Grenoble, France, 1968: a sporting and outdoor destination unparalleled around the world. Host city of the Winter Olympics, hub for skiing, alpinism and focal point of a growing scientific industrial center.
Fast-forward in time to present-day Europe, and what is Grenoble? Most Americans imagine a radioactive wasteland, where the dangers of a nuclear-powered society were realized. In fact, that’s the response I received from my friends once I told them I’d be spending a winter there. A nuclear winter is what they imagined.
Though fortunately for me, and Europe, similarities between Grenoble and Chernobyl end with the name. Although these foreign destinations were both designed to be powered off nuclear energy, all of Grenoble’s uranium is still safely contained within a 10-foot-thick cement boob. (With a big blinking nipple, I might add.)
The growth of the nuclear power plant and its surrounding amenities is probably the most noteworthy thing to happen to Grenoble since the ‘68 Winter Olympics. One need not attend Mensa meetings to be impressed with the achievements of the European Union and global scientific community here.
Any History, NatGeo or Discovery Channel admirer knows the achievements of the CERN particle collider in Switzerland. But few outside the video-gaming community know of the smaller 50 or so synchrotron particle accelerators; one of the largest is located between the Isere and Drac rivers towards the southern edge of town at the ESRF. (I’m sure I lost the attention of a few brosefs by mentioning particle and acceleration without an aforementioned beer bong, but synchrotrons are responsible for many inventions which make 21st Century living possible. Check it out at esrf.eu).
Outside of the scientific hoopla that only Trekkies and W.O.W.ers seem to appreciate, the region in which Grenoble resides hosts a handful of other activities. To start, Mt. Blanc (Mt. White for we Americans) is located only about 1½ hours to the north. If Mt. Blanc reminds you of a pen and not a place, don’t worry, most French don’t seem to care either.
In fact, what do the French really care about, especially the Grenoblois? I’ve pondered this question while waiting on the omnipresent transit system, in waiting rooms at well-staffed hospitals, and studying in low-cost government subsidized universities. “Cheese and wine!” is how the rest of the world would reply – and I have to say, I agree.
While in Grenoble one must try Raclette. It’s a heavy, greasy, melted hunk of delicious cheese that can be served in a baguette with ham or in a hearty dish with potatoes, bacon, onions and spices (tartiflette) – kind of French carne asada fries, but not really.
Speaking of greasy, melted deliciousness, some say fondue was founded in these foothills of the French Alps. Who would have known the word "fondue" is French? Its origin is a touchy subject, so while in Grenoble just call it Franc.
But I regress: there‘s much more to the Alps Du Nord than cheese. Within 1½ hours by bus from Grenoble, one can access nearly 20 ski resorts. Here’s a tip. Like everything else in France, skiing is subsidized. Thus, while in Grenoble, do as the Grenoblois: take advantage of the ubiquitous public transportation and take a bus to a local ski resort. I recommend Les Deux Alps. A full day of skiing plus transportation to and from the mountain generally costs around 30 euros. Compare that to a day’s trip to Big Bear!
So what not to do in Grenoble? Try your best not to step in dog shit – trust me, watch your step. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!