Edward Whymper, illustrator, pioneering mountaineer and all-round general nutcase did us the honour of a quick visit here in the Oisans in the 1860s (taking a little light relief from trying to kill himself on the Matterhorn) and set the tone for the generations of tourists to come after him by moaning about his accomodation.
“I cannot too strongly recommend tourists in search of amusement to avoid the inns of the Dauphiné.”, said Ed in an early version of Tripadvisor. He goes on to tell us that the inventor of insecticide powder lived in the region and says, “I can well believe it. he must have often felt the necessity of such an invention in his infancy and childhood. Well, thanks a bunch, Mr Whymper. I bet that did the tourist trade a world of good.
Mind you, it has to be said that these mountain regions were a bit late in catching up with the idea of civilised living conditions, as demonstrated by the state of our sanitation when we bought the house. Insanitation would be more like it. We’re not short of insect life either when I come to think of it, what with fleas, ticks, some kind of cat mites (no, not catamites, we’re not quite that cosmopolitan) and most recently moths chewing bloody great holes in the rug disguising a grotty bit of wall. So possibly Ed had a point then. Damn.
Still, it’s always entertaining to compare life back in the day with your own comfy existance and speculate as to how people used to manage without modern innovations like a diet which didn’t give you goitre. And thanks to fleamarket stalls selling overpriced postcards we can do just that very thing.
Here’s the road outside the back of our house for example, now a quiet backwater but once the main shopping street:
Compared with our newly resurfaced modern thoroughfare, striking for its abundance of wheeled vehicles and remarkable absence of goats from the middle of the road. I imagine these two developments are linked.
Round the corner in what is now the main drag we’ve gone for people strolling about in the middle of the road instead of goats. It is a tourist town after all, and I’ve noted before that people on holiday lose any idea of what motor vehicles are all about.
Mr Whymper’s despised inns seem to have evolved a bit since his visit, their owners clearly shamed by his casual criticism. Here’s the former Grand Hotel Terminus, for example, looking quite posh from the outside though that’s no guarantee you won’t get mauled the minute you get into bed.
You’d certainly have to hope they’ve beaten the insect problem by now though, because it’s the local retirement home. I would say this is where we’ll see out our twilight years, strolling in the leafy grounds and occasionally taking the Zimmer frame out for a spin round the market, but I doubt it since the place looks way out of our price range.
The owners of the Hotel Milan, though, were evidently so stung by Ed’s poor review that they knocked the whole place down and started from scratch again, probably some time in the 30s from the look of the building.
Whymper and party arrived in the Oisans via the Col de Pilatte and La Berarde, an eccentric choice of route when you could just get on a train from Grenoble, but that was Ed for you.
Mind you, maybe the railway hadn’t arrived at that point – the date on the postmark suggests 1911, some time after Ed passed through the region toting Fortnum & Mason hampers on the backs of mules. It didn’t stay long either, some shortsighted idiot having now ripped it up and replaced it with a road. We’re going to regret getting rid of Europe’s branch lines the day filling your Porsche Cayenne with petrol doubles its value. So sometime next week then.