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What to see and do in Isère, southern France

Man and woman sit looking over a crystal clear lake surrounded by forest in Isere, eastern France
Isère, a land of lakes, mountains and wide open spaces photo: A Gelin, Isère Tourism

Majestic mountains, beautiful skies reflected in glistening, translucent turquoise lakes – Isère is a little piece of heaven on earth where you can get away from the hustle and bustle of every day life. Isère takes its name from the river that crosses the department in Auvergne-Rhône-​Alpes, eastern France. Its famous for its ski resorts but it’s also a wonderful area to visit in summer. Wide open spaces, loads of activities and stunning scenery guaranteed. Here’s what to see and do in Isère…

Petit Train de la Mure

Narrow railway track running through steep mountains in La Mure, Isere
La Mure, Isère, Photo Jean-Michel Hyte, Isère Tourism

One of Europe’s most scenic tourist train rides, the Little Train of La Mure reopened in 2021 after closing in 2010 due to a rock slide destroying a viaduct. It runs between lakes and mountains, through five tunnels and three viaducts over more than 15 km of track. Leaving from the village of La Mure in southern Isère, the trip lasts 40 minutes on board restored carriages. You’ll get panoramic views across the Matheysine plateau taking in the lakes, the Vercors Massif, Mont Aiguille, the Pierre Percée rock and the Trièves mountains.

Arriving at Monteynard, the journey continues on foot along the Grand Balcon promenade. This brings you to the Panoramique Restaurant. Not just great food but seriously impressive views over the turquoise lake of Monteynard-Avignonet and its dam. Clinging to the mountainside, the rail line was a flagship of late 19th-century civil engineering.

This electric railway was the first electrified metre-gauge line in the world. For 100 years it hauled millions of tonnes of anthracite coal over a distance of 30 kilometres before becoming a tourist train.

The train runs daily between April and October. www.lepetittraindelamure.com

Champollion Museum

Traditional stone house at the foot of mountains at sun rise
La Maison Champollion, Photo: Department Isere Musee Champollion

There are plenty of museums in Isère including 40 eco-museums and 25 themed museums. Culture vultures will find plenty to keep them entertained. And if you’re a fan of Egyptology then the 2021-opened Champollion museum is definitely for you.

It’s the first museum in France dedicated to Egyptology and is housed in the former home of the Champollion family. It’s located at the foot of the Vercors in the town of Vif, a few kilometres south of Grenoble. The museum pays tribute to two illustrious brothers. Jean-François Champollion (1790-1832), a Egyptologist who deciphered hieroglyphics, considered to be the father of Egyptology. And his older brother, Jacques-Joseph Champollion-Figeac (1778-1867). He too was a renowned intellectual, archaeologist, journalist, librarian and university professor.

The site transports visitors to the banks of the Nile and the exhibits revolve around three main themes. Two Men and a Myth. the Lives of Researchers and the Origins of Egyptology. Over the years, family members preserved the interior decorations. There are numerous personal objects belonging to the Champollion brothers. They include stampings of the Rosetta stone – a large library, working notes and abundant correspondence.

Cross the Himalayan footbridges of Monteynard

Himalayan footbridge over Lac du Monteynard, Isere
Himalayan footbridge over Lac du Monteynard Photo: V Thiebaut, Isère Tourism

Unique in Europe, two far-reaching Himalayan bridges (the longest is 220 meters) stretch out high above the Drac and Ebron rivers. They link the two shores of Lake Monteynard-Avignonet. Spanning the lake cliffs, the impressive suspension bridges provide a link on foot between Matheysine and Trièves.

While the routes are accessible for all, those afraid of heights might get chills crossing the dangling 45–85 m high (depending on the level of the lake) pass. The “Footbridges to Adventure” hike is a 12.5 km loop walk. It has a 400-m gradient. It’s an easy day trip for the whole family crossing the two footbridges and taking a boat cruise on the lake. www.lac-monteynard.com

New hiking route: The Via Chartreuse

Mountains surrounded by flowering meadows, Chartreuse, Isere
Chartreuse, Photo Jean-Michel Hytte, Isère Tourism

With 9000km of marked hiking and walking trails, there’s plenty of choice for hiking and cycling in Isère. The Via Chartreuse is a 12km greenway. It’s accessible to the whole family and suitable for all types of slow travel. The route links St Joseph de Rivière to Saint-Laurent du Pont and ultimately to Entre-Deux-Guiers. Using existing paths, the surface is made of natural materials, which reduces the carbon footprint.

A great way to get away from it all in the middle of nature in the Chartreuse Regional Nature Park, the route is dotted with wonderful surprises. These include Plantimay Farm, the Herretang peat bog, Villette and the Sources du Guiers waterfalls. There are superb views of the contours of the surrounding landscape.  Find out more: www.chartreuse-tourisme.com

GR®54: Grand Tour des Ecrins

Mountain views being admired by a couple standing on a narrow viewing bridge atop a mountain
Ecrins National Park, Photo Fanny Vandecandelaere, Isère Tourism

The Tour des Ecrins (GR®54)  has a reputation as one of the toughest mountain hikes in France. It’s  one of three major long-distance hiking trails in the French Alps, along with Mont Blanc and Vanoise. The route runs through the Ecrins massif, France’s first National Park. And, it should be a breeze for anyone relatively fit.

Sometimes remote, with high, steep sections, the 7 to 12 day loop covers 176 km. It crosses 14 cols (the highest at 2,735 m) with 12,800m of height difference. The rich biodiversity and untamed nature of the Ecrins National Park in the Oisans is the main draw. The wild trek is renowned for panoramic landscapes across lakes and mountains. This includes the main peaks of the southern Alps – Barre des Ecrins (4,102 m) and La Meije (3,983 m). Rare wild flowers – alpine thistle, alpine mugwort, and Vandelli’s rock jasmine – fill the meadows. Marmots, chamois and ibex dwell here. And birds of prey, including griffon vultures and golden eagles, soar the skies. There’s plenty of opportunities for staying in one of the numerous mountain refuges along the way. www.grand-tour-ecrins.fr

Isère, a little corner of Paradise

With two regional natural parks and one national park, 7 great lakes, 120 protected areas and around 300 outdoor activities – you’ll never run out of things to do in Isère.

There are also two thermal resorts, 50 heritage sites including 21 castles.

Something for everyone.

Find out more at: www.isere-tourism.com

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