Hidden in the Chartreuse Mountains, Carthusian monks have been producing a spirit since 1605 within the sacred halls of the Grande Chartreuse Monastery (established in 1084!). Although visitors are prohibited from entering the monastery, they can tour a museum dedicated to the Carthusian monks and nuns located just off the monastery grounds. In Voiron, you’ll learn the difficulties the monks have faced throughout the history of their order (including expulsion from France by the government, twice) and their struggle to serve both God and humanity.
While Chartreuse may look pretty, it packs a punch. The standard “green chartreuse” bottle boasts a proof of 110, a solid 10-15% stronger than most commercial alcohols. It’s especially evident while tasting the spirit; many drinks call for a dash of Chartreuse due to its strong flavor. While the alcohol content contributes to the distinctive taste, it’s those 130 extracts that lend the zest, creating liquor that first tastes sweet, but soon becomes spicy. It’s difficult to describe, but impossible to confuse once you taste it. Just ask its creators, the Carthusian monks.
After hearing the tales of the monks, it’s time to taste the fruits of their labor. You’ll be given a complementary tasting of their famous spirit. You can choose between the traditional “green” distillation, or a milder, sweeter “yellow” varietal, which gains its lighter color and mellower taste through the addition of cumin. While I certainly can’t tell the difference (it all tastes potent), several international competitions have awarded gold medals to the Carthusian monks. Clearly, the “elixir of long life” has had an illustrious life of its own.
Afterwards, swing by La Nappe Monde, a small restaurant featuring authentic regional cuisine. Francophones rave about both the traditional preparations and the skill with which the chefs craft their “saveurs du monde” (“flavors of the world”).
After lunch, make sure to visit Bonnat Chocolatier, famous for collecting cocoas from plantations around the world and producing pure chocolates with them. Unlike other chocolatiers, Bonnat has their cocoa delivered unroasted to their shop, after which they handcraft tablets of chocolate from the unique crops. Buy a few to enjoy on the road back; you’ll be snacking on chocolates as you wind your way back to Grenoble through the Chartreuse Mountains.
As you climb through the peaks and valleys, imagining the monks holed up in their monastery, the hills encroaching on all sides, you’ll be surrounded by the green canopy. Just be thankful the trees aren’t chartreuse.