BIENVENUE À GRENOBLE.
Grenoble, underestimated for many years, shifted into turbo mode towards the beginning of the new millennium. New parks, energy-sensitive housing and smart mobility concepts have cast the city in the French Alps as a pioneer of future urban living.
So it comes as no surprise that Grenoble was named European Green Capital 2022. It’s also why our author Estelle Marandon climbed into a battery-powered MINI Cooper SE to explore Grenoble’s most sustainable spots. In its gleaming coat of Chili Red, the MINI Electric fits in well with Grenoble’s colourful street art. Come with us on a discovery tour!
1. PEAK PERFORMER.
High above Grenoble, in the Chartreuse Mountains, stands the former fortress La Bastille. Most visitors whiz up to it in the Téléphérique, a cable car with spherical, glass-enclosed gondolas that pose quite a challenge if you’re afraid of heights. In addition to butterflies in your stomach, the ride up and back gives you a stunning view over the city and the Isère River. To preserve resources, the cable car operators have pledged not to buy any new gondolas but to take good care of the existing ones. This is just one of many initiatives attesting to the will here in Grenoble to engage in more sustainable business activities. But even more fun than the cable car is driving up the mountain yourself. On the serpentine road leading to the peak, the sturdy little MINI Cooper SE demonstrates its impressive engine power, acceleration and agility. Once it has reached the top and come to a stop at the Parking du Glacis lookout point, you can enjoy the majestic view of Grenoble, the snow-covered Alps and Mont Blanc towering into the sky.
2. AL FRESCO ART.
Jérôme Catz likes to call his city an open-air museum. Sure enough, there seems to be some art to admire on every fire barrier, wall or garage door. Catz is largely responsible for this himself. In 2003, the former snowboarding pro opened the Spacejunk art centre, which hosts exhibitions, tours and events connected with street art. Since 2015, he has been organising a local street art festival that makes the city streets more colourful, crazy and surprising with every passing year. Since it was first held, the festival has given rise to some 130 wall paintings, including Girl Behind the Chimney (photo), created on Rue Abbé Barral 2–4 by the Balinese painter Wild Drawing in 2019. Since he wasn’t allowed to paint the chimney, as it belonged to a neighbouring building, the artist integrated it unobtrusively into his work, making it the pillar of the harp the young woman is seen playing (photo).
3. CITY OF THE FUTURE.
Situated on a peninsula north of Grenoble, the Presqu’île district is hardly a traditional tourist destination. But it’s definitely worth a visit if you’re interested in how cities could look in the future. Presqu’île has become a symbol of future-oriented urban development. Since 2011, the roughly 250-hectare site has undergone great upheaval in view of becoming the city’s biggest eco-quarter with over 3,000 flats in just a few years’ time. One highlight already in place is the Résidence ABC (photo), the first residential complex in France to be entirely self-sufficient with regard to energy and resources. Rainwater is collected, treated and turned into drinking water, and enormous solar panels on the roof generate the building’s electricity. There’s also a large garden in the courtyard that provides residents with fruit and vegetables. A few streets away, the residential complex Le Python is even more impressive. Its facade, made up of 80,000 black, grey and white aluminium panels, truly resembles the scaly skin of a snake. It stands right opposite to a striking, round donut of a building, one of Grenoble’s more recent landmarks. The building houses the GIANT innovation campus, where some 30,000 researchers from around the world come together to develop groundbreaking new technologies.
4. GOOD STUFF.
“Beautiful clothes alone don’t cut it anymore,” says Thierry Paixao, the proprietor of ADG Studio. “Fashion labels have to send a clear message to get customers’ attention.” That’s why his boutique on Rue des Clercs sells only clothing from brands that combine cool styles with sustainable production. The brands may not necessarily bear an official eco logo, but if they’re in Paixao’s shop, they all abide by ethical standards, use organic fabrics and produce their clothing in France or at the very least in Europe. ADG Studio also has a very attractive repertoire. It includes international labels, such as Veja, Comme des Garçons and Pyrenex, and also sells items by local manufacturers, such as fluffy, warm knitted hats by Douillet. Grenoble is hardly a fashion hub like Paris, says co-proprietor Clara Macfarlane, but as people’s eco-consciousness grows, so does their interest in environmentally friendly fashion.
5. ARTISANS OF FOOD.
From the outside, the Le Bon Label restaurant looks like a traditional bistro. But its glass doors conceal a dedicated organic eatery. Mick Bertrand and Sylvain Bofelli (from left to right) have made it their mission to cook and run their business as sustainably as possible. That’s why they only use locally raised meat and seasonal, locally grown fruit and vegetables. The duo also tries to minimise waste as far as possible, for instance by co-operating with the neighbouring supermarket, La Bonne Pioche, which uses no disposable packaging whatsoever. But what guests find most convincing is the mouthwatering food that Bertrand and Bofelli serve up. There are international dishes on the menu but also French bistro classics like hachis parmentier made with ground beef and mashed potatoes (French shepherd’s pie), and cream of pumpkin and chestnut soup. And don’t forget to have a coffee afterwards! Apart from being fairly traded, it’s the best brew in Grenoble.
6. CHANGE OF PERSPECTIVE.
The Musée de Grenoble is just a stone’s throw from the city centre. Founded in 1798, it is one of the oldest museums in France and the city’s pride and joy. Its permanent collection has more than 900 artworks dating from the 13th to 19th century, including modern classics by Andy Warhol, Wassily Kandinsky, Piet Mondrian and Alberto Giacometti. But it’s the special exhibitions that really pull in the crowds – like the ones on Picasso or Giorgio Morandi. In honour of Grenoble’s nomination as European Green Capital 2022, the museum came up with a unique idea: an exhibition with the motto “De la Nature”, for which four contemporary artists (Giuseppe Penone, Cristina Iglesias, Philippe Cognée and Wolfgang Leib) would interpret their personal view of nature. How fitting that the museum’s large glass frontage enables a unique comparison by allowing visitors to gaze out onto greenery, the Isère River and the Bastille beyond.
7. GREEN OASIS.
Anyone searching for peace and quiet and a place to take a breather in the middle of Grenoble will find one in the Jardin de la Caserne de Bonne, a small, hilly park bordering a former barracks site that’s now a bird sanctuary. It’s also home to a series of insect hotels, and it has a pond teeming with carp and ducks. This tiny oasis at the heart of Grenoble’s eco-quarter, the development of which began at the turn of the millennium, is also symbolic of the city’s vision for the future. All the residential buildings lining the park consume very little energy, while the local shopping centre takes its electricity from solar panels on the roof. In places like this, the synthesis of innovation and nature that has turned Grenoble and its citizens into pioneers of sustainable urban development is particularly striking.