Hiking is the great diversion in Chartreuse Regional Nature Park: there are over 1300km of signposted trails through this emerald wilderness. For a glimpse of the Grande Chartreuse monastery (off-limits to visitors), it's possible to hike to the summit of Charmant Som (1867m); follow the signs for ‘Col de Porte’ on the D512. In summer there's also climbing, caving, pony-trekking and mountain biking.
In winter, there's an enchantingly scenic ski area at St-Pierre-de-Chartreuse–Le Planolet.
Chartreuse: the Monastic Liqueur
Either acid green or radioactive yellow, Chartreuse may be the brightest, most shockingly hued herbal elixir of the cocktail and digestif world. Mixologists sing its praises and in ski resorts it adds a splash of Alpine fire to hot chocolate (known as 'Green Chaud'). Its surge in global popularity in recent years might have something to do with it being hailed as ‘the only liqueur so good they named a colour after it’ in Quentin Tarantino’s 2007 thriller Death Proof. It certainly isn’t because the Carthusian monks who make it have been brashly broadcasting its wonders, for this is a liqueur shrouded in secrecy and silence.
The production of Chartreuse began in 1737 and, at first, it was intended as a medicine. The green version is produced by macerating 130 hard-to-find mountain herbs, roots and plants in alcohol and leaving the mixture to age in oak casks.
Today, Chartreuse’s exact ingredients remain a closely guarded secret, and word has it only two monks know the recipe. Perhaps closest to the original is the Elixir Végétal (69% alcohol), sold as a tonic, but potent, spicy, chlorophyll-rich Chartreuse Green (55% alcohol) and milder, sweeter Chartreuse Yellow (40% alcohol) are much better known. You can taste these otherworldly liqueurs, bone up on their history and tour barrel-lined cellars at the Caves de la Chartreuse distillery, 25km northwest of Grenoble (or 45km southwest of Chambéry).
Route des Savoir-Faire
The Route des Savoir-Faire (the 'Skills Route') is a collection of around 30 traditional cheesemongers, liqueur producers and handicraft-makers in the park. Choosing a handful is an enriching way to frame your explorations within the park; pick up a tourist map at the Maison du Parc or learn more on www.chartreuse-tourisme.com.