Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes is a large region in southeastern France. It is popular with all kinds of visitors, from mountaineers and winter sports enthusiasts, to gastronomes, wine buffs, and those looking for a city break. To the west, Auvergne is a mostly rural area of medium volcanic mountains (the Massif Central) and an abundance of interesting churches. Visitors to the Rhone Valley in the centre of the region can enjoy a temperate climate, rocky canyons, extensive vineyards and the urban area of Lyon, one of France's most important cities. In the east, the stunningly beautiful French Alps are havens for all manner of outdoor activities, not least skiing.
|Ardèche and Drôme
Rolling hills, low mountain ranges and deep canyons, with a Mediterranean climate and vegetation.
A mecca for hillwalkers and lovers of historical architecture; trek through Auvergne in search of châteaux and churches.
The second-largest urban area in France also contains fine countryside with world class vineyards and orchards.
Some lesser-visited parts of the Alps, home to the monks of Chartreuse and the academic heartland of Grenoble.
A formerly independent nation, with some of the best-known ski resorts, including Albertville, Chambéry and Les Trois Vallées.
The highest part of the French Alps, with Mont Blanc and famous ski resorts including Chamonix.
Cities and towns
- Lyon — capital of the region and one of France's largest cities
- Annecy — charming old town and stunning lake, with a wealth of canals
- Aurillac — the end of August brings the annual street theatre festival
- Chambéry — once the capital of the Duchy of Savoie, and the birthplace of the Rights of Man
- Chamonix — the heart of Alpine France; the natural base for exploring Mont Blanc
- Clermont-Ferrand — a city of modern industry ringed by extinct volcanoes
- Grenoble — large academic centre surrounded by mountains
- Saint-Étienne — perhaps best known to football fans, this is a topographically interesting city
- Samoëns — a charming and typical example of a French mountain village
- Le Grand Massif - one of France's top skiing areas at a relatively low altitude.
- Mont Blanc - at 4,810 m, is the highest summit in the European Union.
- Portes du Soleil - international skiing destination on the Franco-Swiss border.
- Puy-de-Dôme - stunning rock pinnacle topped with antennae, often hidden in clouds. Look out for eagles.
- Vanoise - a massif on the French-Italian border with large ski resorts.
- Vercors - a prealpine massif with diverse landscapes and some wilderness areas aways from the pistes.
Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes has a huge diversity of landscapes due to its climactic and topographic variation. The topography of the region consists of two areas of high elevation, divided by the Rhône Valley, which runs north-south. The western mountains are part of the Massif Central. It is an area of high hills and plateaux, mostly made of old, acidic metamorphic rock. There are several recently extinct (geologically-speaking) volcanoes in this range. East of the Rhône Valley are the Alps. These tall, young mountains are themselves very diverse, and should be divided into at least two groups. A central part of the region is occupied by a north-south line of well-defined mountainous massifs: from north to south, Bornes, Bauges, Chartreuse, Vercors and Baronies. These mountains are mainly made of limestone and are becoming a karst landscape. Another, less prominent valley divides this central area from the eastern part of the region, the Alps proper, which contains some of Europe's highest mountains, most notably Mont Blanc. These mountains are made of acidic rocks such as granite.
The diverse climate of the region is due to a blending of four weather influences: Mediterranean in the south, Alpine in the east, Continental in the north, and Atlantic in the west. The region is well-known overseas for its agriculture, and particularly its wine industry. Lyon is considered the culinary capital of France, if not of all Europe, and there are many dishes of great renown from all around the region; see the Eat and Drink sections for more information on this.
Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes was created in 2016 with the merger of the old regions of Auvergne and Rhône-Alpes, as part of the national territorial reform. Unlike elsewhere in France, local politicians were unable to agree on a brand new name for the larger region (other exciting proposals included "Auvergne-Alpes" and "Rhône-Alpes-Auvergne"), so the provisory alphabetic amalgamation of the old names stuck.
French is the first language of nearly everyone living in the region, and locals will appreciate all efforts at speaking French even if your proficiency is not great. Like elsewhere in France, Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes has its own regional languages which still cling on despite an almost complete lack of support from the government. Native to the Alpine region and northern Rhone valley, Arpitan (or Franco-Provençal) is a close relative of French, but the two are not mutually-intelligible. In the Auvergne and more southerly parts of the region, Occitan is spoken, as it is across the rest of southern France. Here, the local dialect of Occitan is called Auvergnat.
