On 1 July 1838, a young girl named Marie-Louise was born in the small village of Samoëns. Far from the hustle and bustle of the capital, she grew up raising goats before leaving at the age of 16 for the adventure of a lifetime. Far from suspecting her destiny, Marie-Louise founded one of the most famous department stores, La Samaritaine, without ever forgetting her native region.

A childhood in Samoëns, on the borders of Haute-Savoie

Marie-Louise Cognacq-Jaÿ was born in the heart of the hamlet of Villard in Samoëns, in the former Duchy of Savoy, on 1 July 1838. Born into a modest family of 8 children, her father and grandfather being bricklayers, Marie-Louise kept goats on the mound of the present botanical garden during her adolescence. At the age of 16, like many young Savoyards at the time, she was sent to Paris to find work. As a saleswoman in the “La Nouvelle Héloïse” shop, she met her future husband, Ernest Cognacq. Originally from Saint-Martin de Ré, on the island of the same name, he too became a salesman in the same shop in 1856. After losing touch with each other for fifteen years, Ernest, who had opened a small business called “La Samaritaine“, proposed to Marie-Louise, then the first saleswoman in the clothing department of the “Bon Marché”.

Samoëns carte ancienne

La Samaritaine, the famous shop of the Cognacq-Jaÿ couple

After marrying on 17 January 1872, the couple devoted their entire lives to their shop, even working 14 hours a day. The success of “La Samaritaine” was not long in coming, their rise was prodigious, transforming this small shop into a veritable sales empire. In 1970, a century after the purchase of the first premises, it had 4 buildings, a mail order company, gigantic warehouses, 8,000 employees and more than 50,000 m2 of shelves in 1925.

This success, although dazzling, did not make the couple forget their childhood and their social concerns, which were as important as the development of their shop at that time. As early as 1914, the company gave half of its capital to the employees and gave them 65% of the profits each year. The other half of the capital belongs to the couple’s foundation, Cognacq-Jaÿ, founded in 1916, to enable them to finance social works and enrich the heritage of Samoëns among other things.

Marie-Louise Cognacq-Jaÿ, the Good Samaritan of Samoëns

The native of Samoëns, although expatriated to Paris, never forgot the small village where she was born. Marie-Louise created a mountain garden on the very spot where she kept her goats and turned it into a real haven of peace, which was inaugurated on 3 September 1906. On the day of this inauguration, she gave the garden to the commune, which is assisted in its management by the National Museum of Natural History and the Cognacq-Jaÿ Foundation. Designed by the Geneva architect Jules Allemand, the Jaÿsinia garden required two years of work and the know-how of 200 workers to create a 3.7 hectare garden. Classified as a Remarkable Garden of France, it is now scientifically managed by the National Museum of Natural History and has a laboratory open to scientists. In 1916, Marie-Louise and Ernest Cognacq-Jaÿ created a foundation working in the social sector. Since its creation, this foundation’s mission has been to support charitable works with the creation of a maternity hospital, an old people’s home, a nursery taking care of employees’ children, an orphanage, holiday camps at the sea or in the mountains for employees’ children, a museum or a house for a doctor in Samoëns.

In Samoëns, in the footsteps of Marie-Louise Cognacq-Jaÿ

Today, Samoëns offers you the opportunity to discover the life of Marie-Louise Cognacq-Jaÿ and her works by walking through the paths of the Jaÿsinia garden and contemplating more than 5,000 plants and flowers from the mountainous areas of the five continents. This green setting, crossed by a mountain stream and a waterfall, will make you appreciate the jewels of the region and its surrounding landscapes. The ruined castle of La Tornalta, in the heart of the garden, and its 18th century chapel, are a must-see during your walk through this haven of peace.



Botanical Garden

Garden open from 01/05 to 30/11, every day.

From 8am to 12pm and from 1.30pm to 7pm.

Closed in winter due to snow.

Free access


For more information:

Alpine Botanical Garden “La Jaÿsinia”

Tel: +33 (0)4 50 34 49 86

Mail :christian.chauplannaz@mnhn.fr


Find us and contact us easily!

Samoëns Tourist Office

66, place de l’Office de Tourisme – 74340 SAMOËNS

Tel : +33 (0)4 50 34 40 28

Mail : infos@samoens.com

Open every day from 9am to 12pm and from 2.30pm to 6.30pm