BETWEEN April 26 and May 3, the ‘Alps and Spires’ festival will host a largely free programme of events including five concerts, four exhibitions, and even participation by three Grenoble bands in the city’s traditional May morning revels.

Around 108 official representatives and twinning association members from Grenoble will be travelling to Oxford to take part, with an official launch by the Lord Mayor of Oxford, Dee Sinclair, and Mel Houldershaw, chairman and founder of the Oxford-Grenoble Association (OGA) at the Town Hall on April 26.

Mrs Houldershaw hopes the diverse range of events will attract art and music lovers from across the county and beyond and prompt more people to become involved in the twinning association.

She said: “The twinning link brings friendship and understanding of people from a different country and the lessons we can learn from each other are fantastic.

“It is really an exchange of ideas and knowledge, and coming together for a week of events for the 25th anniversary is a fitting way to celebrate such a long and fruitful friendship.”

Mrs Houldershaw became involved in the Oxford Grenoble Link after forming the East Oxford Community Choir (EOCC) in 1996.

She said: “One of our singers Susie Pye visited Grenoble and met Marie-Christine Simiand from the choir, Ensemble Vocal Interlude.

“The twin choirs’ first joint concert was in 2001. And every year since then we have repeated the experience in Oxford or Grenoble.”

She added: “Through the link, children and adults from Grenoble and Oxford have made friendships through music, art, photography and sport.

“Our sports clubs and schools have linked – even our pubs have linked.

“And this 25th anniversary will hopefully introduce new people into the world of twinning.”

Highlights of the Alps and Spires festival will include a joint Anglo-French concert featuring the Oxford and Grenoble twin choirs, East Oxford Community Choir and Ensemble Vocal Interlude.

While a Grenoble-themed market stall will be at Gloucester Green on Saturday, April 26 and Sunday, April 27.

Mrs Houldershaw added: “I am particularly looking forward to seeing Grenoble bands taking part in the May Day celebrations — this will be a first and it will be great to see the French musicians immersed in such an idiosyncratic Oxford tradition.

“The art exhibitions will also enable people to visualise Grenoble, here in Oxford.

“And the grand finale concert at the Town Hall will also be a mass, musical, coming together of all ages.”

Bob Price, leader of Oxford City Council was a member of the council when the twinning was first proposed.

He said: “I joined the Oxford Grenoble Association at the outset and actively supported their activities in the early years — involving a lot of talks about the area and exchanges with Grenoble.

“I have visited Grenoble twice — once in the early ’90s and once when we had the celebrations for the 20th anniversary when I represented the Lord Mayor as she could not go.

“I am looking forward to all the different events in a very rich and packed programme.

“Perhaps especially the Tale of Two Cities at the fantastic new Story Museum, and the May Day gypsy jazz concert at the Old Fire Station.

“The silver jubilee of the twinning is an auspicious occasion and the Alliance Grenoble-Oxford put on a really enjoyable week of events to celebrate the 20th anniversary.

“I am sure that the programme for the 25th anniversary will be equally successful and will reflect the strong links that have developed between our two cities.”

Originally from Grenoble, Marie-Alice Frappat, 48, is vice-chairman of the OGA, and works part-time for the Music Faculty of Oxford University as a research coordinator for a musicology project and also as Green badge Guide, leading Oxford city walking tours for visitors.

She said: “The 25th anniversary is an important moment to celebrate the official and long-lasting friendship between the two cities.’’


THE two cities have some features in common – a vibrant academic, cultural, scientific and economic life. But Oxford and Grenoble are very different in size, geographical situation and history.

GRENOBLE: In the second half of the last century Grenoble was one of the fastest growing cities in France, swallowing up the neighbouring valley communities to form a metropolitan area of half a million people. It lies along the Isère river with Alpine ranges on all sides (on a clear day Mont Blanc can be glimpsed to the east).

  • A dynamic modern city that has refurbished and pedestrianised its once crumbling old town, Grenoble has hosted the Winter Olympics (1968), moved its university to a campus, installed a shiny tram network and built a stunning new art museum (1994) and town hall.
  • Similar in size to Oxford, there are just over 150,000 Grenoblois.

OXFORD: Our city is known as the city of dreaming spires and has a population of about 150,000.

  • Tourists flock to Oxford to visit Oxford University colleges and check out locations they have spotted in TV dramas including Inspector Morse, Lewis and Endeavour.
  • There is a tradition of car manufacturing dating back a century and the BMW Mini is produced at Cowley.
  • As well as Oxford University, students also attend Oxford Brookes University in Headington. Traditions include May Morning celebrations on May 1.
  • Children’s authors including Alice in Wonderland author Lewis Carroll, J.R.R. Tolkien, Philip Pullman and C.S. Lewis have all come from Oxford.
  • The city is also twinned with Leiden in the Netherlands, Bonn in Germany, Perm in Russia and León in Nicaragua.


PROFESSIONAL photographer and designer Paul Medley is lending his eye and his musical ear to the Alps and Spires.

Mr Medley, from Iffley, Oxford has a photographic exhibition — Grenoble University: Between the City and the Mountains, at Blackwell’s coffee shop (and later the town hall).

He said: “I travelled to Grenoble this time last year and took a collection of photographs of the university.

Oxford Mail:

  • Bruno Guastalla, left, with Paul Medley

“It is very different to our university here in Oxford. While the cities are both very old and have wonderful architecture, Grenoble University is a campus university on the edge of the city, and is very spread out across open parkland, dotted with sculptures. The public can wander freely through it.”

