HIGH AL­TI­TUDE

Snow­board­ers He­len Shaw and Adam Lloyd are no strangers to tak­ing risks, but mov­ing to the French Alps has been the big­gest leap they’ve ever taken, as Ca­tri­ona Burns dis­cov­ers

Living France - - Contents -

Find out why Mon­triond was the per­fect place for one am­bitous ex­pat to put down roots

In the pic­turesque vil­lage of Mon­triond in the heart of Portes du Soleil, snow­capped moun­tain peaks tower over the hub­bub of ski re­sort life be­low, ma­jes­ti­cally sur­vey­ing a busy win­ter scene of skiers, snow­board­ers and wrapped-up lo­cals en­joy­ing Alpine life.

An ever-pop­u­lar spot with win­ter sports en­thu­si­asts, the town is also home to Bri­tish ex­pats for whom sea­sonal stints on the slopes was sim­ply not enough. It cer­tainly wasn’t suf­fi­cient for He­len Shaw and Adam Lloyd, who set­tled for a life on the slopes at the start of 2016 to en­joy the area on a year-round ba­sis.

“We had hol­i­dayed in the area be­fore and had al­ways en­joyed the food, the lan­guage and the life­style,” He­len ex­plains.

Get­aways to Mon­triond and to other places in France gave the couple a taste of the life that they were crav­ing. Be­fore the move, Adam was work­ing in Zurich while He­len con­tin­ued to live in Ox­ford and it wasn’t long be­fore the dis­tance be­gan to take its toll, as He­len ex­plains. “We met every other week­end and that was it. It wasn’t re­ally the life we wanted so we thought the time was right for a life­style change.”

Although their search for a new home was ini­tially Europe-wide, it didn’t take the couple long to re­alise that only France could of­fer them the life­style that they longed for.

“France was al­ways the most ap­peal­ing to us in terms of lan­guage, food and prox­im­ity to home. Plus, we wanted to be in the moun­tains,” says He­len.

“All the time we were go­ing back and forth to Zurich, we drove quite a lot through France and we al­ways tried to stop off in places. We thought Mon­triond was the sort of place we could re­ally feel at home,” He­len says be­fore adding, “It re­ally felt like a sec­ond home to us.”

As well as ac­com­mo­dat­ing the couple’s ac­tive life­style, Mon­triond also fit­ted with their am­bi­tions for Sheep­skin, the busi­ness they had suc­cess­fully built up in the UK, rent­ing out lux­ury hol­i­day ac­com­mo­da­tion. “We wanted to con­tinue run­ning Sheep­skin but we also wanted to live where we wanted to live,” says He­len. Luck­ily for them, their first choice was very much in the in­ter­ests of the busi­ness. “It was a good busi­ness op­por­tu­nity for Sheep­skin,” says He­len who, to­gether with Adam, has ex­panded the com­pany to the French Alps with Sheep­skin Alps, of­fer­ing hol­i­day ac­com­mo­da­tion in the area, in­clud­ing a sep­a­rate apart­ment within the couple’s own chalet.

“There are lots of ski re­sorts that are just ski re­sorts but we were look­ing for some­where we could live as well,” He­len says. “We wanted some­where that had a nice com­mu­nity.”

Once the couple had set their sights on the area, they started to look for a prop­erty. “We wanted to buy a ‘project’ build­ing,” ex­plains He­len. “We didn’t want a new build. Each time we have moved, we’ve bought a project and put our mark on it, and we wanted to do that here.”

The pair con­tacted lo­cal es­tate agents, spec­i­fy­ing what they were look­ing for and were shown a tum­ble­down barn in need of re­pair. Even though the es­tate agent had reser­va­tions

about the scale of the project, it was love at first sight for He­len and Adam. “We stood out­side – we didn’t even go in­side – and we just said, ‘That’s the one’. It ticked all the boxes in terms of pro­por­tions and lo­ca­tion and we knew that, some­how or other, we had to make it work.”

They ap­plied their sunny, can-do at­ti­tude to all el­e­ments of the ren­o­va­tion process, even when it came to the in­fa­mous French red tape when they ap­plied for plan­ning per­mis­sion.

“Peo­ple moan about the French bu­reau­cracy but we thought it was great,” en­thuses He­len. “They were so fast at get­ting ev­ery­thing done.”

But get­ting the go-ahead from the lo­cal au­thor­i­ties was just the be­gin­ning, as the prop­erty was in need of se­ri­ous work. “It was quite a big job,” He­len says with a chuckle. “The place hadn’t been lived in for five years and so ev­ery­thing had been ripped out and there was no elec­tric­ity, heat­ing or run­ning wa­ter.”

The couple rented at first so as not to dis­turb the builders but by June they were able to move in, although He­len says it was still far from homely, and so they set about mak­ing their own mark on the place.

