One of the most beautiful parts of France, Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, with it’s vibrant capital, Strasbourg, sits with it’s back against the French Alps and is one of the largest regions of France. It has 12 departments each with their own unique characteristics:

Ain (01) ● Allier (03) ● Ardèche (07) ● Cantal (15) ● Drôme (26) ● Isère (38) ● Loire (42) ● Haute-Loire (43) ● Puy-de-Dôme (63) ● Rhône (69) ● Savoie (73) ● Haute-Savoie (74)

With snow, lakes, volcanoes and forests, Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes is one of the best holiday destination in France.
Let’s jump in…

Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes
Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes and it’s location in greater France

Exploring the Natural Wonders

Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes offers an extraordinary variety of natural landscapes, from the chain of ancient volcanoes in the Parc Naturel Régional des Volcans d’Auvergne to the tall peaks of the Alps.

Volcanoes of the Auvergne

The Auvergne region is renowned for the Parc Naturel Régional des Volcans d’Auvergne, a vast area dominated by extinct volcanoes that provide striking landscapes and a unique geological history. The most iconic of these is Puy-de-Dôme, a lava dome and one of the youngest volcanoes in the range, offering panoramic views and paths for walking and cycling.

The Majestic Alps

On the eastern edge of the region lie the French Alps, home to the legendary Mont Blanc, Western Europe’s highest peak. The Alps attract mountaineers, hikers, and snow sports enthusiasts with their rugged beauty and extensive network of ski resorts. Chamonix, sitting at the base of Mont Blanc, serves as an excellent starting point for Alpine adventures.

Lakes and Waterfalls

Visitors can explore a variety of lakes and dramatic waterfalls. The crystal-clear waters of Lac d’Annecy make it a popular spot for swimming and boating, while Lac du Bourget claims the title of France’s largest natural lake. Waterfalls like the plunge of Cascade du Dard near Chamonix and the tiered falls of Cascades de Flumet offer accessible yet breath-taking natural spectacles.

Cultural Experiences

The Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region offers a wealth of cultural experiences, from the historic urban landscapes of Lyon and Grenoble to the rich tapestry of local gastronomy celebrated across its departments. Visitors can immerse themselves in the area’s vibrant cultural scene, with many museums and galleries displaying the creative legacy of this French region.

Historic Cities of Lyon and Grenoble

Lyon, often referred to as a city museum, provides a journey through time with its well-preserved architecture spanning Roman ruins to Renaissance districts. In Grenoble, the Bastille, an ancient fortress, offers panoramic views of the city and insights into its military history.

  • Lyon:
    • Roman Theatres of Fourvière
    • Renaissance district of Vieux Lyon
  • Grenoble:
    • The Bastille and its cable car
    • Musée de Grenoble for art and artefacts

Local Gastronomy and Wine Tasting

The region is a culinary haven with specialties such as Tartiflette and fondue savoyarde. Oenophiles can explore the local vineyards, providing a spectrum of wines from the Beaujolais and Côtes du Rhône appellations.

  • Specialties to Taste:
    • Tartiflette: A Savoyard dish with potatoes, Reblochon cheese, lardons, and onions
    • Fondue savoyarde: A communal pot of melted cheese served with bread cubes
  • Wine Regions:
    • Beaujolais: Known for its vibrant, fruity reds
    • Côtes du Rhône: A diverse region producing rich red, white, and rosé wines

Museums and Galleries

The region is home to many museums and galleries. The Museum of Fine Arts in Lyon holds an impressive collection of European artworks, and the contemporary art scene thrives in institutions like Grenoble’s Le Magasin.

  • Lyon’s Museum of Fine Arts:
    • European paintings and sculptures
    • Ancient Egyptian artefacts
  • Le Magasin, Grenoble:
    • Innovative exhibitions
    • Workshops and educational programs

Outdoor Adventures

Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes is a hub for outdoor enthusiasts, offering an array of landscapes perfect for a variety of activities. From the rugged peaks of the Alps to the serene trails of the regional parks, visitors will find an outdoor adventure to suit any preference.

Hiking and Biking Trails

The region boasts an extensive network of hiking and biking trails, including:

  • Volcanoes of the Auvergne Regional Park, a unique natural backdrop with routes suitable for all skill levels.
  • Vanoise National Park trails, offering stunning vistas of alpine meadows and glacial landscapes.

Cyclists may indulge in the challenge of famous Tour de France climbs, such as the Col du Galibier, or enjoy leisurely rides through the vineyards and villages.

