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Reviewing stunning Isère in Summer

22/06/2022This entry was posted in Europe and Middle East, France, Isère, Newsletter, The French Alps, Vercors, Vienne and tagged on by .
Isère in Summer Combe Laval ©SM Booth par Inspiration Vercors e1634655352432

Andy Mossack reviews France’s Isère in summer, from the achingly beautiful Vercors Massif to the ancient Roman antiquities of Vienne.

Vienne’s Roman amphitheatre has no doubt witnessed its fair share of climactic events during its remarkable existence, but I suspect American rock band, Greta Van Fleet, shuddered more than a few of its ancient stones after they took to the stage. It was the last night of my trip around Isère, and I was enjoying a final gastronomic flourish by the banks of the mighty Rhône, when the opening bars of “Highway Tune” blasted across the old city to the roar of thousands inside the arena. Not quite Spartacus but you get my drift.

Isère in summer

Isère is a landlocked region in south-eastern France bordering Savoie, Loire, Rhône, Hautes-Alpes, Drôme and Ain, and while its ski resorts, like Les 2 Alpes, are popular winter destinations for Europeans, come to Isère in summer, the only visitors you’ll bump into will likely be French.

A corner of France then, that’s yet to be discovered by many, yet offers so much.

So, what lies in store for you in Isère in summer? The walnuts, Chartreuse, and museums of capital Grenoble might well be a draw or perhaps the Château de Vizille, which is the only museum in France dedicated to the French Revolution. But for me, the stunning landscapes of the Vercors Massif coupled with the ancient Roman streets of Vienne offer a week or two of dramatic contrast that is way too good to miss.

The Vercors Massif

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What was once just the name for the alpine plateau covered with forest, meadow, and limestone, ringed by the Chartreuse mountains and the Dauphiné Alps, has become the moniker for this entire mountain region. It was mainly due to the immense heroism of the Vercors Maquis, WW2 French resistance fighters, who held out against the German occupation forces for over a year until they all sadly perished in a massive assault in August 1944.

 Isère in Summer Vercors resistance Museum

Vercors Resistance Memorial

Today, visiting this area of intense dramatic beauty, it’s hard to imagine that such fierce fighting took place, but in many of the villages like La Chapelle-en-Vercors, Villard-de-Lans, and Vassieux-en-Vercors there are monuments and reminders. In particular, (although technically just outside Isère in Drôme) the Memorial of the Resistance is a huge bunker-like museum set high up above Vassieux. It chronicles the history of that conflict, and you can look across the entire valley from its lofty perch. There are also the remains of gliders the Germans used to finally get access to the Maquis fighters.


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The impressive Vecors Regional Park is essentially a showcase for Nature, with over 3,000 km of signposted hiking trails, whilst the Via Vercors is a bike-friendly route connecting six of the main villages making them easily accessible by foot or pedal for the whole family. However, an added bonus awaits you at Corrençon en Vercors. This is the gateway to Les Hauts Plateaux Nature Reserve, 65 sq miles of protected land containing absolutely nothing man-made save a few simple refuge huts.

The bounty of flora, fauna, stunning panoramic vistas, and free-to-roam wildlife are the star performers while we’re simply invited guests in the cheap seats. There’s no electricity or piped water here, just the opportunity to join in harmony with the natural world and enjoy a world class hiking experience.

Golf in Vercors

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I wrote a review of Corrençon Golf Club in TripReporter last year and rated it as one of the finest mountain courses I have played. And after playing it again recently that’s still very much the case. It meanders through parts of the reserve and is beautifully maintained by the local farmers. An absolute joy.

Gorges de la Bourne

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Leaving the high plateau, we’re heading for a heart-in-mouth drive through the magnificent Gorges de la Bourne, one of Europe’s most spectacular drives and a highlight of  Isère in summer.

Dating back to 1861, it’s an astonishing balcony road literally clinging to a rock face for nearly fifteen miles around narrow hairpin bends and through unlit bedrock tunnels. Once safely through, you might want to catch your breath at the Caves de Choranche, a light and sound show in a network of subterranean caves. But it’s worth a stop anyway to have a coffee at the café as the view is simply breathtaking.

Jardins des Fontaines Petrifiante

Vercors Jardin de fonatianes

Jardin des Fontaines Petrifiantes ©Serge Caillault 2

We’re on our way to St. Nazaire-en-Royans to take a leisurely paddle boat down the Isère River, but on the way, you’ll pass through Pont en Royans, an ancient town famous for its balconied houses literally overhanging the river far below. The paddle boat provides a relaxing round trip cruise along the Isère direct to Jardins des Fontaines Petrifiantes, a remarkable example of horticultural genius at work.

