In the French Alps, winter is often the time of invasion of the various ski resorts by loads of skiers. In the Savoie department traffic jams were legendary before the 1992 Albertville Olympic Winter Games. At that time the school winter breaks were divided in four zones, the more crowded one, as far as family coming to ski, was (and still is) the Paris zone. You have to imagine a mass of cars leaving the mountains on Saturday (the end of zone 1 vacation) and another one coming on the same Saturday to the same mountains (for the start of zone 2 vacation) and that for the four zones.
OK what's the relationship with baroque churches?...
Well the relationship is how we perceive a region. In this example, for the 1992 Olympics, highways were built, allowing to improve traffic tremendously but one of the consequences had been the pattern to go straight from your city to a ski resort without knowing much about the cultural aspects of the region.
Above Bourg St Maurice, Tignes, Val d'Isère, Les Arcs, La Plagne are all internationally known ski resorts with kilometres of runs, what we know less are the very tiny villages arounds these touristic mecca.
When leaving Bourg St Maurice, the road goes up in the mountains like a giant snake, no more highways. At the village of Séez, either you go left towards the Col du Petit Saint Bernard and Italy or you keep going straight towards Val d'Isère and Tignes.
The first small village we visited was La Gurraz. As soon as we left the main road, time stopped and we started experiencing the nature's rhythm. It was the middle of the afternoon, but not much activities were going on. One guy crossing the main road, a woman looking at us from her balcony, not much. The cows are inside during the winter and activities are mainly done also inside. On top of that, the village is on the Northern slope of the mountains, meaning that, when the sun shines, it lasts only till 3:00pm.
Obviously you can only scratch the surface of what it means to live in La Gurraz, but the walk to the little church, its cemetery and the Monument aux Morts makes you a little bit part of the village.
From La Gurraz, we went to the other side of the Isère valley, the Southern side. We end up in Le Miroir, another typical village from the Haute Tarentaise region. A mix a stone and wood are used for the construction of the chalets that face the Mt Pourri Glacier.
At the end of the afternoon, we pushed toward a small chapel, alone in the mountain. Again very typical of the 17th and 18th centuries when inhabitants of the mountains started to build religious monuments in the baroque style where the interiors are a feast of colours, angels, gold and statutes celebrating faith and/or thanking God for his protection.
Finally a last exploration of the nearest village, I should say, not even a village, more a farms gathering, the temperature drops, the sunset is coming, mountains are beautiful.
Taking the time, while in the heart of the Parc National de La Vanoise, to spend an afternoon exploring these villages brought a sense of getting closer to the culture, the environment and the people who centuries after centuries shaped these mountains.
Originally from France, I moved to Vancouver, BC in 1997 after falling in love with the city while searching for a training base for a round-the-world athletic expedition. I’m an athlete turned actor, and very much involved in endurance sports. Three times IRONMAN® finisher.