Why Chamonix’s not all it cracked up to be

September 2014

Back in 2007, we decided to quit doing seasonal work for English companies, and in order to make a fresh start, we left the Savoie, and moved quite randomly to Le Puy en
Velay, in Haute Loire, slap bang in the middle of France.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe will never regret this move, as it taught us a lot of things, gave us work experience and helped us become established on the French system. It undeniably led us to where we are now, but it is true it was the poorest we have ever been, and being practically the only English people in the town, we struggled to find work in the early stages. After almost a year, we asked ourselves if there was one place we could choose to live, where would it be? The answer came to us both without hesitation…Chamonix, the foot of Mont Blanc, high mountain living at its best, with the most breathtaking views and fresh alpine air. We moved back to the mountains in 2008 and found work almost straightaway, set up home, got married, got a dog and had two kids.

What better place to bring up a family? Or so we thought at the time. It is true that growing up in a mountain environment, the children in the Chamonix valley have a lot of privileges, with a whole range of outdoor activities on their doorstep and where they learn to ski at school as young as 4, but when you’re working so hard to give them this life, and not actually getting to enjoy it with them, you suddenly begin to feel more like you’re ‘existing’ as opposed to ‘living’.

As I see it, Chamonix is a wealthy place, destined for the rich. The not-so-wealthy people like us come and go, and it is the ultimate place to do a ski season, or 10! But for most people, there comes a point in life when you want to settle down and buy a home. Unless you come from a generation of Chamoniards, who inherit their fortune, or you have substantial amounts of money to invest, you might just settle for a 1-bedroom studio overlooking a parking lot in Chamonix Sud. Living in Chamonix comes at a premium rate, especially when you’re paying 1300 €uro a month in rent and you still don’t get the time nor money to go skiing when you want. We can no longer justify paying this price for a life we simply cannot enjoy!

Then there’s the pollution issue that many people aren’t even aware of. When you think of the mountains, you imagine pure mountain air…but not in Chamonix, which is one of the highest air polluted places in France. When your kids are not even allowed to play outdoors at school because the air pollution’s too high, you know you’ve got a serious problem.
The short video in this article sums it up for you : Air pollution in Chamonix.

I’m not saying I won’t miss Chamonix, of course I will. It is a truly amazing place to visit, and if you’ve never been, you definitely should plan a trip. I feel I have been privileged to have spent the past six years here and I will leave with fond memories. We would love to redecorate our new house in a similar style to where we live now, with alpine furnishings, rustic furniture and some wooden panelling…to take a little bit of Chamonix with us, to the Aveyron countryside. We will definitely return to Chamonix at some point in the future, but as tourists! We have the Pyrenees and the whole of South West France to explore first.

The house purchase seems to be taking forever, but we just have to be patient that bit longer. As the days grow shorter and the cooler autumn temperatures set in, it’s easy to become disheartened and I often wonder if we will ever get there, but I try to remain positive and I am sure things will all fall into place soon enough. We can’t lose sight of the goal, we’ve already come too far, and we are at least heading in the right direction on our journey to a new sustainable lifestyle.

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