Winter Sports Paradises

Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes transform into a winter sports paradise as the snow sets in. The area is home to world-renowned ski resorts like:

  • Chamonix-Mont-Blanc, with pistes for every level and off-piste opportunities for the daring.
  • Courchevel and Val d’Isère, offering upscale ski experiences and excellent après-ski culture.

Cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and dog sledding are also widely available for those seeking a different winter thrill.

Water Sports and Recreation

The region’s lakes and rivers are ideal for water sports and recreation. Highlights include:

  • Lake Annecy, for unparalleled paragliding, swimming, and sailing against a stunning alpine backdrop.
  • Ardèche River, perfect for canoeing and kayaking through its famous gorges.

The thermal baths of towns like Évian-les-Bains also provide a more relaxed water-based recreation, rich in minerals and overlooking Lake Geneva.

Relaxation and Wellness

The Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region offers unparalleled opportunities for relaxation and wellness through its luxurious spa establishments and tranquil village retreats. Visitors seeking a serene escape or rejuvenating experience will find an array of options tailored to their well-being.

Luxury Spas and Thermal Baths

Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes is renowned for its thermal baths, harnessing the naturally occurring hot springs for therapeutic and relaxation purposes. One can indulge in various treatments, from hydrotherapy sessions to bespoke massages designed to ease stress and promote health.

  • Vichy: Known as the ‘Queen of spa towns’, it hosts several high-end spa centres.
    • Les Célestins Spa Hôtel: Offers a therapeutic water circuit and a range of luxury treatments.
    • Thermes de Vichy: Features distinctive Vichy showers and mineral-rich thermal water treatments.
  • Évian-les-Bains: Famous for its mineral water, the town also boasts exquisite spa facilities.
    • Hotel Royal – Spa Evian Source: Provides holistic treatments and wellness programmes focusing on vitality and health.

Picturesque Village Retreats

For those seeking a more intimate wellness experience, village retreats scattered throughout Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes can transport visitors to an idyllic state of tranquillity. Charming accommodations nestled in scenic locations offer a perfect blend of local culture and relaxation techniques.

  • Annecy: Often referred to as the ‘Venice of the Alps’, its cobblestoned streets and enchanting canals set the scene for peaceful retreats.
    • Les Tresoms, Lake and Spa Resort: Here, guests can enjoy panoramic views of Lake Annecy and relaxing spa sessions.
  • Chamonix: Surrounded by majestic mountains, it provides serene retreat environments.
    • Spa du Mont Blanc: in the Hôtel Le Refuge des Aiglons, the spa offers wellness treatments with a clear view of Mont Blanc.

Entertainment, Events and Activities

Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes is a region buzzing with a vibrant blend of music, outdoor activities, and cultural festivities that continue to draw visitors from around the globe.

Music and Dance Festivals

The region is host to an array of music and dance festivals, each with its distinctive flair. The Nuits de Fourvière in Lyon celebrates diverse genres in the historic Roman amphitheatre, while Jazz à Vienne transforms the Vienne Antique Theatre into a hub for jazz enthusiasts. Summer months pulsate with energy as festivals like Musilac in Aix-les-Bains showcase international rock and pop acts by the lakeside.

Outdoor activities

For those drawn to the allure of nature, the area offers a variety of outdoor activities. Winter sports enthusiasts revel in the expansive ski and snowboard areas of the Alps, including the renowned resorts of Chamonix. In contrast, warmer seasons beckon visitors to partake in mountain bike tours or explore the scenic hiking trails like those in the Vercors Regional Natural Park.

Traditional Celebrations

The region’s heritage is preserved through traditional celebrations that are rooted in its history. The Fête des Lumières in Lyon is a spectacular annual event where buildings illuminate, expressing gratitude to Mary, the mother of Jesus. In the Auvergne subregion, people keep the age-old practice of transhumance alive through festivals, which mark the seasonal moving of livestock to different pastures.

Family-Friendly Attractions

Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes offers a variety of attractions that cater to families looking for educational, exciting, and interactive experiences. From hands-on learning at farms to thrilling rides in amusement parks, these attractions provide both fun and knowledge.

Educational Farm Visits

Visitors to the region can enjoy educational farm visits where children have the chance to learn about animal care, agriculture, and sustainable farming practices. These visits often include guided tours and the opportunity to feed and interact with a range of farm animals.

  • La Ferme de l’Autruche Drômoise: This farm provides a unique opportunity to discover ostriches, from chicks to adults, to learn about their breeding.
  • Ferme Pédagogique du Marais: Offering an immersive look at dairy production, families can observe the milking process and try cheese making.

