My personal reflections on a month of lockdown in the French Alps
From Paul, based at the Aravis Lodge in St Jean de Sixt – Bike and Ski Weekender’s home base in the French Alps.
Looking back, the weekend of the 12th – 16th March was certainly crazy from a work and business perspective, and is one which will be remembered for a very long-time!
All of the ski lifts closed down on the Saturday as a result of the growing spread of the
Coronavirus in France, which meant our guests in resort couldn’t ski for the remainder of their long weekend ski break. Restaurants, bars and shops had also closed down as well.
Until that point, the ever-changing focus had initially been very tricky to manage, with no knowledge of what was going to happen with the Coronavirus situation in France and the UK even the next day… with the pace of change being the real challenge.
During that time both the team in France and the sales team back in England were glued to news reports and government updates hourly at times, trying to get an insight into what was going on, and what that might mean for our guests moving forward, so that we could communicate and respond as best we could.
However, by the time you had communicated something to the present guests, or next arriving guests – it had moved on and was then time to update them again with something new….I am pleased with how we managed to communicate with all of our guests, and hopefully everyone was kept in the picture.
Thankfully our Ski Weekender guests in resort that fateful weekend were all able to leave on Monday as planned, and with the resorts confirmed as being closed until further notice, we knew that was most likely the end of the ski season, a whole month early!
Then came Monday evening’s announcement from President Macron announcing France’s lockdown from 12pm on the following day (Tuesday), which finally gave us clarity on what we faced, after a month or more of complete uncertainty.
Luckily we had received snippets of rumours during the day on Monday, so had put in place some “Cunning Plan B’s” to get the Aravis Lodge team home safely the next morning whilst the border was still open.
So Tuesday morning saw the hotel staff and all of their kit squeezed into 2 of our minibuses and headed for the Eurotunnel to get back to the UK asap!
The locally-based team in France also scrambled to do some last minute jobs and return rental minibuses that morning, and as of midday on Tuesday 17th March the crazy few days were over – and it was instantly calm.
Wednesday was eerily quiet around the village – but this has become the new normal for the past 4+ weeks.
The lockdown in St Jean de Sixt
People are generally staying home apart from taking a walk or getting some exercise etc. but as it’s a small village with plenty of space it feels fine. Everyone keeps their respectful 2 metres distance if you do see someone to say “Bonjour”….
We have to take our “signed attestation form” with us if we do go out, which explains why we are leaving home, and we have to restrict our outings from the home to essential food shopping, working which cant be done from home, or for up to hour of light exercise (within 1km radius of our house).
We’re grateful that this still gives us access to some lovely woodland and mountain walks, so we can still enjoy spring time in the Alps, which is a beautiful time of the year.
Helped by some very warm weather and lots of sunshine, it has felt like Spring has sprung. The birds started singing (or was it just that we could now hear them as no traffic?) and spring started to happen in earnest.
And really that’s how it feels – it’s all just happening but a lot quieter than usual….
We’re in a fortunate situation with some outdoor space at home, and essential services close by – but for us, it has certainly felt like “No fuss, no stress”, (apart from maybe the home schooling which my wife Jess is taking in her stride!), and everyone is just getting on with it in their own way…
The supermarkets are open, and there are no restrictions or empty-shelves. Bread flour is the only item not available, but as the boulangerie is open we’re still getting the daily bread!
We manage to only need go once every 8 – 10 days, and that’s a rare day when the boundary of Jess’s world increases by another 3km… Otherwise – we have not left the village for over a month.
I was blown away the first time I heard the evening ritual of going to the terrace to clap, or make some noise to say thanks to the front line and medical staff. In France it happens every evening and the involvement has continued to some extent – with the sound of music, air horns, pots and pans filling the air as soon as the church bells stop chiming 8 o’clock. It lasts a minute or so, but it’s a clear demonstration that we may all be isolated, but we’re definitely all in this together!
On another level, the beauty of online services and video chats etc. means people are so far able to access support. Jess runs pregnancy and baby / toddler classes, and so although she can’t run her workshops she’s still able to stay in touch and support the new mums, as they are faced with the challenges of what to do with the kids.
The teachers and schools have been great at sending through lots of resources and lessons for the kids to do at home, and the challenge now is keeping up with the schedule. Again – they are able to share videos and photos to keep the feeling of a class and its teacher going!
We’re all looking forward to further announcements from the government on how measures may be eased, and how the kids may start to return to school from the 11th May, although we’re also fully expecting partial measures to remain in place for some time to come…
Building sites are starting to work again, and people seem to be finding their new “normal” level of what can be done and how best to do it safely…whilst maintaining that all important social distancing. The economy is of course taking a hit, but people are reacting and doing what they have to.
The government are offering support in many ways, but it’s certainly not easy for everyone. The healthcare system has been stretched, but at least locally in Annecy it seems to have coped admirably, without too many issues… It’s well-funded, and has been well supported by the public at large.
Let’s hope this progress continues, and we can start to look towards the new “normal”!
So – all in all, lockdown in March and April seems to have been rather like some “enforced calm and family time”, when normally we would have been ramping up for our Easter ski breaks, and then everything that goes into closing down the hotel for the end of the latest ski season.
Our main impressions are that we have seen a widespread and well-enforced lockdown being observed respectfully, and as best as it can be, by the whole population!
It’s just a shame we can’t have wider access these beautiful mountains with this free time we have been given!
(Image credits – Woodland – St Jean de Sixt Tourism; Bread – Les Capucines boulangerie, St Jean; View of St Jean de Sixt – @luucieloo Instagram)