By Fiona Quinn, guest writer

Isère’s parks and mountains are the envy of France. In the south east of the country, this spectacular Alpine area is a summer and winter playground.

Huge jagged rocks in background with rolling hills below and deep gorges
Vercors © N. Bonheur/Auvergne/Rhône-Alpes Tourisme

Isère’s mountains are just right for lovers of the outdoor life. The landscape has mountains, high plateaux where livestock graze, glaciers, deep river valleys and trails for hiking and cycling, skiing and swimming.

With 23 ski resorts, 1,029 kilometres of slopes and 293 ski lifts, Isère is France’s third largest ski region after neighboring Savoie and Haute-Savoie.

Four mountain ranges make up the parks: Oisans which is part of Ecrins and was France’s first National Park, and three Regional Natural Parks: Belledonne, Chartreuse and Vercors.
Discover more from the Isère Tourism website.

Ecrins National Park and Oisans Mountains

Pic de la Meije in Ecrins showing high up peak partly rock partly snow and lower snowy slopes against blue sky with coulds
Pic de la Meije in Ecrins © Guillaume Piolle CC-BY-SA 3.0

South eastern Isère is mostly made up of the grand Oisans massif mountain range and part of Ecrins National Park with its 100 peaks and four glaciers. Established in 1973, Ecrins was the first of France’s nine National Parks.

Ski Resorts in Oisans

View of Alpe d'Huez ski resort in winter with cable cars in front of village and snow covered peaks behind
Skiing in Alpe d’Huez © Laurent Salino/Alpe d’Huez

The Oisans is the area for the best known ski resorts in Isère. Alpe d’Huez is famous for its 21 hairpin bends and the longest piste in Europe; Les Deux Alpes has the largest skiable glacier for thrill seekers. Both are above 2,000 m/6,562 ft.

Woman on left skiing fast in flurries of snow down snow covered slope in Les Deux Alpes
Les Deux Alpes © luka leroy/Les Deux Alpes

For families and the less ambitious, there are plenty of smaller village ski resorts. Choose from Auris-en-Oisans, Vaujany, Villard-Reculas,  Oz-en-Oisans,  L’Alpe du Grand-Serre, Col d’Ornon and Les Signaraux.

Summer in Ecrins National Park and Oisans Mountains

Small stone one storey mountain refuge on right hand side in pasture with high snow covered peaks behind
Mountain refuge in Ecrins © Auvergne/Rhône-Alpes Tourisme

In summer, take to the mountain bike trails, hike or horse ride through the alpine meadows where ibex, marmots and chamois roam. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch sight of the golden eagle, the emblem of the park soaring high above you.

The GR5, Europe’s premier walking trail passes through the Ecrins; as does one of the Via Alpina routes from north to south.

Many of the legendary passes of the Tour de France are here in the Oisans. Truly enthusiastic cyclists can try their luck on Glandon (1,918 m/6,292 ft), Télégraphe (1,568 m/5,144 ft), Galibier (2,642 m/8,667 ft) and La Croix de Fer (2,068 m/6,785 ft).

Chartreuse Regional Natural Park

Hiking in the chartreuse regional national park with person standing in field looking down onto La Grand Chartreuse monastery with misty mountains behind
Hiking in the Chartreuse © P. Jayet/Auvergne/Rhône-Alpes Tourisme

The Chartreuse Regional Natural Park is north of Grenoble between Isère and Savoie. It’s a beautiful protected area of land with 52 villages inside the park.

Like all the other natural parks, its wildlife is legendary. But Chartreuse has the distinction of containing nearly half of all the mammal and bird species in France so take a pair of binoculars and stout walking shoes with you.

Aerial view from high of La Grande chartreuse monastery with complex of buildings with red rooves
La Grande Chartreuse Monastery Floriel CC-BY-SA 2.0

It’s probably most famous for the Grande Chartreuse Monastery, founded in the 11th century by St Bruno and the head monastery of the Carthusian monks. The impressive complex of buildings where Chartreuse liqueur was first created is in the village of Saint-Pierre-de-Chartreuse.

