“I’ve got good news – you’ve been placed in Morzine, France, as a Chalet Host. It’s a lovely little town, really quaint and picturesque…”
The vague words of Victoria, from the HR department, were literally all I had to go on for my new ‘home’. In the rush of only have nine days to leave my job, move house, pack my bags, plan my last ever staff Christmas party (because I’m the idiot who decided only an Alice in Wonderland theme would do), and attend various leaving brunches, drinks and dinners, I forgot to look up where in the world Morzine actually was.
It turns out I’d struck gold. Morzine is a busy little town in Eastern France, the ideal springboard from which skiers can explore a whopping 650km of pistes spanning two countries. I chuckle when I unfold the map for guests with its multi-coloured spiderweb of ski lifts and the sheer size becomes apparent. After a few days, they’re seasoned pros, boasting of skiing to Switzerland and back in a day, eager to show their selfies with Mont Blanc in the background.
The town is like any other instant ski resort; the nostalgia of winding back roads, wooden water-filled troughs and dilapidated chalets is a stark contrast to the pop-up pizza shacks, expensive ski shops and British-run cafes.
But it works. There’s a feel-good vibe cultivated by a mix of the French and British, it’s family-friendly with just enough après-ski and nightlife to keep the wilder appeased. The town square buzzes with activity, kids squealing on the ice rink or the carousel, bent-necked Frenchwomen carrying baguettes and talking frantically on the phone, colourful tourists hobbling in their rental ski boots, and the seasonnaires – those shuffling zombies hiding a multitude of sins under sunglasses and overgrown fringes.
You have to resist the numerous creperie vendors, whose pancakes of melting nutella or fragrant rocheforte send clouds of sweet-smelling smoke into the valley. Of course the whole town is a mini paradise of delicious French delicacies. Every other shop window boasts of the best local produce – pop in to laugh with shopkeepers behind counters of cheese piled forehead high, or follow old gentlemen into cavernous butcheries, weaving under the cured hams that hang bat-like from the ceiling.
Unlike most ski resorts, there’s a plethora of activities to do here as well as snow sports – ice diving, paragliding, mountain biking, swimming… there’s even a guided run with workout stations by the river that winds its way through town. Running by rushing water you know has melted straight off the Alps and through an evergreen forest comes second only to snowboarding here.
I’ve been in Morzine for less than three months, but it’s so easy to build a community here, to walk into a bar, greet half of the room and meet the rest. Victoria from HR had got it right, it was a quaint town, very picturesque, but she didn’t tell me just quite how much like home it would feel.