Exactly one year ago, Ben and I were sitting on our yellow couch in our former appartement. We were drinking a bottle of wine, celebrating the fact that we just had sent our offer for this old hotel located in les Haudères. I’ll be honest, at this point we had no idea wheather this offer would be accepted by the previous owner and in addition to that, we had not even received the formal approval from our bank… But we were happy and most of all, hopeful that “maybe” 2023 would be the year we’d open our very own coliving space.
Little did we know that exactly 365 days later, we’d be sitting on this same yellow couch with a mug of mulled wine after a first incredible season operating a coliving in our dream valley! Because yes, the offer we had submitted that day got accepted on January 3rd, the bank ended up giving us green light in the middle of January, we signed in front of the notary on March 20th, and by mid-April we moved all our belongings (and the yellow couch 😉 ) to our new home!
Sounds easy? Well, even though things ran pretty smoothly, we’re not gonna lie, this year has most likely been one of the craziest (and tiring) of our life! Let’s take a look back on this absolutely crazy year!
Moving in and Renovation summer
We moved in in April 2023 and I still remember how we felt in the first few days: totally overwhelmed! Where to start? How are we gonna do this? OMG, this house is actually huge! What have we done??? haha, this makes me laugh now, but I promise that back then the emotions were real… Thankfully, we found the right people to help us plan the renovations, a coach to teach us the basics and we were also lucky to have Marta by our side (our incredible interior designer who helped us create a cozy and nice space).
I decided not to talk again in details about the whole renovation period in this yearly review. If you are interested to read more about all the things we’ve done before opening Alpiness Coliving, you can take a look at this blog post we wrote right as we were about to open for bookings.
Our very first guests: let this adventure begin!
I still remember this email we received on July 27th from a guy called Robert. He wrote us something along the line: “Hey, how are you doing? I would like to stay at Alpiness from August 21st to September 20th. Do you happen to still have availability?”
Back then, we were still working on our kitchen, our website was live but there was stricly no info on it nor any pictures… And of course the booking system was not live yet! 🙂 Of course we had availability, but would be ready to welcome our first guest so early on? We were not so sure… But Robert sounded like a cool guy so we decided to tell him yes! We told him the place would most likely not be officially open yet and that we’d most likely still be working on some details. He was like “sure, sounds amazing!”.
A few days later, we received another email from Karthik, asking pretty much the same… We started to wonder who these crazy people were… I mean, willing to book a place which still looked like a hot mess on the instagram stories, a place that had not a single decent picture on its website and of course not a single review! But anyways, we said yes as well, and that’s how we ended up having our first guests before even being officially open.
Well… turns out, these first 2 guests were simply amazing people who trusted their guts and decided to give it a shot. Spoil: both of them are coming back this winter!!! 🙂
Anyways, September turned out to be an amazing first month! We had a great crew of mountain enthousiasts and we finally got a chance to explore a bit more our surroundings (hikes were rather limited during the renovation period). 😉
Autumn in the magic valley : the best crew and amazing weather
October was our first month where we were “full-house” and where we got incredibly lucky with the weather! This month was like our little “honeymoon” phase. We were past the first “logistic stress”, the house was fully operational and we had finally ditched the paint brushes and screwdrivers for good and replaced them with our hiking poles and boots. Every night, we shared amazing family diners, played games, organized skillshares, went out for excursions and pub crawls… I don’t know, everything started to feel very “real”. Not that it was not before, but I think it took us a few weeks to go from “renovators” to “coliving operators”. 😉
October was also the month where our local larch trees started their beautiful transition and slowly turned our valley in a true magical place (I mean, it’s magical any time of the year, but when everything turns bright orange, this adds a little extra which we won’t lie is very special). Later on, we were even lucky to have our first snowfalls while the trees were still orange…
Taking a little time off getting ready for our first winter season
As I am writing these lines, I am sitting in the coworking space in silence. There is not a single noise nor smell of food coming from the kitchen… It’s almost a weird feeling. 😉 With Ben, we’ve decided to close Alpiness for 10 days (from December 17th to December 27th) to take some time to rest and also spend Christmas with our families and work on some minor renovations in the house before opening again for our very first winter season.
It’s funny, because we both really needed this little break, but after only 5 days of an empty house we’re already both looking forward to having people again! I guess this is simply the sign that what we’re doing here is making us truly happy. Even though we’ve been a bit tired sometimes this year, we’re also absolutely convinced we’ve made the right choice by deciding to settle down in this beautiful little mountain village and open our doors to remote workers from all over the world!
2023: Our highlights opening a coliving space in the Alps
A little look back on the things that made us happy this year!