You can walk up to the impressive site and enter the ‘Desert of Silence’ for the view. You can’t visit the monastery which is still occupied by monks, but you can visit the Museum nearby.

Winter ski resorts in Chartreuse

Night time shot of Le Sappey in Chartreuse with gentle slopes and dark mountains in background
Le Sappey in Chartreuse

The major ski resorts are located around Saint-Pierre-de-Chartreuse. Take the ski lifts up to slopes that suit children and families. There are some more challenging slopes but most Chartreuse ski resorts are slightly lower than those in the rest of Isère. They include Col de Marcieu, Coeur de Chartreuse, La Ruchère, Le Sappey-en-Chartreuse, Saint-Hilaire-du-Touvet.

Nearby Col de Porte is 1,326 m/4,350 miles above sea level, attracting skiers and snowboarders.

Summer in Chartreuse

Field and hedge in front with Chartreuse village in centre surrounded by pastures and mountain and high peak in background with clouds in blue sky
Chartreuse Village © Auvergne/Rhône-Alpes Tourisme

The Col de Porte makes a tough mountain climb for cyclists. It featured in the Critérium du Dauphiné cycle race – a precursor to the Tour de France.

Château du Touvet gardens with formal parterre of boxed hedge small flower beds in rectantle. Two stone towers and walkway and mountain behind
Château du Touvet © Patrice 78500 CC-BY-SA 3.0

Explore the Grésivaudan valley which sits surrounded by the great mountains of the Chartreuse to the west. Worth a visit is the small Château du Touvet, built to protect against the Dukes of Savoy. Its ‘Remarkable Gardens’ are typically French with their terraces and small walled gardens, though the Italian-style water staircase is a unique feature in France.

Belledonne Regional Natural Park and Massif

Two walkers going right along path on track with some trees in distance and mountains behind in Allevard-les-Bains
Hiking around Allevard-les-Bains © J. Damase/Auvergne/Rhône-Alpes Tourisme

The Belledonne Regional Natural Park is north east of Grenoble.  With peaks over 2,500 m, the strikingly rugged and wild mountain range has few visitors.

Winter in Belledonne

Belledonne is a favorite place for local skiers from Grenoble  Its highest peak, the Grand Pic de Belledonne, reaches 2,977 m/9767 ft with 250 kms/155 miles of slopes.

The small ski resort of Le Collet d’Allevard that sits above the valley was the training ground for the 1968 Olympics. Today it’s geared up for families and also offers 8 pistes specially lit up for night skiing.

Two of Isère’s most popular winter sports resorts, Chamrousse and Les Sept-Laux, are in the Belledonne massif. With 90km of pistes, Chamrousse – the closest resort to Grenoble – includes the famous ‘Casserousse’, where French ski legend Jean-Claude Killy won the Olympic gold medal in 1968. It’s one of only seven resorts in France accredited as Flocon Vert, guaranteeing a commitment to sustainability.

Les 7 Laux, made up of three pretty villages, is particularly good for cross-country skiing with plenty of easily accessible off-piste routes through the trees. Col du Barioz is the best place for nordic skiers.

Summer in Belledonne

\Man with huge equipment of a sale about to take off paragliding in Chamrousse in Isere
Paragliding in Chamrousse © Auvergne/Rhône-Alpes Tourisme

Belledonne is known for its spas in the Pays d’Allevard valley. The colourful spa town of Allevard-les-Bains has some of the most sulphur-laden waters in the world.

VTT Cyclist descending down steepish slope on cycle with full protective geat in Col de l'Arzellier
Cyclist in Col de l’Arzellier ©Desclos

Les 7 Laux area blossoms in summer when it becomes home to the Espace Bel’Velec. This collection of 8 different cross-country mountain bike trails covers 111 kms/69 miles and a variety of slopes linking villages to Prapoutel-Pipay.
Check the Les 7 Laux website for all information.

