As its name suggests, this vast region rising between Burgundy and Provence encompasses a stunning variety of landscapes, stretching from the Rhône Valley and the source of the Loire in the west to France's highest Alps in the east. The splendid city of Lyon, a World Heritage Site, is its capital. The region is home to Europe's highest peak, Mont Blanc, and to many of the most famous ski resorts in the world. It also boasts the largest collection of national and natural parks of any French region, coming into full bloom in early summer. In the south, the départements of the Ardèche and the Drôme touch on the South of France, sharing such delights as lavender fields and olive groves. The region's gastronomic glories are unrivalled outside Paris, and the Rhône-Alpes offers the temptations of gorgeous vineyards such as those of Beaujolais and many Côtes du Rhône, as well as the wines of Savoie. In short, this region proves exceptionally rich all round.
With eight départements, the region has a remarkable variety not just of landscapes, but also of cities, towns and villages. Beyond Lyon, the main cities include Annecy, set beside the most romantic lake in France, Chambéry, still reflecting its glory days as home to the dukes of Savoy, dynamic Grenoble, capital of the historic Dauphiné region, overseen by the sensational Chartreuse and Vercors ranges, and St-Etienne, with the Loire river gorges and the regional nature park of the Pilat just a stone's throw away. Pérouges above the Ain valley is one of the most famous villages in the region, but you will find countless other beautiful ones scattered right across the Rhône-Alpes.
Historic sights abound. Sensational prehistoric cave paintings have been discovered in the Ardèche, while extremely impressive Roman vestiges still stand in towns like Lyon, Vienne and Aix-les-Bains. The Italian architects of the Renaissance and Baroque eras also left their mark much later, after the medieval lords and vassals of the Lyonnais, Savoie and the Dauphiné had peppered the region with castles. In terms of religious heritage, the region's peaceful mountain ranges witnessed the birth of several major European monastic orders, most famously the reclusive Carthusians of the Chartreuse. Uplifting cathedrals, churches and chapels call you in all across the region. The Rhône-Alpes being a dynamic, thriving area, modern architects and museums also feature, for example in cities like Chambéry, Grenoble and Lyon, the last with its opera house boldly restored by Jean Nouvel. The region now has a handful of airports taking international flights. Arriving at the region's main airport of Lyon Saint-Exupéry, you are greeted by the amazing sight of Santiago Calatrava's TGV train station, which seems ready to fly into the air. All told, the Rhône-Alpes proves an exhilarating region to explore. Copyright: Sarah Francis