About Voiron

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Voiron is a town in the Isère department in south-east France, about 25 Km north-west of Grenoble. It stands on the River Morge, a tributary of the Isère river. To the east lie the Chartreuse mountains (“Parc Naturel Régional de Chartreuse”) and to the south-west the Vercors mountains (“Parc Naturel Régional de Vercors”). Remains from Roman times have been found in Voiron which once formed part of Savoy, but in 1355 it was exchanged (along with the rest of the region between the Rhône and the Isère rivers) by the Count of Savoy with France, then becoming part of the French province of Dauphiné.

The town has thus existed since at least the middle ages, but has been overshadowed by its more important neighbours – Chambéry (the historic capital of Savoy) and Grenoble (the historic capital of the Dauphiné, and the capital of the modern department of Isère).

Voiron has a population of about 20,500 and is thus similar in size to Droitwich Spa. The town comprises a mixture of old and new areas, and has a centre with a range of traditional shops, restaurants, cafes and bars. There are edge of town developments for hypermarkets (eg Carrefour) and other large retailers. It is also the major town of the area known as the Voironnais which together with the nearby small towns and villages has a combined population of about 85,000.

Thus Voiron has some of the facilities that might be expected in a much larger town, such as “The Grande Angle” – a modern theatre, built in 1982, with seating for up to about 2,000 people, a Museum of Modern Art dedicated to Lucien Mainssiex (1885-1958) (a local painter and art collector, particularly of paintings by Jean-Baptiste-Camile Carot (1796-1875)), a Conservatoire for the teaching of dance and music with places for up to 650 students, and numerous sporting facilities for swimming, gymnastics, wall-climbing, martial arts, football, rugby, tennis, and so on.

Voiron has many cultural activities including a Jazz Festival (in March), an Italian Film Festival (in May), a Summer Festival (with street theatre, folklore activities, outdoor cinema, etc, in June), a Festival of Cultures (in July) and St Martin’s Fair (an annual fair since 1356, held in November), as well as a full programme of productions at “Le Grand Angle“.

Like most French towns Voiron receives money from central government for the promotion of French culture and hence can afford to fund such cultural facilities and activities.

The dominant feature of the town centre is the church of St Bruno (know locally as “The Cathedral”). It was completed in 1870 in a 13th century neo-Gothic style. However its construction was unique at the time, being formed from stone and moulded concrete. A modern form of concrete was discovered by Louis Vicant in 1812 near Grenoble (the pre-alps are rich in the limestone and clay needed for this type of concrete manufacture), and parts of the area were once known as “La Vallée de l’Or Gris”. St Bruno contains some impressive stained glass windows together with some interesting paintings.

Opposite St Bruno is the shop and cafe of Bonnat – a small family chocolate and confectionery business, famous in France for its chocolate production (they are one of the few small family businesses that make their own chocolate directly from the beans). St Bruno and the Bonnat shop and cafe face onto a large open area where a lively market, mostly for food and clothing, and thought to be the largest outside of Provence, is held on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

Other features of the town include St Peter’s (a 9th century church), the Barral tower (part of the 13th century fortifications for the town), the Notre Dame de Vouise statue (a statue and orientation table in the hills about 700 m above and overlooking the town – about a 1-hour hike from the town), the “La Brunerie” property (the home of Guillaume Dode de la Brunerie (1775-1851) – at one time Marshall of France), and the town centre garden (a 30,400 m2 public garden including a 2,500 m2 lake and with nearly 300 different tree varieties).

Voiron describes itself as a manufacturing town. From the seventeenth century onwards it was an important centre for textiles, including a cloth named after the town. There were also silk-weaving factories with at one time 2,000 looms, with an annual output of 8-9 million m2. The textile industry more or less collapsed in the early 1950’s, and few textile companies now remain (eg Tissages Denantes – a company specialising in quality furnishing fabrics). Other local/nearby companies include Rossignol (the ski and sporting equipment manufacturer), Gueydon-King Jouet (a well-known French toy supplier), Radiall (a manufacture of components for the space industry), Antésite (a mint drinks producer) and the Chartreuse Distillery and Cellars (the famous liquor producer – and a popular visitor attraction). So Voiron is still a manufacturing town, but industry is light and/or high-technology and the town is clean and smart. It certainly does not have the look and feel of a normal UK manufacturing town.

Voiron has a very active English Club with about 70 members meeting twice monthly to learn English in groups at four different levels. Also, in September, some members of the English Club attend a one-week residential English course. In recent years this course has been held in Broadstairs, Stratford-Upon-Avon and Dublin. Most of the communications that the Droitwich Spa French Twinning Group have had with Voiron have been through the members of the English Club, and the members we have met are friendly, welcoming and interested in Droitwich Spa. It is said that the English Club was originally established by Roland Revil, the Mayor until 2014, with the long-term objective of being the focus for a Town Twinning with an English town, and the day-to-day interactions needed for any Town Twinning between Droitwich Spa and Voiron will be mostly through the English Club.

Twinning has been going on in Voiron for about 40 years, and they currently have twinning arrangements with Bassano del Grappa (Italy), Herford (Germany) and Sibenik (Croatia) as well as having “friendship arrangements” with Radzionkow (Poland) and Tarragona (Spain). The Voiron Twinning Association has overall responsibility for all twinning arrangements and currently operates separately from the English Club.

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