Set serenely at the confluence of the Drac and Isère rivers, Grenoble, the self-styled “capital of the Alps”, is, at just 213m above sea level, France’s lowest city, watched over by the snowcapped peaks of the Belledonne, Vercors and Chartreuse massifs. It’s a vibrant and cosmopolitan place, home to more than 60,000 students and a lively cultural scene, while at its centre is a quirky maze of streets, where modern and medieval buildings are packed close together. Its restaurants and cafes, meanwhile, provide relaxing spots in which to sit and admire the grandeur of this fantastic mountain setting.
Settled by the Celtic Allobroges tribe, who called their settlement Cularo, it was renamed Gratianopolis by the Romans in the fourth century and became the seat of a bishop. The city was annexed by France in the fourteenth century, and it was here, far from Paris, that a local uprising in 1788 (known as the Journée des Tuiles) initiated the French Revolution. Grenoble is the final stop on the Route Napoléon; the French emperor arrived here on March 7, 1815, declaring “Before Grenoble, I was an adventurer. In Grenoble, I was a prince.” The prosperity of the city was originally founded on glove-making, but in the nineteenth century its economy diversified to include industries as varied as mining and hydroelectric power, while more recently it has forged a reputation as a centre for scientific research in the electronic and nuclear industries.