Amusement Parks and Zoos

Amusement parks and zoos in the region are tailor made for families to have an unforgettable day out, packed with fun and educational exhibits. These venues combine thrilling rides with opportunities to observe and learn about wildlife from all over the world.

  • Le PAL: An amusement park that doubles as a zoo, providing exciting rides and the chance to see over 700 animals in diverse habitats.
  • Vulcania: An educational amusement park focusing on earth sciences with interactive exhibits and rides that explore volcanology.

Interactive Museums and Workshops

For a more hands-on approach to learning, the interactive museums and workshops of Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes engage visitors of all ages with exhibits that encourage participation and exploration.

  • L’Aventure Michelin: A museum exploring the history of the Michelin company with interactive displays on tire manufacturing and vehicle safety.
  • Musée des Confluences: A science and anthropology museum offering workshops and exhibits that invite visitors to engage with the scientific world.

Architectural Marvels

Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes is home to an array of architectural gems, from the historical significance of medieval structures to the awe-inspiring designs of contemporary buildings. Visitors will find a tapestry of design eras that encapsulates the rich and diverse heritage of the region.

Medieval Castles and Fortresses

The region boasts many well-preserved medieval castles and fortresses, testaments to its tumultuous past and feudal heritage.

  • Château de Chambord: This iconic Loire Valley castle features remarkable French Renaissance architecture with distinct features, such as a double-helix staircase designed by Leonardo da Vinci.
  • Château de Grignan: An impressive example of French classical architecture, it stands perched on a hilltop offering panoramic views and an insight into the life of French nobility.

Modern Architectural Sites

Contrasting the historical architecture, Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes also champions modern architecture.

  • Musée des Confluences: in Lyon, this science centre and anthropology museum boasts innovative deconstructivism architecture, reflecting the combining rivers in Lyon.
  • Le Corbusier’s Firminy-Vert: This complex showcases the architectural innovations of renowned architect Le Corbusier, with its Unité d’Habitation and Saint-Pierre church epitomising brutalist architecture.

Shopping and Markets

Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes is a premier destination for finding regional specialities and artisan products. Shoppers can delight in exploring local food markets and unique art galleries offering a taste of the local culture and craftsmanship.

Local Artisan Products

The region’s towns peppered with art galleries reflect a robust artistic community. Hôtel Fontfreyde – Centre Photographique in Auvergne showcases local and international artistic talent. Art enthusiasts can find a variety of pieces ranging from contemporary photography to traditional crafts.

Local Food Markets

Markets in Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes provide an immersive gastronomic experience. The Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse, noted for its exceptional range of high-quality local produce, is a must-visit for food lovers. Farmers’ markets, such as those found in Auvergne, offer everything from the creamy Aligot cheese to baked goods, representing the region’s rich agricultural heritage.

Getting Around

Navigating the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region is key to experiencing its diverse attractions, from Lyon’s historical streets to the natural beauty of Lake Annecy.

Transportation Options

Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes is well-connected by various transportation modes, ensuring visitors can traverse the area with ease.

  • Trains: SNCF operates extensive rail services, including high-speed TGV and regional TER trains, connecting major cities like Lyon, Grenoble, and Saint-Étienne.
  • Buses: Regional buses complement the rail network, offering affordable access to rural and mountainous areas.
  • Air Travel: Lyon–Saint Exupéry Airport serves as the international gateway to the region, with domestic flights available for quick transfers.
  • Car Hire: For those preferring to drive, many car rental agencies are available, providing the flexibility to explore at one’s own pace.
  • Cycling: Cyclists can find dedicated bike paths to, especially in scenic areas that are perfect for leisurely exploration.

Tips for Sustainable Travel

Travellers have several options for reducing their environmental impact while journeying across Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes.

  • Public Transport: Opting for trains and buses not only avoids the stress of driving but also lowers carbon emissions per passenger.
  • Eco-friendly Accommodation: Consider staying in certified lodgings that promote sustainability practices.
  • Local Produce: Support the region’s economy and reduce food miles by dining on locally sourced ingredients.

By choosing these sustainable practices, visitors contribute to preserving the region’s natural and cultural heritage for future generations.

Accommodation Guide

In the picturesque region of Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, travellers can find a rich array of places to stay that cater to different preferences, whether one fancies the charm of a bed-and-breakfast or prioritises sustainable eco-friendly hotels.

Charming Bed and Breakfasts

Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes is home to a delightful selection of bed and breakfasts that offer a personal touch to your stay. When guests arrive, they can look forward to staying in warm and inviting accommodations, found in restored historical buildings that pay homage to the region’s cultural legacy. These establishments provide sourced breakfasts and a chance to engage with knowledgeable hosts who can share insider tips about the area.

