“Samoëns” – by Debbie Ambrous

img_5490Heidi in the Alps never had it so good!  A friend accused me of trying to recapture the Alpine world of Heidi, living in a mountain cottage near the goat herds and fields dotted with edelweiss, frolicking to the sound of waterfalls and cowbells.  I defended my travel plans explaining that I would be in a modern house with running water and a wide-screen television; furthermore, what was wrong with having Heidi as role model for my journey?  Heidi had a good heart, helped people feel secure and accept challenges.

Setting the correct GPS for my adventure in France, the location is just across the border from Heidi’s home in the Swiss Alps.  Samoëns, our intended destination, sits in the Northern French Alps, one hour below Geneva, and it is part of the Grand Massif ski domain which consists of five ski resorts: Flaine, Samoëns, Morillon, Sixt and Les Carroz.  With my vision of an idyllic village, I did not want to see tall apartment buildings with concrete as the main material.  Thankfully, Samoëns has maintained its rustic charm and is the only resort in France designated as a historical monument.   img_5379Medieval fountains gurgle beside ancient buildings and its unhurried pace is welcoming.   Understandably, the local residents take pride in their culture and lifestyle.  They feel that it is one of the most beautiful parts of France, and those who take the time to visit here will surely be enriched by the experience.  I found quotes from visitors that said:  “It’s not a resort; it’s a village.  There’s plenty of space, plenty of greenery – and no main roads.”  Another commented, “You immediately become a regular at one of the cafes on the main square.  You greet shopkeepers on the way past.”  Jim and I walked to the boulangerie each day and greeted the flower and vegetable seller who whistled tunes at the top of his lung capacity many mornings when he set up the colorful arrangements.  We shopped and purchased from our entertaining vendor on a beautiful sunny day – a heaping handful of wild mushrooms – an expense worth every euro for the rare enjoyment. img_4450While I’m thinking about the boulangerie, which happens very often, I must recommend Boulangerie Tiffanie which was our regular and the bakery with its tempting pastries and buttery croissants often had lines from the front door.  img_5416The other delicious favorite is La Jaysinia, a must for chocolate lovers!  Thierry Froissard, a top award winner, opened his cake shop after falling in love with Samoëns and La Jaysinia.  He buys local ingredients, and all of his cakes and pastries are home-made.  Are you drooling now? img_5439Eating out is great fun with something for everyone from pizza to fine dining.  Enjoy modern culinary or traditional Savoie dishes.  Reblochon cheese is proudly served with meat from local farms, and my favorite was the local desserts.  Here is a hint from a dairy farmer: “If you buy a reblochon cru, keep it between two plates on the kitchen bench.  If you’re determined to put it in the fridge, take it out three hours before serving.”  You can find cosy French Savoyard atmosphere with stone walls, heavy timbered beams and lovely artwork at the restaurant La Tornalta.  We enjoyed our delicious meal there in the warmth after walking past the rustic front with an antique wooden sleigh.  A young couple at a nearby table dined with their adorable little boy who reminded me of our grandson Daniel when he was younger.img_5443

A group of elderly folks enjoyed tall, delectable, ice cream desserts which I eyed jealously, but I only had room to share cheesecake with Jim when it came time to order.

Market day in Samoëns is on Wednesday.  We were there bright and early in the fog to purchase our vegetables, reblochon cheese, meat, sausage and eggs. A salesman had the adorable, lace curtains with intricate designs seen in many of the farmhouse windows.img_5270

Since I didn’t think about the possibility of finding curtains, I didn’t bring the window size info from my laptop at the rental house.  You might know that he would not be there in the following weeks!  I should have made a bee-line to La Ruche and return with the sizes.  I did find curtains at a modern store, but I’m sure that the vendor with many bolts of lace in the market had prettier design work.

The scenery is incredible, wherever you look.  There is always something else to discover.  Autumn is a wonderful season to be here with cool air and the changing colors.  Summer must be wonderful with all of the outdoor activities.  Don’t think this place is dull since it is a historical monument.  Samoëns is always bustling with activity and has more than you can possibly do!  Here is the winter short list: dog sledding, snowshoeing, Nordic walking, ice climbing, ice skating, hot air ballooning, snowmobiling and paragliding.

Samoëns used to be world famous for its stone masons.  The limestone quarries yield stone with hardness co-efficient of 13 for the skilled stonework.

In 1659, there were so many frahans (the local term for stone masons) that they formed a famous brotherhood and undertook philanthropic missions, caring for the sick and training young apprentices.  Their work as stone masons included commissions by Napoleon and went as far afield as Poland and Louisiana.  There are numerous works of art on Place du Gros Tilleul and in the village streets.img_6823

 

I also enjoyed seeing the many painted murals which are very much a part of the Alpine atmosphere.

img_6801The “Gros Tilleul” (large lime tree) has been described as the one object that epitomizes Samoëns.  Standing in the center of the village, it was planted in 1435, or 1431 or 1438, depending upon the source.  It is remarkable in age and size!  The large lime tree has been immortalized by authors, poet and musicians down through time.

