Last modified: 2015-04-25 by ivan sache
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Flag of Villard-de-Lans - Image by Ivan Sache, 24 May 2014
The municipality of Villard-de-Lans (4,038 inhabitants in 2011; 6,720 ha) is located in the Vercors mountains, 40 km south-west of Grenoble.
Villard-de-Lans was established as a mountain village in the 13th
century. The hamlet of Corrençon separated in 1857 from Villars to form an independent municipality.
At the end of the 19th century, the village became a famous place of "course of air and milk" for the higher bourgeoisie. The tramway line set up in 1920 between Grenoble and the village allowed the development of winter sports. Villard-de-Lans welcomed the word ski championships in 1931 and the sledge events at the 1968 Winter Olympics (Grenoble).
The most famous member of the ski club of Villard-de-Lans is Carole Montillet (b. 1973), whose international career lasted from 1992 to 2006. Underestimated for years as one of the great hopes of French sport who failed to success, she was, however, appointed standard-bearer of the French delegation at the opening ceremony of the 2002 Winter Olympics (Salt Lake City), and won, quite unexpectedly, the downhill four days later. The sports reference daily L'Équipe awarded her the title of "Champions of the French Champions" for year 2002. Montillet won the super G World Cup in 2003. At the the 2006 Olympics (Turin), she competed in the downhill (ranking 28th) in spite of having been severely injured a few days before during practice, refusing to abandon her title without defending; three days later, she missed the podium in super G for nearly nothing, ranking 5th, and gained unanimous admiration; she was eventually appointed standard-bearer at the closing ceremony.
The Polish College Cyprian Norwid (memorial website) was established in October 1940 in
Villard-de-Lans by Wenceslas Godlewski, to replace the college of the
same name, which had to be relocated far from Paris following the
German invasion. Villard-de-Lans was selected because of its
geographical location, not far from neutral Switzerland, and close to
Grenoble, where a significant Polish community existed, especially at
the university. Housed in the former Hôtel du Parc, the college was
all along the War the single free Polish educational institution in
Western Europe, where the elements of the Polish culture which had
escaped the Nazi destruction were eventually preserved.
Several students and teachers of the Polish college joined the anti- German Resistance. The director, Lubicz-Zaleski, was arrested in March 1943 and deported to Buchenwald; he was succeeded by Wenceslas Godlewski, arrested the next year and deported to Mauthausen. The two of them would survive. A dozen of students were killed during the assault of Vercors; arrested, the teachers Harwas and Gerahrd were shot in Lyon, the day before the liberation of the town.
The ruined village of Valchevrière is a tribute to the anti-German Resistance. Used as base camp by the maquis, the village was attacked on 22-23 July 1944 by the Germans, who burned down all the houses but the chapel. Never rebuilt, Valchevrière is now a silent place of remembrance connected to Villard-de-Lans by a Way of the Cross; the 7th station, known as the Poles' Station, is modelled on the chapels erected in the mountain region of Zakopane.
Villard-de-Lans is the cradle of the Villarde cow breed (website). Reported for the first time in 1832 by the veterinary Cros, the Villarde was recognized in 1864 as a genuine, local bred by an expert's commission presided by Pr Tisserand, from the Lyon Veterinary School. The veterinary César Hippolyte Bévière established in 1875 the Villarde breeding station. Close to extinction the Villarde was deleted from the official records of the French cow breeds; there remained only a few dozens of cow when the Ministry of Agriculture launched in 1976 a conservation plan. The effort was successful so that 382 cows and 13 bulls owned by 71 breeders were recorded in 2002. The Villarde is one of the three cow breeds whose milk is used to produce the local Bleu du Vercors / Sassenage cheese, protected by an AOC since 1998.
Ivan Sache, 24 May 2014
The flag of Villard-de-Lans, hoisted over the Town Hall, is white with
the municipal coat of arms.
The coat of arms of Villard-de-Lans is "Per chevron reversed or a bear argent and sable azure dexter a pine tree argent sinister a pine tree sable".
The bear is the emblem of Villard-de-Lans. The village's main square,
nicknamed Bear's Square, is decorated with the statue of a bear (photo), while
the local ice-hockey team is nicknamed "The Bears".
Bears were once common in the Vercors massif. The last bear recorded in the area was spotted in September 1937 near Saint-Martin-de- Vercors, a village located 15 km south-west of Villard-de-Lans. The sighting was confirmed by footprints observed a few days later near Corrençon. The bear was not captured, whatever some spurious source claim. [M.A.B. Couturier. L'ours brun dans les Alpes françaises. Sa chorologie actuelle. Le dernier ours tué (Maurienne, Savoie). Le dernier ours vu (Vercors, Drôme). Revue de géographie alpine 30: 4, 781-790 (1942) (PDF)].
Ivan Sache, 24 May 2014