Alexandra David-Néel

Alexandra David-Néel

Have you ever heard the incredible story of Alexandra David-Néel, a Franco-Belgian figure who, as early as the 19th century, travelled across the world?

Alexandra David-Néel was born in Saint-Mandé, on the outskirts of Paris in 1868. Her mother was Belgian and Catholic, her father French and Protestant. Her father, having been banished from the education system because of his republican ideas, fled France with his family and went into exile in Belgium, settling in Ixelles. Alexandra was only 6 years old. Much later, she would declare: "Brussels is almost my homeland. As a little Parisian girl of less than six years old, I arrived there bristling with mistrust and disdain, determined to sulk at the capital”.

Very early on, she showed a keen interest in discovery and travel, which was evident when, as a child, she would run away to the Bois de Vincennes!

"It is strange and inconceivable for people to become attached to a place, like oysters to their bed, when there is so much to see in the world and so many horizons to enjoy".

She studied song and piano at the Brussels Conservatory, but shone in many disciplines - as an orientalist, tibetologist, opera singer, journalist and writer. Curious by nature, she frequented anarchist and feminist circles and converted to Buddhism at the age of 21. She explored the Netherlands and England, and then left Europe to tour, among other places, Indochina and Tunis as an opera singer.

She remains known for having explored India, where, in a monastery in 1914, she met the young Aphur Yongden, whom she adopted. They decided to retreat to a hermit's cave at an altitude of more than 4000 metres! After visiting Korea and China together, they ended up in Tibet. Alexandra was, in 1924, the first European woman ever to have stayed there.

Aged only 78, she returned to France for a more sedentary life. She passed away at almost 101 years of age!