As soon as I leave Choranche and drive to the south, I move from the Isère department into the Drôme. The first village, just over the border, is Sainte-Eulalie, whose simple church looks down on nearby Pont-en-Royans, on the opposite side of the River Vernaison.
At first sight, it looks like an old construction of Romanesque style. In fact, it's a relatively modern church, completed in 1859. Opposite the church, there's a municipal laundry trough, whose non-stop gushing fountain receives water from a vigorous mountain spring.
With its elegant roof of flat scallop-shaped tiles, the wash house looks as if it's straight out of the Middle Ages. The fountain, trough and cylindrical columns may well date from the early 20th century, when local folk really washed their clothes in public. As for the timber-framed tiled roof, it took about a week to construct, and it's exactly a fortnight old. I was able to follow the work with interest whenever I drove past on my way to the small supermarket at Saint-Jean-en-Royans.
Village records are much more ancient than the church and the public wash house, since Sainte-Eulalie was first mentioned in 1086.
Ever since Napoléon, France has been divided into about a hundred geographical and administrative areas known as départements. When you drive over the border between one department and the next, it's a little like changing states. For example, although Sainte-Eulalie is no more than a couple of kilometers below Gamone, I have the impression that I've left the Alps and moved into southern France. Today, if I'm somewhat nostalgic about this notion of departments, it's because a brilliant intellectual named Jacques Attali has just published a white paper, for Sarkozy, suggesting that this old-fashioned breakdown should be abolished.