Rhône-Alpes is the essence of adventure. With nearby rivers and mountains, it’s open season for thrill seekers and anyone with a passion for the outdoors. And although it may be hard to believe, the air is crisper in this beautiful central region of France. Perfect for families, couples and groups of friends, everyone will come back with a story to tell. Whether that’s taking a big bite of nougat or exploring the snowtopia of Chamonix – Rhône-Alpes is a paradise unlike no other. And if you’re looking for the perfect base, don’t forget to check out our villas in Rhône-Alpes.
From imposing, densely forested canyons to gently rolling fields of lavender the natural beauty of the Rhône-Alpes region is hard to beat. But this big, beautiful corner of eastern France, which became part of the larger Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region in January 2016, is more than just a pretty face. The dramatic peaks, lakes and rolling plains serve as platforms for world-class skiing, mountain biking, kayaking and golf. And carved out of all that natural beauty, there are ancient alpine villages and vibrant cities to explore, including the region’s UNESCO-listed capital and the gastronomic centre of France, Lyon.
When to Visit
The climate of Rhône-Alpes in one word is ‘variable’. Overall, the region enjoys close to 2,000 hours of sunshine a year and summers are hot, especially in the south. Spring and autumn are mostly mild and the Alps are perfectly cold and snowy for winter skiing. But a variable climate, although unpredictable, is no bad thing. It means you will have access to a different set of activities, depending on what time of year you choose to travel.
- Airports: You will have no trouble reaching Rhône-Alpes by air, as it is served by a number of major international airports including Lyon and Grenoble, as well as Cointrin in Geneva, Switzerland. Rhône-Alpes towns Chambery and Valence also have their own, smaller airports.
- Public transport: France’s network of high-speed international trains cover parts of Rhône-Alpes, and some journeys can also be made on SAT coach-style buses, which are often the longest but lowest-priced way of getting around. Taxis are readily available at airports and train stations but can prove tricky to source elsewhere unless booked in advance.
- Hiring a car: It’s easy to hire a care in the Rhône-Alpes region, with international rental firms operating out of all of the airports. Major motorways and mountain roads connect many bigger resorts. Visiting this region with a car allows you the freedom to explore everything at your own pace.
- Lyon – Eat your way around France’s gastronomic capital.
- Annecy – Wander the old town and take a cruise out onto the sparkling lake.
- Chamonix – Explore this renowned ski resort, which hosted the very first Winter Olympics.
- Mont Blanc – Marvel at the frosted peaks of the Alps’ highest mountain.
- Aix-les-Bains – Relax in the healing waters of a thermal spa.
- The sleepy riverside city of Valence is surrounded by vineyards and an excellent dining scene. Why it is off the tourist trail is anyone’s guess, but it means the surrounding mountain-backed countryside is less crowded though just as beautiful as elsewhere in the region.
- Featuring the world’s earliest and best-preserved cave paintings, Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc Cave in Ardéche is a UNESCO-approved site that dates back an astonishing 37,000 years. One of the most important cave painting finds of the 20th century, this prehistoric art gallery is fiercely protected and unfortunately remains closed to visitors. Thankfully, an enormous replica of the cave was opened nearby in 2015, with every inch of the original artwork reproduced in full size. Hard work went into recreating the silence and darkness of a cave inside the replica, and it is well worth a visit.
- Rhône-Alpes majors in mountains, but one range that deserves more attention is the Vercors Massif. A designated regional natural park and a haven for those who like to do their sightseeing on a bicycle, the striking landscape mixes rivers, caves and gorges with forests and cliffs.
- All across the city of Lyon are hidden alleyways and covered passages, known as traboules. The entrances are concealed behind unassuming doors and, although originally built to protect the precious creations of silk weavers as they moved them between the various stages of manufacture, the traboules have also been used over the years as escape routes for gangsters, rebels and rioters.
- In the otherwise nondescript shoemaking town of Romans-sur-Isere sits the vast Musée International de la Chaussure, a fascinating shrine to off-the-wall footwear from all over the globe, with pairs dating from the ancient times all the way to the latest designer heels.
If you think the Rhône-Alpes’ holy trinity of scenery, food and adventure is just for grown-ups, then think again. Children are welcomed with open arms in this outdoorsy corner of France. Even the most daring of activities usually has a low-key version tailored to younger thrill seekers. From canoeing to high ropes, there is no end to the active day trips you can sign up for here. Sprinkle your itinerary with laid-back days on the area’s majestic lakes and canals. Or with tours of gourmet food markets and factories.
Best Family Activities in Rhône-Alpes
- If there is anyone in your brood with a sweet tooth, head for the Diane Poytiers factory in Montélimar, a town famous for its chewy nougat. The factory makes some of the best in the area and tours offer plenty of opportunities to try it.
- With a landscape dominated by mountains and water, Rhône-Alpes is a dab hand at outdoor family adventures. Its mountainous countryside, scenic rivers and lazy canals are all ripe for exploring. With canoeing excursions suitable for kids as young as seven, GEO Ardèche Canyon offers guided trips along the beautiful river network around Ardèche that all the family can enjoy.
- Known for its jaw-dropping natural beauty, this scenic region wows even the toughest-to-impress youngsters. A private flight with Avialpes is an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime way to see the beauty of glacial lakes and mountains from above; and they cater for kiddies as young as two.
- Walking and hiking trails of every length and level of difficulty can be found in the beautiful Rhône-Alpes landscape. For a family walk with a difference, head out with the team at L’Ecrin de Briérat who will guide you along unspoilt nature trails with their donkeys and horses in tow, showing you how to forage along the way.
Best Family Lake Trips
- Take a cruise on Lake Bourget, the biggest and deepest natural lake in France. Choose between hour-long trips or longer cruises that include a lunch or dinner.