The entrance to the church by Place du Gros Tilleul dates from 1555.  The stoop is decorated with the carving of a snake said to represent healing.  One of the locals took a disliking to the sculpture and lopped the head offimg_5465-1

It was re-carved and remains intact without further incident, so far.  I don’t have a photo of the snake, but I got a few other quirky objects and a beautiful stained glass window.

The Grenette, a sixteenth-century covered market, is on the south side of the square.  There are old bulges on the central pillars which remain since “the mason did not complete his work following a disagreement with the municipality over his contract.”  It seems that politics and business here are like other places in the world. img_5394 I enjoyed seeing the lovely fountain at the edge of the pedestrian-only square, a beautiful reminder of years gone by when the fountain was essential to village life.  I was thankful that it remained essential in Samoens each time we walked through the village. img_5362 Towering over the village is the Criou, the mountain that commands attention wherever you wander in this atmospheric, wonderful town that would meet Heidi’s thumbs up.

Before I close out, I must mention one very important tip.  Check out the shoe store across from the boulangerie!!

Don’t spend your money on shoes before the trip like I did.  Oh my goodness, just look at the pictures.  All of the females, including Heidi, will understand this.  I wanted the red ones, the blue ones, the ones trimmed with fur…

We began with Heidi’s sweet story, and we will end with this child of nature and her good heart.  She read stories to Peter’s blind grandmother and moved her unsociable grandfather to return into the village community.  She inspired millions of youngsters including me!  There is a modern movie adaptation of Heidi titled “Courage Mountain” starring Charlie Sheen, unbelievably, and the lovely Leslie Caron.  It was filmed in France and Austria.

By all means, if you plan a trip to the French Alps, your first CLICK should be to Alps Accommodation.

 

There is more of Samoëns to come including Jaysinia Botanical Garden, a trip to Chamonix for the cable car into the French Alps, nearby villages such as Sixt-fer-a-Cheval, Morillon and further afield to Burgundy and Lake Geneva.  Jim and I hope you return to join us.  Thanks so much!!!

“La Ruche” – by Debbie Ambrous

img_6927La Ruche, the name of the lovely holiday home that we enjoyed this autumn in France, means beehive in French.  The owners found a beehive in the old barn when it was being renovated, and thus the sweet name.  The name my mother chose for me before I was nicknamed Debbie in elementary school is Deborah, which means bee.   Buzzing along to a harmonious connection, I was anxious to see whether my instincts were right about this haven in the French Alps. img_4473A wise proverb says: “Pleasant sayings are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and a healing to the bones.”  Honey is said to have healing properties according to many experts, and the natural, golden food is simply good and refreshing.  We needed an enjoyable get-away from our normal responsibilities and an escape from routine boredom, a place to recharge our batteries and renew our energy.  La Ruche soothed our bones and rewarded us with a comfortable place to rest and marvel at the ever-changing views across the wide-open fields to the cows in the pastures and the mountains beyond.img_4308Rain pelted our rental car and swished the windows as we made our way cautiously from the Lyon airport on expressways, and then to smaller roads that wound through the valleys and the sides of mountains until we arrived in Samoëns, a charming village filled with character.  (More about the village will come later.)  Locating the house wasn’t a problem, and in my opinion it is on the prettiest road in the town, lined with old and new timber houses with flower boxes overflowing with red geraniums and lace curtains with delicate designs in the windows. img_4321img_4329 Gardens with dark, rich soil had zucchini, lettuce and tomatoes.  But that exploration in long walks was yet to come since rain was falling and we had to unload our luggage and settle into the house.  British Airways had failed to deliver Jim’s suitcase with his clothing, toothbrush, shaving stuff and basically everything a man needs to avoid grouchiness, chafing and the appearance of a hermit at the dinner table.   (It was delivered two days later.)  Right away, we were in need of the healing power of honey to soothe away our worries.

Once we entered the code to the lockbox and had our key, we opened the big barn door and interior glass door to enter a home built of wood, including new lumber and other parts of old timber with huge beams.  The smell of wood filled the senses with a natural, pure feel-good serenity.  Childhood memories filled my mind as I unzipped my boots and walked in my socks on the wooden wide-plank floors.  My daddy’s carpentry business was next door to our home when I was a child, with his stock of lumber at the back where I crept up with my dolls to pretend that the layers of pine, oak, birch and cedar were my house.  The smell of wood was always there in the air and on my daddy’s shirt when I hugged him.  But playing on the racks of lumber was forbidden, and he sent me away with a warning most of the time.  There in La Ruche, I just knew that I had found the perfect wooden playhouseimg_4309

Getting down to basics, the master bedroom was downstairs with glass doors across one wall providing a gorgeous view across the fields and access to a terrace.  The second bedroom was on a mezzanine which was toasty warm for the winter and would be especially perfect for children, a great place for young ones to escape and play.  There were privacy screens so adults could easily stay here, also.  There was plenty of storage in the master bedroom and in the entry which had another closet with mirrored sliding doors.  Lighting for reading was perfect and adjustable heating was great since I want a cool bedroom for sleeping.  Our color combination changed from orange to gray and white when the linens were changed, a nice extra provided for the house.

