Chloe Corbin meets a woman whose spontaneity brought Brittany’s crêpes et cidre to a Swiss idyll
Crêpes are the continent’s greasy cutlery-free pleasure, a versatile fast food, and a popular street-corner snack. Tightly wrapped in crisp white paper, a good crêpe quickly shows its worth when hot butter starts escaping its porous pouch. Then begins the happy challenge to finish it before the wrapping becomes obsolete, and the crêpe cold. A food of convenience, or so I thought, having never experienced its more sophisticated side. That was until I moved to Switzerland and a chance encounter found me working part-time in a remote, and incredibly unusual crêperie run by a shepherdess, and recent star of an award-winning European documentary.
29-year-old Carole Noblanc runs La Crêpecidre from a wooden hut on the edge of a dense pine forest, in a basin of snow. Smoke puffs continuously from its chimney, acting as a beacon. Known only to passersby, locals and avid cross-country skiers using a nearby trail, it is a hidden gem, and a welcome break from the more commercial tendencies of Villars ski resort just a ten-minute drive up the hill.
Lit only by candles, with visibility often shrouded by smoke escaping the blazing fire, Carole works busily inside the hut. She pours, spreads, sprinkles, tosses and serves her fresh crêpes to tables of talkative customers. Conversation flows vividly between strangers and friends, aided by the regular pop of cider bottle corks, the sweet alcohol warming everyone’s chilled bodies.
Colourful crockery adorns the tables. Chipped floral plates are glued together, and china bolees used to serve the cider. Sheepskins cushion wooden benches, travel books line the walls and local artworks decorate the hut’s wooden panels. It is a hub of natural simplicity, interjected by confident displays of character.
Carole’s inspiration for the crêperie came from her roots in Brittany, France, where it is tradition to eat your galette with apple cider. She grew up sampling her mother’s crêpes, and fine-tuning the delicious recipes. However, a holiday to the Swiss Alps six years ago changed her course, after she met a Swiss shepherd.
Dropping her life in Brittany, she crossed the border to accompany 53-year-old Pascal on his winter transhumance: the seasonal movement of people and their livestock from winter to summer pastures. Their journey: 600 kilometres in four months. Their company: each another, three donkeys, four dogs and 800 sheep.
Carole’s notoriety soared after their flock unwittingly passed a filmmaker’s house, and he expressed a desire to film their journey. The documentary Hiver Nomade won numerous awards across Europe and she continues to be pulled back to Geneva to talk about her experiences.
Carole is an astute dreamer, lost to her imaginings, but fully engaged with those she meets and fortified by her time as a Swiss shepherdess. Sitting on the sideboard during a welcome lull in customers, she opens up to me about the painful solitude she experienced during one transhumance without Pascal. After spending three months entirely alone, save for the hundreds of sheep, she said a violent exodus of emotion accompanied her return to Brittany. Compulsive analysis had overtaken constructive reflection. She was pleased to be back home, at least for the summer.
The hidden crêperie resembles Carole’s quiet, instinctive decision to leave France and experience the solitary life of a shepherdess in Switzerland. Yet the hut’s vibrant popularity also mirrors her unintended (but deserved) fame as the star of the widely acclaimed documentary.
Just as visitors to her crêperie crave the calm traditional atmosphere it provides, her film also gives us a first-hand education into the simple yet disappearing freedoms we all increasingly mourn.
Chloe Corbin is a journalist and former Press Officer for Survival International. She recently escaped London's bustling metropolis to live in the Swiss Alps, where she finds as much time as possible to write.