Visitors with limited or no grasp of French should be able to cope in large towns and cities and in the ski resorts, which are all popular with international tourists. As well as English, locals and tourist professionals may be conversant in German and Italian. Like elsewhere in the country, if you venture off the tourist trail into more rural parts, you may find it more difficult finding people who speak your language.
- Geneva International Airport (GVA IATA), though not in either Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes or even France (it is just over the border in Switzerland), Geneva has by far the widest range of international flights of any airport in the area, due to its important role in world diplomacy. The airport welcome flights from pretty much everywhere in Europe and the Middle East, as well as transatlantic crossings from New York JFK, Newark and Washington Dulles and a solitary far-eastern link to Beijing Capital. Passengers on 'domestic' flights from France leave the airport on the French side, without ever having to officially enter Switzerland, while all other passengers must leave on the Swiss side. As Switzerland is a member of the Schengen agreement, this should pose no additional visa troubles.
- Lyon–Saint-Exupéry Airport (LYS IATA), named for pioneering aviator and Lyon native Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, handles flights from all over Europe and North Africa. The only transatlantic flight is an Air Canada service from Montreal Trudeau.
Minor and seasonal airports
- Chambéry Airport (CMF IATA) operates in winter for the annual skiing season. It receives flights from plenty of European cities, including several competing services from Moscow Domodedovo. Outside of winter, don't expect to be able to fly there.
- Clermont-Ferrand Auvergne (CFE IATA) is a small airport serving a limited number of regular flights from around France (including Paris Charles de Gaulle and Orly) and Europe (Amsterdam Schiphol, London Luton, London Stansted and Porto)
- Grenoble Isère Airport (GNB IATA) is also pretty much entirely seasonal. During the winter ski months, there are direct services from many British and European airports, and even from as far afield as Tel Aviv Ben Gurion, while the rest of the year, only Ryanair offers regular flights from London Stansted.
Paris to Lyon was the first TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse, high-speed train) route to be unveiled all the way back in 1981, and it is still the SNCF's flagship route. Journey times from the appropriately named Paris Gare de Lyon are an impressive 2 hours, much quicker than driving. Lyon is also only 1 hr 45 from Marseille, and around 3 hours from Lille, which has many connections all over northern Europe. Many other destinations in the eastern half of the region are accessible from Paris at around the 2-3 hour mark as well.
The western half of the region is not yet on the high-speed rail network, so Intercités journey times from Paris Gare de Bercy to Clermont-Ferrand and the rest of the Auvergne are a more leisurely 3-4 hours. From parts further west (e.g. Bordeaux, the Loire Valley), train connections are poor, with very few direct city to city services, though there is a daily Intercités service from Nantes, Tours and Bourges.
From the United Kingdom, Eurostar now travel direct from London St Pancras and Ashford to Lyon Perrache up to five times a week, taking a respectable 4 hrs 41 mins from London and 4 hrs 12 mins from Ashford. There is also a winter (Dec–Apr) ski service, also from London and Ashford, to Bourg-Saint-Maurice, Moûtiers and Aime-la-Plagne. Despite the rather gruelling 7 hour journey time, these services are popular with the English winter sports crowd. Eurostar sells through tickets to many other places in the region, where travellers are required to change onto the local network at Lyon.
From Paris, Lyon is around 5 hours in good traffic on the A6 autoroute (motorway), while Clermont-Ferrand is around 6 hours via the A10 and A71 autoroutes. The A89 brings traffic from the west - Bordeaux and the rest of Nouvelle-Aquitaine, while the A7 is the main highway bringing traffic from the south, that is to say Marseille and the rest of Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur. There are two tunnels through the Alps from Italy, both leading from Turin. The A6 passes near Dijon, which is a hub for autoroutes from the east of France and ultimately Germany.
For more detail on the region's autoroute system, see Get around below.
