Living in the mountains is not something I ever imagined myself doing. My dream was to live by the sea (I think on the sea counts as a step up right?). It’s not that I don’t enjoy being in the mountains. I have always loved walking in the mountains. I’ve rock climbed in the mountains. I’ve para-glided off mountains. I’ve even fallen off a mountain (another story entirely). The mountains are for adventures, and incredible scenery, and then you come off the mountains and go home.
Living in the mountains is for bear hunters, gold miners and serial killers. Living in the mountains means wooden cabins, old farming equipment and yeti monsters. Living in the mountains is not something I had ever even considered, until I fell in love with a boy that loves snowboarding.
Skiing In The Mountains
When Adam forced me to try a ski holiday a few years ago I was hooked. Fine, I looked like a total idiot, going so slowly I was basically moving backwards, legs splayed and arms waving to help me balance on what felt like vertical slopes made to kill. I may not have been a natural, but I didn’t care.
Every time I actually managed to raise my eyes off the floor I was met with the most amazing sights. We spent our free time warming our hands by the fire, mulled wine in hand, or relaxing in the sauna, or walking through a fairy light lit town admiring beautiful wooden chalets. It was the most perfect winter week away. And then we did what you always do in the mountains-we went home.
Actually Living In The Mountains
Naturally when we booked our three months in the French mountains I assumed I’d be skiing black runs within a week, and that our incredibly cheap air bnb would come with it’s own sauna and a breakfast bar. And of course we would be stopping at every mountain restaurant we skied past to enjoy some mulled wine and chips (when we weren’t spending the day off piste with a picnic for two). It would be just like our week long holiday, only it would last for three months.
Obviously it has been nothing like that. There have been highs and lows (pun absolutely intended) and as with everything, there has been boring and mundane. I won’t go into detail about the boring, because it’s, well, boring, but I will fill you in on the highs and lows of living in the mountains now that we’ve been in snowy paradise for a whole month.
The Highs Of Living In The Mountains
Views, Views, Views
My absolute favourite thing about living in the mountains is the views. From the window of our tiny apartment you can see Mont Blanc’s snowy peaks. On the walk to ski lifts we are treated to snowy-roofed wooden chalets and cloud covered valleys. At sunset the snow turns pink and the mountains glow. You literally can’t escape the views. And you wouldn’t want to either!
I thought I would start to take the scenery here for granted, that it would become part of daily life and blend into all the other bits of the day. Actually, it still amazes me all the time. The views in the mountains are constantly changing, so there is always something different to look at out of the window or up on the slopes. Sometimes it’s completely clear and you can see the changing light and make out the glaciers. Sometimes the clouds are low enough to cover the whole valley below like a massive duvet cover, and sometimes they’re at just the right height to cover the mountains completely, and everything just disappears. The other day we were treated to a mass of hot air balloons making their way over our house and on to the mountains beyond.
Breathe In, Breathe Out
Living in the mountains makes you feel healthy. The air here is so fresh and clean, you can almost taste it. And although it’s not quite the same as living on a boat, there is a definite sense of being outside more. There are lots of outside activities, and even though it’s winter the bars all have outside seating areas with blankets and heaters. New Years Eve was celebrated in the town square, with a giant cauldron of free mulled wine for everyone, and an outdoor stage with music and celebrations.
Maybe it’s the rain that stops us doing this more in England, or maybe it’s just that no one want to sit outside and look at grey skies. It’s actually really lovely being able to be outside more in the winter, and something I didn’t realise I would want until I had it.
Baby It’s Cold Outside
This one sounds really weird, and I don’t really know how to make it sound less so! I just love that it’s cold outside. I really love knowing that it’s going to be cold outside, and knowing that it’s going to be warm inside! The cold air hitting your face wakes you up instantly, and makes you feel so alive. It smells cold. I always know how to dress here, because I know it’s cold.
But when the cold gets a bit too much, you just come home and have a really warm bath, and light the fire, and get under the blankets. It’s like a painting of a winters night, and it feels like every day is Christmas. You want warm lighting and lazy evenings and roast dinners. Because baby it’s cold outside.
The Lows Of Living In The Mountains
I have never been anywhere as expensive as the mountains. Or at least as expensive as a ski resort. I knew that the mountain restaurants were expensive and was fully prepared not to eat out for three months. But supermarkets!? We’re less than an hour from Geneva, how much does it cost them to get a few carrots here?
Knowing that it was pretty pricey in the supermarket I was frugal with the Christmas food shop. But I couldn’t bring myself to cut down on parsnips. They’re one of the best things about a roast. I picked up two, one for me and one for Adam. They were kind of medium in size, nothing special. £4.50. That’s over £2 a parsnip. Seriously!?
You don’t even want to know what they’re charging for scrambled egg in one of the mountain restaurants. If you do, you can find out here. Spoiler alert, it’s 19 euros.
It’s All Uphill From Here
Getting around in the mountains is a bit of a pain. Luckily we don’t have a car. I say luckily because I’ve seen the roads, and I do not want to drive on them. Either they’re really narrow and windy, with big drops off to the side, or they’re really narrow and windy, with big drops off to the side and covered in ice and snow.
