By Nicholas Allen, Class of 1992 Les Roches alumnus
All year I’ve been catching up with some of the special people connected with Les Roches. Last time out I introduced you to the “Hotelier’s Hotelier”, Mr. Rami Sayess. This time it’s my complete honor to introduce you all to Madame Françoise Crettol, a Valais and Swiss Icon, who back in the day held our money and our secrets! The most beautiful soul I have called “Mumma Suisse” for 29 years!
Nicholas Allen (NA): Where in Switzerland were you born?
Françoise Crettol (FC): What a question! In Bluche of course!!
NA: Where did you grow up?
FC: Also In Bluche. My parents founded the Petit Paradis in 1949 when they married. I studied in Crans-Montana and Sierre, later traveling to England to learn English. I married very young, at the age of 20, and we spent our first five years in Crans-Montana. My husband and I returned to Bluche in 1977 and my daughter was born in the chalet we built, which was also where the Credit Suisse Bank was installed.
NA: What did you do in Bluche, and when?
FC: I was very versatile and multifunctional! From 1970 to 1987 I worked with my husband in his business of wine, liquor and beverage merchandising. Then in 1987 I became an agent for the Bluche branch of Credit Suisse Bank – which was when I got to know you! I left that job in 1997 and became manageress of the Petit Paradis, which I did until 2011, when I became an extremely busy retiree!
NA: I’m sure there were some memorable moments in “PP’s” (Petit Paradis) over the years… could you share a couple with us?
FC: Undoubtedly, during all those years, I was very close to many students, taking on the role of surrogate mother to them. I celebrated countless birthdays, and cried with them when they left to continue their lives elsewhere. One of my favorite memories was when I got to witness the marriage of two students who’d met at the school. In complete contrast, a truly devastating event was when I had to accommodate the parents of a student who had died in a car accident.
However my standout memory relates to the fire that broke out in the school’s main building accommodation. At midnight I saw the flames escaping from the windows of the wooden pavilion and called the fire brigade. Throughout the night students arrived in their pajamas, while firemen also came in to recover. I handed out a lot of hot drinks and blankets, and I was even awarded a medal in recognition and gratitude!
NA: Thinking back to your little bank in Bluche, what memories do you have of the students coming in to get their money for the weekend?
FC: One thing that always amused me was the students who would come in at the beginning of the week to withdraw 50 francs, only to return for another withdrawal at the weekend! They were full of good intentions to economize, but life in Bluche could be expensive!
I had a number of incidents at the bank… including one student who left for London after simultaneously withdrawing the same amount of savings from the banks in Bluche and Crans-Montana. Sometime later, full of remorse, he returned the sum stolen (CHF 15,000) by mail. Another time, a student asked for a loan to buy a herd of buffalos – his dowry to his bride’s parents!
NA: Who has made the biggest impact on your professional career?
FC: Most certainly my mother, who created the Petit Paradis and turned it into an institution, not only in Bluche, but far and wide. She had hospitality deeply ingrained in her soul, and I fell into the kettle at a very early age!
NA: Which students and teachers stood out for you and why?
FC: All the students and teachers were special to me, in their own ways. The community spirit on campus was nurtured by the fact that the village is small, so we easily got to know and appreciate one another, creating a harmonious atmosphere.
There were also several unexpected encounters with students: once at the airport in New York when we were caught in a snowstorm; and another time in Singapore when I handed over my passport at the hotel reception and was recognized by a former student. There are so many others, too.
NA: What’s your advice for new graduates?
FC: As long as you love what you do, you will never ‘work’ a day in your life. Indulge yourself by giving pleasure to your guests – that should be the motto for all those who embark on a career in tourism and related services.
NA: Is there one moment from when you were putting up with us all that still makes you laugh?
FC: When I was managing the Petit Paradis we rented our double rooms at a rate per person. The students often declared single occupation in these double rooms, so I laughingly warned them that I’d make an incursion at midnight to count the number of feet in the beds (especially the female feet!!!).
NA: What is your fondest memory of Les Roches and its teachers?
FC: Throughout all those years I was always invited to the Cultural Night. Year after year, I discovered and admired the young talent from all across the world who would acquaint us with their home countries.
NA: Do you have any phobias?
FC: Fortunately, I don’t seem to have any particular phobias.
NA: You can ask me one question, what is it?
FC: Nick – what is YOUR best memory of Bluche?
NA: Undoubtably it would have to be Bluche as a whole Mumma. The feel of this remarkable little village, the view as you sit on the deck at PP’s, the sound of the cow bells during ‘La désalpe’ and simply watching the students walking around. The smell of your incredible Fondue de Tomate while it’s snowing outside. Getting 50 francs from you at the bank for drinks at San Nicks after rugby training. Plus, I fell in love in Bluche – and that can never be taken away.
NA: Last question. You have organized a lavish dinner party with no expense spared. You can invite eight people, alive or dead, who are they?
FC: Definitely my family: my parents who gave me my roots here in Valais; my husband, my children (who were well-known to the Credit Suisse clients) – I would be so happy to have my whole world around me! However, if I could invite five more guests, I would also add my five grandchildren!
NA: I think I will allow it just this once. Thank you so much, Mumma!