The main motorways (autoroutes, denoted by A##) and routes nationales (denoted by N##) of Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes are:
- A7: continuation of the A6 Lyon, N88, Vienne, Valence (N532), Montélimar, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur, towards Marseille
- A40 / N205: from A6 near Mâcon, A39, Bourg-en-Bresse, A42, Geneva (A41), Cluses (for Samoëns, Le Grand Massif, Portes du Soleil), (continues as N205), Saint-Gervais-les-Bains, Chamonix, Mont Blanc Tunnel, Italy towards Aosta and Turin
- A41: Geneva, A40, Annecy, Aix-les-Bains, A43 (W), Chambéry (runs as N201 and A43 around Chambéry), A43 (E), Grenoble (A48, A51)
- A42: Lyon (A6, A7, A43, A46), A40 near Bourg-en-Bresse
- A43: Lyon (A6, A7, A42, A46), A41 (N), Chambéry (runs as N201 around Chambéry), A41 (S), Vanoise, Fréjus Tunnel, Italy, towards Turin
- A46: passes east of Lyon, as a bypass to the A6 and A7 which go through the city centre. Links to A42, A43, A47, A432
- A47 / N88: Givors (A7 / A46), Saint-Étienne (A72), Le Puy-en-Velay
- A48 / A51: A43 (from Lyon), Chartreuse, Grenoble, eastern Vercors
- A49 / N532: A48 (from Grenoble), western Vercors, Valence (A7)
- A72: A89 from Clermont-Ferrand, Saint-Étienne (N88)
- A75: Clermont-Ferrand (A89), Massif Central between les Volcans d'Auvergne and Livradois-Forez, Occitanie, towards the Cévennes and Montpellier
- A89: Nouvelle-Aquitaine, from Bordeaux and Brive-la-Gaillarde, les Volcans d'Auvergne (for Mont-Dore and Puy-de-Dôme, A71, Clermont-Ferrand (A75), Thiers, A72, Lyon
- A432 links Lyon Saint-Exupéry Airport to the autoroute network
All the ski resorts of the region are connected by major highways and paved mountain roads, but be sure to carry change though as most of the motorways are pay roads. Toll motorways are marked by the word péage.
Aside from the TGV, which links the main cities and ski resorts in the eastern half of the region (i.e. the former Rhône-Alpes), the main provider of rail services is TER Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes. The network is extensive, as you can see on this network map, but the service can be rather slow if you're going a long way. You will find the train to be very good value, however. The few towns which don't have direct rail access are served by SNCF buses (autocars) which link in with the train network and use the same tickets and fare system.
This being a mountainous region, many of the rail journeys are scenic. Highlights include the Mont Blanc Express which makes the spectacular climb from Saint-Gervais-les-Bains to Chamonix, before tunnelling under the Alps and heading down to the Swiss town of Martigny. While this and other gorgeous journeys are integrated into the regular rail network, there are also lines which are purely destined for the tourist market, such as the AGRIVAP Discovery Trains which operate a mixture of steam and electric trains with panoramic and open-top carriages through the Livradois-Forez Natural Regional Park between Lyon and Clermont-Ferrand.
Mountains! There are literally hundreds to explore, across two primary ranges:
- In the west, the Massif Central is a medium-height range with lush green slopes and extinct volcanoes to explore. In fact, the Auvergne is the largest volcanic region in Europe, though the volcanoes themselves are all dormant or extinct. The Puy-de-Dôme is the most well-known of these. You can also visit an interactive volcanic theme park, Vulcania.
- In the east, the majestic Alps tower white and grey into the sky, culminating in Mont Blanc. The highest point in western Europe, the 'White Mountain' can be easily viewed from the mountain town of Chamonix. In the summer months, the slopes of the Alps are places to linger among sweet-smelling grass and wildflowers, listening to the tinkle of cow and goat bells and perhaps enjoying a picnic of local produce.
The region is liberally sprinkled with fascinating Romanesque churches, often dating to before 1000 AD. Visit, and you will quite likely hear some beautiful music, and definitely see a lot of gorgeous stained glass, set in stone dripping with history. Many parish churches have their pillars painted the way they were when they were built.
