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The skills and crafts of the Alps

Craft skills are an essential aspect of Alpine culture, and can offer a unique way of experiencing the region. Local artisans often open their workshops for visits that provide a cultural experience that can be combined with your holiday.

In this post, we introduce some of the key skills and crafts of the Alps, including:

  • Cutlery
  • Foundry and metalwork
  • Woodwork
  • Stonework and leatherwork
  • Pottery and ceramics
  • Food production

Read on to discover more about each one…

Cutlery-making, a useful and skilled craft

The history

A folding knife next to a compass and a leather case
A combination of art and utility © RastoZvolansky, Pixabay

Throughout history, the knife has remained an essential tool for humans. In the beginning, skilled metalworkers such as ironmongers and blacksmiths crafted them. However, it wasn’t until the 9th century that cutlers began specializing in knife-making.

Over time, the knife continued to evolve and by the 10th century, knives were being specifically crafted for dining. It wasn’t until the 14th century that the materials used in knife-making became more diverse and luxurious, with cutlery boasting silver or enamel handles.

Famous artisans


Since 1828, the Forge de Laguiole has been dedicated to crafting exquisite knives. The company’s iconic symbol, the bee, is expertly carved onto each knife using traditional techniques involving a file and punch.

For those interested in learning more about these masterpieces, the factory offers free tours to the public.

Laguiole knives with black handles, set on a black and brown surface.
Two beautifully-made knifes bearing the bee symbol © Laguiole


The Joseph Opinel Savoyard knife has an intriguing history. Originally designed as an everyday tool, it has grown to become a celebrated symbol of world design.

If you’re interested in exploring the knife’s fascinating story, head to the Opinel museum located in the scenic Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne region in the Alps.

An Opinel knife with a black handle and a grey line, set against a black background.
A black-handled knife by Opinel © Opinel

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Foundry and metalwork, time-honoured skills

A little history

Men dressed in protective suits and headgear pour red-hot molten metal
One of the oldest trades known to man © Paccard

Metalworking has been a trade since ancient times, with foundries dating back to the earliest human civilizations. One of the key techniques used in this craft is casting, which involves melting metals and shaping them through moulding.

This Alpine craft has a rich history, and it’s fascinating to learn about how it has evolved over time. Interestingly, metalworking initially began with leather before transitioning to bronze objects by the end of the 4th century.

The Paccard company

Cloche de l'entreprise Paccard suspendue.
A sound you won’t forget © Paccard

The church bells and carillons produced by this foundry are renowned worldwide. In fact, the very first Paccard bell was created by the company’s founder, Antoine Paccard, back in 1796 for the church located in Quintal, Haute-Savoie. Over the years, seven generations of Paccards have continued the tradition of exquisite craftsmanship.

With its location on the shores of Lake Annecy, the foundry has produced a number of well-known pieces, including the massive bourdon bell for Orléans Cathedral.

For those interested in learning about the company’s history, the Paccard Museum in Sévrier has been showcasing its impressive work since 1989.

Woodwork, popular throughout the Alps

Its origins

A man uses a chisel to work on some wood
Carpentry – an ancient craft still revered today © Fachdozent, Pixabay

How we use wood has changed significantly throughout history and nowadays, it’s not just utilized for practical purposes.

Woodworking has become an art form in itself, with craftsmen carving and polishing pieces to create unique works of art.

Often, knowledge is passed down through generations to maintain the authenticity of the techniques used. And it’s these techniques which are used to make handmade sculptures and engravings, showcasing the versatility and beauty of this timeless material.

Meet the Artisans

Le Chapoteur

Georges and Fabrice Personnaz are skilled artisans who create the renowned Bessans devils, which have a rich history in the region.

As the story goes, a wooden devil carving was the solution to a conflict that arose in 1857 between the brotherhood of church singers of Bessans and the village priest.

Nowadays, the Bessans devil is a notable symbol of the village, alongside cross-country skiing. In their workshop, these two sculptors continue to preserve the legend.

Find out more about the legend © Maurienne TV/Office de Tourisme de Bessans

Rustic furniture

Charles Goy, a skilled carpenter and cabinetmaker, creates exquisite Savoyard-style furniture in La Clusaz. His workshop is steeped in tradition, with generations of craftsmen before him passing down their expertise. Goy’s creations are a perfect blend of traditional and modern, showcasing his creativity and talent.

A wooden chair decorated with heart
A chair with traditional style © Charles Goy/Office de Tourisme des Aravis

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Stonework – a unique skill

The history

A granite waterpump and trough, with the mountains in the background
The skill of stonemasons is apparent across the Alps © Laurenzio

Stone-cutting has been around for centuries and is considered a true art form. Back in medieval times, skilled stonemasons would work directly on building sites or quarries to meticulously cut different types of rock. To accomplish this, they had to be familiar with various techniques and tools.

Two of the most commonly used tools were the pick, which was used to remove the most obvious roughness from the stone, and the cutting hammer, which was used to roughen the stone and remove unnecessary layers.

Meet a craftsman

The Laurenzio family business

Specialising in granite and stone-cutting, this Combloux-based company was founded in 1967 and has been run by four generations of the family.

Their passion for stone and a job well done is reflected in their creations. You can meet these Alpine craftsmen on guided tours every Friday Visitors of all ages will be fascinated by the demonstrations of block splitting-polishing and tool-forging.

