Fairytale of Grenoble: The Peaks of an Alpine Christmas
Emily Cooper explores the best of the French Alps’ festivities in Grenoble and its surrounding areas.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year: exam deadlines are fast-approaching, bookmakers are starting to take bets on the likelihood of a fourth (?) lockdown, and many among us are attempting to fight off a persistent cold that’s hopefully not the early signs of COVID-19 (although, quite frankly, a 10-day break from university isn’t the least appealing thing I could think of right now).
In all seriousness, spending the run-up to Christmas abroad hasn’t been the easiest experience. Not only does the festive period serve as a reminder of the family and friends that I’ve left behind at home, but life has begun to resemble a somewhat underwhelming advent calendar, with each day revealing yet another task left to complete before I catch my flight back to England just days before the festivities begin. Nonetheless, as soon as I catch myself feeling overwhelmed, I try to remind myself of the main reason why I decided to spend a year abroad in Grenoble in the first place – that is, to experience life à la française, and all that it has to offer: Christmas included.
A quick search of the phrase ‘Christmas in Grenoble’ on Google Images reveals a plethora of photographs taken at the city’s renowned Christmas market: salespeople wrapped up warm in illuminated Alpine huts selling bowls of Aligot (that’s fancy cheesy mash to you and me), countless stalls offering the Isère region’s most popular delicacies (the Green Chartreuse liqueur being my personal favourite), and the traditional 19th-century style carousel that takes pride of place in the centre of the market. However, despite being the most popular festive attraction in the area, I would argue that the market alone does not fully personify Christmas in Grenoble.
Situated at the foot of the French Alps, the city is notorious for the ample variety of winter sports which it has to offer: from snowboarding to sledding, ice skating to skiing. For this very reason, it has become a tradition for many Grenobloise families to spend the weekends leading up to Christmas on the mountains of Chamrousse or the Deux Alpes, working up an appetite on the slopes before heading into the warmth of the nearest on-site restaurant for a healthy serving of tartiflette – once again, a humble combination of cheese and potato (French cuisine, I do adore you.)
However, with a population of just over 160,000, Grenoble can be considered one of France’s smaller cities, making it worthwhile to travel to surrounding areas to experience some of the country’s most sensational events. In fact, after a meagre hour-long journey from Grenoble’s main coach station, you can find yourself in France’s third-largest city, Lyon, where each December the Festival of Lights brings the metropolis to life, in an array of vibrant colours. Stemming from a 19th-century tradition when Lyon’s residents would place candles on their window ledges to celebrate the construction of a statue of the Virgin Mary in the city, the festival embodies the Lyonnais’ age-old pride in their hometown and its Renaissance facades.
By no means are these the only events currently taking place, and I look forward to continuing unwrapping all that this stunning area has to offer over the upcoming weeks. After all, although the emergence of the new Omicron variant threatens to stop the spread of festive cheer around the world, last year’s Winter lockdown has highlighted the importance of relishing every opportunity available to us during this time – whether abroad or back home in the UK.
Editor: Elen Johnston