National Geographic : 1959 Apr
One foot in the Middle Ages, the other in the 20th century, a remote Alpine community clings to time-hallowed ways FRANCE'S HIGHEST VILLAGE Saint Vran By ROBERT K. BURNS, JR. Photographs by the author IN A pale winter twilight, weather-scarred old houses stood bleakly against drifted snow. An ice-caked wooden fountain splashed forlornly in a frozen trough. There was an air of grimness and great age about the scene-so much so that the man who now approached in the street seemed to step from another century. He wore dark, patched clothes. Shaggy bundles of hay hung from his shoulders at the ends of a wooden yoke. Bending slightly, he trudged toward us. In stinctively, I raised my camera. "Non! Non! Absolument pas! I forbid it!" He dropped his yoke and plowed a few steps in my direction through the snow. "I don't want my picture taken!" he bellowed. Then, after glaring at us a moment longer, he shouldered his yoke and disappeared be tween two houses. My wife Lyla and I walked on in silence through the empty, narrow streets, disturbed by the rebuff. It was dusk when we reached the little inn where we were staying, just below the village. At the doorway we looked back. Suspended above us in the growing dark ness, the twinkling lights of Saint Veran, highest village in France, gleamed in a frozen necklace against the snowy mountainside, lofty and remote, yet somehow inviting. Since the Middle Ages Saint Veran, nes tlirg more than a mile high in the Alps, has stood apart from the rest of Europe. Today the community's 255 citizens still resist change and cling to traditional ways of life. I was Saint Veran clings to a mountainside 6,690 feet high in the French Alps (map, page 573). Trails and irrigation canals above the village crisscross fields of hay and rye. A narrow road, Saint Veran's only link with the world, leads to the valley below.