Musièges, Haute Savoie, France, elevation 385 m
My little chalet is all by itself on forest and meadow land south of Geneva in Haute Savoie, France. The locality is called Brameloup (wolf howl), and I am its only resident.
The chalet is deep in the forest, along a steep rural track
(public right-of-way, road would be an exageration) used by
hikers, bikers and horseback riders.
There is a lovely view of Frangy and Mount Vuache from the chalet, looking north across the Usses River valley toward Geneva on the other side of the mountain.view from the chalet as it changes from month to month
IMPROVEMENTS TO THE CHALET
When I started in 2000, there were only just walls and a roof. I
have completely remodeled the chalet, doing almost all the work
myself. One half of the downstairs is a living-dining room with a
fireplace where I installed the wood stove. The kitchen alcove is
behind the fireplace, with both gas and wood-burning stoves. The
other half has a bedroom and bathroom separated by the entrance
hall. Upstairs there are two guest rooms for visitors, and lots of
books and files, as well as an additional work space. In
2003 I rebuilt the balcony, and in 2004 completely insolated the
exterior walls, which I painted in 2005. In 2006 I built a new
woodshed, and in 2007 moved much of my library from my office in
Geneva. By 2013 the roof had to be replaced, so I had a new tile
roof and double insulation installed. This was the only work I
could not do myself.
Upstairs second bedroom and work area
I try to live as ecologically as possible. There is a wood-burning heater in the living-dining room, using wood I cut myself in the forest. Supplementary electric heating ensures comfort in the bedroom and bathroom; there is no way that any other fuel could be delivered, and the tall trees make too much shade for solar panels.
A wood stove provides most heating
The walls and roof are now completely insulated, with the masonry providing thermal mass. It takes time to heat up the chalet in winter, but once it is heated it is very comfortable. Rain water catchment from the roof provides the water for the toilet, and the low water pressure in the municipal supply, which I have to pump up to a water tank at the top of my property, ensures low water consumption.
Usses River valley looking south, with my forest (and chalet) on the far (south) side between the high farms and the river
THE ENVIRONMENT AROUND BRAMELOUP
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Entrance to Brameloup on the rural track
While I reside in Geneva in my small apartment, I can get away from the pressures of work and the city at my little chalet in the forest forty minutes away, on the south side of the Usses River in France, across from the town of Frangy, but administratively part of the village of Musièges. The locality is called Brameloup, which is also the name of the intermittent stream that defines the eastern limit of my property and runs steeply down to the river.
Chalet above Usses River seen from Frangy in winter,
slightly left of middle, one third down from the top
The tiny (5.5 x 7m) chalet sits on 8,717 square meters of north sloping forest and meadow, hidden in summer and barely visible between the trees in winter, half way between the high plateau with its farms and hamlets above, and the steep drop to the river below at the bottom of the photo.
Geologically these are ancient glacial moraine deposits through
which the river has cut a steep valley. My side of the river
valley is now zoned for nature conservation, so no more
construction is allowed. The chalet will always be alone in the
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The forest is mixed hardwoods with some conifers. There are large oaks, maples, false acacias, poplars, beech, hazelnuts and many ash. Wildflowers are abundant in the two grassy meadows and forest clearings, including several wild orchids, carpets of small blue lilies in the spring, and the unusual autumn colchicum, a lily that produces leaves and seed pods in the spring, which then disappear, while the large purple flowers emerge all alone in the autumn. I have built footpaths through my forest, so that it is easier to enjoy.
Tall Douglas firs on the upper slope just south of the chalet keep it in the shade except in summer
Since Brameloup can be translated as wolf howl, there must have
been wolves there in the past, but today there are only deer,
foxes, hares, martens, wild boar and a whole family of badgers in
their dens at the end of my property, where the digging makes it
look like old mines.
Badger dens in the forest
The chalet is only some 45 years old, and has no character. When I bought it in January 2000, it was abandoned and had been vandalized, and was only inhabited by a large colony of dormice. We coexisted for several years, but now they live outside and I live inside.
Balcony in the winter sun
Rural track up to the chalet
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The nearest people live 1.5 kilometers away in Frangy. The farm another kilometer up the track has been uninhabited for several years. The old farmer died in 2005. Vehicle access is difficult, with a kilometer of gravel road along a corn field and the national highway bypass around Frangy, before becoming a dirt track up the slope through the forest for 400 meters to my chalet. Even 4-wheel drive vehicles find it difficult in wet weather. Another rural track comes down from the hamlet of Quincy two kilometers away beyond the farms at the top of the hill. However the Brameloup Footbridge suspended on cables across the river means that I can walk to Frangy in 10 minutes. The rural track is frequently used by hikers, horseback riders and trail bikers (and illegally by the occasional motorbike or quad).
Rural track down from Quincy
The upper track coming down from the village of Quincy on the upper plateau is too steep and muddy or eroded for most vehicles.
Village of Musièges across the Usses Valley
The village of Musièges to which I belong is actually on the top of a hill on the other side of the valley, so I am its most distant resident. I am actually closer to the town of Frangy which has stores, a bank, post office and other facilities. This is the view northeast from Signy Farm, a kilometre beyond Brameloup, towards the village of Musièges half way up the slope on the hill opposite, with Le Mont in the background.
There are lots of things to keep me busy at Brameloup: collecting firewood, gardening, building trails through the forest, fixing the rural track, and maintaining and improving the chalet.
Building a trail in the forest
Cleaning a forest trail
Collecting firewood and carrying it up the hill to my chalet is a year-round activity that gives me needed exercise. I try never to make a trip up the hill empty-handed.
Cutting trees for firewood
Old truck turned into a woodshed
Now that the main work on the chalet itself is completed, I can
spend more time working in the garden. There are always extra
saplings to remove. I have planted some local varieties of fruit
trees, spring bulbs, and a tiny Japanese garden (see the seasonal
pages). It takes time to see what will survive the foraging
animals. Mostly I just try to manage nature a bit to maintain the
botanical diversity in my forest and meadows.
View across the valley in winter
Lawn between chalet and woodshed
A large grassy area between the chalet and the woodshed provides space for picnics, bonfires and barbeques, with a lovely view across the valley towards the Jura mountains and through the pass towards Geneva. There are also nice walks in the surrounding countryside.
THE CHALET BEFORE
The chalet as it was in 1999, abandoned and trashed by vandals, overgrown with brambles, with holes in the walls, windows broken, a rotten balcony, and septic tank caved in. Everything had to be redone except the outer walls, shutters and roof (at that time). I did all the work myself.
The chalet in the forest in 2001 a year after I bought it,
before I added the porch and remodeled everything inside
There is always work to do in and around the chalet, like
painting the outside in 2005.
.In bad weather, there is work inside, like cutting shelving to make more space for books.
Repairing the rural track up to the chalet, improving drainage and adding gravel where it is too slippery in the rain, is a common activity in winter.
You can see that there is always work to do, and thus why I try to spend as much time as I can at my little chalet in the forest.