Slowly becoming wannabe McGivers
Ok, this one is more of a joke… but both Ben and I were clearly some renovation newbies. When we decided to buy this former hotel and make most of the renovations ourselves, I think many of our friends and family thought we had lost our mind. I mean… We had strictly NO experience when it came to renovations. Our past selves had assembled a few IKEA furnitures and maybe hung up a few lamps here and there, but this was pretty much it. But we were convinced that with a little motivation, a few (many) hours spent on Youtube and forums and a little help from a few experts we’d manage to transform this old building into our dream coliving. I won’t lie, it has not always been easy and renovations have been frustrating at times, but I am quite proud to say that we made some decent progress! I would not call ourselves renovation experts by any means, but we clearly improved our skills by a solid 1000%. 🙂 This experience has changed the way we look at our house… Now instead of dreaming about how things could/should be different, we tend to make plans about how we can “fix it” ourselves! Next spring, we’ll close the coliving for a month to fully renovate our basement. The idea is to take down some walls to make our laundry room bigger but the biggest challenge will be to fully insulate and properly ventilate what is now a storage basement to create a nice 30 sqm gym including a boulder wall. Would we have considered something like this 1 year ago? Hell no… Today, we’re still a bit scared about doing all this ourselves, but we’re pretty confident this will turn out to be an amazing improvement of our space!
Settling in this amazing village community and feeling more welcome every single day!
When we annouced in our Novo-Monde Newsletter that we’d move to les Haudères, a small village located almost at the end of Val d’Hérens, we received many messages from our readers. Most messages were positive and encouraging, but we also got a few emails that made us raise eyebrows… People were “warning us”. A village like this? You are crazy! People have been living there for generations, they will never welcome a project like yours… You’ll have no chance to feel you belong there, people will judge you and most likely not support your crazy business idea, you want to bring foreigners in a small village like this?
I could go on like this for quite a while… It’s funny, because yes we knew that many villages (especially in the mountains) have this reputations, but we’ve never been worried the slightest this would affect us. I won’t say the messages scared (we always trusted the fact that if you come somewhere with the right mindset and try your best to “fit in” things just run smoothly), but they clearly made us question our approach.
In the end, I don’t know if “everyboy” in the village is happy about us moving here, but one thing is for sure, most people are! From our first week onwards, we’ve received nothing else than encouragements, welcome gifts (soooo many bottles of wine haha) and smiles. I think our project made many people quite curious and from day 1 we decided to always leave our doors open for whoever wanted to come have a look at what we were doing. 1 month after we arrived, we were already invited to eat raclette on our neighboors terrace with all the volunteers in the house. At the annual village party, colivers were singing and dancing with villagers (and sharing more wine than reasonably possible). One of our colivers Sorcha, even got invited to perform with a local singer on the main square after he heard she was Irish! 🙂 What I am trying to say here, is that we are very happy that we did not let some “rumors” and old myths scare us off. Less than a year after moving here, we already feel at home in Les Haudères and we started creating some really nice friendships with neighboors and people from the village.
Coliving: the BEST way to meet the most amazing people!
This part we knew would happen… I mean, this is probably the number 1 reason we decided to open a coliving space: the people you get to meet! And the least we can say is that this first year has been a true blessing. I know it might sound cheasy, but I am sincerly soooo thankful for all the amazing people that have decided to pass our doors in the past 9 months! From our amazing volunteers to our first guests, every single person has left their little mark and has contributed to make this place how it is today.
Yes, opening a coliving is setting up a business, but hell have we made AMAZING friends on this journey so far! When we were colivers ourselves I used to suck at goodbyes… I don’t know, I almost cried every single time… Well, truth is, this is not getting much better being an operator. 🙂 Even tough, it’s slightly easier, because I already know many of these incredible people will keep coming back (or some might actually never leave #WeLoveYouAustris)
On the right you’ll see a few pictures from last season and I included as well all the names of the people who stayed with us this year!
Overall, we had people from more than 20 different nationality, speaking more than 19 different languages. We’ve had the most amazing indian, persian, korean, swiss, french, spanish, romanian, latvian, brasilian, argentinian, italian, thai, irish, polish and even british family diners (yes brits can cook!). We introduced French people to “real raclette” (haha) shocked a few italians with our love for pinapple pizza and we even tried pinapple fondue once (don’t judge guys… you have to come and taste it before saying this is nuts… even our biggest pinapple hating coliver had to admit that this was actually “not that bad”)
I just want to say a HUUUUUUGE Thank you to everybody who decided to make our little house in Les Haudères their home for a few days/weeks/months in 2023! Without you guys, none of this would have been possible!
Word of mouth: we were not expecting so many people to book during the first year!
We were not quite sure what to expect when we decided to first open our booking mid-August. Would people actually come to a brand new coliving which does not yet have any reputation? We were rather confident, but to be honest, we were not sure! Opening in September, right after the “high summer season” and way before the winter season was seen by some as a “risky bet”. Autumn is for sure not the most famous season to come to the mountains… But the thing is, that both Ben and I actually think it is one of the most amazing time of the year to be here! We are lucky to live in a valley full of larch trees which turns into an orange hiking paradise as soon as the temperatures start to drop.