In the winter months, this is the heart of skiing in France, with many of the largest and most well developed resorts located here. Wikivoyage has split them by area:
- Annecy area - pistes within spitting distance of a cultured city
- Chamonix area - hosted the first Winter Olympics in 1924 and has been a winter sports capital ever since
- Le Grand Massif - low altitude resorts that still get plenty of snow
- Megève area - another low altitude resort in the foothills of the Mont Blanc Massif
- Les Portes du Soleil - a transnational ski area that extends into the Swiss canton of Valais
- Savoie area - otherwise known as the Espace Killy after Jean-Claude Killy. Also includes Les Trois Vallées, which claims to be the largest ski area in the world.
- See also: French cuisine
Lyon is known as the capital of French gastronomy, and since France has a highly credible claim at possessing the greatest national cuisine in the world, Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes is undoubtedly one of the best places for a bite to eat. The regional cuisine is heavily influenced by the mountains, both in the types of product historically available and the need to provide comfort and warmth through the winter. Expect plenty of smoked meats, sausages and of course cheeses. Some of the most well-known regional dishes include:
- Fondue - A steaming vat of melted cheese (traditionally gruyère) that diners consume by dipping small chunks of bread or croutons using an extremely long fork. Fondue, which literally means molten in French, is the classic après-ski supper, and a national dish of Switzerland. It has, however, become seasonally popular all over France and many restaurants around the country use their own local cheeses in place of gruyère. Simply divine.
- Gratin dauphinois or pommes de terre à la dauphinoise - Thinly-sliced potato roundels slowcooked in a casserole pot in the oven with milk or cream and garlic. A similar dish, gratin savoyard is made in the Savoie with onions and cheese instead of cream.
- Pizza à la savoyarde - While pizza is undoubtedly an Italian creation, a recipe which is popular throughout France is made with reblochon and crème fraîche as a base topping (i.e. instead of the customary tomato sauce and mozzarella), garnished with lardons, potatoes, onions and an egg.
- Potée auvergnate - Cabbage stew, Massif Central style. Made with ham hock, sausages, lard, carrots and the ever-present potatoes. Try it, love it.
- Raclette - Cheese melted by an open fire or on a special electric table-top grill; the melted part is then scraped onto your plate, and served with small firm potatoes, gherkins, pickled onions and charcuteries. A real treat even by local standards, and often reserved for special occasions such as Christmas.
- Ravioles - More commonly known in English as ravioli, French ravioles are smaller than those you may be used to, and stuffed with emmental or comté cheese. They serve as the base ingredient for many a tasty dish, including gratins and salads.
- Tartiflette - Another potato gratin, oven baked with lardons, onions and melted reblochon.
- Truffade - A sort of gratin-cum-pancake made with sliced potatoes, melted salers cheese and sometimes served with Auvergnat ham. Using similar ingredients but prepared differently is aligot, which uses creamy garlic mashed potato rather than roundels, and thus is closer to a purée. This often acts as an accompaniment to local sausages - French bangers and mash!
Yes, nearly everything is made with melted cheese, potatoes and onions! The key to French cuisine lies in a small number of high quality locally-sourced ingredients cooked in extraordinary ways, and Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes fits neatly into this groove, presenting fabulously simple cooking beloved by many a traveller. Unusually for France, most of the signature dishes are (or can be, with minimal modification) vegetarian friendly, but vegans and those intolerant to gluten or lactose will probably be disappointed with the preponderance of dairy.
Cheeses and pâtés
There are numerous kinds of local cheese. In Auvergne, the most celebrated are bleu d'Auvergne (blue and pungent), cantal (firm and ancient in heritage), and saint-nectaire (the "holy nectar", semi-soft). The Alpine regions are known for producing gruyère although in France this is generally called comté to avoid upsetting the Swiss, who claim gruyère as their own. Reblochon is an extremely soft and creamy cheese used in cooking. American cheese aficionados may particularly wish to seek this one out as, due its unpasteurised status, it is banned in the United States. Finally, tomme is a generic name for circular cheeses produced all over the region, and which can be made from cow's, ewe's or goat's milk. You may see such varieties as tomme de montagne, tomme de Savoie and tomme de Beaujolais.
Pâté-wise, it should come as no surprise that one of Auvergne's chief recipes is pâté aux pommes de terre; potato pâté! Elsewhere, caillette de Chabeuil is an excellent little pâté made of liver and pork meat flavoured with herbs and spices.
