Lyon and the Alps are as alike as chocolate and broccoli. Lyon is fast, congested, and saturated with culture. In the bustling city—often called the gateway to the Alps—it's hard to believe that those pristine peaks are only an hour's train ride away. Likewise, when you're in a small Alpine village you could almost forget France has any large cities at all, because everything you imagined about the Alps—soaring snowcaps, jagged ridges, refreshing lakes—is true. Culturally, Lyon and the Alps could well be on different continents but geographically they make for a great vacation combo.
Cheek by jowl, they share a patch of earth sculpted by the noble Rhône as it courses down from Switzerland, flowing out of Lake Geneva. And this soil, or as the French call it, the terroir, provides many tasty treasures, beginning with the region's saucy Beaujolais wines. Glinting purple against red-checked linens in a Lyonnais bouchon (tavern), pink-cheeked Beaujolais vintages flatter every item listed on those famous blackboard menus: a fat boudin noirbursting from its casing, a tangle of country greens in tangy mustard vinaigrette, or a taste of crackling roast chicken.
If you are what you eat, then Lyon itself is real and hearty, as straightforward and unabashedly simple as a poulet de Bresse. Yet the refinements of superlative opera, theater, and classical music also happily thrive in Lyon's gently patinated urban milieu, one strangely reminiscent of 1930s Paris—lace curtains in painted-over storefronts, elegant bourgeois town houses, deep-shaded parks, and low-slung bridges lacing back and forth over the broad, lazy Saône and Rhône rivers.
When you've had your fill of this, pack a picnic of victuals to tide you over and head for the hills—the Alps, to be exact. Here is a land of green-velvet slopes and icy mists, ranging from the modern urban hub of Grenoble and the crystalline lake of Annecy to the state-of-the-art ski resorts of Chamonix and Megève. Let your grand finale be Mont Blanc: at 15,700 feet, it’s Western Europe's highest peak.