Discover the granite of Mont-Blanc! © Simon Reiss

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Leatherwork in the Alps

How it started

Four leather aprons hanging on hooks against a stone wall
Leather aprons made in the mountains © Didier Perrillat-Monet

Since prehistoric times, leather has been a popular material for protection. However, early humans had to find a way to prevent the hides from rotting. The technique of smoke tanning was discovered when hides were hung on huts and exposed to smoke from fires, making the leather more resistant and durable. As time passed, this technique evolved and it was found to also improve the suppleness of the leather.

During the Middle Ages, leatherworking became more prevalent, with specific production zones being established near rivers. With the advent of the chemical industry, leatherworking techniques were further refined and improved.

A renowned craftsman

Didier Perrillat

Come and meet Master Leatherworker Didier Perrillat in his workshop-boutique located in Le Grand Bornand, Haute-Savoie. He specializes in creating leather products using traditional skills that have been passed down from generation to generation.

You’ll have the opportunity to witness his masterful craft and see his unique pieces on display and while you’re there, you can even witness him working on the week’s orders.

In addition, many of his leather products are also available for purchase.

A craftsman in an apron showing a leather bag in a wicker basket to a man and a woman.
Buy a unique gift straight from the craftsman © Didier Perrillat-Monet

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Pottery and ceramics – a fascinating skill

A traditional artisan

Une personne faisant de la poterie en tournant l'argile tout en le travaillant avec ses doigts.
A good way to get your hands dirty © marcelkessler, Pixabay

Pottery developed in the Neolithic period, when people began to settle down in one place. The first ceramics were also crafted during this time. Over time, around 4500BC, manufacturing techniques improved and the pottery wheel was believed to have been created in Sumeria around 4000BC.

As the wheel became more advanced, so too did the use of kilns. Initially, kilns were simply fire pits dug into the ground. However, modern gas and electric kilns have made the firing process much more dependable and efficient.

Meet the makers

Poterie artisanale Les Gets

Anouk and Nathalie invite visitors to their workshop located in Les Gets, where they have a strong passion for creating both practical and beautiful objects. These sisters, whose mother is also an artist, aim to showcase the traditional crafts of the Alps.

During the summer season, they offer free visits to their workshop, complete with demonstrations and introductions to their craft.

A white dish held in a hand is painted
Careful decoration makes a useful object beautiful too © Poterie des Gets

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Potiers au Grand Bornand 

Edith and Patrick Martin run their business from a charming barn where they also offer pottery classes. These introductory courses are perfect for families looking to practice their creative skills together.

During your time in the workshop, you’ll have the opportunity to explore various pottery techniques, including throwing and glazing. It’s a unique chance to learn more about the intricate skills and manufacturing processes involved in this time-honoured craft.

Discover the skills of the potters © Office de Tourisme Le Grand Bornand

Local cuisine

Where it all began

A market stall piled high with different varieties of salami
Making shopping a pleasure for food lovers © rdlaw, Pixabay

Eating and drinking are basic human needs. The early Neolithic period marked the emergence of local cooking, as humans began to settle in permanent villages. Over time, regional cuisine evolved and unique specialities were created.

In the present day, culinary arts can be found in every corner of society. Various catering systems and types have woven food into the fabric of our lives. Regional cuisine is a prime example, as it highlights local products and traditional techniques.

Discovering local flavours

Alcohol in the Alps

Mélange des Alpes

These two friends came up with a brilliant idea of creating artisanal products using local traditions and terroir. Their first project involved updating the classic génépi, which is a popular spirit made from a wild Alpine plant. They distilled the plant to create a delicious génépi liqueur and even shared a recipe for others to make their own.

Stylish packaging adds an extra touch of sophistication to the product and they also offer a rum recipe for those who want to try their hand at making their own spirits.

For those who prefer to indulge in ready-made treats, you’ll also be able to purchase a selection of craft beers from the Alps.

Bottle of beer with a white label reading "bière des Alpes".
The flavour of the mountains in a beer © Mélange des Alpes

Your next holiday in the Alps

Distillerie des Aravis

This traditional distillery in the heart of the Aravis mountains has been producing Génépi liqueur since 1876. To find out more and meet the producers, tours are available from Tuesday to Saturday, which you can book online. What’s more, there’s a tasting session at the end of the tour!

A drink is poured from a bottle into three shot glasses
The essence of the Alps in a glass © Distillerie des Aravis

Reblochon – the favourite cheese of the Alps

Reblochon fermier des Aravis

This delicious cheese is made twice a day, all year round after the cows have been milked. To guarantee its quality and allow the cows to enjoy the fresh grass during the summer season, the farmers and their herd go to the mountain pastures for more than four months. For the rest of the year, they stay at their farm in Saint-Jean-de-Sixt, where they sell their products directly from their shop.

Reblochon holds a special history in the Aravis, where it has been produced since the 13th century. There are many stages involved in making this cheese: milking the cows, curdling, moulding, placing weights on the wheels to give them their shape, drying, and finally, the maturing cellar.

It’s all down to the craftsmanship that goes into making a real, high-quality farmhouse Reblochon!

A woman in a white apron checks the reblochon cheeses in the maturing cellar
Maturing cheeses are inspected in the cellar © Reblochon fermier des Aravis

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The Alps are a treasure trove of local skills. Craftspeople regularly offer discovery workshops, giving you an insight into their daily lives. So come and discover the crafts of the Alps, and learn something new during your holiday.

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