That’s it!!!! As you read these lines, we have officially signed the purchase of an old hotel in the small village of Les Haudères, at the very end of Val d’Hérens (a beautiful valley in the Swiss Alps). So it is right in one of our favorite valleys, at the foot of the majestic Dent Blanche (4357m), that we will try to create the coliving space we have dreamed of for several years.
But since we started this project until this first important step, it hasn’t been an easy ride. So we thought we’d tell you a bit about the genesis of this project, its various stages and the difficulties we encountered along the way until everything finally came together 🙂
- How exactly did we decide to create our own coliving?
- What drives us most to open a coliving in a small mountain village?
- And why open a coliving in Switzerland actually?
- How did we find a suitable location for our coliving project in Switzerland?
- Find financial support / partners
- We introduce you to Alpiness coliving
- The next steps of the project
How exactly did we decide to create our own coliving?
I mean… from the nomadic couple who spend 50% of their time in colivings around Europe to the owner and manager of our own coliving space, there is a big gap! Besides, we didn’t overcome this “psychological step” overnight… I would even say that it took quite some time.
Everything started at the end of 2018 in Tenerife with a first memorable experience at Nine coliving. We liked this place so much, the atmosphere both relaxed but studious to work, the people we met… that we stayed 5 months.
At that time, there was practically no coliving space ( there are still not so many) and I remember that we were already talking with other people about opening a coliving one day. Well, it was more of a discussion around drinks on the terrace 😉 and we wouldn’t have started such a project alone… already financially it would have been difficult but also we cared too much about our freedom and travels to impose such a constraint on ourselves.
Then at the beginning of 2020, just after our 4th stay in a coliving in Briançon (and while we were just moving into our actual apartment)… Boummm the Covid hits with all the consequences we know today. We found ourselves first stuck at home, then in Spain at Anceu coliving during a xth lockdown.
Even if I think we were clearly among the lucky ones during this tough period (being first in the mountains and then in a nice coliving in the Galician countryside), we still questioned ourselves a lot between 2020 and 2021. As we explained here, we had a few down moments and we sometimes felt that our blog was kid of losing its purpose.
But it’s also during our 5 months spent at Anceu coliving that we met some very inspiring people who got us back on the coliving idea (like Afri and Agus, the managers of Anceu, or Olalla who helped us a lot with Winchy… great people who have meaning in their lives). We realized that this is a project that really fits us, something more tangible than the blog, with human connexions and also the possibility to have a real positive impact wherever we settle down.
It had been a while that Fabienne felt the need to spend less time behind a computer (why do you think she was off working at Susanfe’s mountain hut during summer 😉 ). As for me, the idea of a coliving in a small mountain village seemed very interesting to develop on many aspects. So from the 2nd half of 2021, we really started working on this project.
What drives us most to open a coliving in a small mountain village?
Well, there are plenty of reasons 😉 but here are the main ones:
- First of all, we really enjoy staying in colivings! These places have a soul and allow us to have a nice social life while being productive in our work. In our very individualistic societies, we tend to forget that it’s good to be surrounded by people, to interact, to spend evenings chatting, to ask for advice, to go on excursions with others etc… In short, we don’t want to live alone and we would like our home to be also the home of any person who has the flexibility of remote work.
- To contribute to a project that is meaningful to us and that can have a positive local impact. We would like to show that another form of tourism in the mountains is possible! People staying in colivings spend an average of 1-3 months. They have more time to discover a region and do not necessarily want to do everything… They just want to live and work with friendly people in an inspiring environment close to nature; and that all year round (not only in winter for skiing).
Moreover, we often hear that the small mountain villages are losing their inhabitants. With this project, we hope to bring some life back, maybe open our coworking to the public, create events, get involved to solve local problems. From our experience, when you bring together people from different backgrounds with different skills, you usually come up with great ideas and synergies.
- To do something more tangible. It’s great to have a 100% digital activity and it gives us a lot of freedom. But we’re looking forward to using our hands a little more, to renovate this old hotel to transform it little by little into the coliving of our dreams.
- To live in the mountains and share this incredible living/working environment with other people. We know that living close to nature (and if possible in the mountains) is essential to our balance. And believe us, in the small village of Les Haudères, people who love nature and mountains will be spoiled! Besides, Val d’hérens is an authentic valley offering a wonderful heritage and strong traditions. Hidden treasures that are waiting to be discovered by our future colivers (and if you have any doubts, here are just a few pictures of what we’ll have at our doorstep 😉 ).
And why open a coliving in Switzerland actually?
