The Mole Diaries: Grenoble

The Mole Diaries: Grenoble by Frédérique Voisin-Demery

This article was written by Global Graduates, published on 23rd January 2012 and has been read 11871 times.

Sally is studying French and Spanish at the University of Edinburgh, and has just come to the end of her first semester in Grenoble, where she was studying a range of subjects from politics to symbolism, at Université Stendhal 3. Although Grenoble was initially her 5th choice, she's been totally won over by this exciting city, and now wouldn't have wanted to go anywhere else! Here, she reveals why you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, and why Grenoble really is the perfect city for a year abroader...

Before and After

When I was first allocated to Grenoble on Erasmus placement for my French degree, I of course did some…ahem…in-depth research (on Wikipedia). What I read scared the living daylights out of me; extremely industrial city, a centre of scientific research, the second most polluted city in France, freezing cold…pretty much the opposite of what I’d had in mind for my 4 months in La France.

However, the minute I got off the plane, I had a feeling that it would be different, and I was right. Grenoble turned out to be wonderful and I wouldn’t change a minute of my Erasmus experience! Grenoble is an extremely relaxed, friendly and fun place to be, but you will only find this if you grab the bull by the horns and really throw yourself into the community. Once you do, you will find that there is so much to do, and so many things for you to join and be a part of.


Rent and Flats:

This is one of the most essential and worrying things for a foreign student on arrival, so here’s what I know:

Rent can be quite expensive; if you’re living in a city centre flat you’re looking at €300-400 pcm. However, one of the first things to do when you get there is to apply for CAF; a system of housing benefits available to students that refunds a percentage of your rent to you; it’s complicated and arduous to get done (like most things in France) but accept the fact that bureaucratic things are going to take a while and you’ll find it’s worth it and makes a difference. If you’re looking for a flat, and local listings are the way to go

Student Halls:

CROUS is the place to go for student halls. BEWARE- student halls are VERY different to what you’re used to in the UK. Go with no expectations and you won’t be disappointed! They are dirt cheap, but you get what you pay for. I haven’t been to all of the student halls but can tell you what I do know and have heard:

Ouest and Berlioz are the halls closest to uni; perhaps a good bet if you’re doing science or politics (the courses with the most contact hours) but they are a 10 minute ride into the town centre and about 30-40 mins walk, so if you’re looking for something very central, avoid. I lived in the Rabot, a huge complex halfway up a mountain. Seriously. I had a great time there because it’s the most sociable halls; 500 students stranded on a mountain tend to be more sociable than others. There’s a bar, gym and library (none very high tech but hey, better than none) on site and a student council that organises days and nights out. There’s a bus up to the halls that is fine for getting to campus, but stops at 830 pm, so after that you’re walking home. That said, it only takes 20 minutes and has saved me a lot of money on the gym! Disadvantages: there are no working kitchen facilities to speak of; just an unreliable hob, the toilets are Turkish and the showers can be very, VERY cold. Bring flip flops for the bathrooms!

 What to Pack

Flips flops (just to reiterate) Your favourite toiletries- you can get them here but they tend to be much, much more expensive. Summer gear for the first 2 months; I had packed for Alpine weather and it stayed 28 degrees until October! Adaptor plugs (obvious but worth mentioning)


There are lots of really great museums in town; the Musée de la Resistance is an interesting insight into the occupation in Grenoble, and the Musée Dauphinois is a museum with great exhibitions and a lovely terrace with a fabulous view of the city. The Musée de l’Histoire Naturelle is also in a really nice setting, and has a tropical house if you ever feel like you’re about to get frostbite.

Best Bars: London Pub is one of the first places you’ll go as it’s where all the Erasmus students head to on the first nights (and some never leave). Personally my favourite bar is La Bobine; a really quirky place hidden in Le Parc Mistral. On a Tuesday night there is live music and dancing and a very bohemian feel. Théatro does themed nights every week and the Latin night is a great laugh. Subway bar is another student favourite; you’ll get a lot of student flyers about it.

Le Quartier Antiquaire is really nice for an afternoon stroll, with a good range of shops and café’s providing something that little bit different.

The Bastille is undoubtedly one of the best things about the city; take the Télephérique up for the most amazing views. Look out for the parties in the summer and beginning of semester; I was dragged up the mountain by a group of people I met on my first night with the promise of a party, and what ensued was hundreds of people dancing and going wild, with me in the middle totally awed and having one of the best nights ever.

Skiing is obviously one of the big attractions of Grenoble, so sign up to the École du Glisse when you first get there for reductions on ski passes and lessons; a great way to meet people and have fun. There are also bourses du ski, where you can buy ski gear dirt cheap so look out for those.

Top Tips

The price of food may come as a shock but if you shop around you won’t find it so bad. Lidl and Dia are the cheapest supermarkets, but I would really recommend shopping at the food markets such as St Claire Les Halles. The sellers are so friendly and there’s a great atmosphere, and I was able to get all my fruit and veg for around €8-10 a week.  The St Bruno market is good for bargains…I once got some Chanel makeup for a fiver! Travel wherever and whenever you can; Grenoble is a well connected train station and if you book your train tickets early (SNCF website) you can travel a lot quite cheaply.  If you’re planning to travel, it’s worth buying SNCF’s student card which can give you up to 50% off!  The International Office on Campus is really helpful. They have a free computer and printing service for all your first week issues, and the staff will generally be very patient and help you if you’re polite.  Join IntEGre, the campus student association, for great nights out, events and talks. They run the student centre EVE, where you’ll find some useful resources, the student radio and a cheap café. Another good Integre idea is the Tandem group, where you can meet people wanting to learn English and in exchange they’ll chat to you in French, which is a good way to make friends. Be sure to pick up copies of the free newspapers at EVE to find out about events and soirées in town!  Horrified by the price of lunch on campus? Get your CROUS card asap, put some money on it and get to the university restaurants; the café does fast food and salads, while Restaurant Diderot serves a huge 3 course lunch for €3. Get there early or don’t get in at all! There is a free Wifi service in the main city parks, so take advantage of the sunny weather and look very French on your laptop in the park.  My favourite café is Pain et Cie on Rue Lafayette; I was addicted and went there about 3 times a week. They serve amazing breakfasts and lunches and it is the perfect place to while away a few hours while drinking a bowl of café au lait.  Don’t restrict yourself to just university activities; for example, I joined a charity called VSArt which works with the elderly and handicapped community. It really gave me a different perspective on Grenoble and I made new friends and contacts as well as doing something worthwhile. Joining a charity or social group, of which there are many, give you an experience outside of the university bubble.  Head to the 2 euro shop at Alsace Lorraine for bargains on things that would cost the earth at Monoprix or Galléries Lafayette.  

Things To Do When You First Get There

Buy your tram pass at the Maison du Tourisme; it is invaluable for getting around and saves a vast amount of money on buying tickets every journey. If you buy it for the year you get a couple of months free. Don’t forget to keep your receipts if Student Finance is reimbursing you.  Get your CAF and Social Security and Insurance sorted out; the unis won’t let you matriculate until you do.  

And Another Thing... 

One thing I noticed in Grenoble is that a smile will get you anywhere. If you go around with an attitude or become impatient with the (admittedly faffing) administration systems, you won’t get anywhere. Relax, smile, laugh and be polite and you’ll find things go much smoother! When in doubt, shrug, nod, make some sort of noise (any will do) and take a puff of your cigarette or sip of your wine. These gestures can be used to communicate pretty much anything, and doing all at the same time will make even the French think you’re French. Heed my words. Find out more...

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