- Countryside River deep, mountain high
- Country life Wine, wandering, winter sports
Named for the river running through it and the mountains at its edge, Rhône-Alpes is a region of vinous valleys, mighty peaks, lakeside spa towns and scenic drives.
It’s the home of Evian water and hot-air ballooning, distinguished vineyards and world-famous cuisine. Honey-coloured châteaux watch over farmland and forest, and the snow-speckled tips of the Alps line the region’s pockets, drawing the flashest skiers to white velvet slopes at Courchevel, Chamonix and Val d’Isère. There’s Europe’s highest summit, Mont Blanc, and its deepest gorge (in Ardèche). And the culinary traditions of France’s second city, Lyon, are among the most revered in the world, Beaujolais and the Côtes du Rhône providing the accompanying nectar.
Do go/Don’t go
The ski season lasts from early December to April, and the high-altitude slopes mean you’re in for good snow. Hikers and mountain bikers will love meandering over the grassy hills in high summer. Cherry blossom blooms in May, and there’s more spectacular colour in autumn, when the leaves are turning. At lower altitudes, winter can be rainy.
Planes In the east Geneva airport is the best gateway to the Alps 80km from Chamonix via the toll motorways. EasyJet British Airways and BMI Baby all fly from the UK (www.easyjet.com; www.ba.com; www.bmibaby.com). In the west of the region Lyon-Saint-Exupéry airport receives visits from BA and Air France (www.airfrance. com) from Heathrow and other carriers from throughout France and Europe.
Trains The TGV speedily links Lyon with the rest of France. London to Lyon takes four to six hours on Eurostar (www.eurostar.com), via Lille or Paris. The Rhône-Alpes region is spiderwebbed with railway lines and bisected by the high-speed LGV Rhône-Alpes, which crosses four départements, so getting around by train is easy, mountain climate permitting (www.sncf.com).
Automobiles Pick up a hire car at Geneva or Lyon. Make time to enjoy the winding valley roads dotted with timber chalets and vineyard-lined routes overlooked by châteaux and historic towns. Lyon is at the heart of central France’s motorway network linked to Paris by the A6.
- Taxis In bigger towns and cities, cabs can be flagged down on the street or picked up at a rank. In remote areas, book in advance, or prepare for a long walk.