| This region includes
the French Alps and their foothills, and the vast
long valleys of the Rhône and Saône rivers.
The départements are Loire, Rhône, Drôme,
Isère, Ain, Ardèche, Savoie and Haute-Savoie.
Lyon, in the deepest part of the Rhône
valley, has a proud gastronomic tradition. More and more city-breakers
are flocking to the city on gastronomic trips, exploring the city’s
myriad of eating and drinking opportunities, opportunities that
many locals and visiting foodies argue more than match those of
the capital, Paris. France’s second city, Lyon
is a major cultural, artistic, industrial and financial centre,
with international festivals and trade fairs. The Cathedral
of St Jean is well worth a visit, as are the Roman remains
of the city and the Musée de la Civilisation Gallo-Romaine.
The French Alps stretch across Savoie
and Dauphiny on the border with Italy. Napoleon
came this way after escaping from Elba during 1815.
Landing with 100 men near Cannes, he intended to
march along the coast to Marseille and up the Rhône
Valley to Lyon and Paris,
but he received reports that the population on that route was hostile
and was forced instead to head inland through the mountains. They
reached Gap (150km/93 miles) from the coast) in
4 days, Grenoble a few days after and arrived in
Paris (1152km/715 miles) from Cannes)
in 20 days with a large and loyal army in tow. It is possible to
retrace his route, which passes through much beautiful scenery,
each stopping place is clearly marked. The Alps
have demanded much of France’s engineers and some of the roads
and railways are themselves tourist attractions. Notable examples
include the 9km (6 mile) steam locomotive run from La Rochette
to Poncharra (about 40km/24 miles from Grenoble), and the
32km (19 mile) track (electrified in 1903) from Saint-Georges-de-Commiers
to la Mira (near Grenoble), with 133 curves, 18 tunnels
and 12 viaducts. White-water boating (randonnées nautiques)
can be enjoyed on many of the Alpine rivers. Hiking is popular and
well organised, utilising the GR (grandes randonnées or main
trails) maps that show where the official marked trails pass. The
rivers racing from the Alpine heights into the Rhône provide
a great deal of electrical power and good opportunities for some
trout fishing. The Fédération des associations
agréées de Pêche et de Pisciculture de la Drôme
in Valence can lead a fisherman to the right spot (HQ in Valence,
but branches in 36 cities).
Skiing, however, is the principal sport in the French Alps.
The best skiing is found, for the most part, west of Grenoble
and south of Lake Geneva. All the resorts are well
equipped, and provide warm, comfortable lodgings and have excellent
food. Some specialise in skiing all year round, but almost all have
summer seasons with facilities such as golf courses, swimming pools,
tennis courts and natural lakes. At the lake resort of Annecy,
there is an unusual Bell Museum with a very fine
restaurant, where the international festivals of gastronomy are
held throughout the year.