Mr Medley will also be performing during the festival alongside musicians from Oxford and Grenoble as one half of the jazz duo, Ensemble Azut with Bruno Guastalla.


THE Oxford-Grenoble link was forged not in Oxford, nor France, but in Sweden.

Mike Harvey, the chairman of the Oxford-Grenoble Association (OGA) from 1989 to 2000, recalled that Councillor Bob Price and Monique Sacchi-Meunier, a counterpart on the Grenoble City Council, sat next to each other at a 1988 event in Sweden, and set the ball rolling.

Oxford Mail:

  • Monique Sacchi-Meunier

He said: “When later that year we tried to get some enthusiasm for the link going at a meeting at the Maison Francaise we could never have anticipated this.

“I am aware of the great plans for the 25th anniversary of the twinning, and I am so pleased to hear this is taking place. I know it will be a great success.”

Grenoble and Oxford were unofficially twinned that year. But the ‘Friendship Agreement’ was actually signed in Oxford on April 27, 1989, by Alain Carignon, then mayor of Grenoble, and Queenie Whorley, Lord Mayor of Oxford, ‘to encourage and to favour friendly relations and exchanges … in the scientific, economic, university, sporting, cultural and social fields’.

These ideas were built into the statutes of the Oxford-Grenoble Association (OGA), which formed in July 1993.


  • Until April 30 – Art Exhibition: Grenoble University: Between the City and the Mountains. Photographs by Oxford’s Paul Medley of a uniquely situated modern university campus. The Café, Blackwells Bookshop, Broad Street. Exhibition moves to town hall gallery corridor, May 1-31. Free
  • April 26-27 – Market stall: Un goût de Grenoble. Walnut oil, mustard, chocolates: flavours from the Chartreuse and Dauphiné regions of France. Oxford Folk Weekend Village Fair, Gloucester Green, 10am-5pm.
  • April 26-May 3 – Photo trail: Alps and Spires. Throughout Oxford, photographs of Grenoble and the Alps will be mounted in various venues and shop sites to form a trail and a quiz for public participation. Free
  • April 28 – Talk: Portrait of a French Village. An isolated village in the foothills of the Alps is the subject of a delightful book and talk by caricaturist and reportage artist, Richard Cole. Paul Medley will also talk about his exhibition (see Exhibition: Grenoble University, above). The Café, Blackwell’s Bookshop, Broad Street, 7.30 pm. £3, includes refreshment.
  • April 26-May 24 - Art Exhibition: Alps and Spires. Three artists from Grenoble, Virginia Alfonso, Agne Brumes, and Markus Nine, exhibit with three Oxford artists, Madi Acharya-Baskerville, Diana Bell and Kate Hammersley. Town hall gallery, April 26, noon-5pm. Thereafter, 10am-5pm. 01865 252334. Free
  • April 26-May 31 – Art exhibition: French art in an English setting by well-known Grenoble artists Virginia Alfonso, Agne Brumes, Martine Chaperon, Jean-Pierre Malandrino, Markus Nine and Sonia Serrano. Hemingway Art, Pennwood House, Pound Lane, Cassington, OX29 4BN; Fri, Sat, Sun, 2-7pm. 01865 883991. Free
  • April 30 – Musicians’ welcome jam: Oxford musicians welcome their guests newly arrived from Grenoble with a free-wheeling evening of music. The Port Mahon Pub, St Clement’s, 8.30pm onwards. Cash bar.
  • May 1 – May morning revels: Grenoble bands Drôle de Swing, Torivaki, Rigodons et Traditions, Yebarov, and Oxford’s Horns of Plenty will take part in the Oxford dawn celebrations welcoming in the merry month on city streets. Magdalen Tower, from 6am.
  • May 1 – Concert: Gipsy Jazz & Music from the Balkans, Grenoble bands Drôle de Swing, Yebarov and Torivaki present a café-concert evening with fine vocals and a feast of instruments – violin, tuba, accordion, double bass, trumpet, clarinet, guitar, tapan. The Old Fire Station, 7.30 pm. Tickets: £10 (£8/£5). 01865 305305. Cash bar.
  • May 2 – Lunchtime Concert: Four centuries of Music for Brass and Organ. Stephen Cutting, trumpet, with Dutch ensemble Scherzo and Gabriele Damiani, organ. Greyfriars Church, Iffley Road, Oxford OX4 1SB, 12.30pm. Tickets £7 (£6).
  • May 2 – Concert: Elgar’s The Music Makers and Cello Concerto, Anglo-French reflection on the centenary of the First World War, with East Oxford Community Choir and Ensemble Vocal Interlude, Grenoble, under the direction of James Longstaffe. St John the Evangelist, Iffley Road OX4 1EH. May 2, 7.30 pm. Tickets £12 (£10). 01865 305305.
  • May 3 – Grand Finale concert. Bands from Grenoble include Drôle de Swing, Yebarov and Torivaki, and from Oxford, Horns of Plenty and Music Mayhem; with vocal performers including the East Oxford Community Choir, the East Oxford Youth Choir and Ensemble Vocal Interlude, Grenoble; instrumentalists include Scherzo (brass) from Leiden. Ending with traditional music and dancing from the Dauphiné region with Rigodons et Traditions. Town Hall, 3pm. Cash bar. Free.