Heidi 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. Medieval 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. While 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. The 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? Eating 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.
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.
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.
I also enjoyed seeing the many painted murals which are very much a part of the Alpine atmosphere.
The “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 off!
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. 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. 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!!!