Hey colivers! Welcome to the first-ever episode of Colivers Club, a new podcast where we dive deep into the coliving for remote workers world. In our inaugural episode, we have the pleasure of introducing Ben and Fabienne, a couple whose journey from backpacking globetrotters to pioneering their own coliving space in the Swiss Alps is nothing short of inspiring. With stories that weave through various continents and end in the picturesque Swiss mountains, their adventure into the coliving world is a must-listen for anyone intrigued by this dynamic lifestyle. (Don’t know what is coliving? Check this post!)

So, buckle up and join us on this incredible journey as we explore the ins and outs of coliving with Ben and Fabienne. πŸš€πŸŒπŸ 


Read the Interview

Cesar: Welcome everybody. This is the first episode of Colivers Club. I’m Cesar Alberca with Ben and Fabienne. Hello. How are you guys?

Ben & Fabienne: Hey. Really good, thank you, and happy to be on the first episode of Colivers Club.

Cesar: It’s an honor to share this space with you. I met you recently during this summer in a new project you guys are starting, called Alpiness.

Ben and Fabienne: Yes, that’s right. We opened the co-living space on September 1st. It’s located in the Swiss Alps. Thanks to people like you, we had an amazing summer full of renovations, bringing this old hotel back to life. We’re excited to have our first colivers in the house.

Cesar: I’ve been there. It’s an amazing space with a lot of cool ideas. I can’t wait to go back. Could you give us more details about yourselves?

Ben and Fabienne: We’re Fabienne and Ben, backpackers at heart. About nine years ago, we embarked on a 19-month backpacking trip around the world. This journey marked the start of our transition from the academic and corporate world to a nomadic lifestyle. Since then, we’ve traveled globally, managing our travel blog and writing hiking guides, all while working remotely.

Cesar: So you’ve transitioned into the coliving world quite organically.

Ben and Fabienne: Exactly. In 2018, we accidentally discovered our first coliving. We were frustrated with poor work conditions and bad wifi in an Airbnb, and while searching for a coworking space, we found Nine Coliving, which you’re familiar with, Cesar.

Cesar: Yes, I helped with the remodeling there. Love getting involved in such projects!

Ben and Fabienne: At Nine Coliving, we initially volunteered for a month but ended up staying for five, captivated by the work-life balance and the community of like-minded individuals. It filled the gaps in our lifestyle. We even joked about opening our coliving one day while enjoying a glass of wine on their rooftop, and now here we are!

Cesar: So you made your dream a reality, opening a coliving space in the Swiss Alps. When did you start taking this idea seriously?

Ben and Fabienne: About two to three years ago, we wanted to do more than just our travel blog. During the COVID crisis, we began questioning our purpose and the idea of starting a coliving began to take shape. We spent about seven months over two years in Anceu, Galicia. It’s a remarkable place that bridges the gap between coliving spaces and the local community. Their projects, like coding schools for children, integrate colivers with locals, a dynamic often missing in colivings. This experience in Anceu was a game-changer, showing us coliving can have a real local impact. We saw similar potential in Switzerland’s remote villages and thought, why not bring this concept to our country?

Cesar: That’s interesting. In Spain, remote villages are fading away, and remote work could revitalize them. How did you start the process of creating your coliving? What advice would you give to aspiring coliving founders?

Ben and Fabienne: The first step is assessing your budget. Understand your financial limits and explore possibilities with investors or banks. We didn’t want to be disillusioned by unrealistic property visits. The budget also influences location choices. We considered Switzerland, despite its high costs, because we’re familiar with its system and it’s our home. We explored France and Italy too, but ultimately chose Switzerland. The next step involved securing support from local municipalities and organizations, showcasing the potential positive impact of our coliving. We took a different approach by meeting with mayors and tourism officials in potential locations, ensuring our project would be welcomed and could foster synergies with the community. It’s important to establish these connections early, rather than realizing later that the community isn’t supportive of your presence.

