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To Share or not to Share...
Vaujany in the French Alps is quite a unique place. A visit is likely to leave a lasting memory, the wish for a better camera and the feeling of discovering a special place just for you. Many people in fact face the dilemma of whether to instantly invite their friends to share these pictures and spread the word about this little mountain gem, or keep it quiet and attempt to preserve its unspoilt nature.
I have spent seven seasons marvelling at the changes this place undergoes as the beautiful snowy blanket slowly melts in May to reveal an amazingly fertile, so very different, landscape - greens the likes of which are hard to believe. It almost looks as thought nature is showing off; "Look what I can do!" July and the lifts open again - in an instant one can be whisked up to 2000 metres, 2800 metres and finally to 3300 metres. Here you will find a surreal almost moonlike landscape below the floor of the cable car, the thousands of winter skiers replaced by the occasional marmotte, chamoix or fellow nature lover. The brief but intense summer is a symphony of colours, smells and sights.
Vaujany itself is nestled on a gorgeous south-facing slope at 1200 metres, amongst alpine meadows full of cows complete with clanging bells. The landscape available for rambles, climbs, fishing and admiration of the local flora and fauna stretches not only far and wide, but more than 2000 metres above you. Then before everything turns pristine white again, nature really puts its palette to full use in September and October with an array of autumn colours all across the mountain and into the valley below.
Vaujany from the cable car
The village itself benefitted from compensation from EDF when the land below was flooded some twenty years back. Entrpreneurial locals seized upon the idea of investing in a state of the art 160 person cable car to link their little traditional Alpine village to the ridge above and through a thrilling descent, the major ski resort of Alpe D'Huez (of Tour de France fame). Vaujany the resort was born. Since then careful control of construction permits and a limited availability of plots of land, together with an investment in a child care centre, fantastic swimming pool, a few traditional restaurants and an active kids club, has created a fantastic and quite unique fusion of traditional and modern life.
I first discovered Vaujany when I was employed to run a small two star French hotel in the centre of the village. For twenty one seasons virtually the only British tour operator to the village has been the same small family run outfit. They rent the rustic hotel Rissiou from their French owners in the winter and together with five chalets, welcome visitors to this special place in summer and winter. It has been the start of a personal love affair with Vaujany: its charm, its traditions, its foods and local characters that, as I come to the end of my working stint there this season, will be hard to leave.
Alpine landscape near Vaujany
Apart from the obvious great skiing it has been the summers and what they have to offer that has not only been the biggest surprise, but has eaten up the most memory sticks and will provide the longest lasting recollections. From the center of the village, the lift takes you up the mountain opposite and onto the start of what seems like infinite possibilities for mountain walks. Although I was taking full advantage of this right from my first summer in Vaujany, it was not until we had a guest one season who was a lichen enthusiast and collector come stay with us, that my eyes were opened to a less obvious, but equally stunning side to the Alps: the flora! This guest would request an early breakfast in order that he be sure to catch the very first lift each morning - I thought such nutters only existed in winter - and be gone for hours, only to return with the day's haul of tiny samples of lichen. As I recall he was on a mission to collect a sample of every lichen that grows in Europe. This was a labour of love and he had been some twenty years in the process. I believe he found three new ones just from his one week with us in Vaujany!
After that I could never walk in those mountains in the same way- suddenly there was double the amount of interesting things to look at. Although I feel I have become very little the wiser as to my surroundings, it has provided hours of fun on long walks at least wondering what plants, lichen and flowers might be. I have even visited the excellent Jardin d'Alpin - an Alpine Flora Research Station operated by Grenoble University - only an hours' drive from the village. The garden was created in 1899 and sits on another Tour De France favourite the Col du Lauteret at 2100m, overlooking the beautiful La Meije mountain. It's next to free to get in, and in July and August especially you can view more than 2000 species of Alpine plants from around the world, beautifully presented in rockeries. I believe the Station even organises workshops and work experience - but that might be for another time!
All in all, coming to this special corner of the world has been a wonderfully eye-opening experience on so many fronts. One of the less obvious for me seven years ago would have been discovering this interest for the local flora. Now as I am off, as with many of the guests I have looked after on their holidays over the years, I too have faced the dilemma of whether to keep silent about Vaujany or share my experience. When I think back on all the memories and how others might find the place equally enchanting, it seems as if sharing is the right thing to do - enjoy!
Jardin Alpin - La Meije
Nearest airport Grenoble or Lyon (about 75 and 90 mins drive respectively) - it is about 570 miles from Calais
Col Du Lauteret Jardin Alpin is only 60 mins drive away : http://sajf.ujf-grenoble.fr/
The small family-run tour operator I worked for is Ski Peak: www.skipeak.com (they have fantastic deals on all sorts of different size chalets for the summer)
The peak flowering time is July and August (which coincides with when the lift runs)
The village website is: https://www.vaujany.com/en/
All photos in this article are the property of Thomas Randall