Only a few weeks after opening our bookings, we realized that our concerns were actually not justified. Many people decided to “trust” our place even though we barely had any reviews (and some people actually booked before we even had the time to upload any pictures of the rooms). 😉 Quickly, the word started spreading and we had our first “full-house” experience in October, just 5 weeks after opening! It’s pretty crazy when you think about it!
Then, things slowed down a bit starting from mid-November but we always had people and most importantly and amazing community in the house up until we closed 5 days ago.
People started talking about their experience, some of our first guests decided to directly book for the upcoming winter season again… And before we had time to realize, our house is now officially fully booked until Mid-March. This is simply crazy and we’ll be honest, never in our most crazy dreams we would have expected this.
If you want to come enjoy our beautiful landscapes in winter mood, there are just a few rooms left between March 11th to April 15th (for your info: our closest ski resort (Arolla) is open until April 14th and during this time there is usually some amazing options to go ski touring and snowshoeing as well). 😉
2023: Our lows…
Yes, our year has been truly amazing and we’re beyond grateful for everything that happened and all the amazing people we got to meet, but we’ll be honest, it has not only been sparkles and unicorns over here neither!
Paint, plaster, sleep (a bit) and repeat
This has been the hardest… By the end of August, both Ben and I were physically completely exhausted. From April to August we’ve both been on the renovation “non-stop”. The stress of not finishing in time, kept us lying in bed not beeing able to fall asleep and the fear of doing something wrong or forgetting an essential part, woke us up at dawn every day. 5 months of this, and we were both looking like zombies! Our family and friends kept telling us we should rest more… but easier said than done! We knew this was only going to be temporary, but it felt really weird not to feel good in our bodies (and barely recognizing our faces when looking in the miror).
Letting go of our travel blog
This point did not come as a surprise, but we’ll have to admit it, it felt really weird for us to invest all our time and energy into the coliving project and to leave our travel blog completely aside for more than 6 months. You might not know it, but with Ben we’ve been blogging since 2011 and Novo-Monde has become a huge part of our life (and also our main source of income). 😉 This year, for the first time since 2011, we barely had any activity on it. I don’t know, it just felt weird… Thankfully, we were lucky to count on Hélène on our team, that kept everything afloat while we were busy with the house. But we’re not going to lie, it feels good to finally take some time to get back to it now (even though we still feel we would need to take even more time for it).
Finding the right balance for our couple
This last point is a bit harder to tackle… we were well aware of it before starting this adventure and thus I think we can say we were well prepared for it. During the renovation times, time just flew by without us even noticing it… But after we opened, we tried to remember the advice we received from other coliving operators: “don’t be TOO involved, or at least make sure you have at least 1-2 days a week for yourselves”.
It’s funny, but when we heard this advice about a year ago we were like “OF COURSE! This will not be complicated to achieve, we’ll just go to our apartment and spend at least 1 evening there just the 2 of us”.
Mouahaha… ok, let’s just say that this turned out to be more complicated than expected. But the thing is, this coliving is truly our “baby” and we simply love to be around colivers and spend amazing time in the house (also… our apartment was not on our priority list and we had not taken the time to renovate it… we actually did not have electricity in our kitchen up until last week and could thus not use our stove or fridge, meaning we anyways had to be downstairs for eating). In the beginning, we did not set any rules and decided to see how things would naturally evolve. Well… Late October, we realized that we had acutally not spent one single evening just the 2 of us in our apartment. Sometimes, one of us would go upstairs, but we somehow never managed to be both at the same time in our living room. 😉
In hiking mode and the 1 day we left our hiking/renovation clothes to go attend friends’ wedding 🙂
Thus, in early November we decided to set a day and told to ourselves: “from now on, every Sunday we’ll disappear from 5pm onwards and spend an evening together”. I’ll just say that this was not very successful so far. In the span of 8 weeks, we’ve actually done it only twice. 😉 Some Sundays there was a coliver’s birthday, another one it would be a spontaneous fondue night, and sometimes we just completely “forgot” about this rule and ended up staying in the shared living room.
I would not say we’re unhappy about the situation so far, but this is for sure one aspect we’ll have to stay attentive to! We’ll try to do better on this next year.
See you in 2024: sending all our love from Alpiness coliving
I realize this post turned out much longer than expected… For those who are still reading, first of all thank you! 🙂 I hope you enjoyed this first “Year in review” post. 🙂 We’ll try to make it a tradition and publish one of those each year! We’ve been doing it on our travel blog for the last 10 years and it’s something which is always nice to come back to afterwards and see all the progress we made.
Thanks again to all the people that have made this first year they way it was. It was messy, hectic sometimes but also truly wonderful!
We wish you all wonderful holidays and merry Christmas! See you in 2024 for some more epic adventures in our beautiful little mountains.
Fabienne, Ben & Winchy