Ben and Fabienne: We worked hard to make our coliving project a reality in Switzerland. The first step was to assess our budget and seek support from the municipality, region, or associations. Unlike other coliving owners, we didn’t start by looking at properties. Instead, we met with mayors and tourism officials to ensure our project would be welcome and could collaborate with the community. We wanted to avoid being in a place where our presence wasn’t valued. Presenting our project to local authorities was a chance to refine our concept and understand the unique needs of each village.

Cesar: What’s the experience of explaining coliving to someone unfamiliar with the concept?

Ben and Fabienne: Initially, we created a detailed dossier about our project to educate local authorities. There’s a lot of explaining involved, ensuring people understand what coliving is and who it attracts.

Cesar: What unexpected challenges did you face in opening a coliving?

Ben and Fabienne: The biggest challenge was the novelty of the coliving concept. Dealing with taxes, regulations, and fire safety, we often found that authorities didn’t know how to classify us. We weren’t a hotel or a private home. This uncertainty led to a lot of time wasted with officials trying to figure out where we fit. Even finding financial support was difficult. Our project didn’t fit into existing categories for tourism or long-term residency support. We were caught in a gray area where everyone appreciated our project, but no one knew how to support us.

Cesar: It seems that nomads often find themselves in legal gray areas because the world isn’t fully prepared for us yet. It’s interesting that opening a coliving also presents similar hurdles.

Ben and Fabienne: Definitely. The world hasn’t quite caught up with the needs of nomads and the concept of coliving.

Cesar: How’s the remodeling going? I remember the building was an old hostel that hadn’t been opened for a long time. You saw the potential to turn it into a coliving, but there must have been quite some work to do.

Ben and Fabienne: There was a lot of work. The building, a former hotel closed for 12 years, needed significant renovations. Everything was functioning, but it was dusty and outdated. The last renovation was in 1969, so it needed a lot of love. We decided to invite remote workers and nomads from our network to help with the renovations over the summer. They stayed for free and assisted us. We had up to 14 people helping at one point. Without their help, we couldn’t have met our September 1st deadline to open the coliving. It was an intense but fulfilling experience of co-renovation and co-creation.

Cesar: What about the sports activities? I heard you have plans related to climbing.

Ben and Fabienne: Our coliving is surrounded by 4,000-meter mountains, so activities like hiking, climbing, and via ferrata are easily accessible. We take time to explore and learn about our region, as it’s also part of our job to show it to our visitors. The area’s natural beauty is something we want to share extensively.

Cesar: And I noticed you installed a swing.

Ben and Fabienne: Yes, the swing was made with climbing ropes, reflecting our love for outdoor activities. Marta, the designer, influenced that choice.

Cesar: I noticed you installed a swing.

Ben and Fabienne: Yes, the swing is made with climbing ropes, reflecting Marta’s influence as the designer.

Cesar: We can include links to other colivings and your blog, Novomonde, in the description for promotion.

Ben and Fabienne: That’s perfect, thanks.

Cesar: On your social networks, I’ve seen various unique features at your coliving, like virtual reality goggles and a barbecue. What do you think makes your coliving unique?

Ben and Fabienne: Our coliving’s uniqueness stems from its location and our passion for this lifestyle. We live on-site and focus heavily on community building. For instance, we have family dinner every night, which is different from other colivings. It’s a great way to get to know each other, plus everyone cooks just once a week. This idea was inspired by other colivings, but we find it crucial for fostering interactions and friendships among residents. It’s about taking time to relax, share, and create memories together.

Cesar: Besides family dinners, what else adds value or makes a coliving unique?

Ben and Fabienne: The location plays a big part. Our coliving is in a remote village with 300 inhabitants, surrounded by stunning nature. We’re both adventurers and regularly organize outings. Ben is more into via ferrata and challenging activities, while I prefer picnic spots and river walks. Sharing these experiences is something we love. Being new to the coliving scene, there’s still a lot we’d like to do and offer.

