We’re 40 days into Coronavirus lockdown in our van in the French Alps. It’s taken 40 days for me to write about it; at first I didn’t feel like there was much to report other than how many Netflix hours/empty wine bottles we’ve racked up. It also wasn’t the blog post I expected to write next, picking up where the last one left off in the middle of the snowboard season.
At the end of January we ‘moved house’ from the aire in Morzine to Ardent. This place was definitely how we’d always pictured mountain vanlife.
By February, Ivan’s snowboarding had really come on and he was riding independently, so we could make the most of our season passes and explore more of Portes du Soleil.
We had some great days on the mountain with friends and Jim celebrated another year around the sun.
The best bit was watching Eden and Ivan, as they’d really caught the snowboard bug by now and were shredding.
We met another family who had taken a year out to travel around Europe in their RV. It was pretty cool (and rare) to meet like-minded people on a very similar adventure to us. They also parked up at Ardent and the kids hit it off.
In early March, news of Covid19 was ramping up and we started to wonder how it might affect us.
We watched as the awful events in Italy unfolded before everything then went batshit (sorry) crazy. France banned gatherings of over 1000 people and closed schools. Austria shut their borders. Then the Italian ski resorts closed and the country was locked down. I flew home with Ivan for a brief visit and was worried that we might not make it back to France, as flights were being cancelled and Geneva airport was eerily quiet.
On Saturday 14th, the French President announced the closure of all non-essential businesses. Portes du Soleil confirmed that the resort would close and the season was over. That Sunday we made the most of our last day.
Confinement, the French term for lockdown, began on 17th March. The rules are that everyone (other than key workers) must stay home, with very few exceptions, such as to buy essential items or medical reasons. Outdoor exercise is permitted once per day within 2km (later restricted to 1km). A paper ‘attestation’ or declaration form, must be carried at all times, or risk being fined.
Jim managed to get in one final hike to snowboard before it was confirmed that all mountain activities were also banned. Sad times.
At this point we did wonder if we should return to the UK, as Brits could still travel home. But then what? Our house is being let for a year so we’d have to live in the van, plus we figured the UK would soon be in lockdown anyway. With the choice of being confined in the van back home or here – we decided to stay put.
Our van-family neighbours also decided to stay, so we’ve isolated together. It’s been great having people to share this experience and
boxes bottles of wine with. Eden and Ivan have children to be feral play with, which they wouldn’t have at home.
The police are okay with us staying here and the locals have been friendly. The après bar down the road loaned us outdoor furniture and a lady in the village dropped round a spare fondue set (only in the Alps!) so we could eat our bodyweight in melted cheese. I have to admit some days this feels more like a mountain retreat than lockdown.
We have this little patch of Alpine paradise pretty much to ourselves.
Nevermind ‘vanschool’, the kids have got their own personal forest school.
Zippy is living his best life.
That’s not to say it’s always idyllic or that we don’t get stressed. We regularly get on each others’ last nerve. It can still feel claustrophobic even with all the space around us. It’s a worry being so far from family back home.
Going to the supermarket or launderette is like a military operation – with the risk of being stopped and fined by police if we’ve not got the right paperwork. Every couple of weeks we drive 30km to the nearest LPG garage and it always feels like a Walking Dead supply run.
We try to plan daily activities and walks with the kids, else it’s easy for the days to just drift into each other and become a bit monotonous.
Sometimes I beat myself up for spending hours scrolling Instagram and watching Netflix when I probably could have learned fluent French or written a novel by now.
I have to remind myself that a big part of our motivation for this adventure was to slow down and embrace a simpler way of living. After nine months in the van we were already doing this, but this is a whole new level. We’d found moments of calm earlier in the trip, but this has forced us to not just slow down, rather stop completely and appreciate what we have.
The latest news is that confinement restrictions should be relaxed on 11th May, but by how much remains to be seen. Pre-lockdown, we’d planned to resume travelling once the winter season ended, slowly making our way to Croatia for the summer. However, it’s doubtful that travel to other countries will be allowed. We don’t mind; almost two months of lockdown has given us a different perspective and we’re keen to stick around here for a while and explore more.
We’re very grateful to be confined in this amazing environment. We’re healthy, safe and feel so lucky that we had the opportunity to travel so much before this happened.
The current situation might not have been part of the plan but it is now part of our adventure.