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

view gallery VIEW GALLERY


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:

The Hayloft, Suze, Burgundy

Sleeps two, £45 a night. Extra children (with sleeping bags) £10 per night.

Sleep in a sweet-smelling hayloft in a working barn, originally a 14th-century French presbytery. It's a hayloft fit for a discerning guest, with a hand-painted mural on the wall, vases of fresh flowers and, of course, plenty of hay. The hay itself is covered by canvas and then authentic French linen sheets, bedding, blankets, and pillows – and what it lacks in minibars and trouser presses it makes up for in romantic charm. You are welcome to join Anna, who's a wonderful cook, in preparing dinner, and pick up some tips over a glass of wine from her seriously good cellar. Your shower is another marvel: an outdoor willow-screened affair by the river, shared with the other unusual bed, Kingfisher Deck.

La Caloge, Kastell Dinn, Brittany

Sleeps two, £85 a night with breakfast.

A retired fishing boat that now has a roof of thatch, and looks even more at home on land than at sea. It's been transformed into a gorgeous, nautical-themed space for two, with little touches of the sea everywhere – there's even an old mast standing in the middle. It sits in the garden of a B&B run by Pierre and Patricia, who will give you breakfast in the morning and make sure everything's shipshape. Right on the coast, this is the place to come to fill your lungs with sea air, and there's a stylish shared kitchen good for steaming a kilo of mussels. It's an unusual place to stay in a picturesque region.

Kingfisher Deck, Suze, Burgundy

Sleeps two, £85 a night

A real first: Anna, the owner, has collaborated with a local artist to create the Kingfisher Deck, a double bed in the outdoors on a deck next to a bubbling stream. In case of raindrops, she's set up a canopy floating overhead, and for privacy there's some discreet willow screening around you, but otherwise you'll feel like the whole of the outdoors is your bedroom. The same craftsman has constructed an outdoor washing space – also screened – so you can shower in the open air, and you can barbecue too if you wish, so you need never go inside at all. Bring your sketchpad and spend some lazy hours exploring Suze.

Châteaux dans les Arbres, Dordogne

Three treehouses, sleeping two to six people, from £180 a night.

Rémi is a master craftsman who has built his reputation constructing treehouses throughout France. The noble trio at Châteaux dans les Arbres – Hautefort, Monbazillac and Milandes – show a sophisticated approach to cabins in the trees. All three are constructed in the style of traditional French châteaux, one of which once stood on this very site. They're amazing constructions with old-fashioned interiors and big terraces, with a hot tub in case you fancy a dip under the stars. There's nothing you'll miss from a hotel here – there are coffee machines, a chef on hand, and beautiful bedrooms. The real châteaux of the Dordogne are very close, as are the famous caves of Lascaux with their fascinating prehistoric art.

La Maison Ronde, Dordogne

Roundhouse for two, from £55 a night

A glorious, romantic roundhouse in south-west France – truly a bizarre find, tucked among the curves of a French country garden. The walls of the roundhouse are dotted with recycled bottles of coloured glass, sending shafts of red, blue and green light into its cosy, rustic interior. You have a simple, private kitchen, shower and loo down at the site, and there are stunning views over the hills of the Dordogne to enjoy. Hester, your host, keeps free-range bantams and can point you towards the sights and activities of the area – there are lakes for swimming, lanes for walking, villages to explore – but the estate itself is a relaxed one, a truly romantic escape with peace, quiet and starry skies.

La Folie, La Serve, Rhône

Tower for two, from £60 a night

La Folie is a beautifully furnished tower at the top of an old house which combines the calm and beauty of the surrounding French landscape with the Indian-themed decorations and trinkets inside. Inspired by Pascal and Pascaline's travels and set in beautiful gardens, its hand-carved balcony looks over the rolling hills and forests spreading out below you. This quiet, unusual house festooned with prayer flags makes you feel on the very top of the world. Ask for one of Pascaline's picnics and then take the opportunity to explore the numerous footpaths leading directly from La Serve; alternatively there are plenty of outdoor activities in the area, which is famous for its light red Beaujolais. Make sure you leave space in your car to take home a bottle or two.

