Legend has it (and who doesn’t love a good legend) that the only people who know the recipe and ingredients for the famous Chartreuse liqueur are two monks tucked away in a monastery in Voiron, not far from Grenoble.
The 400 year old history of Chartreuse liqueur
The liqueur (also known as the “Elixir of Long Life” for its alleged medicinal qualities) is apparently made from 130 different local herbs, plants and other botanicals – all gathered from the surrounding mountains for a recipe that dates back to 1605. Rumour also has it that the green liqueur is as much as 142% proof although having checked, that doesn’t seem to be the official version available in the shops! Well not the one I tried – thank heavens!
Over the centuries, the recipe (and the monks) have survived the French revolution, persecution, expulsion from France and even the theft of their recipe. Production was moved to Spain for a while, until eventually, in 1935 and after a fire that destroyed their distillery, the makers of Chartreuse returned to the current site … La Grande Chartreuse in Voiron.
The two monks in charge of the liqueur are part of the Carthusian Order but there are some 40 other monks living at the monastery in Voiron who have all taken a vow of silence.
Discover the liqueur and its secrets
You can visit both the monastery and a nearby museum. The museum is in a former 12th century part of the monastery at La Correrie on the way to St Pierre de Chartreuse. The monastery itself offers tours of the cellars and tastings and in June, July and August there are daily guided tours in English.
It’s a lovely legend for what is an interesting and internationally renowned liqueur which seemed to have cured my cough! But whether our two monks are really drunk, well I guess we’ll never know but it’s pleasing to think of them tucked away on their own in the distillery with vast vats of liqueur and no one around to tell tales!
A soberingly beautiful landscape for the active at heart
Drunk monks and the delicious liqueur of Grenoble is a very good reason to visit Grenoble and its surrounding mountains. Grenoble sits right on the edge of the Vercors, the Chartreuse and the Belledonne mountains with their many lakes and two national parks.
Once you’ve enjoyed the city’s many delights and museums, and indulged in some of the great local produce, you can burn off your excesses by exploring the surrounding area on foot. It’s the spiritual home of trail running and there are hundreds of walks and running trails for all ages and abilities which will take you from a gentle jog around the city, right up into the heart of the mountains and to some of the better-known mountain peaks. Or of course, you could just take to two wheels and cycle the 300km of cycle paths in and around the city.
Start your work out with a walk from the 19th century bastille
From the 19th century fortified Bastille that overlooks Grenoble you can walk straight into the Pre Alpes and keep on walking for days. Or, for a shorter hike, keep going from the Bastille and climb the 800 metres ascent up to Mont Jalla and Mont Rachais for spectacular views of the whole region.
For a tamer excursion, there are a series of shorter, easier walks that take you into the mountains or back down into the city via notable landscapes and monuments. You can visit the Mandarin Caves (which were outposts for shooting from), walk the ramparts, discover the genouillère (steps from which soldiers fired) and amble in the shade of a 16th century watch tower.
The easiest route is to walk from the top of the Bastille, back down to the city, from where you can continue your walk along the banks of the Isère. But if you need to burn off some excessive over indulgence, like the soft blue Vercors -Sassenage cheese of the region, the famous Ravioles du Dauphiné or the renowned foie gras, do it the other way, running up the 500-metre ascent to the Bastille, stopping at the fitness points on the way for an extra work out.
The fitter you get, the further you go
Venture into the Vercors which stretch for 100km south of Grenoble and you’ll find everything from cliffs and canyons, to alpine meadows and forests. There are simply hundreds of stunning trails to explore and the Tourist Office is probably the best place to start if you want help with some planning.
Or, if you’re looking for something more extreme, then why not start training for the “4 Mountain Ultra Trail”. Every August this 160 km race with 11,000 meters of upwards climb puts the toughest of the tough to the test in what is one of the hardest trails in France. And if that’s not enough, you could always try the Échappée Belle – a 144 km trail across the Belledonne mountains with 15 mountain passes that are over 2000 metres high!
Back down to earth
Whether you’re a “meander along” kind of hiker, or a hardcore trailer runner, the area surrounding Grenoble is without doubt, a hiker’s haven! With a historic town centre, sublime local produce and the chance to explore some of Europe’s most stunning scenery, Grenoble is also a city that’s hard to beat.
And the perfect way to celebrate your activities is with a delicious glass of locally made Chartreuse…
More on Grenoble
Practical information for visiting Grenoble
For guided tours and tasting at the Caves de la Chartreuse visit: www.chartreuse.fr/en
For Échappée trails visit www.lechappeebelledonne.com
Ryanair flights from London Stansted to Grenoble Airport: www.ryanair.com ; Mercure Grenoble Center Alpotel; Hertz car hire: www.hertz.com; bike hire: www.metrovelo.fr
Buy a 1, 2 or 3 day pass for all-access to the city: www.grenoblepass.com
For help planning your trip contact the tourist office: www.grenoble-tourisme.com