La Balme, Rhône-Alpes, France

For three weeks Jean and I have done work exchange in La Balme, Rhône-Alpes, France via WorkAway. Here’s a bit about this alternative way of travelling, and lots on how our stay looked like through my camera lens.


What is work exchange?

Work exchange is when you do some hours of work per week in exchange for free food and accommodation. Often it will be 4-5 hours per day, 5 days a week, or maybe 3 hours every day, all depending on the host and the type of work. The length of a stay vary greatly, it can be as short or as long as you and your host agree on. 

Doing work exchange is a great way to travel on a budget, to learn, to share and to experience new things and places, and to open your mind to new ways of living by meeting new people and see their way of life.

Personally we are also looking for a place to eventually settle down, and so it’s a pleasant way to get to know possible locations “from the inside” and to build a network of contacts that might give us useful tips on future projects.

Want to try it yourself, either as a willing worker or as a host? Search for work exchange, help exchange and wwoofing, or couch surfing, house sitting, pet sitting, boat sitting, boat crew jobs etc! There are numerous possibilities, and I have only experience with hosts I initially know from real life, and with WorkAway, so go on and find what suits you!

La Balme

This little mountain village has 25 habitants, many of whom are only here for their vacations. The location is one of the best in the area, especially our hosts’ house, due to the 360 degree view of the mountains, cliffs and valleys that surrounds it. Let me give you a little photo tour!

Hiking to the surrounding villages

In these mountains there are many small villages scattered around, and small trails between them that are well marked so you can easily visit them by foot. Here are some impressions I got when we did “Le Tour des Villages” through La Ville, Les Chatains, Les Courts and Les Certs.

Hike from Le Bourg-d’Oisans to La Balme

One Saturday our hosts gave us a ride to the nearest “urban” village, which is Le Bourg-d’Oisan. The place is filled with bike related ornaments due to having Tour de France passing through now and then. We had fun to use our legs to get back “home” to La Balme, which is roughly 800 hight meter further up, we were told. It only took us 4,5 hours…

Hike towards Clavans

Our hostess gave us detailed information on another nice route to hike, one that went from Puy La Bas towards Clavans, but with a shortcut back down, making it a five hours trip in our photo-safari-speed. Again we had many spectacular viewpoints! It is fascinating to see the scenery change with every new turn, and with the movement of the sunlight and it’s shadows in these dramatic landscapes.

Hike to Chalet de Campaloup and Lac Besson

Our hosts brought us for an afternoon/evening car drive and hike to Chalet de Campaloup (1819 masl) and Lac Besson (2060 masl). The warm, red sunlight made it a special experience, accompanied by the fresh autumn wind at the end. At times it felt like we were walking around in a living painting!

Grow your own!

I am in love with veggie gardens, herbal gardens, berry bushes, fruit trees and nut trees! And I am happy to see so many people in France growing food for themselves (and for their neighbours, family and friends). Look, and be inspired!

Working in exchange for food and lodging

During our three weeks of work exchange in this beautiful place, we did a lot of varied tasks, both indoors in the chalet and outside in our hosts’ private garden. A typical day would start with eating breakfast with the hostess Anne at 7.30, then working together from 8.30 to 12.30, at which time we would have a lovely lunch outside in the sun. After lunch we would be “off-duty”, doing hikes, taking photos, working on our own projects, or maybe doing some nut harvesting.

Jean would of course also do some extra work in the garden, or flirt with the chickens by bringing them all sorts of lovely weeds and food scraps, and I would work on photos for the chalet, or secretly drawing Jackie as a birthday present for our hostess. For dinner we would eat delicious meals with Anne, while discussing food, life, family, travelling experiences, core values etc. I believe we all learned a lot from each other during our talks! In the weekends we were free to do as we wanted.

Our work exchange tasks were:
  • gardening
  • chimney sweeping
  • taking care of the chickens and their coops
  • harvesting vegetable
  • preparing meals now and then, mostly for the fun of sharing vegan recipes with Anne, who made us most of the meals, great chef as she is!
  • preparing the veggie garden for winter
  • stacking wood
  • cleaning rooms
  • making beds
  • painting walls
  • sanding and varnishing stairs
  • scrubbing and oiling wooden floors
  • taking promo photos for the chalet’s website

Our hosts

A big thank you to our lovely hosts Anne and Fré(déric), and of course to their adorable beagle Jackie! We found their profile on Workaway, and were immediately attracted to the spirit of the hosts and the location. Anne and Fréd are a sweet Belgian couple with a background in engineering. They got tired of the grey weather back home, so they moved to France were they now run Chalet Auris.

Fré is away during the week doing an intense training to become a mountain bike guide, so we had the pleasure of his company only in the weekends. Our impression? He is a funny, entertaining and easy-going guy, and if you ever want to go mountain bike riding in France, he’ll be the right person to guide you!

Anne welcomed us on our first day with the best chocolate cake I’ve ever tasted, and it was vegan! Anyone who knows me well is going to guess that I was then already convinced that we would have an awesome experience, and so we did. Anne is an energetic, cheerful and generous hostess that made sure we were very comfortable and content, had varied tasks to do – also according to our interests, had all the vegan food we could want for from our omnivore hosts, and increasingly heartfelt talks the more we got to know each other. Thank you again for your awesome energy, big smiles, great hiking tips and plenty of delicious food!

And last, but not least: Dearest beagle Jackie! I miss her puppy eyes, warm cuddles, playful chase, and seeing her ears doing wind-surfing when she stuck her head out of the car window.

Gros bisous à tous !

Until next time!


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Very interesting writing! It seems like you are having a good time, mixing work and free hours. Lovely nature.

Thank you, Anita, I’m glad you found it interesting! We did indeed have a very nice time, and the nature was stunning.

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