Pick up a hire car at Geneva or Lyon. Make time to enjoy the winding valley roads, dotted with timber chalets, and vineyard-lined routes overlooked by châteaux and historic towns. Lyon is at the heart of central France's motorway network, linked to Paris by the A6.
In the east, Geneva airport is the best gateway to the Alps, 80km from Chamonix via the toll motorways. EasyJet, British Airways and BMI Baby all fly from the UK (www.easyjet.com; www.ba.com; www.bmibaby.com). In the west of the region, Lyon-Saint-Exupéry airport receives visits from BA and Air France (www.airfrance. com) from Heathrow, and other carriers from throughout France and Europe.
The TGV speedily links Lyon with the rest of France. London to Lyon takes four to six hours on Eurostar (www.eurostar.com), via Lille or Paris. The Rhône-Alpes region is spiderwebbed with railway lines and bisected by the high-speed LGV Rhône-Alpes, which crosses four départements, so getting around by train is easy, mountain climate permitting (www.sncf.com).
France: +33; south-east: 4.
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley; or Mont Blanc, her husband Percy's poetic ode to the peak. French Women Don't Get Fat by Mireille Guiliano.
Do go / Don't Go
The ski season lasts from early December to April, and the high-altitude slopes mean you're in for good snow. Hikers and mountain bikers will love meandering over the grassy hills in high summer. Cherry blossom blooms in May, and there's more spectacular colour in autumn, when the leaves are turning. At lower altitudes, winter can be rainy.
Brimming with fine restaurants, Lyon is one of the centres of French gastronomy, and Beaujolais is a Milky Way of Michelin stars. Regional specialities include tender Charolais beef, creamy Saint-Marcellin cheese, and saucisson sec, as well as quenelles (fish or meat dumplings) and boudin noir (black pudding). The countryside is dominated by vineyards, the source of wonderful wines such as Chablis and some Côtes du Rhône appellations. Towards the mountains, Savoyard cuisine offers more than just raclette, tartiflette and fondue; delicious pike, perch and trout swim in Lake Geneva and the surrounding Alpine rivers. There's a noticeable influence from Italy - it is just the other side of Mont Blanc, after all.
In bigger towns and cities, cabs can be flagged down on the street or picked up at a rank. In remote areas, book in advance, or prepare for a long walk.
Restaurant and café bills usually include a service charge (service compris) but it's customary to leave a small tip.
A Prada ski suit for the slopes; an appetite for rich repasts if you're spending time in Lyon.
Lyon is famed for fashion, and its silk industry in particular. Visit the Maison des Canuts (www. maisondescanuts.com) to see the looms that powered the 18th-century weaving boom. There is a top-class opera house on Place de la Comédie, with a glass-roofed extension designed by Jean Nouvel that is spectacularly lit at night (+33 (0)4 72 00 45 45). The Musée des Beaux-Arts in Palais Saint-Pierre is one of the finest in France, containing ancient Greek art, as well as works by Monet, Picasso and Gauguin (+33 (0)4 72 10 17 40).
One of the earliest film recordings ever was made by the Lyon-schooled Lumière brothers in 1895. Auguste and Louis only shot workers leaving a factory, but it earned them a place in cinema history.
Chamonix has a Saturday market where you can pick up some of the region's renowned cheeses: Beaufort, Reblochon and Morbier. Villefranche-sur-Saône has a covered market every morning except Tuesday and Thursday. In Lyon, Saint-Marcellin cheese and boudin noir are on sale at stalls on Croix-Rousse hill and Quai Saint-Antoine. Lyon has Paris-rivalling designer boutiques (head to Rue Emile Zola, Rue Président Edouard Herriot and Place Kléber) and is famous for silk scarves.
You get classic pastoral panoramas and vineyard vistas all over Beaujolais and the Côtes du Rhone. At the Alpine end of the region, in Haute-Savoie, there are misty mountain eyefuls in every direction. In Lyon, you can sometimes climb the north tower of the Basilica Notre-Dame de Fourvière, which gives you spectacular views over the city; when you can't, the esplanade beside the church is a good second choice. In Chamonix, the slopes offer dazzling views of the mighty Bossons glacier, dusted by year-round snows.
Drive through the Aravis Massif from Annecy through the valley of Thônes and St Jean de Sixt, past La Clusaz, an old village that's been hosting winter sports for over 100 years, and up to Col de la Colombière, an Alpine idyll.
June Spanning 42km and climbing 2,511m, the Mont Blanc Marathon in Chamonix is not for the faint-hearted (www.montblancmarathon.net). June-July The Jazz à Vienne festival brings scat-happy scenesters to the town (www. jazzavienne.com). Lyon's Roman theatres host Les Nuits de Fourvière, a festival dedicated to the performing arts (www.nuitsdefourviere.fr). August The Guides Festival in Chamonix is one of the oldest events in the region, a series of parades, markets and music in honour of the mountain guides (www.fetedesguides.com). September-October Le Festival d'Ambronay, at the abbey of the same name, concentrates on baroque music (www.ambronay.org). October Lyon's film festival, Lumière, sucks in the cineastes (www.onlylyon.org). November The year's Beaujolais Nouveau is unveiled in the town of Beaujeu, at midnight on the third Wednesday of the month. December The Festival of Light is held just before New Year in Lyon, when windows are lit with candles and there's a lantern procession through the city. Concerts and operas are put on, too (www.lyon-france.com).