Trust us, we asked ourselves this question more than once, as the price of real estate is so high in our beloved but expensive country 😉 … Several times, during our research, we thought that it would be better to search elsewhere, in the French, Italian or Austrian Alps (or even the Pyrenees), that it would be more reasonable financially. But each time we weighed the pros and cons, we decided to keep looking in Switzerland for the following reasons:
- Even if we like to travel, Switzerland is without any doubt our “home”. We have our families / friends here and we really want this project of life to come to life in our country. Here, if we have a problem, we can simply take the phone and we know that we will find people to give us a hand. It obviously works the other way around, if close relatives / friends need us, we won’t have to drive 6 hours to be with them… And that clearly counted in our decision.
- To allow more people to discover our beautiful country! One thing that discourages many people from visiting Switzerland is the high cost of living ( accommodation, restaurants etc…). However, we think that it is definitely possible to discover Switzerland without winning the lottery! The most beautiful things to see in Switzerland are for free (mountains, lakes and nature in general)! So by creating an affordable coliving space that is located at the heart of the very best that Switzerland has to offer, we hope to give more people the opportunity to discover our beautiful mountains.
- Because we know how the administration works in Switzerland. We have already founded a company in Switzerland, we know how things work in terms of taxes and so on… and we are happy not to have to “tame” the French or Italian system for example 😉 (especially since in Italy, we should have learned to speak Italian too lol)
- Because many things work well in Switzerland… Of course everything is not perfect (like everywhere) but public transports are incredible (10 buses a day between Sion and the village of Les Haudères 😉 ), people are usually reliable (I’m thinking especially about workers), we have great infrastructures for a lot of things (medical system, roads, sport activities), we have a good political system (direct democracy) etc…
- And because Switzerland is the most beautiful country in the world without any chauvinism 🙂
How did we find a suitable location for our coliving project in Switzerland?
We clearly had to be a bit creative to find a place suited to our project and that fit in our budget in Switzerland.
The first thing we did was to contact a regional structure (Antenne Région Valais Romand) whose mission is to help (among other things) entrepreneurs like us to access potential financial support and to connect us with municipalities that might be interested in our project. It’s pretty awesome when you think about it and we are very grateful for the free assistance we got from them.
Then, instead of only searching for real estate online, we decided to pitch our project directly to the local municipality presidents who had been recommended to us by the Antenne région Valais romand for two reasons:
- Not all available properties are on the web and the municipalities sometimes own buildings that could have been suitable for our project.
- It was important for us to first meet the local authorities to gauge their interest in our project. As we are looking to create synergies, it is pointless to get involved in a town where nobody is interested in what we would like to achieve.
This period lasted several months. We presented our ideas to a few municipalities, some of which were very interested in what we were trying to create. In particular in 2 villages, we explored every possibility to find a place suitable for our coliving project (and which remained in our budget)… but in vain! Several times we thought we were on the right track but in the end, it never happened.
Even if after this period we were a little discouraged (we started to look more and more at ads outside of Switzerland), with hindsight, all these efforts were not in vain. It allowed us to improve our dossier, to refine our criteria for the property and especially to get a feel of how our project was perceived in these small mountain villages. We came out of it certainly frustrated, but we felt that there was some interest.
And then, one day of September or October, we decide to go to visit an old hotel in the village of Les Haudères which was already on sale for several months. On paper, this property ticked a lot of boxes but I don’t know… the ad didn’t convince us more than that ( the pictures didn’t really bring out the building 😉 ) and we had focused on other possibilities until then. Here are some pictures of the ad to give you an idea 😉 (we promise we’ll make you some nicer ones as soon as we’ve moved in 😉 )
It would be a lie to say that we had a total crush after this first visit, but the potential was there. The building is well maintained inside, has a nice terrace with a great view on the Dent Blanche, has enough rooms to accommodate 15-20 people and we could easily picture where we would set up a coworking space and other common areas… But above all, it is located in the center of a lovely village, at the heart of one of our favorite valleys in Switzerland AND is more or less in our budget 😉 . That’s a lot of positive points 😉
So we decided to explore this idea further and to pitch our project to the local authorities a few days later. During this meeting, we felt a great interest from the president and the director of tourism. We even discussed the possibility of opening a coworking space in the village 😉 . In short, we felt that synergies were possible and that consolidated our idea that it was perhaps the good place to create our coliving.
While talking to her dad about this old hotel, Fabienne also discovered that her parents had in fact met for the 1st time exactly in this hotel! Her mother was on a girls’ weekend and her father was on a fanfare trip in the area (although they both come from the other side of Switzerland) and that’s how they met! The rational guy that I am doesn’t really believe in fate… But it’s still a funny coincidence, isn’t it?
Find financial support / partners
Well… we may have savings, support from our families and plan to sell our apartment, but it’s still not enough to create a coliving that can accommodate 15-20 people in Switzerland (even at the end of the Val d’Hérens 😉 ). So we started looking for financial partners who could accompany / support us in this project.
Before borrowing money from a bank, we first tried to find support from regional organizations responsible for supporting innovative projects that have a potential to add value to the local economy (such as SETI or the CCF). SETI for example has specific regional development policies (NPR) and can grant non-refundable support or zero interest loans if a project falls within its goals.
