Break Outside the Box: Fantastical Self-Catering Retreats in France
There’s nothing like a home from home. With designers persistently upping the ante, why settle for vanilla digs when you could stay somewhere extraordinary? Rhiannon Rees looks at the properties that are taking self-catering retreats to the next level
DOMAINE DE LA PIERRE RONDE
You don’t need to be a Tolkien fan to fall head over heels for Hobbiton. The fictional village is every nature lover’s dream: a plunging green landscape freckled with trees and curious grassy knolls – and beneath these knolls, the cosiest dens one could imagine, marked by circular doors and tiny porthole windows.
In the (very real) Morvan Regional Natural Park, Burgundy, you’ll find France’s answer to Bag End. Run by entrepreneurial couple Yannick Boisfard and Gaëlle Lajugée, Domaine de la Pierre Ronde offers a range of fun and fantastical accommodation, from yurts to hobbit homes. Hidden in the thickets, Tirquiet is the perfect option for couples looking to venture off the beaten path. Positioned near Lake Chamboux on the woodland fringes (and, of course, tucked under a small hill), it comes with a double bed, snug living room and gorgeous bath tub for long, blissful soaks. A stone’s throw away, Tirquiet’s big sister, Sbot, is designed for larger parties. With two double beds, a single bed, large feasting table and plenty of games, it’s the perfect family getaway.
Well, almost perfect. No matter how thoroughly you may poke around the many nooks and crannies of these wee dwellings, you won’t find a fridge or kitchen anywhere. Meal options are available, but for the self-sufficient traveller it’s an invitation to be creative. Whether or not you truly get into character by baking some Lembas bread for the road, there’s plenty of scope to enjoy food brought from home. Alternatively, why not take advantage of the on-site barbecue? There’s no simpler pleasure in life than cooking up a storm with loved ones on a balmy summer’s eve.
Tirquiet: From €155. Sbot: From €150. www.domainedelapierreronde.com
‘Industrial chic’ would best describe Villa Cheminée in Cordemais, Nantes. Inspired by the town’s cloud-piercing power station – nicknamed ‘Le Château de Fer’ (The Iron Castle) – this 15-metre-high replica is a striking stamp on the Loire riverbank. Perhaps most bizarre, though, is the humble, canary-yellow gîte squatting at its summit. Like something plucked from a fantasy cartoon, this whimsical set-up is the brainchild of Tatzu Nishi, a world-renowned installation artist with boundless imagination and an eye for the enchanting.
Available to rent all year round, Villa Cheminée has plenty to offer couples or solo travellers seeking an independent holiday with a twist. Sleeping two, the homely space provides all the amenities you’d need for a weekend spell away. Downstairs, there’s a shower and bathroom facilities, plus a small fitted kitchen with table and chairs, so you can indulge in as much or as little cooking as you like.
Breakfast is included, but for the rest of the day there’s a wealth of options. Restaurant À l’Ancre de Marine in Cordemais serves eel, pike-perch and other tantalising fish if you fancy eating out, and you’ll find supermarkets in neighbouring Saint-Étienne-de-Montluc – not to mention Nantes, which is just a 40-minute drive away.
Of course, the crowning glory of this accommodation is its views. From the tower’s lofty heights, guests can revel in a breathtaking panorama of the Loire Valley – there’s even a small garden and viewing deck! It’s a far cry from some of the greener entries on this list, but Villa Cheminée offers a unique perspective. We just love that a power station, of all things, inspired such a breath of fresh air!
From €99. www.nantes-tourisme.com/villa-cheminee
Perhaps you’d rather set your sights on a more cosmopolitan getaway? City breaks present a less isolated experience with amenities right on your doorstep. For something a bit different, consider this unusual tower in Vieux Lyon, the city’s old (and still very much beating) heart. This beautiful Renaissance district is peppered with eateries (you can hardly move for cosy cafés and restaurants!) and there are plenty of outdoor food markets and grocery shops, too, so you’ll never be caught short of options for your next meal. The neighbourhood also has its fair share of bakeries, so you can stroll out le matin for a fresh, warm loaf.
The flat itself is a fresh, modern space spread out across four floors – which is exactly what makes it so special. Serviced by a lift to the fourth floor, you can also expect a sweeping stone staircase winding from the door to the bedroom. On the fifth floor, a modest 9m2 room provides impressive rooftop views right across Old Lyon’s heavenly symphony of reddish, earthy roof tiles and beyond. The mezzanine bathroom sits on the sixth, and at the top is the crux of this urban retreat: an inviting living room with a television, office space with wi-fi, and an unbroken view of the city. From the office window, you’ll spy the Hôtel de Ville and its belfry, the dome of the Opéra and the Croix-Rousse, so you’re always pleasantly reminded of your location (which is nothing short of outstanding).
The kitchenette comes with a fridge-freezer, oven and dishwasher, and the table sits squarely before the two south windows, so you can tuck into your meals with the Cathedral Saint-Jean in plain sight. Magical.
From €80. www.latour-lyon.com
LA HUTTE GAULOISE
If there’s ever an occasion to revisit the heady days of youth, it’s on holiday, and this time we’re looking skywards for inspiration. Believe it or not, tree houses – cabanes dans les arbres – are springing up all across France as the latest holidaying trend, whether perched on stilts or wrapped so gracefully around a tree trunk that they appear to be a natural part of the landscape.
La Hutte Gauloise is a pedigree example of the Hexagon’s beloved tree cabins. Nestled amongst the boughs, it’s one of Domaine Arvor’s many extraordinary digs in Lanvallay, Brittany. This luxury hut sits at six metres above ground, peering out across the entire estate. It accommodates up to five people and its insulating thatched roof and electricity means it can be inhabited in all seasons, so you can whisk the flock away at your whim.
Even with the biting kiss of winter gales, you can stay deliciously toasty thanks to the private hot tub sitting outside on the terrace, with a temperature of 37 degrees, as well as the hot shower and sink. There’s a microwave, too, so there’s no stopping you grabbing some comfort grub and heating it up ready to tuck into while admiring the view.
This truly is somewhere to head for a new perspective on living spaces. Gazing out across the green and the tree tops, drinking in the clean air and listening to the wind tickling the leaves, you’ll wonder why you don’t do this more often.
From €235. www.domaine-arvor.com
At first glance, they seem to be an art installation outside Bordeaux (they were conceived by contemporary art producer Zébra3, after all).
A wise triumvirate huddling together, guarding the waters beyond, these wooden owls instantly pique one’s curiosity. Look more closely: those wide peepers are portals into a snug cubbyhole; and at night, warm light spills out of these near-supernatural guardians.
These owls are, in fact, designed as temporary living spaces, with three floors, circular white beds, and an adjoined boardwalk overlooking the nearby wetlands. It’s a charming take on modern accommodation, though don’t expect any frills and luxury – this is self-catering holiday accommodation in its rawest form. There’s no electricity, running water or white goods. All you have is a wooden space to rest your head and gaze up at the stars.
The wise owls are the Guetteurs; the Look-outs. And the best thing of all about them? They’re completely free to book.
From France Today magazine
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