October, 2016 – Drizzling rain fell like it was pouring from a sweet, old granny’s garden watering bucket on our neighborhood in Samoëns. Low flying clouds scudded past like big boats trawling for chimneys instead of fish, although puddles large enough to support a school of fish were forming at our front door. None of this was stopping me from seeing the countryside after I had traveled thousands of miles crammed in an airline seat like a chicken in a crate. Husband Jim was settling into the warm and dry interior of our cozy rental house too much to suit my plans for the day. I dropped heavy hints that he needed to get moving, or the day would be gone before we knew it. I wanted to drive over to Sixt-Fer-à-Cheval, a beautiful village a few miles away. Jim rumbled noises about the rainy weather and nested deeper into the couch upholstery and soft cushions at La Ruche, our charming rental house.
Before I go much further with this rainy travel story, I must explain that apparently Jim’s mother never taught him to wear a rain coat, waterproof shoes, or that he should use an umbrella in bad weather. His intelligent and patient wife has not improved upon this situation either. Jim seems to think that he can rush through the rain fast enough that he will not get wet. If his theory doesn’t work, surprising as it is, he shakes it off like a frisky puppy while I’m embarrassed and fuming rays in his direction, hot enough to dry through to his underwear.
I insisted that we should buy an umbrella for him in case the rain didn’t stop like he predicted with his suddenly acquired meteorology degree. A quick stop at the grocery store, and I grabbed the only umbrella design on the shelf, a black little number tucked into a plastic sleeve, discreet and masculine enough for any man. Jim unfurled the sedate little black number so we could walk to the car. Cute flowery designs and flirty French wording encircled the umbrella cancelling any discreet, don’t-notice-me style. I stayed quiet hoping he wouldn’t notice and knowing he wouldn’t exchange for my feminine-colored umbrella. Oh, he noticed alright, and asked: “Do you expect me to slosh around with a teenager’s umbrella? Why didn’t you buy a matching purse?” I retorted: “Well, I’m sorry we couldn’t find an umbrella with huge letters saying you are a honcho, he-man capable of leaping buildings in a single bound.” Sounding like a whining teenager he asked, “What do these French words in the flowers say, anyway?” I didn’t answer.
We left Samoëns behind, traveling prepared for the weather and anxious to see the little village with a population of 800 and bearing an unusual name. Sixt-Fer-à-Cheval is one of the Les Plus Beaux Villages de France which usually stamps a guarantee, seal of approval, for a truly beautiful site with atmosphere and exceptional character. A short distance before we reached our destination we stopped at the car park to investigate the Gorges des Tines. A pathway crossing a bridge leads to trails for exploration of the gorges, carved deep into the calcareous rocks by the Giffre River. The gorges are very narrow, with the narrowest point being only 2 meters (6.5 feet) and the widest at 30 meters (98.4 feet). The view of the deep gorge from the bridge was difficult to capture since it was very narrow. We met a family on the bridge with a muddy dog which reminded me of Jim who still didn’t take his umbrella along to explore the gorges.
There was a gorgeous view of the mountains and hamlets toward Sixt-Fer-à-Cheval from the car park despite the clouds smothering some of the vista.
Sixt is a haven for mountain lovers, adventurers, walkers, skiers and mountain bikers. We knew that we didn’t fit into any of those groups except for a bit of slow-walking. A large board at the car park posted maps of trails and a few reminders on safety. I could visualize which category we would land in, literally.
Sixt had enough to draw us with plentiful trails and paths among glorious alpine meadows, abundant waterfalls and a village of picturesque architecture. The historic village is surrounded by seventeen hamlets including Salvagny, Passy, Le Fay and others which we explored in the sunshine during the following days.
Sixt is named for the Cirque du Fer à Cheval east of the village which, from above, looks like a horseshoe. Cirque du Fer à Cheval is classified as a Grand Site de France and has more than five hundred thousand visitors each year. If you are fortunate enough to visit after the snow melts, or during a time of heavy rainfall, remarkable waterfalls cascade from the cliff walls and mountains with an altitude of 3000 meters (9,800 feet). Clouds and fog covered our view on the first day, but we returned to the Sixt area several times during our stay in Samoens for better views. Cacade du Rouget is a large waterfall found near the end of a road at the south of the village. The view of the waterfall was far from perfect at the lower position since a natural wall of stone obscured the perfect picture. Just to the right I saw a pathway that others had taken up to a higher level. No notices were posted saying that women eligible for senior discount and the athletic ability of the old lady in a Carol Burnett comedy sketch should not climb to the waterfall. Rain wasn’t falling, so I took this as a signal of all-clear. I didn’t have the mountain climbing gear like the couple we met at Aiguille du Midi. I wore my nylon raincoat with a hood and had my camera underneath the coat, bulging at my middle, appearing like a miracle pregnancy. Jim refused to be my Sherpa guide and pack mule saying that he had to stay ready to drive me to the hospital when I fell and slid down the mountain and landed at his feet like a muddy hog, and furthermore it was almost his lunchtime! All in the name of capturing a magnificent waterfall photo, I cautiously made my way uphill, hoping that each area where I placed my foot was not too slippery. Reaching the upper level was not extremely difficult, but coming down was a different story with gravity not being on my side. I finally went down more or less by the seat of my pants, bracing with my arms and lifting to the next position. I knew a well-padded posterior would be helpful one day! Jim was watching and shaking his head in his safe and dry position down by the car. I got back in time for his lunch with no side excursions to the hospital. Score one for me! My waterfall photos are merely mediocre and I won’t bore you with the reasons. Back in the village of Sixt we saw a plaque honoring Jacques Balmat, who died nearby while prospecting for gold in 1834. Balmat, called le Mont Blanc, was a mountaineer, a Savoyard mountain guide and hunter. His most notable accomplishment is the first ascent of Mont Blanc with the physician Michel-Gabriel Paccard on August 8, 1786. For this amazing feat, King Victor Amadeus III gave Balmat the honorary title le Mont Blanc.
Jim was walking along the wet streets under a slight drizzle of rain in moderate comfort with the umbrella which he detested. I pointed out the rooster on the church tower and on a statue in the square and explained the meaning in my abbreviated version.The Embassy of France published this explanation: “One of the national emblems of France, the Coq Gaulois (the Gallic Rooster) decorated French flags during the Revolution. It is the symbol of the French people because of the play on words of the Latin gallus meaning Gaul and gallus meaning coq, or rooster. The rooster has been used as an ornament on church bell towers in France since the early Middle Ages, but at that time it was probably used to symbolize vigilance as roosters are known to crow at the expectation of the sunrise. The Gallic Rooster has been used for centuries by folk artists as a decorative motif on ceramics or carved and veneered wooden furniture…”
I found another comment in my search saying the rooster is seen as a symbol of gallantry in France, saying if the rooster in the poultry kingdom finds a food source he will always call his hens over to eat before having any himself.
I asked my Alabama Rooster under the flowery umbrella if he was ready for lunch with his favorite hen.
I love hearing from you. Just leave a comment below so I can read it along with others.The French word for umbrella is parapluie. Perhaps you would like to read another rainy story, just CLICK on “Parapluie”