Ben and Fabienne: As we mentioned earlier, one of our goals is to blend colivers with locals and create meaningful projects. We believe digital nomads and remote workers seek to make an impact and engage in significant activities while traveling. Providing opportunities to connect with local people, understand the culture, and participate in communal projects adds purpose to their stay and our mission. This is a long-term goal for us.

Cesar: And there’s the aspect of local interactions, like being beaten at arm wrestling by locals during the international Swiss Day.

Ben and Fabienne: Yes, the electrician who recently fixed something in our house was the same person who beat us at arm wrestling. She jokingly reminded us of her victory. It’s moments like these that enrich the experience of slow traveling in a coliving, where you get to immerse yourself in the local community and its culture.

Cesar: I’m excited to see what projects and interactions you’ll have in the coming months and years.

Ben and Fabienne: We’re curious to see how it unfolds too.

Cesar: With winter approaching, and this area being known for skiing, do you have any plans related to that?

Ben and Fabienne: Skiing is just one aspect of winter here. The region is also excellent for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, ski touring, and ice climbing. We have a resident, Austris, staying for the winter who’s enthusiastic about the ice climbing routes. We might even delve into ice climbing thanks to him.

Cesar: That sounds nice. I usually prefer warmer areas, though.

Ben and Fabienne: Nobody’s perfect! We tried convincing you to come back in winter, but it can get quite cold here, sometimes minus 15 degrees Celsius.

Cesar: Oh, that is cold. And about the funding for the coliving, how did you manage that? Did you have savings, or a long-term plan?

Ben and Fabienne: It was a mix of everything. We had savings, and we also sold an apartment to fund the project. We had to find a bank to support us with a large mortgage, so the place isn’t fully ours yet. Living like backpackers for the last ten years helped us save a substantial amount. Convincing a bank was challenging because coliving is a new concept, and many banks rejected us. However, we found support from the Alternative Bank Switzerland, which tends to back such projects. They saw the potential impact we could have in the village. They’re a great partner, though we still have to pay the interest.

Cesar: What was the main reason why banks rejected your project?

Ben and Fabienne: The banks saw it as a risky venture, especially in uncertain times like these. Credit Suisse, for example, was facing challenges, and banks generally avoid taking on projects without a proven track record. We tried showing them data from colivings in Spain, France, and Italy, but they insisted it wasn’t applicable to Switzerland since there were no similar projects with owner-operators. The risk was too high for them. They demanded assessments by third parties, which were costly. We almost gave up, but eventually, two banks showed interest. We chose one that we were already familiar with due to their ethical policies. It was a challenging process.

Cesar: It’s interesting that such an international business model is considered risky when nomads come from all over the world and need a place to live.

Ben and Fabienne: Yes, but the traditional banking sector often sees it differently.

Cesar: Since you’ve invested a lot in building a community through your blog, I think it was a missed opportunity for those banks

Ben and Fabienne: Absolutely. We’re determined to prove them wrong. Co-living is still a niche market, and there’s a lot of education needed about it. Banks often compare co-livings to hotels, which isn’t accurate, especially in remote areas like ours with low hotel occupancy rates. For example, our bookings for October were full, which is unusual for hotels in our area during that time. We’re showing that there’s a demand for co-living, even in remote locations, which is ideal for digital nomads and remote workers. It makes our place special, with its unique soul and ethics. We struggled initially because there was no precedent in Switzerland for this kind of project. We’re open to sharing our numbers and experiences to help pave the way for others interested in starting similar projects in Switzerland.

Cesar: This lifestyle makes sense, especially in today’s context where people feel lonely in cities without communal spaces. Co-living offers the opportunity to connect with neighbors, learn new things, and interact with various cultures.

Ben and Fabienne: Absolutely. We’re social animals, yet ironically, many feel lonely in big cities. Even as someone who isn’t overly social, I find co-living spaces offer the perfect balance. It’s amazing how in a remote village, we can have 15 remote workers doing incredible things together. Co-living offers a chance to be social while still having personal space.

Cesar: How do you see the future of coliving? Will it become more mainstream?

