Arriving in Grenoble, the city of sport, the athlete is in his element. The great outdoors, the mountains, the forests – the city seems to almost breathe healthy sporting activity. Indeed, it is not unheard of for some employees to finish at 4pm, rucksack in hand and head off for a three-hour mountain trek. Sources remain anonymous. Even the slightly sofa-attached of us, when confronted daily by rakish cyclists in skin-tight neon or the love affair that is a Grenoblois and his Quechua, may sometimes dream of sunny hikes and lazy bike rides. And as summer approaches, the thought of baring a British body next to all those sculpted French sportifs can indeed get one thinking about taking up some kind of sporting activity.
But for those of us who are more conscientious employees (or less energetic), those still haunted by memories of freezing English hockey pitches and laps in the rain, for those who are fighting a losing battle with mozzies, and for those who just can’t separate themselves from a lifetime of exercising indoors, there is always the gym.
In France there are two kinds of gym. The ‘Poseur’ kind and the ‘Somebody’s Converted Garage’ kind. Lucky really, as there used to be only the latter. If you’re used to the technologically sleek exercise area that even a local British council can pull off these days, avoid the ‘Converted Garage’ kind and be prepared to face the frimeurs.
Overlooking the highly pumped-up men in skin-tight neon (again!) and ladies exercising in full make-up and heavy gold jewellery, most modern gyms here offer spacious, air-conditioned rooms with plenty of cardio, running, cycling, step, cross-training and rowing machines, as well as a weights area and a hall for dance, yoga, pilates and aerobics classes. Not all have swimming pools, a steam room or sauna though, so don’t expect it to come as standard.
One entry can cost around €25 each time so if you’re planning on going regularly, it’s better to take an abonnement, or membership contract. Yearly memberships can cost anything from €300-600 per year but are generally better value than monthly, two-monthly, or three-monthly memberships. If you suffer from gym commitment issues and would rather try before you buy, a carte d’entrée, valid for 10 visits, costs around €100.
Individual sessions with a personal trainer can cost €50-60 per hour. If you work for a company with a Comite d’Entreprise, they will usually pay something towards your gym membership, so it’s worth investigating.
Despite the expense, and in contrast to the rather lazy customer service sometimes seen in some British gyms, sports trainers here really do look after you, and are more than happy to help out with inductions, coaching, planning fitness regimes, or generally giving advice. Even the receptionists are usually very friendly and know their clients by name. What Grenoble’s gyms may lack in modernity, they more than make up for in know-how.
A word of warning to any prudish Brits: the French are very comfortable being naked in showers, changing rooms and non-communal saunas / hammams. It also seems to be the place where conversations of great importance are started and joined in by anyone who may have an opinion. So don’t be surprised if someone, starkers, starts a debate about the pros and cons of cellulite creams in the sauna.
The best of Grenoble’s fitness factories:
A chain of gyms that have very nice locker rooms (these things matter) and are open from 6am to 11pm every night, 365 days a year. Yes, even Christmas.
6 Rue Jean Prévost, 04 38 12 05 05
The easily accessible Club Europole asks a €60 joining fee but does special deals for students, and also gives a discounted price if you sign up with two friends.
27 Rue Nicolas Chorier , 04 76 49 59 99
A modern, stylish gym with a swimming pool, aqua-baby classes, sauna and steam room, and male and female training spaces.
18 Avenue Houille Blanche, Seyssinet Pariset, 04 76 21 72 98
Despite the undoubted pressure of the name, this small and friendly gym has a good range of fitness classes, coaches and gives discounts for students and unemployed people.
2 Chemin des Marronniers, Echirolles, 04 76 70 11 99
Don’t let the rather busy website put you off – Full Time Fitness is a club for serious gym-goers. Open seven days a week, it holds 300 classes each month, offers personal trainers and has a swimming pool.
18 Rue Stalingrad, 04 26 46 52 39
If a “perfumed cocoon of femininity” sounds just up your street (and you’re not a man), this female-only concept gym offers 30-minute circuit exercises targeting problem areas, as well as coaches, spa and sunbeds.
26 Cours Berriat, 04 76 58 06 23
Although in the more expensive range, Meylan Fitness has a Jacuzzi, sauna and hammam, and is open seven days a week, with an early 7.30am start Tuesdays to Thursdays.
29 bis Avenue Granier, Meylan, 04 76 18 29 61