  • Les Chambres de Mado: Nestled in the heart of a medieval village with views of the rolling countryside.
  • La Maison de Marguerite: Offers traditional decor and a tranquil garden setting close to popular hiking trails.

Eco-Friendly Hotels

For those seeking sustainability, the region boasts eco-friendly hotels committed to environmental preservation. These hotels utilise green practices such as energy-saving measures, waste reduction, and eco-friendly materials.

  • Hotel La Belle Verte: Utilising renewable energy sources and organic linens, this hotel is perfect for environmentally conscious guests.
  • The Green Haven: Features comprehensive recycling programs and locally sourced organic food in its restaurant.

Each option provides guests with a unique way to experience the charm and natural beauty of Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes while accommodating personal travel values and styles.

Travel Planning

Planning a trip to Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes requires thoughtful consideration of time and interests. Whether it’s a brief weekend visit or an extended exploration, travellers can experience the richness of the region’s diverse landscapes and cultural offerings.

Weekend Getaways

Lyon: A two-day trip should include a visit to the historic Vieux Lyon, sampling the famous local cuisine, and exploring the Parc de la Tête d’Or.

Annecy: Travellers can stroll by the Lake Annecy, explore the Château d’Annecy, and meander through the enchanting Old Town.

Extended Stay Recommendations

For a 7-day journey:

  • Days 1-2: Begin in Lyon, diving into the city’s culture and gastronomy.
  • Day 3: Venture to Vienne to see Roman ruins and the Temple d’Auguste et de Livie.
  • Days 4-5: Head to the Parc Naturel Régional des Volcans d’Auvergne for hiking and sightseeing.
  • Day 6: Relax in the spa town of Vichy, famous for its thermal springs.
  • Day 7: End the trip with a day in Grenoble, surrounded by the Alps, visiting the Fort de la Bastille via cable car.

Seasonal Highlights

Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes offers distinct activities tailored to its summer warmth and winter chill, each season bringing unique experiences to enjoy.

Best Summer Activities

Lakes: Visitors take pleasure in the refreshing waters of Lake Annecy, where swimming, boating, and paddle boarding are summer favourites.

  • Hiking: The trails of the Vanoise National Park become vibrant with wildflowers and wildlife, creating an idyllic setting for trekking.

Festivals: The region buzzes with cultural vibrancy, hosting events like the Fête de la Musique in Lyon, which captures the spirit of the season.

Winter Wonderland Experiences

Skiing and Snowboarding: Renowned resorts such as Chamonix-Mont-Blanc become havens for winter sports enthusiasts.

Resort NameSuitable for
CourchevelExpert Skiers
Les GetsFamilies

Winter Markets: Towns like Grenoble illuminate with festive lights and markets, offering seasonal goods and heartening local cuisine.

  • Ice Skating: Outdoor rinks in cities provide a whimsical touch to winter, with one of the most picturesque being in the heart of Annecy.

Safety and Travel Tips

When travelling to the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region in 2024, it’s crucial for visitors to stay informed about safety protocols and respect local customs to ensure a smooth experience.

Emergency Information

In the event of an emergency, visitors should know the following contacts:

  • Emergency services (police, fire brigade, ambulance): Dial 112
  • Local police: Dial 17
  • Fire services: Dial 18
  • SAMU (medical emergencies): Dial 15

It’s advisable to have these numbers saved in one’s phone. Visitors should also be aware of the nearest hospital or clinic to their accommodation in case of medical emergencies.

Cultural Etiquette and Customs

The Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes is a region with a rich cultural heritage, and they value politeness and courtesy. Here are a few customs to be mindful of:

  • Greetings: A light handshake is common for a first meeting, while friends may exchange cheek kisses (Faire la bise).
  • Dress code: When visiting religious sites, appropriate clothing should be worn as a sign of respect.
  • Dining: It’s polite to say “bon appétit” before eating when dining with others.
  • Tipping: Service charges are usually included in the bill, but leaving a small extra tip is appreciated for good service.

Nick Garnett
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I've been travelling since the 70's and have visited over 30 countries, but, and it's a big but, my heart has always been in the French countryside. So much so that 15 years ago, my wife Charlotte and I bought a little hamlet house in central France and haven't been anywhere since, except for the odd trip to the Polish steppes (don't ask why, it's complicated). FiftyFrance is an expression of our deep and abiding love for France and her people.

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