Vercors Regional Natural Park

Red poppies in field with the strange shpaed Mont Aiguille in background with its flat top looking as if sliced off
Mont Aiguille © Gilles Berger Sabbatel CC-BY-SA 4.0

To the south of Grenoble, the Vercors Regional Natural Park spans both the Isère and neighbouring Drôme departments. Created in 1970, much of the landscape is white limestone with river gorges. Vertical rocky cliffs and distinctive peaks or ‘needles’ like the distinctive flat-topped Mont Aiguille. Described as one of the seven wonders of Dauphiné, the 2,085 m/6840 ft peak looms over the rivers.

Vercors is the place for animal lovers. Take binoculars and you might spot some of the 135 nesting birds and possibly a golden eagle or two. Or keep your eyes open for the chamois, red deer, roe deer, mouflon (mountain sheep), wild boar and ibex that freely roam the mountainous countryside.

Hiker in Vercors looking at Bourne gorge far below him with rolling mountains in background, and blue sky with clouds and vapour trails
Hiker in Vercors looking over the Bourne Gorges © P. Jayet/Auvergne/Rhône-Alpes Tourisme

The Vercors is known for dizzying balcony roads cut into the edge of the rocky cliffs with steep drops in places. The Gorges de la Bourne winds along the canyon created by the Bourne River. The Route de Presles is a narrow, tricky 7-km road with plenty of open tunnels and passages hewn out of the cliff face.

Pont en Royans in Isere looking down onto river in centre, wooded banks on left and colourful houses clinging to ledges on the right bank
Pont-en-Royans © P. Jayet Auvergne/Rhône-Alpes Tourisme

Pont-en-Royans is one of the more famous villages where colourful 16th-century houses cling to a ledge of the rock face over the Bourne river below.

Saint-Nizier-du-Moucherotte ski resort in summer is a popular climb on the Tour de France, while many stages have finished in the resort of Villard-de-LansCorrençon-en-Vercors.

Winter in Vercors

Autrans Festival with skiers attached to huge colourful kites pulling them along
Autrans Festival © Patafisik CC-BY-SA 4.0

The main ski resort in Vercors is Autrans – Méaudre-en-Vercors. Every year thousands gather in January for La Foulée Blanche festival of nordic skiing which features a long distance nordic ski race.

Other resorts in the Vercors include: Col de l’Arzelier, Col de Romeyère – Les Coulmes; Gresse-en-Vercors and Saint-Nizier-du-Moucherotte.

Near Vercors National Park

Château de Vizille housing the museum of the French Resistance with lake in front and warm red stone 5-storyeyed chateau with mansard roof and mountains behind
Château de Vizille © Frederick Pattou Isère Tourisme

To the south of Grenoble, on the edge of the Vercors Natural Regional Park, the Château at the Domaine de Vizille is one of the most prestigious castles in the Dauphiné region. The Domaine parkland with its exquisite gardens, a deer park and ornamental lake is classified as a “Remarkable Garden”. Tour the Museum of the French Revolution for an insight into that incredible period when France changed for ever.

Isère’s parks, mountains and in winter, its ski resorts make for a part of France that is worth visiting all year round.

Read more about Isère here: how to get there, main attractions, cities and villages plus food and drink.

More about the 7 great mountain ranges of France.

The Tour de France 2020 in Isère

In 2020, the Tour de France passed through Isère on three consecutive days, starting with a rest day on September 14th, 2020. On September 15th, the Tour crossed the Chartreuse via the Col de Porte, which first featured in the 1927 race. It went towards Grenoble via the Revel in the Belledonne massif, and reached the Vercors via the climb up to Saint-Nizier-du-Moucherotte. The Tour finished after a descent to 1,023 m/3,356 ft at Villard-de-Lans which has hosted the tour 12 times.

About guest writer, Fiona Quinn

Fiona Quinn is a francophile travel writer and editor. She’s lived in France on and off during the past 30 years, including as a student in Paris, ski saisonnaire in Savoie and Haute Savoie, and a home-owner in sunflower-filled Charente. 
Check out her website.