Thursday, 11 April 2013

Tourist attractions in the Rhone-Alpes region

An introduction to the Rhône-Alpes region

Map of the Rhone-Alpes region     Rhône-Alpes , centered on France's second city, Lyon, is one of the larger regions in France, encompassing eight departments. With its three main cities, Lyon, Grenoble and St. Etienne, plus the area that includes the French suburbs of the Swiss city of Geneva, Rhone-Alpes is not only one of the largest regions in France, but also one of the more properous

       The  region includes all or a large part of different historic areas, including the Savoy and the Dauphiné, as well as a small northern part of Provence, known as "Drome Provençal". It stretches from the plains of the Bresse, in the north, to the lower reaches of the Rhone, in the south; and from the highest peaks of the Alps, on the Italian border in the east, to beyond the Loire in the west. It has international borders with Switzerland and Italy, and lies astride the main lines of communication from northern and central France to these two countries.

Departments of the Rhone Alpes region 
     The eight departments of the Rhone-alpes region are, from northwest to southeast: the Rhône department (69), around and to the north of Lyon, the Ain (01) in the northeast, including the Bresse plain and the southern part of the Jura; the Haute Savoie (74) and Savoie (73), two Alpine departments; the Loire (42) to the east of Lyon, the Isère (38) stretching from the Italian border almost to Lyon, the Ardèche, (07), the dry eastern flank of the Massif Central, and the Drôme (26), mostly made up of the southwestern foothills of the Alps. 

 Diversity of Rhône-Alpes region :

The region's identity is defined on the one hand by the river Rhone and its tributaries, and by the other hand by its Alpine uplands. The Rhône enters France at Geneva, follows a twisting course as far as Lyon, then heads due south towards the Mediterranean. From Lyon to the Mediterranean, the Rhone valley is one of Europe's major historic lines of communication, the shortest historic route between north and south, avoiding a crossing of the Alps or a large detour. 
     The area has a mixed economy: Lyon is traditionally a centre for the petrochemical and pharmaceutical industries, though also a major centre for service industries. Grenoble is one of the most important high-tech cities in France, a city which boomed in the high-tech revolution, when start-ups and international firms such as Hewlett Packard were attracted by the city's attractive location at the foot of the Alps. And in the northeast of the region, there lies a very prosperous area made up of the French suburbs of Geneva and the resorts on the southern shores of Lake Geneva.
     By contrast, St. Etienne is one of France's great industrial cities, with an economy based on coal and steel. The area around St. Etienne is an industrial heartland; and although the mines have closed, some heavy industry still survives.

Rural areas
     The northern departments of the Rhone Alpes region are relatively prosperous agricultural areas; but in the three main Alpine departments, the rural economy is heavily dependent on tourism, both in summer and winter. These Alpine departments boast many of the most popular, most accessible and most prestigious ski areas in France . The hilly country of the Drome and Ardèche departments does not offer a lot of good agricultural land, except in the valleys, where fruit and vegetables used to be a major industry; but in recent years, both these industries have suffered on account of cheaper imports from southern Europe. The Ardèche is a particularly dry department, offering the northernmost expanses of classic Mediterranean hinterland, "garrigue" or arid hills covered in scrub and coarse vegetation. 

Access to Rhone Alpes:

Access by train (direct TGV) from Paris Gare de Lyon or from Marseilles, Brussels, and other cities. Lyon is just 2hrs by TGV train from Paris. 
Access by car from the UK: the easiest way is to cross to Calais, then drive down the motorway via Rheims and Dijon, avoiding Paris.
Access by plane
Lyon St. Exupéry airport has good connections throughout Europe, and is a hub for Easyjet. There are also airports with flights from the UK in Grenoble and Chambéry. Just outside the region (just a kilometre from the French border), Geneva Cointrin airport has a wide range of  international and intercontinental flights.

Some of the main tourist attractions in the Rhône-Alpes region

Pont d'Arc
the Pont d'Arc, over the Ardèche river.
Photo Storch CC

Tournon, and Cotes du Rhone vineyards
Tournon, and it's Côtes du Rhône vineyards
Photo CC.
  • Bourg en Bresse (01) : ornate late gothic "Eglise de Brou", built as part of a royal monastery by Margaret of Austria. Centre for the Bresse wetlands, an area of lakes and marshes famous for its birdlife.
  • Lyon: (69) The historic city is classed as a UNESCO world heritage site. It lies between the rivers Rhone and Saône, and on the steep western bank of the Saône. The old city has an architectural and cultural heritage spanning over two thousand years.
  • Evian, Thonon (74) Chic resorts on the southern shores of Lake Geneva.
  • Chamonix (74). the original French winter-sports resort, now just one of many. It is the point of departure for hiking in and aroundMont Blanc, Europe's highest peak.
  • Mer de glâce, near Chamonix. (Receding) glacier, accessible by rack and pinion train.
  • Annecy (74) Attractive old Alpine town, on the shores of Lake Annecy.
  • Lac du Bourget (73) an Alpine lake, the largest freshwater lake in France.
  • Aix-les-Bains (73): classic elegant spa town on the eastern shore of the Lac du Bourget.
  • The Alps (74, 73, 38) the French part of Europe's most important mountain range, with numerous attractions for summer and winter. Includes la Vanoise and  Les Ecrins, two high mountain national parks.
  • Vienne (38) Small town on the Rhone, with interesting roman and mediaeval remains.
  • Grenoble (38)  Take the cablecar up to the Fort de la Bastille, for an impresssive view down over the town.  The National Centre for Contemporary Art is one of the best in France. The Grenoble Museum has a good collection of 19th - 20th century art, including Gaugin, Matisse, Bonnard and Picasso
  • The Rhône valley from Vienne to Tournon  (38, 07) The Rhone runs through a narrow valley, below some of the more famous of the "Côtes du Rhône" vineyards.
  • Tournon (07). Le train du Vivarais, old narrow-gauge steam railway winding up through the terraced valleys of the Ardèche department.
  • Vallon-Pont-d'Arc (07) top end of the Ardèche gorges, and site of a famous natural bridge across the river.
  • Le Vercors (26)  Attractive foothills of the Alps, a good area for hiking, mountain biking and other outdoor pursuits.
  • Montélimar (26). For many French people travelling south, Montelimar is where you reach "Le Midi" (the South of France). The city is famous as the home of nougat.