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We had to go upstairs for the bathroom which is located on the main living area.

 

 

The railings to each level are strong, iron bars, none of the flimsy supports often found in rentals.  Brilliant blue tile that shimmers in iridescent color line the power shower enclosed with a glass door.  The washer/dryer combination is hidden away in a cabinet in the bathroom.  One machine does both functions, a real space saver.  A wonderfully cozy towel warmer was beside the shower door, and I added my robe with the towel so I could wrap myself like a pampered child.img_5049The living room has a large sofa which was very comfortable, a wide-screen television on the wall and the essential wood burner for a comfortable evening by the fire.  Jim loved the kitchen which is completely modern with everything he needed.  He is the chef extraordinaire, very demanding and he had no complaints.img_5051img_5053  A huge window had views to the trees with leaves changing to golden colors and a house with gingerbread trim.  The walls facing the fields and mountains had massive glass windows with wood-slats, open for the view, but shielding any harshness.  A small balcony is accessed by a glass door from this side.  Several large, orange cushions were on the floor inside at the glass wall facing the balcony.  When we had the tour from the property manager, she said that people took the cushions to sit on the balcony in good weather.  Knowing the Europeans’ habit of sunbathing topless, I thought this corner could be a private sunning area in the summer.  img_4429

Jim and I kept on all of our clothes and didn’t expose our birthday suits, and no one called passport control to revoke our entry to France for offending the neighborhood farmers and cows.

The sunning didn’t get me into trouble, but I fell into another area of embarrassment.  We had access to a sauna in an old building on the property that required a large, iron key to open the door.  I had never enjoyed this privilege, so I was excited to check it out.  I slipped on my bathing suit and wore leggings and a sweatshirt over it with boots, my only outdoor shoes, on my feet.  Jim and I walked in the dark under the trees, and sensors turned on lights at strategic locations to safely light the way.  The sauna must be wonderful when the weather is icy cold with snow on the ground.  We sat on the bench and enjoyed the heat with Jim tossing water for steam in the room.  Baking on the wooden shelf like a Little Debbie cupcake, I listened to Jim tell about his Finnish mother’s happy times in the sauna and her brisk roll in the snow afterwards.  It was worth listening to his remembrances just for the mental images of my mother-in-law cavorting in the snow.  Since Jim is willing to give an ear to my doll tea party nostalgia, the least I can do is nod and smile at his boyhood memories.  “Pleasant sayings … a healing to the bones.”

When it was time to return to the house, I felt far too hot to put on my leggings, so I pulled on the boots and walked in the dark wearing only my bathing suit.   I thought nothing about walking in the stillness to the front door, but Jim took much longer locking up and turning everything off than I expected. img_6936

There I stood at the front glass door waiting for him to come and unlock.  The heat from the sauna was seeping away from my body and the cold gradually spread across my arms and legs while I was stamping my feet, shivering on the front stoop.  Just as I pulled my old Guess sweatshirt over my head and my eyes peeped over the frayed collar with my head half-hidden, I was flashed with the bright car headlights focused on my bathing suit with the sequined top, boots to my wrinkled knees, white goose-pimply legs and half-on sweatshirt with huge orange and blue GUESS lettering on the front.  I felt the music vibe from the old song “The Streak” by Ray Stevens when he hollered, “Don’t look Ethel!”  But it was too late.  No one called property management.  We were safe.  Oh, well.  What’s a honey bee hive without a few stings?  We had such great fun!

I must give credit to the lovely owners that we had the pleasure of meeting briefly.img_4476  CLICK here to see their other house – Le Baptieux.  My favorite part of this house is the bathtub, which is to die for!  A special “thank you” must go to Hayley at Alps Accommodation, who helped me from the beginning.  Do check them out for a wonderful holiday home with everything you need.  (CLICK here for La Ruche with all of the details and professional photos.  Mine are far from perfect, but I thought you would like to see everything from our viewpoint.)  The Internet worked perfectly, which was a concern for me.  Graham and Gaëlle with Kukipegs Property Services answered promptly all of our questions from the major to the mundane.  They are just down-to-earth and such a sweet couple, just what you need for a perfect holiday.  Thank you! Thank you!!!

Please come back and see us as we share our days in this beautiful corner of the earth –  the Haute-Savoie.  Next time, I want to share some photography and information about Samoëns.  (My story on the lovely holiday home was unsolicited and I received no monetary consideration, therefore, completely unbiased.)

Perhaps you would enjoy having the book “A French Opportunity” on your nightstand. Available in paperback ,or Kindle, at all Amazon websites including France, England, Japan and many others.