaurant, before joining a crowd of students enjoying an outside film festival.
The following morning, I headed to Les 2 Alpes, and the supposed active part of the weekend, but in reality, clinging onto exposed cables and cycling around Grenoble had ticked all the active boxes too.
A little over an hour later I was changing into my mountain biking kit. Les 2 Alpes has some fantastic mountain biking routes, from simple mountain tracks to specially designed narrow routes, graded from green to black, with Berms (banked corners), jumps and raised features.
There are 8 chair lifts that will take you and your bike up the mountain. As I sat on one, I looked down at some guys on a red course and thought, “I’d like some of that”.
Mounting my bike, in full body armour and full-face helmet, I soon realised that I was pushing my limit on the greens and I wasn’t going to go on a red today – as once you drop into these narrow and winding trails, there is little chance of using the brake, and it’s a matter of going with the flow, and ever increasing speed.
Having survived the mountain bikes and washed half the mountain off my face, having only hit the deck a couple of times, I had one of the finest lunches I’ve ever had at the world class Chalet Mounier. The Chalet Mounier has a Michelin Star restaurant, but for a fraction of the price you can eat in the main dining area, with the excellent food still coming from the same kitchen.
By the afternoon, rain was falling heavily, so a little thankfully (as I was a somewhat battered after the bikes), I gave the via ferrata a miss, and hiked down to the traditional village of Venosc with its cobbled streets, cafes and artisan shops.
The next day I was up early, and in bright sunshine, caught the first lift up to the glacier. Snowboarding in the summer is always a bonus, and for some reason it always makes me feel a little naughty, as if it’s not really allowed to be sliding on the snow in July.
The previous winter Les 2 Alpes got so much snow that the pistes where open from 3600m all the way down to the top of the Telepherique cable car at 2200m. There is also a very good terrain park where freestylers were throwing down some impressive moves.
It was a little icy in the morning, but as the day wore on and the snow melted a little, it turned in to fantastic spring like conditions, and I found myself carving some fast and wide turns on near empty pistes.
Summer is a great time of year to introduce family members to skiing or snowboarding, as there are other things to do in resort post skiing and the weather is normally warm. As such there were quite a few beginners on the blue pistes at the top of the glacier, including lots of children.
As I sat in a car, dropping back down to the valley floor en route to the airport, I found myself wishing I’d booked a week in the Rhone Alpes, rather than a long weekend, as I hadn’t seen half of Grenoble, nor paraglided, mountain boarded, horse ridden, ice skated, bungy jumped from the cable car in Les 2 Alpes…
Oh well, at least I have an excuse to go back this summer!