A nature-loving Frenchman has built an off-grid, eco village in the Victorian High Country, where guests are treated with fondue and French liqueur.

Story + Photos Ricky French 

It’s late afternoon in the Victorian ski resort of Mount Hotham, and the chairlifts that spill from the ridgetop village towards Swindlers Creek have just stopped moving. As the sun sinks, shadows creep up the sides of the plunging valley like a bathtub filling with water. Skiers disperse and the mountain becomes silent and still.

For most visitors to Australia’s highest alpine village, it’s the end of another day on the ski slopes, but for a small group gathered in a carpark a few kilometres down the Great Alpine Road, the adventure is just beginning.

“Has anyone here walked in snowshoes before?” asks Jean-Francois Rupp, the French founder of Alpine Nature Experience. No-one responds in the affirmative. In fact, some guests on this Snowshoe to Fondue experience have never walked in snow before. But that won’t be a problem. As Jean-Francois assures everyone, if you can walk, you can snowshoe. And with the temperature rapidly dropping and cheeks reddening, walking sounds like a fine idea.

Snow crunches underfoot as the group follows a track through the bush. A fire is soon spotted burning in a clearing among the snow gums, and a towering Nordic tipi comes into view, with honeycomb-shaped, geodesic domes dotted around it. A bar fashioned from corrugated iron and rough-sawn timber stands alongside a cast-iron fire pit encircled by bench seating carved into the snow. Steam rises from a hot tub perched above the dark expanse of the Dargo Valley as the last embers of sunset pulse softly on the distant horizon.

As wide-eyed guests file in, Jean-Francois hands out mugs of hot, homemade gluhwein. “Welcome to my eco-village,” he says, “I hope you like it.”

Read the full story in Outback magazine