Grenoble is surrounded by three spectacular mountain ranges, the Vercor, Chartreuse and Belledone. From our bedroom window we could see the fresh snow on the mountain tops so headed that way while we could before some of the passes close for the winter.
As we wound our way up the side of the mountain of the Vercors the views were amazing, made all the more striking with the glorious Autumn colours. We reached the plateau and it felt as though winter had suddenly arrived, there was a light dusting of snow on the trees and the temperatures fell a few degrees. From here we could see a number of smaller ski resorts covered in snow, although they'll need another decent fall before they're ready for any action, they looked so inviting in the sunshine. Down the valleys there are the smaller mountain villages dotted about that will soon be under snow.
It's a glorious site but even better was the cafe/restaurant that we found. The most welcoming place that we have wandered into for ages, with some delightful Frenchmen eager to tell us about their escapades to NZ last year. We were soon brought a tray of coffee and delicious homemade biscuits, and unexpected surprise in France. As we lent back and enjoyed the atmosphere the people just kept on rolling in, this is pretty much right on miday as all the French stop precisely on time for lunch. And most restaurants, unless family run, will only serve you between 12-2.00pm. Infact if you arrive after 1.30pm you'll be very lucky to be served, so will probably need to find a supermarket or bolangerie.
But what delighted us most, was the elderly couple next door who had bought their glass of wine from the bar to accompany their own packed lunch. There they were in their hiking clothes, alpine poles and backpacks beside them, enjoying a nice glass of red wine with their own bread and cheese and were made to feel just as welcome as the rest of us.
While up on the plateau we strolled around a couple of small villages then headed down through one of the deep gorges - Gorge de la Bourne, the steepest and most thrilling was closed so we walked the winding oneway road as far down as we could admiring the view. Golly they are stunning gorges with huge rock faces dropping into the abyss. A popular spot for the brave cyclists among us.
We also stopped to see the memorials scattered along the road, and to learn a bit more about the involvement that this area had in the French resistance.
Enjoyed our own delicious lunch of bread and cheese- why do we make such a thing out of making sandwiches when you can rip off a peice of baguette, take a chunk of cheese and there you have it!!! Followed by a peice of fruit and then some chocolate - of course!!!
Pont-en-Royans is a very picturesque village at the base of the Bourne river gorge. A 16th century town known for its medieval architecture with colourful houses that hang out over the the cliffs. Fascinating to see the use of timber but also interesting to note that over the last hundred years two thirds of the houses have succumbed to the abyss. A wonderful sight but don't think I'd want to reside in one of them.
Another fascinating visit was up the Chartreuse mountain range on the other side of Grenoble. We took a slight detour through Saint Hugues de Chartreuse and admired the museum of Scared Art. The church is an art gallery decorated by the painter Arcabas. With huge paintings taking up almost the full wall space, some flamboyant use of colour, it really is a delight to stop and wander through.
Almost run over by a mob of keen young boy scouts having their lunch - once again the basic, peice of baguette, cheese, and an apple. Why would you do any more????
From there we found a little family run restaurant that was buzzing with activity. It was 12.30 on Sunday and traditionally it's family day. This place was totally full with people devouring , not just a bit of trendy restaurant food but good hearty homemade mountain food like Fondues and stews. The noise level was high with large tables of happy families and enthusiastic diners, so welcoming that you just wanted to stay and be a part of it. We were only having a coffee, so we loitered up at the bar for a while with coffee in hand and absorbed the atmosphere
From there we headed further up the mountains to the magnificnet Grand Chartreuse Monastery. An outstanding building, sadly not open to the public but we felt like we had a bit of an inside running as Chrisptoher had been lucky enough to not only go inside but to converse with one of the monks, an entertaining Irishman, a few months ago.
This order dates back to the 11th century, there are 19 Monasteries such as this around the world and the monks continue to live a solitary almost hermit like existence. There are only 20-30 monks residing in this impressive Renasssance building. They live in individual cells, which resemble a good sized townhouse, only leaving their cell to meet for silent prayers in the Monastery chapel three times a day. During the rest of the day they mediate, study, eat, tend their small plots and do some kind of manual labour. On Sundays they meet for a communal meal, which is still eaten in silence but do have the opportunity to converse with other monks once a week while walking in the countryside. And twice a year they are able to have close family visit them.
Since 1605 however this order of monks have been better known as the producers of the Chartreuse liqueurs. Which they still continue to play a part in and this commercial activity in turn allows them to dedicate their lives to prayer and meditation.
Our last day down here we hoped in the car again and headed for the hills. Winding along the base of the hills through the Walnut groves to a another wonderful little village. It is Armistice day throughout all of Europe so a public holiday with many memorial services taking place and most of the city is shut.
We coffeed in a basic roadside cafe/bar (always reliable), then wandered through the village up the deep gorged out valley. A really delightful old village with a number of old walnut drying sheds being converted to some rather inspiring looking homes. Great use of old and new. ideas to take home, although has often happens your first thoughts go to - how would this hold out in an earthquake?? Save the ideas but need a kiwi twist on these plans.
An entertaining bit of 'trespassing' by our trusty leader took us to the stunning old Chateau de la Scone. A magnificent house and garden set above the Isere River that Christopher has discovered a couple of years ago and now almost had part ownership of!!! Well I think the gardener sees it that way!
Next stop was the village of Saint -Antoine-l'Abbaye, a very special place and we soon discovered that it held up to its official title of being one of the 'most beautiful villages of France'. One of the oldest medieval towns in this area it is filled with a history of romance, fighting, hardship and Christian influence.
The thin winding cobbled streets were filled with some fascinating looking architecture while the gorgeous square in the centre of the old town is lined with narly old Plane trees. As we wandered among the old cobbles up to the magnifencet Abby it is quite a breathtaking site. The main gothic styled church was built between the 12th and 15th century to house the relics of Saint Anthony of Egypt. But right up until the 17th century they continued to add on other buildings like, a refectory, cloisters, dormitories and even a hospital wing.
Anne, David and I sadly had to say goodbye to Christopher and Sylvie and head back towards to Geneva and our various homes. But there's still so much more to see and do, so fingers crossed Spring will see us back this way heading south to explore some of the Provence region.