- Bourriols - an Auvergnat version of crêpes made with buckwheat, accompanied with the standard crêpe toppings and flavours.
- Chocolate fondues - fruit or sweet pastry replace the bread, while the gruyère's role is naturally filled by melted chocolate. Yum.
- Clafoutis - cherry flan, enjoyed in Auvergne and neighbouring Limousin.
- Nougat de Montélimar - white nougat made with sugar, honey, egg white, vanilla, almonds, and pistachio nuts or crystallised fruit
- Pogne de Romans - a large brioche made with eggs and flavoured with orange flour and rum. The origins of this dish lie in the Middle Ages.
- Valrhona - a high-end brand of chocolate manufactured in Tain-l'Hermitage near Lyon since 1922.
Le Beaujolais nouveau est arrivé !
Every third Thursday of November, the new Beaujolais wine arrives at bars and restaurants across France and select places around the world. This wine is from the historical Beaujolais province and wine-producing region north of Lyon that covers parts of northern Rhône and parts of the southern Saône-et-Loire. It is a young wine meant to be drunk as soon as possible as it does not age very well.
The regional wine scene is dominated by the Rhone Valley (Côtes du Rhône). Wines of this appellation generally use Grenache grapes for reds and rosés, and Grenache blanc for whites. More premium varieties have a legally-required higher Grenache content, because the French government has its priorities sorted. The superior versions are called Côtes du Rhône Villages, while the very best are known as Crus, which use the name of their home village rather than the Rhone label. Rhone bottles are known for their longer than average necks, meaning nerdy oenophiles can pick out such a wine even without even reading the label.
Other important appellations of the region are Beaujolais (see right), Côtes d'Auvergne, Côte roannaise and vin de Savoie. With the exception of Beaujolais, you will most likely only find the best of these in their home areas, as production isn't as extensive as with the better known French labels.
The Isère is known for its extremely strong (40-55% alcohol content) herbal liqueurs collectively known as Chartreuse. The most common variety is a kind of pea green colour, and is made with no fewer than 130 species of plant. As with many of Belgium's finest beers, Chartreuse production is in the hands of local monks! How the hours of prayer and contemplation must fly.
The health-conscious, teetotal or hungover may prefer to sample some of the region's excellent mineral water. Volvic is bottled at source in the volcanic massif of Puy-de-Dôme, while Évian comes from the town of the same name on the south shore of Lake Geneva.
The accommodation base in Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes is extensive and varied. Every town has at least one hotel, while large cities such as Lyon and resorts such as Chamonix have dozens. The self-catering (gîte) options are abundant as well, from cozy cottages and urban apartments to luxury chalets. The French are keen campers, and so most villages in even vaguely touristy areas have campsites with hookup points for caravans and campervans. Much more information can be found on individual destination articles.
This is a relatively low crime area, one notable issue being occasional theft of expensive ski gear during the winter sports season. The usual precautions should be taken when venturing into the mountains, and avalanches are a recurring and well-publicised threat to safety in the Alps. All the volcanoes in the region are dormant or extinct, but should one decide to wake up, you will have plenty of warning.
Neighbouring French regions
- Bourgogne-Franche-Comté - Prosperous agriculture producing some of France's most well-known dishes, and cities worthy of the Burgundian dukes.
- Centre-Val de Loire - Land of luxury châteaux and vineyards lining the majestic river Loire's journey west.
- Nouvelle-Aquitaine - Across the Massif Central, France's gorgeous south west and, eventually, the Atlantic coast.
- Occitanie - The Midi of your imagination; sun-drenched plains, Mediterranean resorts, wild Pyrenees.
- Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur - Much more than just the French Riviera, Provence's culture and class will enchant, from the peaks of its Alps to the Camargue's soggy bottom.
Neighbouring regions in other countries
- Northwest Italy - for the Italian Alps and Lake District, Piedmont's gastronomy, the Cinque Terre, and Milan
- Valais - In Switzerland, discover the Rhone's glacial source, juggle two phrasebooks at once, or conquer the mighty Matterhorn.
- Western Switzerland - Most of Francophone Switzerland, home of the United Nations, "real" fondue, and the Helvetic watch industry.