Even if you don’t have the slightest shade of green in your fingers you’ll still be impressed. A team of incredibly talented gardeners have been given free rein to create truly astounding installations using just tropical flora, petrified limestone, water, and gravity. Brilliant.

All terrain Electric scooters

Vercors electiric scooter

If you fancy a scenic tour but don’t have the energy to hike, this new activity might be the perfect solution. Cecile and Phillipe gave up a 25-year hotel business to be out in the fresh air guiding with their stand-up electric scooters. Glide off-road through orchards of Isère’s famous walnut trees and maize filled meadows hearing nothing but bird song and the occasional directional order from Philippe for an hour or two. Really great fun for ages twelve and up.

Vienne review

Vienne by Rhone

Lying at Isère’s north-western border with the Rhône department, and right beside the Rhône River, Vienne has surprisingly remained under the radar for many tourists perhaps hiding in Lyon’s shadow like a timid sister. But it was, at one time, the powerful and wealthy Roman capital of Gaul, evidenced by the numerous well-preserved Roman sites all over the city.

And let’s not forget the terraced vineyards that produce that prestigious Côte-Rôtie wine. There’s also food of course. Lyon may have the reputation of being France’s gastronomic heart, but Vienne certainly gives it a run for its money. So, before you jump into the car and drive straight south to the French Riviera, here’s a few reasons to stop off for a night or two in Vienne on your way through Isère in summer.

Vienne Gourmande

Vienne Temple

A walking tour around ancient Gallo-Roman sites is all well and good, but when it’s interspersed with nibble stops at fancy food outlets, it’s a no brainer for me. I spent a wonderful sunny afternoon strolling around Vienne’s ancient past with guide Magdalene who brought it all to life for me.

Vercors Forum

Vienne Mosaic Museum

The glorious amphitheatre, the Corinthian Temple of Augustus and Livia, the Forum, the Odéon and the magnificent Co-cathedral Saint Maurice, where the Knights Templar movement was officially abolished. But the jewel in the crown is the Gallo-Romain-en-Gal Museum, which has uncovered some quite wonderful 2,000-year-old mosaics within a still-active dig. The museum’s restorative skills are so well respected it undertakes works from institutions all over Europe.

Grande Marché de Vienne with a starred chef

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Vienne Marche raspberries

Every Saturday morning since the 13 th century, Vienne’s streets have hosted France’s second biggest outdoor food market, and what better way to experience it than in the company of a Michelin starred chef. Legendary chef Philippe Girardon guided me around some of his favourite farm producers, selecting and buying produce for his restaurants, Domaine de Clairfontaine and Le Cottage. The best bit? I was going to be reunited with some of it at a memorable lunch later at Le Cottage.

Vienne Jazz Festival


Since 1981 Vienne has hosted what is now one of Europe’s biggest jazz festivals with jazz greats like Herbie Hancock, Miles Davies and Stan Getz to name but a few. This year’s event runs from June 29 to July 13 and headlines Herbie Hancock, Gregory Porter, Jamie Cullum, and George Benson.

Wine tasting Tours in Vienn

No trip to the Rhône would be complete without visiting some wineries to discover just what makes this wine country so great. Guigal is probably the biggest name in the region with a lovely free wine museum at Caveau du chateau and plenty of tasting opportunities. However, at the Corps de Loup Domain you can get up close and personal with the vines and experience the whole process from vine to bottle before partaking in some serious tasting.

Bike the Via Rhôna in Vienne

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Having sampled the wines, you could rent a bike and ride along part of the famous biking/walking route of the Rhône running over 800k from Lake Geneva down to the Mediterranean. The Vienne sector takes in the steep wine terraces and plush walnut and peach orchards lining the river. Why not take a picnic lunch and meander along the river as far as the moment takes you?

Greta Van Fleet rocking the throng in Vienne’s ancient amphitheatre was a fitting finale to a memorable trip through Isère in summer. From its high peaks to the river of wine, it’s an extraordinary region of contrasts that deserves to be discovered in a two-centre holiday.

All images (C) Andy Mossack except Jardins des Fontaines Petrifiantes (C) Serge Caillaut and   ViaRhona and Vienne Amphitheatre (C) Vienne Tourisme.

Tell me more about Uncovering Isère in Summer

Please visit Isère Tourism for absolutely everything about the region including Isère in Summer.