- Lake Annecy has some of the purest waters in Europe and you can see them in all their glory on a private lake safari, which will also take you to otherwise inaccessible parts of this beautiful wild swimming hotspot.
- To experience the beauty of the lakes from dry land road-trip around the Savoyard lake district. As well as the more well-known bodies of water, you will also find more peaceful, lesser-visited lakes such as Saint-André and the alpine lake La Thuile.
Read more about our pick of the best activities for families in Rhône-Alpes on our blog.
Fun for All
This region has the kind of landscapes and experiences that bucket lists were made for and they deserve your attention. The mountainous landscape is used to excellent effect by ski resorts and outdoor adventure companies, but there are plenty of ways to soak up the beautiful alpine surroundings without lifting a finger too. Not sure where to begin? Then read on, as we’ve selected our top activities for both active and relaxing days out.
- Getting up the 1,913 metres to Montenvers-Mer de Glace is the easy bit: a vintage train will carry you up as you take in the scenic views. You can reach it with Compagnie du Mont Blanc and it’s truly worth the effort.
- Ever used a mountain stream as a waterslide? No? Well, now is your chance. Canyoning, as it is known, is just one of the adrenaline-fuelled ways to see the mountains of Rhône-Alpes. Others include zip-lining, abseiling, crossing aerial walkways made from ropes and plain old hiking. If you’re up to the challenge, Cîmes & Canyons offers all of the above and grades them based on difficulty level, making choosing one for your party foolproof.
- A hike around the alpine lakes of Savoyard delivers the kind of vistas you see in travel magazines, with pure clear waters, mountain backdrops and, depending on the altitude, thick layers of ice. If you want a helping hand for your hike around the lakes, there are numerous companies offering guided walks. But with some of the biggest lakes in France to cover, you may want to tackle a tour by car. And if you want to do it in style, hire a vintage convertible from Les Voitures d’Arthur.
More Laid Back Things to Do
- Valvital Thermes Chevalley Aix-les-Bains offers the likes of mud treatments and jet baths and is our favourite of the spas in Aix-les-Bains, a pretty spa town sandwiched between mountains and sparkling lakes.
- Should you want to leave France an expert in French food and cooking, there are plenty of local gastronomes keen to share their expertise with you. From cooking classes to food tastings and market tours, this is one destination where you will definitely not go hungry. Of all the foodie activities Rhône-Alpes has to offer, the Plum Lyon seasonal market class, which takes guests to hand-pick ingredients at Lyon’s biggest market before returning to the kitchen to cook them, is up there with the best.
- Rhône-Alpes is famous for its majestic lakes, but if you don’t fancy hiking them you can experience them in a more leisurely fashion on a laid-back boat trip or cruise. To see Lake Bourget, arguably the most famous of the region’s lakes, in this way, take a lunch or dinner cruise with Compagnie des Bateaux du Lac du Bourget et du Haut Rhône.
For more information and inspiration, take a look at our full guide to group activities in Rhône-Alpes.
Food and Wine
From Lyon’s traditional bouchons to mountain restaurants warmed by log fires, the sheer variety of dining options in Rhône-Alpes will boggle the mind of even the hungriest foodie. We’ve listed our top foodie experiences in Rhône-Alpes on our blog, but, in the meantime, here is a taster of our favourites.
The Best Restaurants in Rhône-Alpes
- The creative comfort food of Chalet d’Eglantine is perfectly complemented by its cosy, chalet-style dining room. Part of a small mountain hotel, this charming restaurant dishes up the likes of scallop risottos and chorizo tarts.
- With two Michelin stars to its name, Restaurant Le 1920 at Domaine du Mont d’Arbois offers a superb menu full of classic game and seafood dishes, served in a plush dining room.
- Lyon’s Café Sillon is a discreet, in-the-know bistro serving modern French fare in the heart of the city’s up-and-coming 7th arrondissement.
- Local dishes made with local ingredients are the speciality at L’Auberg’In which has a colourful, ever-changing interior thanks to its secondary role as an art exhibition space.
- Michelin-starred meals are not hard to find in Rhône-Alpes, but few come with the culinary history of La Mère Brazier. Opened in the 1920s by celebrated French chef Eugénie Brazier and dined at by the great and good of Lyon for decades, this dining room is now in the very capable hands of Michelin-starred chef Mathieu Viannay, who oversees a menu of perfectly crafted French cuisine.
Dishes to Try in Rhône-Alpes
- Rhône-Alpes is home to the town of Montélimar, where some of the world’s best nougat is produced. The nougat makers use a combination of crunchy nuts and sweet honey and the renowned sweet is a must-try on any visit to the region.
- The famous chestnuts of Ardèche are worth seeking out, but you don’t have to eat them in their original form. You’ll also find them incorporated into sweet snacks and bread all across town.
- If you want to try some local wine in Rhône-Alpes, make it one of the many excellent varieties of Côtes du Rhône, or a bottle of just about anything produced by Chapoutier.
The Best Foodie Experiences in Rhône-Alpes
- For a dining room with a difference, head for the medieval building housing Le Fournil d’Oksana in Aubenas. Right at the heart of the town’s historic quarter, the restaurant is a cave-like room that twinkles with candlelight. It’s a very pretty spot to eat, with excellent food to match.
- Dining at Le Quai d’Eux focuses on two things: quality comfort food and laughs. Lots of them. This is the only place in Saint-Etienne offering a cabaret night, so book a table on a Friday or Saturday and enjoy your dinner with a side order of entertainment.
- For a change from fine-dining French cuisine and wine, order a burger and beer at Micro Brasserie de Chamonix, a popular brewery that makes its own beers from glacial lake waters. To experience this place at its best, head here in the evenings for live music and a lively atmosphere.