“We wanted to give a nod to the orig­i­nal tra­di­tional wooden barn but at the same time we didn’t want to have the tra­di­tional chalet with deer heads on the walls and things – none of that,” laughs He­len. “We’ve kept as much of the orig­i­nal frame as we could, so it has a rus­tic look, with all the mod­ern com­forts and in a con­tem­po­rary style.”

When­ever the couple had no choice but to leave the work to the builders, He­len and Adam had no trou­ble in find­ing other things to oc­cupy them. “It was hard, but we did have to go snow­board­ing a lot,” sighs He­len with a smile. “It was for the busi­ness re­ally – we had to be able to tell our cus­tomers where they should go!”

But it’s not all ski­ing and snow­board­ing. Mon­triond has plenty more at­trac­tions that

ap­pealed to He­len and Adam, namely the famed French cui­sine.

“For us, France has al­ways been the place to go for great food and wine,” says He­len. “There’s a couple of fro­mageries in town and they make their own re­blo­chon cheese and things like that. We go to the mar­ket every week and it’s so nice to see all the lo­cals there buy­ing their chunks of cheese and their bags of sausages and all their fresh veg­eta­bles. No­body even asks about the price – it’s not ex­pen­sive to be hon­est, but it’s more about the qual­ity and that they know the per­son they’re buy­ing from. It’s so re­fresh­ing to see the ap­pre­ci­a­tion of food here,” she en­thuses.

The lo­cal mar­ket is an ideal place for the pair to prac­tise speak­ing French, some­thing He­len says has been a grad­ual process. “We’re slowly learn­ing the lan­guage, although we know more build­ing terms and things like that,” she says. But be­sides the use­ful prac­ti­cal­i­ties of learn­ing the lingo, the couple have found that speak­ing French has helped them to in­te­grate into the com­mu­nity. “We’ve found that when you speak in French, the lo­cals re­ally ap­pre­ci­ate it. It makes such a dif­fer­ence in the way they per­ceive you.”

As a re­sult of their ef­forts to learn the lan­guage, the couple have now got both English and French friends. What’s more, they feel able to spend more qual­ity time with their fam­ily and friends back in the UK, de­spite the miles be­tween them.

“I think it’s been re­ally pos­i­tive for both of our fam­i­lies,” says He­len. “I think they thought that they’d never see us. When Adam was work­ing in Zurich, we were al­ways back­wards and for­wards and it felt like we never had time to visit fam­ily; we were al­ways squeez­ing them in. Whereas now we make a def­i­nite ef­fort – we set time aside to see fam­ily and friends and so we prob­a­bly see them more now than ever be­fore. They love to come here as well.”

In ad­di­tion to host­ing He­len’s sis­ter and brother-in-law for a post-wed­ding ‘mini-moon’, the couple have also en­joyed hav­ing both sets of par­ents to stay. “They come over for a week at a time so we re­ally get to spend qual­ity time to­gether,” says He­len. “Both of our fam­i­lies love food and wine, so we al­ways have great meals out and en­joy ex­plor­ing the area to­gether.”

Hav­ing vis­i­tors to Portes du Soleil is not just lim­ited to the skiers or in­deed dur­ing the pop­u­lar snow sea­sons. Each sea­son is dif­fer­ent and with every sea­sonal change comes dif­fer­ent ac­tiv­i­ties to en­joy. Hav­ing snow­boarded since their mid-20s, He­len and Adam con­sider the world-class fa­cil­i­ties a ma­jor draw, but they have since dis­cov­ered much more, as He­len ex­plains. “May is a lovely quiet time when a lot of the tourists dis­ap­pear and the lo­cals come out of their hidey-holes. Then it all starts again in the sum­mer for walk­ers and moun­tain bik­ers and ev­ery­thing’s open un­til the mid­dle of Septem­ber. Septem­ber and Oc­to­ber are lovely again.”

Just as she can’t quite com­mit to her favourite time of year, He­len seems some­what un­de­cided when it comes to her favourite part of her new life in the French Alps. “Peo­ple say to me, ‘What do you miss about the UK?’ And I say, ‘Noth­ing’. Here, there’s all that great food and wine and we just love all that,” she beams. “Also, we both com­ment a lot about how fresh ev­ery­thing feels and smells. We’re in this hub­bub of this ski re­sort, yet there’s na­ture all around,” she says, be­fore pre­par­ing to go out again in the falling snow; on her very own cloud nine.

This page: He­len and Adam (cen­tre) en­joy a day’s snow­board­ing with a vis­i­tor

Fac­ing page: In the warmer months, the pair swap their skis for hik­ing boots; the couple con­verted the tum­ble­down barn into a lux­u­ri­ous chalet

Clock­wise from main: The chalet still has a rus­tic look but has been fur­nished in a con­tem­po­rary style; He­len loves how fresh ev­ery­thing feels in the moun­tains; one of the Sheep­skin prop­er­ties in Mon­triond; a log­burner keeps guests warm in one of their rented prop­er­ties

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.