Rhône-Alpes has a varied climate, with relatively high precipitation in the winter and hot, dry summers. July to September are the perfect months for visiting Lyon and the Rhône river valley, while winters with their high snowfall are ideal for skiing holidays in the resorts of the Alps. Spring temperatures are cool but not cold, although this season can be a little rainy.
France's second-largest region in terms of population and largest in terms of area, Rhône-Alpes has a wide range of different attractions, with several distinct areas of scenery as well as the historic cities of Lyon and Grenoble.
Lyon, France's second-largest city, was founded during the Roman period. It has beautifully-preserved historic districts which have earned it a UNESCO designation as a world heritage site. Although the city is sprawling, the city centre is relatively compact and easy to get around on foot. The “Old Lyon” region along the right bank of the Saône is one of the best-preserved areas of Renaissance architecture in Europe; its narrow cobblestoned streets are a great place for a leisurely walk. Don't miss Fourvière basilica, with its spectacular view of the city.
Located to the south-east of Lyon at the foot of the Alps, Grenoble is known for its role in scientific research and the striking nearby mountains. Visitors should be sure to visit La Bastille, a medieval and later fortified complex that overlooks the city, providing breathtaking views. Other popular destinations in the city include the Musée du Grenoble, which hosts a fine collection of modern art, and the extensive Saint Roch Cemetery.
Outside the cities, the Rhône river cuts its way through a steep-sided valley in the heart of the region. The slopes of the valley are home to the famous vineyards where Côtes du Rhône wine is produced. The historic small town of Vienne is located on the banks of the Rhône; it is famous for its Roman and medieval ruins.
Perhaps the most famous feature of Rhône-Alpes is the mountain range that gives the area its name; the tall peaks of the Alps define the border between France, Italy and Switzerland. The slopes of the Alps were the birthplace of winter sports – the resort town of Chamonix was the first French ski resort. It's also the starting point for hikers and climbers to explore the region, including the towering peak of Mont Blanc. Glacial activity has transformed the Alpine landscape over the years, creating crystal-clear mountain lakes.
On the Swiss border are a number of towns which sit on the shores of Lake Geneva; indeed, some of Geneva's suburbs extend into France. One of the most famous resort towns on the lakeshore is Évian-les-Bains, a spa town which has been a destination for Europe's wealthy since the late 19th century.
Lyons is recognised as one of the capitals of French cuisine, with food and wine from all around the region appearing in its bouchons or traditional inns.
Meat and Poultry. The bouchons are particularly famous for their charcuterie or meat products, including Rosette de Lyon, a type of salami-like sausage produced in the region. Morning meat snacks, often served with red wine, are called mâchons. Other meat and poultry specialities of the region include poultry from Bresse, the only poultry in France to hold the coveted AOC protection. As befits a mountainous region, hares make an appearance in many regional dishes, including Lièvre à la royale, traditionally served in autumn.
Wine. There are two main wines from Rhône-Alpes. Beaujolais is made in the northern part of the region. This light red wine is sometimes served chilled, as if it were a white. It is the most popular wine in Lyon. Côtes du Rhône wines are made in the Rhône valley, particularly the southern half of the valley, and can be further subdivided into different wines based on the specific village of their origin.
Cheese. The Rhone-Alpes region produces a wide range of different cheeses. Among the most famous are Reblochon, a rich, slightly sweet, creamy cheese. Traditionally, this cheese was made from the highest-quality cream, which farmers kept aside for themselves after sending the rest to market. Another classic is Tomme de Savoie, produced along the Swiss border. This semi-hard cheese has a salty, savoury flavour. Beaufort is another traditional Alpine cheese, while the Gex area produces the famous Bleu de Gex. The southern part of the Rhône river are produces Picodon, a spicy flat goat's-milk cheese.
Size: 43,698 square kilometres
Population: 6,218,444 people
Capital city: Lyon
Provinces: Ain, Ardèche, Drôme, Isère, Loire, Rhône, Savoie, Haute-Savoie
Landscape: Varied mountain landscapes, deep river valleys, broad lakes, glaciers, deep gorges, waterfalls