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.

La Palombière Treehouse, Bordeaux, Gironde

Treehouse for five (two adults + three children), from £210 a night

Set in the grounds of a château, this red cedar and Douglas fir creation in the trees looks out over the vineyards of Eric's estate, which grow grapes for red Bordeaux. From the enchanting chandelier in the wood and the canopied bed set with fairy lights, to the mezzanine level complete with giant beanbags and a trap door, there's something to dazzle all. Breakfast is served on the terrace with views over rolling hillsides, and dinner can be found in a restaurant nearby – Le Robinson, on the river. Also Eric can stock the fridge with chilled champagne, or anything else (made of grapes) you please.

La Cabushe, Chez Devalon, Dordogne

Yurt for two, from £65 a night

The peaceful, rolling, rural scenes of the Dordogne are the perfect setting for this natural canvas yurt, handmade by Wendy and Matt, who are experts in willow working. A bottle of wine and homemade cake welcome you to this unspoilt spot, perfect for a lazy summer holiday in the outdoors. Stay at Chez Devalon for wide open spaces, huge skies for stargazing, and captivating countryside all around; a cosy yurt to go back to, and incredibly friendly hosts who'll make you feel part of a little community here. La Cabushe is off-grid, and has its own private kitchen, outdoor shower and green compost loo.

Fisherman's Cabin, Dordogne

Cabin for four, from £70

Sit on the deck with a fishing rod and see if you can bring yourself to catch the tame carp that lark about alongside the Fisherman's Cabin. This gorgeous little shack on the water's edge has everything you need to amuse yourselves; nature guides, art materials, games and books, a private raft to paddle about on the lake and miles of woodland to explore. The hide in the trees will let you get close to wild deer, shy birds, and the odd mushroom forager. There's one double bedroom downstairs, and a snug twin in the attic looks over the water. Nearby markets are overflowing with produce, some little gems of restaurants too. Bring your own canoe.

The surrealist comedian at the Q Awards in 2010
Life and Style
Six of the 76 Goats' cheese samples contained a significant amount of sheep's cheese
food + drink
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to US
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidates on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
New look: Zellweger at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday

Actress sees off speculation about her face in an amazing way


Florida mother launched a petition to ban the sale of the dolls

Arts and Entertainment

Marvel has released first teaser trailer week early after it leaked online

Life and Style
CHARGE BOOSTER: Aeroplane mode doesn't sound very exciting, but it can be a (phone) hacker's friend. Turning on the option while charging your mobile will increase the speed at which your phone battery charges
techNew book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone
Christiano Ronaldo enjoys his opening goal
champions leagueLiverpool 0 Real Madrid 3: Ronaldo and Benzema run Reds ragged to avenge thrashing from their last visit to Anfield
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
Call me Superman: one of many unusual names chosen by Chinese students
newsChinese state TV offers advice for citizens picking a Western moniker
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Wilko Johnson is currently on his farewell tour
Let’s pretend: KidZania in Tokyo
educationKidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day
'Irritatingly Disneyfied': fashion vlogger Zoella
voicesVicky Chandler: Zoella shows us that feminism can come in all forms
Life and Style
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    SCRUM Master

    £30 - 50k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a SCRUM Master to joi...

    Franchise Support Assistant

    £13,520: Recruitment Genius: As this role can be customer facing at times, the...

    Financial Controller

    £50000 - £60000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: A successful entertainment, even...

    Direct Marketing Executive - Offline - SW London

    £25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A fantastic opportunity h...

    Day In a Page

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
    Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

    'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

    The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
    Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

    Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

    A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
    The 10 best smartphone accessories

    Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

    Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

    Liverpool v Real Madrid

    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
    West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?