Rhone-Alpes is a region in south eastern France, bordered on the north by Bourgogne and Franche-Comté, to the west by Auvergne, and to the south by Languedoc-Roussillon and Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur. The eastern part of the region contains the western Alps and borders on Italy and Switzerland. Mont Blanc is located on the border with Italy. The center of the region is home to the Rhone and the Saone rivers, which meet at the city of Lyon. The western part of the region is the start of the Massif Central mountain range in central France. Also close by is Lake Geneva. Cities you may want to see in Rhone-Alpes include Lyon, Grenoble, Saint-Etienne, and Valence.
Lyon is the second largest metropolitan area in France after Paris. The urban region around Lyon makes up half of the Rhone-Alpes region population, and Lyon is the region’s capital. Lyon is filled with architectural heritage and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Historically Lyon was a silk capital and in more modern times has developed a reputation for its gastronomy and its history in cinema. Around Lyon you can see Roman ruins and a related Gallo-Roman Museum. The main religious structures in Lyon are the Cathedral Saint-Jean, built in the 13th through 15th centuries and the Basilica of St-Martin d’Ainay, a rare Romanesque basilica style church.
Grenoble, with half a million residents, is located at the base of the French Alps at the confluence of the rivers Drac and Isère. With a 2,000-year history, Grenoble has been prominent since the 11th century. Rapid economic expansion in the 19th and 20th centuries led to its being the site of the Olympic Winter Games in 1968. When in Grenoble, be sure to see the Bastille, a series of ancient fortifications on the mountainside overlooking the city. The Archaeological Museum of Saint-Laurent houses collections from nearby archaeological excavations from the 3rd century and is itself located in a 12th century Benedictine church.
Saint-Etienne, with just over 300,000 residents is located in the western part of the region along the road that connects Lyon with Toulouse. Partly for this reason, the city became a well-known stop for those touring France by car. Saint-Etienne now holds the largest Biennale in France that takes place for two weeks every other November. The city also holds festivals dedicated to the operas of the composer Massenet, and has a very worthwhile modern art museum with one of the largest collections in France. Saint-Etienne is also well-known for its tramway system, the Tramway de Saint-Etienne, which it maintained throughout the 20th century while other cities did away with theirs.
Valence, a city of just under 200,000 was formerly the duchy of Valentinois. It is located at the northernmost reaches of olive cultivation, and is in this sense a gateway to southern European climate and culture. In Valence, you’ll want to see the Cathedral de Saint-Apollinaris with its 11th century Romanesque apse, which was consecrated in 1095 by Pope Urban II. Though it suffered major damage over the centuries, it was restored in the 17th and 19th centuries.
Rhone-Alpes is a region that is very rich in historic and geographic treasures, and the city of Lyon makes a good starting point for a memorable vacation there.
The eight departments of the Rhone-Alpes region of France are: Ain, Ardèche, Drôme, Isère, Loire, Rhône, Savoie and Haute-Savoie.