But we quickly realized that our coliving project did not really fit into the predefined categories defined by the regional development policy. For example, as the stays in a coliving are longer than in traditional tourism, we were not eligible to the tourism subsidies… even though we aim to develop a new form of tourism in a small mountain village.
It was a big disillusionment for us…because when you read the NPR goals, there is:
- Pilot measures for mountain regions (with the subgoal –> to stimulate the economy of remote mountain regions)
- Improvement of the competitiveness and added value generated by the tourism activity (with the subgoal –> Development of new business models considering the effects of climate change, towards a 4-season tourism)
We really had the impression that our project was 100% in the target but for definition reasons of what should be a tourism project, these subsidies were thus to slip under our nose.
As our stay was too long for the “tourism” subsidies, we inquired about the potential “housing” subsidies. But guess what… our stay durations were… too short this time!
So, if we wanted our project to come to life, we had no choice but to borrow money from a bank… But if you have read some of our annual reviews, you know what we think about classical banks (and if not, you can read it here) and that the only bank that is aligned with our values in our country is the Alternative Bank Switzerland (or BAS… we have most of our money with them).
We thus begin the discussions with the BAS but we feel that even if they consider supporting us, it is not for sure yet. Just in case, even if we did not do it happily, we decided in parallel to contact other banks to see how they would react to our project and if they would accept to lend us money.
Here too it’s a disappointment… Despite promising discussions with consultants, the credit committees of 2 banks tell us no. The thing is that they don’t have any elements of comparison (at the same time, there is only one other coliving in Switzerland) and that, therefore, our project is “too risky” for their taste. At that point, we seriously start to wonder if we will succeed…
Fortunately, a few weeks later, the third bank we contact agrees to lend us the necessary funds. That is reassuring for us because we think that in the worst case, even if the BAS does not follow us in the adventure, we will always have a solution.
But for our greatest pleasure and after having made us wait for many weeks, we also received a positive answer from the BAS. I can’t hide the fact that it was a great relief for us. Indeed, the BAS grants the great majority of its credits (more than 80%) to projects that are part of 9 fields of activity with positive impact. The fact that they agreed to support us means that they consider our project to be worthy of interest and in line with their values. And after the many rejections we had received until then, it was good to see that we were not the only ones who saw the value of creating a coliving space in a small mountain village!
So everything ends well and we are very happy to have convinced the BAS to support us in this adventure. There are few banks that put ethics before profit (there is also the Nef in France) and it is just so much more coherent for us to have a financial partner like them on our side.
We introduce you to Alpiness coliving
We will only move in during the month of April so you’ll have to wait a little longer for the pictures 😉 . But we already decided on the name: Alpiness Coliving. We think it’s a name that represents very well what we want to create, a place with a good vibe, where it’s nice to live and work in the middle of the Alps!
By the way, if you are curious about our coliving project and want to see how it evolves in the coming months, don’t hesitate to subscribe to our coliving newsletter or to follow us on our brand new instagram account. We’d love to see you there 😉 . And if you know people who could be interested in our project, give us a helping hand and share the word around you! 🙂
As we’ll be busy with the renovations in the coming months, we’ve already made a lot of progress on the website (for now you can only see a landing page but we’ll soon be able to show you the first version of the site… well, we’ll just share a little preview 😉 ).
By the way, what do you think of the logo Fabienne created?
The next steps of the project
So as I just said, we are going to move in during April before starting with the renovations. The old hotel we bought is well maintained inside (everything is functional) but it needs a little bit of a facelift 😉 . As for the outside, we plan to work with local workers to redo the isolation, the roof and the windows (the whole thermal shell of the building). Even if we hope to do a lot of things ourselves, we’ll leave the external work to professionals 😉
In fact, we would like to “open” the coliving for free already starting from May/June to any person who would like to come and give us a little help in the renovation. Our idea is to install right away a great Wifi and to allow whoever wants to work remotely in the mountains for free in exchange of a little help here and there (besides we already have several nomad friends who plan to come for some time this summer to help us on this project).
Obviously, everything will not be perfect from the start but we can promise you a lot of fun, breathtaking landscapes and great evenings shared around a drink. So don’t hesitate to contact us directly if you are interested 😉
Now I think you know everything about the beginning of this new adventure that we are embarking on with all our hearts. It’s a new chapter of our life that starts and we will clearly travel a bit less in the next 1-2 years (on the other hand we should hike a lot in Switzerland 😉 ). But it’s been a long time since we’ve been so aligned with both our desires and our convictions and we’re really looking forward to see where all this will lead us.
We can’t wait to show you more and to create a welcoming place where people from all horizons can meet, work and enjoy the mountains. We’ll see you here soon for the next part of this project 🙂