Getting to Isère in summer

Return direct flights from London Heathrow to Lyon Airport cost from £98 with British Airways.  Vienne is a 45-minute drive from Lyon while the Vercors takes under an hour.

 Car hire

Car hire, pick up and return from Lyon airport, from £198 for seven days with Sixt

 Recommended accommodation in Isère in summer

A two-night stay at the Hotel du Golf is priced from €124/£105pp with breakfast, based on two sharing. Stunning hand-built rustic hotel in the Swiss chalet style owned and run by brother and sister team Richard and Sandra Sauvajon, whose family have owned land on the High Plateau for generations.

Les Hauts de Choranche

A two night stay at Gite  Les Hauts de Choranche is priced from €145/£124pp, based on two sharing. Conceived and built by owner Gilles Falque, this was a tiny, abandoned hamlet on the Vercors massif, completely transformed into a luxurious gîtes rural. Swimming pool, hammam, sauna, gardens and rockpools. Right in the middle of Nature’s landscape. A two-night stay at Grand Hôtel de la Poste is priced from €75/£64 with breakfast, based on two sharing. Just a 2-star hotel but a perfect position in Vienne’s ancient heart. Very quirky, arty property with a lovely breakfast room.

Activities in Isère in summer

Golf de Corrençon: 18 holes from €45/£39pp depending on the season. Trollies and buggies extra.

Hiking Trails:  guides and maps of all the hike routes across the regional park.

Resistance Museum : admission €3/£2.50 for adults and free for children under 8

Le Grand Séchoir : Learn all about walnuts, the region’s specialty. Admission €4.50/£3.80 for adults and free for children under 10yr

Paddle Boat trip from St Nazaire-en-Royans : €15/£13pp for an hour and a half ride. You can also by a combo ticket to include the Jardin des Fontaines Pétrifiantes

Guided Electric scooter tour : €30/£26pp for a 1 hour tour with 2 Roues Evasion

Le Couvent des Carmes : free admission. Former 14th century Carmelite convent now a museum, art gallery and gastronomic restaurant.

Jardin des Fontaines Pétrifiantes: admission is €10.50/£9 for adults and €6.70/£5.70 for children under 14. Astonishingly clever fauna and flora installations.

Guided walk ‘Vienne gourmande’: €160/£136pp for a group tour

Tour of the Saint-Romain-en-Gal : guided tour from €3/£2.50pp

Grande Marché de Vienne : free admission. Saturday morning outdoor Food Market.

Maison Colombier: free admission. Distillery and orchards tour of the respected local pear liqueur.

Corps de Loup Domain : guided tour and wine tasting from €14/£12pp

Caveau du Château: free admission  Wine tasting €14/£12pp

Via Rhôna: free admission to cycle route, e-bike hire from €32/£27 per day

Recommended eating in Isère in summer

Le Palégrié/Hôtel du golf  Fantastic tasting menu at the Palégrié. Each day a different eating experience depending on the market. No menu, just sit back and enjoy the ride.

Restaurant les haut plateaux  The perfect place for really tasty organic local fare after a hike or golf. Right on the high plateau. If it’s sunny, eat on the terrace.

L’Auberge des 2 Moucherolles relaxed and informal dining in a typical mountain village bistro.

Cabane Café  The extraordinary Gilles Falque once again. Directly opposite his Gite Les Hauts de Choranche, this is an organic farmers café with a difference. Akin to a hippy retreat, you can stay all day just enjoying the harmony with nature. Hammocks, rustic hideaways, nature trails and a honeybee conservation project.

La Jorjane Restaurant  Excellent local restaurant owned and run by husband-and-wife team Andy and Marine in Choranche offering simple but delicious local mountain fare. Raviole with the local cheese sauce is fantastic.

Le Muse  Hip and trendy resto in a narrow lane. Excellent food and wine and very good value set lunch.

L’Alquimia  Themed based fine dining with highly creative tasting menus. Make sure you get to toast your meringue and ice cream on-a-stick over an open flame. Genius.

Cottage de Clairefontaine  Michelin-starred chef Philippe Girardon’s beautiful bistro/hotel just a short walk from his one star Clairefontaine restaurant/hotel.

Ô Bievva  New restaurant in the heart of the old city. Try it If you like dishes with plenty of sauces.

Airport Parking

Airport Parking and Hotels ( offers a wide range of parking and overnight hotel stays at all major UK airports. One week of Meet & Greet airport parking at London Heathrow Airport costs from £120 in June 2022. For the latest prices and to book, call 01342 859442 or visit


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