Early June 2023 my wife Nicolien and I moved to Argentière, near Chamonix – Mont Blanc, in the French Alps. The previous years we had been scouting, during our vacations, for a new place to live. We are both drawn to rugged mountains and did not want to move away too far, so we quickly settled on the French Alps. While we stayed in several beautiful towns in the area, we both preferred the Chamonix region. It is absolutely stunning especially during autumn and it has a surplus of trails for hiking, something we both like to do, and a good public transport system.
Truth be told, the first months I had some trouble adjusting, hence the tardiness of this post. Not to the French ways, which are rather natural to me, but because I had to both work and give enough attention to Nicolien. She is a very busy, sparkling, socially involved woman and now she left all her friends in the Netherlands as well as her work (phys ed at an elementary school) and business (sports instructor and masseuse). Fortunately, many friends came to visit the past couple of months.
This left very little ‘me time’ if at all. I know, first world problems, but after a couple of months it got to me. We have adjusted since then, and last weekend I dared pick up my camera again. I wanted to document this little apartment we’re renting here, before we have to move out (it goes for close to three thousand euros a month during winter season, which we obviously cannot afford).
There are three similar buildings on these grounds, we live in the tallest one (furthest away in the picture) on the fourth (highest) floor, fifth balcony from the ground. Each floor is a ‘double’ floor, the apartments have a mezzanine constructed inside. There is actually a fifth floor which consists of small studios directly under the roof without balconies.
The balconies are triangular as many of the shapes are in these buildings and we have a view of the Mont Blanc in the distance (not on this picture, because of the clouds, but it would be to the far right).
In the evening we sit on the couch looking out the window enjoying the fading light on the Mont Blanc massif, colouring the snow from white to bright yellow, to pink, to the bluest purple, while the sun sets. In the summer I used to enjoy a coffee before work on the balcony catching the first rays while the sun appeared above the Bec de Lachat mountain (way to the left not in the photo). In the winter the sun only rises above the mountains (right of the Chardonnet) in the afternoon, right in front of our apartment. Time to turn the heater off and enjoy the warmth provided for free in our particular corner of the universe.
Before lunch (we do not do breakfast because of our intermittent fasting regime) we, or one of us, walks to a boulangerie (bakery) in the neighbourhood to buy a delicious baguette. We have two favourite bakeries at walking distance, which both cater ‘sur place’ as well, should the desire arise to drink a cosy coffee surrounded by French peeps of all shapes and sizes. And some Swiss, English and Italian as well.
Nicolien enjoyed picking flowers in the summer, drying and determining them, and she used them to obfuscate a rather scary and super-ugly (imho) artwork hanging near the dining table. Recently she added three branches of common trees in the woods here, turns out the pines and firs remain green, but the larches turn yellow late autumn turning the lush green woods into a wonderful spectacle of colour. Who knew (we did not).
While some apartments have been renovated, we believe ours still has the original mezzanine construction (dark wood) and kitchen from the seventies, when the flats were built. Even the stove might be original (according to our neighbours, a very nice elderly couple, extremely fit). This old stuff might be slightly less comfortable than your regular modern kitchen but it all works well and we really don’t need more, it turns out.
Everything in these apartments is slightly smaller than we are used to in the Netherlands. Doors, hallways and the stairs are around 60 cm wide in stead of 80 cm. Fortunately we are also smaller than regular in the Netherlands, even I can touch the ceilings, they cannot be much higher than 2 m.
In such a small place, one needs to be efficient with space, which is nicely done here, as well as with the drawers under the stairs.
Part of why we sold our house to live here is to cut back on stuff and space, to simplify our life and have less to worry about. We are rewarded with gorgeous nature, nice people (yes, French people are nice too), and a lot of cool little details like these door handles.
In case you are wondering, I deliberately did not clean up the apartment, we are not trying to list it for sale, I wanted to document it like we use it.
I remember when we walked in the first time and we weren’t sure if there would be a washing machine how happy we were when we found out that there was one. The feeling of happiness was no less then when buying something ridiculously expensive and ultimately useless.
The bathroom is also nothing like your modern bathroom with heating integrated in your mirror, double wash bowls and thermostatic valves. But again it turns out we can clean ourselves, enjoy the warm water, brush our teeth and hair, perfectly fine here as well. For people without electricity or running water, or, indeed, a home, this whole apartment would be a godsend, and to us it is as well, to be honest.
Fortunately my employer (MyParcel) allowed me to work remotely, which I do from this desk we sourced from the local Gifi. My colleagues secretly took a group-photo and gave it to me as I left the Netherlands. Obviously it sits next to me while I work.
When I stand up from my desk and turn to the left I can look down onto the living room. I love such a mezzanine construction. I would place a large painting on the high wall (something in the style of Mark Rothko’s later work) and hang a chandelier-type lamp from the high ceiling. Currently the high space is mostly empty.
Late summer we noticed how the light play on the Mont Blanc massif started to change during sunrise, since first thing each day we open the curtain from our bed to inspect the surroundings and make sure WWIII didn’t start while we were sleeping. We all know the angle of the sun changes during the seasons, but it was never this apparent in the Netherlands which is totally flat. In the mountains you see different shapes of light appearing on the snow depending on the angle with which the sunbeams reach the earth. A formidable spectacle.
This recap is as much for you as it is for us, to aid us in remembering this specific time and place. Hope you enjoyed it!
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