I love the outdoors and being in the mountains, so when I found CEA’s French Alps program, I knew it would be a perfect fit. Grenoble strikes the perfect balance of being a bigger city with a lot to do in town (bars, restaurants, museums, and parks) but also small enough that you get a pretty good feel for the city and are comfortable getting around after a week or two. Known as the capital of the French Alps, Grenoble is also surrounded by three very different and very beautiful mountain ranges, which I loved exploring. Many imagine the South of France with lazy beaches, but there is also an active and outdoorsy culture, and you would be missing out if you didn’t make it up to the mountains a few times.
1. Le Verscors
To the south (and slightly west) lies the Vercors range. This range is the one that greets you on your bus ride into the city and is very unique! Every fall there is a paragliding festival just twenty minutes from town on the edge of the mountains where hundreds of professionals fly down dressed in crazy costumes or compete in games down below. Among the fish, rainbows, horses and hawks, my favorite costume was the army of coordinating Lego men! It was so fun to watch, and of course there was a ton of good food. After going to the festival, a few friends and I were inspired to try it for ourselves a couple weekends later. What an incredible experience! Our instructors were really fun to talk to and some of them were ski instructors during the off-season for paragliding. Not a bad life! When it came time for us to try it, our only instruction was to run! It wasn’t as scary as you would think because it gradually lifts you up off the ground as you go towards the edge of the cliff and once you are up, the views are spectacular.
2. Le Chartreuse
This mountain range is famous for its mysterious and fascinating history of the monks who have lived and worked there for hundreds of years. However, their way to earn money for the monastery is a bit unique and has made them legendary. They brew Chartreuse liqueur. One weekend Patrick, our program director, took us for a tour of the distillery to learn about this fascinating history. The recipe was given to them by another monk in 1601 and contains over 130 different plants giving the drink its famous color. But there are only two monks who know the complete process and ingredients, even those involved in the process of making it only know certain aspects about it!
3. Le Belledonne
The Belledonne range in the east was my favorite because of how beautiful it is! Besides the many ski resorts, there are great hiking trails and even climbing spots all a short bus ride out of Grenoble. My favorite hike there was going to Lake Robert and Lake Achard, which has incredible views in all directions and takes you through one of the most popular ski resorts, Le Chamrousse. The Belledonne is very jagged and usually has snow by November making a beautiful backdrop to the university campus back in the city.
Grenoble is a city perfect for any outdoor enthusiast. The city itself is absolutely beautiful with mountain views from every boulangerie and park, but there is so much to explore, you will love discovering new hikes and activities, not to mention all the friendly faces you will meet in the mountains. Get out there and adventure!
Chelsea Heimbigner is a CEA alumna (Grenoble Fall ’14). She is an Alumni Ambassador and junior at Seattle Pacific University.
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