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On all the main trade routes since the dawn of history, the Rhone-Alpes region has always been a melting pot of people and cultures which accounts for the wealth of its heritage. Continental in places, alpine in others and Mediterranean elsewhere, the geography of the Rhone-Alpes region gives visitors a diversity of landscapes unmatched in the rest of France, making it a holiday destination to suit all tastes.
Information about the Area
The Rhone Alps is one of the most scenic areas of France with dense forests, lush pasture land, huge lakes, deep gorges and spectacular mountains. The French Alps, dominated by Mont Blanc, form the border between Switzerland and Italy to the east of this region. The stunning landscape and the challenge of the peaks have long drawn climbers and walkers in the summer and winter sports enthusiasts in the winter.
Chamonix, both a ski resort and mountain climbing centre, is where the Mont Blanc Tunnel runs through the Alpes to provide a direct link between France and Italy. Along with Megève, Morzine and Val d'Isère, it enjoys an international reputation, as do the spa towns of Aix-les-Bains, Thonon and Evian, both situated on the south shore of Lake Geneva.
Grenoble, lies in the Isère Valley, surrounded by mountains and was the site of the Winter Olympics some years ago. It is a busy modern university town with a pleasant old quarter, good shopping, many parks and gardens and excellent ski facilities. There is a fine collection of contemporary art in the New Museum.
The Rhône river flows through the province on its way to the Mediterranean and passes through Lyon, the regional capital. The city is a mixture of northern and southern influences, drawing on the acumen of the former as the center for the silk and technology industries, and the joie de vivre of the latter, which is reflected in its Opera House, theatres and museums and its architecture, gardens and general liveliness. It claims to be the gastronomic center of France and there are numerous restaurants, including several whose chefs are acknowledged to be the finest anywhere. Cafes, bistros and food shops abound and there is something for every taste and pocket. There are markets selling local produce, crafts and pottery, an antique dealers quarter and excellent shops.
Upstream from Lyon are the ponds of the Dombes, a series of small lakes and habitat for a vast variety of birds. To the west are the vineyards of the Loire, and the forests and gorges of the Ardèche. The lavender fields and olive groves and warmth of the Drome lie to the south.
A traditional snack in the bistros of Lyon is Machon, a salad of potatoes, lentils, or dandelion leaves and bacon with garlic sausage, slices of brawn, cevelas truffè, a lightly cured pork sausage with truffles, served with jugs of Beaujolais. The dishes here are hearty and varied, drawing on local produce, onions, fruit and vegetables and a wide range of charcuterie as well as beef from Charolais, poultry from Bresse and freshwater fish and game from Dombes.
Butter, cream, milk and cheese, dominate the alpine area of the Savoy. Fish from the lakes and mountain streams, game from the forests and mushrooms from the woods. The orchards are planted with cherry, apple, pear and walnut trees, and strawberries and raspberries are plentiful in the glades. Soups are made with sorrel, pumpkins, nettles or leeks as well as with cheese. The rivers provide resources for a number of Savoyard dishes, fricassee of frogs legs with garlic, onions and vinegar, perch with red wine, quenelles. Casseroles made with pork knuckles, sausages, stockpot vegetables and chestnuts, chicken with crayfish and gratins , using cep mushrooms, leeks, cardoons and marrows, and cheese.
The great cheeses of the region include, Beaufort, Reblochon, Tommes de Bonneville, Boudane, matured in grape marc brandy, Tamié, made by Trappist monks, and Chevrotin and Persillé des Aravis.
The patisserie is rich and varied. Suisse, made with sweetened brioche dough and flavoured with orange, in the shape of a small man, said to be Napoleon. Fruit tarts, pear rissoles and potato bread.
The wines of the Savoy have a long history and are not often found outside the region. They are all unmistakably mountain wines and well worth looking for.
The Loire produces a vast range of wines from sweet to dry, still to sparkling, some fine whites and much rosé. Visits to the vineyards to taste are welcomed.
There are markets in all towns and villages throughout the region on different days.
If you want an actiive holiday, there are excellent fly- fishing, angling and casting, in the lakes, rivers and mountain streams for char, trout, pike, pike-perch, carp. Rafting in the Ardèche and at Bourg St-Maurice in the Alpes. Exceptional golf courses everywhere. Several spas where you can relax. Walking, hiking, riding, cycling and mountain biking through wild and natural country. Routes are well signposted and topographical maps available in larger towns. Potholing in the Vercors. The mountains, glaciers, canyons and gorges draw climbers from everywhere. There are beginners schools run by seasoned mountaineers, and experienced guides.
For skiers, there are numerous runs to choose from throughout the Rhone-Alpes with excellent facilities. Most of the stations have a good range of apres-ski entertainment; swimming pools, skating rinks, trekking, snowshoe expeditions, night skiing, paragliding, activities for children, nightclubs, restaurants, concerts. Cross-country skiing in the Vercors Regional Natural Park and in the Haute-Savoie and the southern Jura.
Generally long warm summers with temperatures reaching 30 degrees C. Cooler in the higher Alpes. Cold winters with good snow cover and a reasonable amount of sun. Mistral winds may blow up at any time of the year in the Rhone Valley, particularly in winter, followed by several clam days. In the Drome spring comes early with long hot summers and mild winters.