Saint Jean d'Aulps: A Village of Four Seasons
The imposing façade of the d’Aulps Abbey is the only part left of this massive Cistercian church perched high above the valleys of the French Alps. Its foundations stem from 1090, and it served as a place of piety and pilgrimage until its near destruction in the aftermath of the French revolution. Yet, since then, the fierce façade withstood howling winds, blizzards, rainstorms, and parching heat in the 230 years that followed. It has resolutely weathered the four seasons of Saint Jean d’Aulps time and again. It’s a resolution that is shared by most of the folk in the region.
In 1090, people living in the region may have had to endure many hardships with the Alpine weather, but today, the village of Saint Jean d’Aulps has turned it into one of their greatest advantages. Rather than fight the changing weather, they decided to embrace it and make each season unique:
As the thick slates of ice thaw, giving way to the crocuses and the narcissus’, Saint Jean d’Aulps blossoms like an alpine meadow. The first hikers dare to traverse the rocky peaks amongst the thundering streams of melting water. Yet, the view is worth every hardship. Like ancient colossi, the Mont Blanc and Dents du Midi gleam in the hazy distance. With the heralding of spring, the toboggans and ziplines are opened as well, offering a slightly insane but highly exciting route down the mountains.
With its high altitude, winding chasms, windswept valleys, and tumultuous torrents, Saint Jean d’Aulps natural beauty serves as a temperate haven from the midsummer sun. The clear waters of Lac de Montriond offer refuge to sweltering hot hikers and cyclists, its green shores filled with picnic rugs in colorful patterns. A little further upstream, past the imposing Cascade d’Ardent lies the peculiar, yet highly popular little town of Village de Chèvres. As if carved from the rock itself, these typical swiss-style houses cling to the side of the valley, just like the dozens of goats that inhabit it. These tame beasts are approached by scores of curious travelers.
As the mountainsides turn a rich bronze and red, Saint Jean d’Aulps settles in for the cold winter months. Yet, the dark stones and deep waters still hold a memory of the blazing sun, and wild water rafting, rock climbing, and hiking remain highly popular. At the long wooden tables of the alpine restaurants, bulky game dishes with hardy beers, wines, and grappa are brought out by heavy-set men in lederhosen and women in colorful frocks. The terraces of rough-hewn stones are packed with convivial crowds, raising a glass in a last hoorah to the final sunny days.
Drifts of snow burry the chalets of Saint Jean d’Aulps. Yet, the sun shines bright, brilliantly reflecting off of the snowy landscape. The still trees, lakes, and houses glisten fiercely as if polished by some supernatural being. Chatter, laughter, and the swish swish of skis fill the silent winter landscape as the slopes and ski lifts on almost every white peak open for business. The smell of burning spruce and birch creeps up from the village, where rosy-cheeked barmaids roast chestnuts and pour hot chocolate.
Each season at Saint Jean d’Aulps is highly contrasting. The rugged mountains, the charming chalets, the hot sun, and the icy waters all butt heads to form a temperamental equilibrium with stunning colors and flavors. The people of the village have learned to approach each season with their heads up and mirth in their souls. This vibrance, this pride, this vivacity, is felt everywhere. A single visit to the charming, hardy wooden chalets is simply not enough to truly understand the unparalleled beauty of Saint Jean d’Aulps.
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