Ben and Fabienne: We believe coliving will continue to develop, especially as remote work becomes more accepted. Destination coliving, where people combine work and vacation in attractive locales, is likely to grow. There’s still a long way to go before the market becomes saturated. People enjoy the flexibility of moving around, surfing in one place, skiing in another. Being in a coliving feels rejuvenating; it’s filled with great people, experiences, and shared moments. Many who leave already plan their return. For instance, our winter season is almost fully booked with about 50% being return visitors from just this summer and September.

Cesar: It’s really a testament to how you guys are doing if people are willing to come back.

Ben and Fabienne: Yes, it’s fantastic. We’re really happy with it. Speaking of market saturation, the success of a coliving is about more than just the location or amenities. It’s about the soul, the energy, and the community that’s created. Even if the place isn’t perfect, what matters is how people feel when they’re there, the connections they make, and the experiences they share. Building such a community takes time and effort, and it’s not something that can easily be replicated by investors looking to create a chain of coliving spaces.

Cesar: Exactly. In coliving spaces, it’s crucial for someone to be there, providing an environment where people can bond and plan activities together.

Ben and Fabienne: That’s right. It’s important to facilitate relationships. Extroverts might find it easy to connect, but introverts might need a bit of encouragement. It’s about having facilitators who ensure everyone feels comfortable and at home, organizing activities like cooking together or hiking.

Cesar: There are many ‘colivings’ that feel more like residencies, where common spaces are shared, but the sense of community is lacking. I read a blog post that suggested grading colivings based on whether the owners know everyone’s names.

Ben and Fabienne: We saw that too. For us, knowing the names of everyone who stays with us is natural. We remember all the names of people who’ve stayed since we started in April. Creating a personal connection is fundamental to our approach.

Ben and Fabienne: We remember the names of everyone who’s stayed with us since April. It’s hard to imagine not knowing our guests personally.

Cesar: You guys live there, right?

Ben and Fabienne: Yes, of course. We’re involved in the daily life of the coliving.

Cesar: And organizing common activities is important, like your nightly family dinners. Providing a framework helps both extroverted and introverted guests.

Ben and Fabienne: As a long-term plan, we’re aware that it might become challenging for us personally to always be here. We hope to find the right people to facilitate exchanges in our absence. We’re not planning to leave permanently, but like everyone, we need vacations and time for ourselves. We’re conscious of finding the right balance. Running a coliving demands a lot of commitment, both physically and mentally. We’ve been the busiest we’ve ever been since starting this project, from early morning until late at night.

Cesar: It sounds like a socially demanding lifestyle.

Ben and Fabienne: Definitely. We have a TV in our apartment that we moved into in April, and it’s still not connected to the wifi. That’s how busy and engaged we are with the coliving.

Ben and Fabienne: Running the coliving is demanding, and we’re still figuring out how to manage our time effectively. We’re at the beginning of this adventure, investing all our energy into it. Eventually, we need to create systems to allow us some personal space.

Cesar: It makes sense to eventually step back a bit and see if the coliving can operate autonomously.

Ben and Fabienne: Exactly, a little detachment is necessary at some point.

Cesar: You’re still in the early phases of this journey.

Ben and Fabienne: Yes, that’s true.

Cesar: It’s been great having this conversation with you both. Before we wrap up, is there anything else you’d like to promote?

Ben and Fabienne: Well, for those interested in beer and hiking, we’ve created hiking itineraries that end at craft breweries. These guides are mainly in French, so they’re for those who are really passionate about beer and hiking.

Cesar: So, hiking first and then beers, right? Not the other way around.

Ben and Fabienne: Absolutely, the beer is the reward after the hike. We don’t have anything else to promote, but we’re thrilled to have been part of this first podcast episode. Good luck with your future episodes and the Mapmelon community.

Cesar: Thank you so much.

Ben and Fabienne: See you. Bye.


Learn more about Ben and Fabienne

πŸ“š Find Ben and Fabienne travel tips at their blog Novomonde

πŸ“Έ Follow Alpiness on Social Media

πŸ—“οΈ Book Alpiness at the best price with Mapmelon

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