Get back to nature: Alastair Sawday picks his favourite French getaways

A writer should seize the imagination in the opening sentence. Well, how about “a retired fishing boat that has become a cottage”, or “sleep in a sweet-smelling hayloft”? Irresistible. I want to be there immediately. If I still had young children I would haul them there in the full certainty that they would not want to leave. And I, of course, would be in intimate contact with my inner child, the one who once built elaborate dens in a similar hay loft.

These places are the stuff of dreams, from unique spots where an outdoor shower – screened by willows and beside a frothing stream – is the height of luxury, to the magic of a terrace in the treetops. Real luxury, rather than the ersatz, humdrum hotel-y kind, comes in all shapes and sizes.

 

To slip out of the cabin, straight into the lake for a pre-breakfast swim, and then idle away the day on the lake or in the woods, a book under one’s arm and wine in a knapsack – that is the sort of holiday that I remember. Or do I just dream of it?

For decades France has carried away most of the holiday prizes for British travellers. You need look no further than these places to find out why.

These properties can be booked through: Canopy & Stars: canopyandstars.co.uk

Earthship Perrine, Manche, Normandy

Earthship for six, from £70 a night

The Earthship: an extraordinary, extra- terrestrial-looking dwelling made of natural and recycled materials. Strangely beautiful, it’s built to an inspirational design and is the perfect living environment. The Earthship quietly collects and conserves energy and water, powering itself and filtering all waste. A jungly garden lines the interior corridor while the exterior showcases fruit trees, a wind turbine and stunning views of Normandy. Three big bedrooms, a bathroom and a large hobbitty kitchen and living area are tucked away under the hill. Castles, lakes, grottoes and wooded cycle paths mean there’s plenty to see in the surrounding area.

Normandy, France Earthship

Welcome aboard the Earthship for a first hand experience in sustainable living in the heart of Normandy, France

The Earthship: an extraordinary, extraterrestrial-looking dwelling made entirely of natural and recycled materials. Strangely beautiful, it’s built to an inspirational design and is the perfect sustainable living environment. The Earthship quietly collects and conserves energy and water, powering itself and filtering all waste, so all you have to do is live in it!

Looking at the Earthship from the outside, it’s unlike anything else – and the only one of its kind to rent in Europe. Despite being half-underground, huge, south-facing windows trap sunlight and, alone, can heat the structure to 14 degrees even in the depths of winter – the woodburner tops this up to ‘toasty.’ A jungly garden runs along the central corridor for year-round greenery (and sustenance), where mandarins, limes – even a banana palm – join the geraniums. Three big bedrooms, a bathroom and a large hobbitty kitchen and living area are tucked away under the hill. Everything here is super-efficient, from the SunFrost fridge to the water filtration systems that purify the kitchen tap. In fact, it gained a carbon emissions score of zero when assessed for its energy performance certificate.

Blackberries, raspberries and fruit trees grow outside; take the steps to the roof to find a wind turbine, the pebble rainwater trap, and lovely views of rural Normandy. Waterfall walks, rock climbing,woodland cycle paths and harvest-time ‘maize mazes’ make the region a great place for an adventurous break – and a guilt-free one too.


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