Combining Work, Play, and Community in the French Alps
Climate change was one of the main factors Plunkett McCullagh presented to his family when he pitched using part of the family’s inheritance from selling their countryside pub to found Heyday Chalet, a new co-living spot for digital nomads in Morzine, France.
While Morzine wasn’t as high up as some of the other resorts McCullagh looked at, he knew global warming would have to really accelerate for it not to have a ski season in 20 years. Morzine has both a winter season frequented by skiers and snowboarders, and a summer season popular with mountain bikers, white water rafters, climbers, and hikers; McCullagh reasoned that even if winters got shorter, summers would get longer.
McCullagh believes the nature of work will continue to be remote, and places like Heyday—where digital nomads and remote workers can drop in and have easy access not just to Wi-Fi, but to the outdoors and a built-in community—will be in demand. With more people staying single longer, McCullagh says they’re often keen to meet other interesting people on the road. “I loved the idea of like-minded, location independent people living, working and going on adventures together. I wanted to create a place where people can truly feel alive. Not wasting the best years of our lives on long city commutes,” said McCullagh.
At first, his family was skeptical. McCullagh had never owned a business before. “But he had an amazing business plan; he’d worked out all the figures,” said his sister, Maeve, who deferred starting a job at Ernst & Young as an actuarial consultant so she could spend the ski season with Plunkett in Morzine as a host at Heyday Chalet.
Family and business go hand in hand for the McCullaghs. The aforementioned countryside pub, Eddie’s, named after Plunkett’s grandfather, was in their family since 1821; the McCullaghs also had a farm, convenience store, sales yard for cows, and started a cafe. Plunkett’s father, Martin McCullagh, grew up above the bar. Plunkett McCullagh recalls the bar fondly—always full of music, and a place where everyone would gather after work in the small town of Greencastle. Whenever there was a wedding or a funeral in town, Eddie’s would offer free soup.
Plunkett McCullagh remembers sweeping up in the bar on Sundays starting when he was six. “I always knew I’d go into business and be my own boss,” says Plunkett McCullagh. “I was excited by the idea of ownership, building my own thing, investing in it.” As a kid, he was keen to play Monopoly, started reselling lollipops at school at the age of 12, and studied economics at Trinity College.
McCullagh was in Bangkok working at a fintech company when his father had an aneurysm. He rushed home to manage Eddie’s Bar while his father recovered, and one of his five siblings, James, also came back to help. Over four months running the bar, they realized they didn’t want to manage Eddie’s forever, and that none of the siblings wanted to take it on. The hardest part of selling the bar was telling the staff, he said—some of whom had worked there since before McCullagh was born.
McCullagh wanted to recreate the feeling of family and community from Eddie’s at Heyday Chalet—and a place for his own family. In addition to his sister Maeve, his brother James also came out to Heyday for a few months during the mountain biking season, and most of the family gathered at the chalet for Christmas.
“I love that we get to actually get to know the guests,” says Maeve McCullagh. “Hospitality is kind of traditional in most Irish families. You always want to welcome someone. All our friends say ‘you are always welcome when you come to the McCullagh house.’ Plunkett and I are quite similar in that way—we enjoy hosting.”
Now, the chalet is populated by ski holiday-ers, digital nomads, and remote workers. They ski in the morning, work in the afternoon, and gather for gourmet family-style dinners at the chalet a few times a week. “You’re in the very middle of the Portes du Soleil, the biggest ski zone in Europe, you’ll never get bored,” says McCullagh, “I like meeting new people, forming a community of like-minded people. I like having people with interesting, eclectic careers come together and become friends—you get very fruitful relationships.”
Tasha Prados is a bilingual and multicultural strategist with ten years of international project management and communications experience with the world’s leading brands, agencies, and organizations. As Founder and CEO of Duraca Strategic, Tasha helps nonprofits, small businesses, and entrepreneurs maximize their impact through business, branding, and marketing strategy consulting. Tasha became a digital nomad in 2019, and spends her free time indulging her passion for freelance writing. Follow her travels on Instagram at @t.prad.