Friday, March 09, 2018

Vaujany Alpine Commune in the French Alps and the Cable Car Mishap

Last winter we spent our skiing and snowboarding holiday in Vaujany, a little alpine village in the Isere department in the French Alps.

The commune of 300 people - Vaujany. Most of these chalets are hotels, aparthotels, and rentals.

The Oz-Vaujany gondola lift that can fit up to 160 people.

We booked a chalet in a chalet hotel with a ski pass access to the Alpe d’ Huez Grand Domaine ski area which has over 250 kilometers of pistes! And of course, because Vaujany is not one of those popular ski resorts where most winter sports tourists go to, it is less busy. An ideal place for us who seek the peace and quiet.

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This is at the village square of Vaujany where the lifts are located.

Vaujany's panorama is traditional Savoyard studded with wooden chalets across the valley. It is a beautiful site, something that you would expect of the French Alps.

Vaujany faces the Le Grand Galbert mountain. The road on the picture is the road entering the village where every motorist is greeted with the church on the corner.

We were in Vaujany last winter, in January 2017, just before peak season, which is our usual month to go on our winter sports holiday. Going during off-peak season is not only more affordable but it has also many other benefits. Such as you won’t be hit with traffic on the European motorways. It is less crazy on the pistes and the snow remains good. No long queues in the lifts. Parking is easier to find if the booked accommodation does not include it standard.

You can see the pattern. We try to stretch the value of our euro =)

We stayed at the Odalys Residence Le Crystal Blanc Chalets. We were quite satisfied with our chalet, except for the lift which did not work a few times. They gave us the topmost floor chalet and we had to bring our bags through the staircase on our first day! What a great exercise teaser before the actual skiing, haha.

The chalet residence has an indoor heated pool and a hammam steam bath. We were regulars here. It is what you need after a long day of skiing and boarding, the muscles badly need some tender, loving and care, so a visit to the steam bath is in order.

Our chalet is just a few minutes walk to the covered pedestrian moving stairway that goes to the ski lift, commercial area, and village square.

The commune is fairly small, with a population of approximately 300 people. But this village is not your ordinary alpine (ski) village. Vaujany is a very affluent commune, cashing in annually rents of 3 million Euros from the nearby Grand’Maison hydroelectric dam. It's all money going down to the coffers of the Vaujany municipality.

It’s going to be a tough job being a mayor here. What to do with 3 million Euros every year for a small village with only 300 people?

This is the reason why the village is equipped with covered moving stairways, tram lifts, and stairwells in 3 levels. It has a massive gondola lift that would fit in 160 people giving winter sports holidaymakers easy access to the Alpe d’Huez Grand Domaine skiing area. There is a huge leisure and entertainment center at the valley of the village, suited with restaurants, an Olympic-size swimming pool, a spa and fitness center, a bowling alley, an ice hockey/skating rink and they even have their own ice hockey team!

There’s more. The village has a library where you can rent books for free, 3 museums, all free to enter, browse around, learn and enjoy. All this for the 300 population commune.

To learn more: Vaujany village resort

The chute you see in the picture is the tram lift that brings locals and visitors to the valley where the leisure and entertainment complex is located.

One of the covered moving stairways in the village. Really nice. That's moi by the way, hehe.

Ski lifts connecting Vaujany to nearby smaller villages.

To get to the leisure and entertainment complex where the swimming pool, bowling alley, spa and fitness center, restaurants and ice hockey / skating rink, you will have to take a tram lift (see long chute) leading down to the valley. The covered dome-like structure at the bottom is the leisure and entertainment complex.

In the center of the village is a commercial complex and a small square called Place de la Fare. There are a few restaurants here, a ski rental, a pizza and a bar, a boucherie, fromagerie and a boulangerie, a minimart, a ski school and the tourism office. This building is connected to the village covered moving stairway and lift system, which brings locals and tourists comfortably to other levels of the village and down in the valley to the leisure and entertainment complex through a tram lift.

The same area connects to the Alpette 2050 mountaintop which gives access to the rest of the Alpe d' Huez Grand Domaine ski area through the big ski gondola that can fit up to 160 people. There are also smaller ski lifts going to nearby villages, La Villette, Montfrais, Enversin, and Flumet.

For such a small village, the connections are very well thought of, planned and executed. Kudos to Vaujany.

My favourite shop in Vaujany.

You don't see the traditional boucheries in the bigger French cities and towns anymore, after being driven away by the Intermarches and Carrefours.

Quite a large group having apres ski (without music - ah, this is France, haha).

I managed to shop a little bit at the only boucherie of the village. Every Fridays the store holds a little market on the de la Fare village square. There is not much happening in Vaujany and the terraces on the pistes are better places to have a drink while taking in the beautiful alpine surroundings, but sometimes it can get lively on the square when people have a little bit of apres ski at the Table de la Fare.

What I really liked about Vaujany and nearby Montfrais, are the charming café and restaurant terraces on the pistes. Stunning snow-capped mountain views from the terrace of course, very conducive to sit back and people watch whilst lunching or just having a drink.

I had lunch in Montfrais and did some hanging out in a few of the outdoor terraces as well. This was something that I missed in Val Cenis last January.

That's moi with a little backpack and a cafe restaurant on the piste with a nice terrace. I don't wear the backpack anymore as I find it too stuffy.

But there is also a grim story behind the village...

I found out about the story halfway through our winter sports holiday. I was just googling about the place one evening, after a day of skiing in the mountains of course, when I came upon the story of the first cable car accident back in 1989.

The Oz-Vaujany ski gondola lift.

Moi inside the huge gondola lift.

Back in the 80's and 90's, Vaujany was just one of the scenic alpine villages but it had great plans. Ambitious plans so to speak.

The village is positioning itself to become a ski resort, so there is a need to connect to the Alpe d’Huez Grand Domaine ski area on the other side of the mountain. Installing a cable car would be the ideal solution. Biddings came for the cable car project and a local company won but little did they know that this local company copied the design, albeit poorly, from a Swiss system.

The day arrived when the cable car was ready to be tested and inaugurated. January 1989 went down as the darkest time in the history of Vaujany when the cable car broke away and came crashing down 50 meters into the valley. The engineers, the mayor of the village and other local important dignitaries, they all met their untimely deaths. No one was spared.

Can you imagine that day? All the villagers, guests and onlookers watching the horrifying moment when the cable car went tumbling down...

Inside the cable car / gondola lift.

There are 2 gondolas going back and forth from Vaujany to Alpette 2050.

Just a few photos of moi skiing.

Anyway, I didn’t tell the Dutchman about the incident right away. I was not in the mood to tell him because every single day we board the cable car – the huge gondola fitting 160 people – and thoughts about the accident in 1989 flashes before me. I try not to think of it so I only told the Dutchman on the last day after we were done skiing and boarding.

Dutchman had to smirk a bit. He remembered a trip with the cable car, perhaps it was the day before, when the cable lift operator brought his portable music stereo and played the music, “Highway to Hell” really loud, as we ascend to the mountains. People were smiling and chuckling, the Dutchman too, and I was like – “Hmm….ugh.” (of course, with the 1989 incident at the back of my mind).

Anyway, we enjoyed our time here in Vaujany. We loved that the village is high-tech in the sense that escalators connect each level of the village and that it is quiet and peaceful here. Dutchman and I would gladly welcome coming back here.

Scenes at the Place de la Fare on our last day and evening in Vaujany.

Travel Period: January 2017
Destination: Vaujany, Isere (Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes), France

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Happy Travels! Enjoy Life =)

All pictures were taken by a point and shoot pocket camera or a smartphone.

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