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Grenoble

Haloed by mountains, France's self-styled 'Capital of the Alps' unites city pleasures and breathtaking nature. Every road leading out of Grenoble brushes a different regional park. The Isère River slices through the city, girding the clifftop Bastille and a ravishing set of riverside museums. On the opposite bank, Grenoble fizzes: a historic quarter lined with cafes and shops, world-class galleries and an efficient tram system zipping between neighbourhoods both glamorous and gritty.

Though it's surrounded by land preserved for nature, Grenoble is an engine of industry – thanks in part to an economic boost from the 1968 Winter Olympics held here. Since then, high-tech industries have carved out niches in Grenoble, fuelled by the university's reputation for maths and computer sciences. Students (more than 45,000) and culturally engaged locals stimulate an arts scene and nightlife that are the envy of the French Alps.

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