Grand Days Out in Grenoble

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Thursday 21 August 2014

Grand Days Out in Grenoble

After 3 breathtaking hikes from our base at La Berarde and with several glacial valleys still to explore nearby, it was a difficult decision to move last Tuesday morning. However, after 3 glorious cloud free days, we awoke to rain clouds to find that the peaks that had so inspired us were now hidden from view and we felt it was time to continue moving north (but with a plan to definitely return to the Ecrins National Park in the future).

"Scream if you want to go faster"
Leaving early, we once more negotiated the narrow, heart-stopping road back out of La Berarde, pausing once again at the free electricity recharging point in the valley where we took a much needed hot shower and spruced up the van for the next stage of our journey.

Arriving in the town of Sassenage, just outside of Grenoble, later that evening we were pleased to find an almost full but peaceful little aire and settled ourselves into the last remaining corner. Slipping once more into our routine of taking a day to explore a town between our excursions into the mountains, we took some time to exercise on Wednesday morning before mounting our bikes for the 6km or so ride into Grenoble just after midday. Since we were parked right next to a cycle route which apparently follows the river all the way from Lyon to Gap/Sisteron we were able to enjoy the very pleasant ride right into the heart of the town with no traffic at all.

After getting our bearings we eventually found the tourist information by 2pm, where a very helpful man told us we were in luck, since in addition to numerous free museums in town, a rare opportunity for an English speaking tour of the Bastille was happening that day – at 3pm. He suggested we take the cable car, but being keen hikers we asked whether we could walk up instead? The answer was yes, but it would take an hour! Marching swiftly through town to the base of the defensive wall that runs down the 300m from the Bastille to the river Isere we began the climb. With no time to lose we pushed on in the muggy heat and did indeed make the start of the tour, however, it was somewhat at the expense of my shirt which showed the evidence of our exertions quite clearly for the next half hour or so (it was a tough and unexpected workout).

However, the tour was well worth it. The Bastille was originally built in the 16th Century when Henry IV ordered one of his dukes to seize the town, which he achieved by attacking from the hills to the north and where he promptly built a fort to stop anyone else doing the same. Rebuilt again in the mid-1800s, however, just 15 years later the Savoie region became part of France and so the border which it had been built to defend no longer existed. This does mean, however, it was never attacked and stands today in near perfect condition with all of the defensive features intact, including a very long tunnel connecting the fort to a hollowed out section of the nearby mountain where more cannons were stationed. It was a great tour and well worth the workout to get up the hill, including the lovely view over Grenoble and the distant hills that we had been hiking in just days before. From our lofty perpective the stages of development of the town were also clearly visible, from the tiny old town by the rivers edge, ringed by 1800's expansion and that ringed by a much larger and extensive 1960s expansion due to the hosting of the Winter Olympics. Fascinating stuff.

Back in town we stopped to visit the free archaeological museum which was surprisingly good. An otherwise simple church, once inside, turned out to be an excavated shell with remains going back more than 1000 years and full of burials and one of the oldest crypts in France dating back to the 7th Century. Armed with our free audio guides we spent an hour captivated by the history of the place until we realised it really was time to retrace our steps back to the bikes and head home for dinner.

With so much still to see we decided to modify our routine and stay an extra day in Grenoble and so Thursday morning saw us, after an early jog, back on our bikes and heading to explore the old town on foot plus making use of another free museum which showed the excavated remains of another early Christian church as well as the history of Grenoble from pre-historic to the French Revolution. After leaving the museum we cycled out of town slightly to visit the ice rink in the Olympic Park where, as a student, I had played during an ice hockey tour of the region. Happy memories. As afternoon arrived we once more took a slow ride along the river and prepared the van ready to move on again in the morning.

As per usual we didn't quite know where were heading to next, but we felt very happy to have spent some time relaxing in this picturesque and peaceful city.

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