Instead we walk, or we take a bus. There’s a small supermarket in town, where a few potatoes cost £5 and they don’t even have parsnips. Or there’s a big supermarket about an hours walk away (or a 10 minute walk to the bus stop followed by a 10 minute bus ride followed by a 20 minute walk there and back, another bus and another 10 minute walk). It’s not easy, and it’s not all that much fun, especially when carrying a weeks worth of food.
Long Evenings Living In The Mountains
The evenings here go on forever. It gets dark early and then there is literally nothing to do. I guess on days when we had a ‘normal’ life we weren’t getting home from work until 7pm, we might have been to the gym or been working late. We’d shower, cook dinner and eat around 8pm, and then maybe we’d watch TV or talk about our days (because we’d been doing different things, and we had different lives).
There were also always plenty of other options. We had lots of friends nearby. We had money to go out. We had ‘things’ to tidy and sort, or walls to paint, or seeds to plant. There was always a little project on the go and something we could be getting on with if we were bored. Here I have my laptop, a camera and a kindle. There are only so many evenings you can spend staring at a screen.
Highs AND Lows
Some of the things that originally made the list of ultimate lows became highs as I was typing, and some of the real highlights took a skydive, so I guess this section is for highs that are also lows, and lows that can also be highs.
No gyms needed here. You just have to walk to the end of the road to break out in a sweat and loose your ability to string together a sentence. Every road is one long uphill treadmill (you know when you put it on the steepest incline possible just for fun, and have to cling onto the handle bars as you try to stay upright). Now add the weight of your skis and ski boots, or perhaps a rucksack full of food. There’s your gym, right there on your front step (literally, it’s a hike just to get off the driveway here).
If you want some real exercise after your thirty minute uphill hike, you can go skiing. Now that you’ve made it to the gondola, panting slightly, you get a ten minute rest before strapping yourself to two thin bits of plastic and throwing yourself off a mountain. I don’t even know what muscles you use for it, but my guess after a month of doing it is all of them, especially the ones you’ve never really used before. I have genuinely been in such unbearable pain that I have had moments of panic, where I’m not sure whether it would hurt less to throw myself on the icy floor to relieve the burn in my legs, or continue trying desperately to stay upright.
That being said, skiing is still a million times more enjoyable than the gym. I have a view of snowy white mountains instead of a sweaty, leotard clad bum. I get to wear a baggy coat instead of an unforgiving vest top. Helmets are the in thing, so no one can see my greasy hair and everyone is so much faster than me that there’s no way for them to judge me for turning down the resistance or opting out of the extra weights.
You Forget You’re Not On Holiday When You Live In The Mountains
Everyone else is! Living in the mountains makes it feel like you’re here on holiday, because like I said, no one actually lives in the mountains. Even the people we’ve met who are working here are only here for the winter, or they live in a bigger town way down the valley (that isn’t in the mountains). Our apartment block is for people who own a holiday home, or are renting it out. We have met one lady here who seems to actually live here, though our French isn’t great so she could have been saying anything really.
This is bliss, sometimes. When we’re out skiing, that’s when we really feel on holiday. It’s fun and exhilarating and there’s a relaxed vibe everywhere. People are happy and laughing, not avoiding eye contact or complaining about the next looming deadline. It makes us forget that we’re not actually away from our ‘normal’ lives like they are.
The trouble with feeling like we’re on holiday is that we’re not holiday. We can’t go out for lunch, or go for a drink. We don’t have a steam room to relax in come the evening. We don’t have our breakfast laid out for us in the morning and we still have to work. This has actually made things kind of tricky, and I think we’re still both getting our heads around it all. One minute we’re on a ski holiday, wondering why we can’t treat ourselves to dinner out, the next we’re scrubbing the toilet and answering conference calls and wondering why we’re working so hard when we’re on holiday.
All The Lonely People
It’s isolated living in the mountains, and in a foreign country too. As I said before, our neighbours here come and go every few days, and we rarely see them as they’re out on the slopes all day and in the restaurants and bars all night.
That being said, it makes you really appreciate what you do have and work harder for what you want. Adam would always say he’s quite happy in his own company. He likes time to himself and finds it easy to keep himself entertained. He’s also good at transient friendships, having worked in the travel industry for such a long time and getting used to people coming and going from his life. I, on the other hand, crave social interaction. I’ve never been very good at being in my own company. I enjoy being around people and I need proper friendships. If I like someone enough to spend a night with them, then I want them around more!
I’ve had to work hard on keeping myself busy, and teaching myself new things. I appreciate the friendship I have with Adam even more than ever, and I miss my friends and family back home, reminding me how special the people we have in our lives really are.
We’ve both put more effort into meeting people, and it’s made the times we do have company even more special and made us feel lucky for those days and nights when we have other people around. A visit from Adam’s Auntie and her son became so much more than a few meals together. Spending every day skiing with them was such a special time that we were both so thankful for, and a trip to see the ice hockey with some new friends was worth fighting off a stinking cold for.
Are The Views Worth The Climb?
So are the worst things about living in the mountains worth the rewards? The honest answer is, I don’t know yet. For me, this hasn’t been as clear cut as moving onto a sailboat. I haven’t found the safety of a house that stays still as reassuring as I expected, and I’ve often found myself wishing I could explore somewhere new. That being said, there aren’t many other places I’d like to stay still in.
Perhaps living in the mountains is the perfect place to live, as long as you can go home again afterwards.