France's best treehouses

Enjoy a whole new perspective on the French countryside when you stay in a treehouse. Kate Thomas and Eve Middleton give us the low-down on the best places to stay if you have a head for heights

Enjoy a whole new perspective on the French countryside when you stay in a treehouse. Kate Thomas and Eve Middleton give us the low-down on the best places to stay if you have a head for heights...Chestnut charmWith a 180�-view over the Orne countryside, the two-bedroom treehouse at La Renardi�re has been constructed in the branches of a centuries-old chestnut tree. From €150 for one night with breakfast for two people sharing.La Renardi�re, 61130 Bellou-le-Trichard Tel: (Fr) 2 33 25 57 96,www.perchedansleperche.com

Sycamore styleThe cabane perch�e at the exclusive La Cour de R�mi hotel resort in the Pas-de-Calais rests four metres above the ground in an old sycamore tree. From €160 for one night with breakfast, based on two people sharing.La Cour de R�mi, 1 Rue Baillet, 62130 BermicourtTel: (Fr) 3 21 03 33 33,www.lacourderemi.comTreetop luxuryThe cabane at Maison Valvert lies inside a 15-hectare estate in the heart of Provence. Described as a luxury treehouse, it costs from €270 for one night with breakfast, based on two people sharing. Maison Valvert, Route de Marseille, 84480 Bonnieux Tel: (Fr) 4 90 75 61 71,www.maisonvalvert.com

Luberon pick Set in the vibrant Luberon valley, the cabane at the Bastide du Bois Br�ant is open from March through to November. Prices start from €100 for one night including breakfast, based on two people sharing.La Bastide du Bois Br�ant, 501 Chemin du Puits-de-Grandaou, 84660 MaubecTel: (Fr) 4 90 05 86 78www.hotel-bastide-bois-breant.com

Champagne treatChoose from five elegantly furnished tree houses for a relaxing stay, seven metres off the ground and 15 kilometres from Bordeaux. Natura Cabana prides itself on the charm of its cosy huts, adapted to the trees in which they sit. A night is priced at €145 for a 3/4 person group, but with the €180 couple tariff you also receive a bottle of champagne and a bouquet of flowers upon arrival. Make the most of the romantic getaway by booking yourself a full body massage at an additional fee. Wake up to the sound of birds and breakfast delivered in a basket on the terrace. Natura Cabana, 75 Rue la Fontaine, Le Pian M�doc, 33290 Gironde  Tel: (Fr) 5 56 96 85 41, www.naturacabana.fr

Little windmillBrittany boasts a surprisingly large selection of treehouses, but Le Petit Moulin du Rouvre is one of the best. Located near Rennes and Saint-Malo, the 17th-century windmill is good value for money at €108 for two people, with a selection of tranquil treehouses dotted around its grounds. Perfect for those seeking a more comfortable experience, traditional French food and a selection of the best wines are offered by the windmill’s hosts at dinner and the amenities in the huts are comfortable. Le Petit Moulin du Rouvre, 35720 Saint-Pierre-de-PlesguenTel: (Fr) 2 99 73 85 84,  www.aumoulindurouvre.comKing of the swingers Each of the four treehouses at the Orion B&B are named after characters from The Jungle Book and are suitable for two to five people. Prices start at €650 for four nights midweek, based on two people sharing.Orion B&B, Impasse des Peupliers,2436 Chemin du Malvan, 06570 Saint-Paul-de-VenceTel: (Fr) 6 75 45 18 64,www.orionbb.comNew heightsSensation-seekers only need apply for the Cabanes des Grands Lacs’ 12-metre-high tree house, complete with 16-metre-high observatory. The spectacular view over the Franche Comt� countryside is well worth the effort needed to reach the cabin, which can only be accessed by ladder and zip wire. A guide will take you through the motions safely, but the experience is recommended for over-16s and sport lovers only. The cost is €111 for two people, or choose from a selection of eight other treetop houses in this 150-hectare aquatic domain. Adventure-lovers can take part in the many water sports on offer such as canoeing or swimming.Les Cabanes des Grands Lacs, La Forge de Bonnal, 70230 Chassey-les-Montbozon Tel: (Fr) 3 84 77 06 72, www.cabanesdesgrandslacs.com Woodland retreatLive out your childhood fantasies and stay in les Cabanes de Labrousse, the first tree house village in the heart of the Ard�che forest. The authentic natural experience takes you back to basics as you stay in a remote and idyllic part of the wood. Breakfast is served at the foot of your tree and the rate is €98 for two people. Take your pick from a selection of eight large and simply furnished cabins, including three family-friendly ones, and enjoy the peace and quiet of this holiday retreat.Le Grand Bouveyron, 07160 Saint-Julien-Labrousse  Tel: (Fr) 4 75 58 15 14, www.cabanes-ardeche.com Shady spotThe treehouse at Les �curies de Kerbalan is set in a field near the main house and is accessed by a fixed staircase. Prices start at €95 for one night, based on two people sharing.Les �curies de Kerbalan, 22290 Gommenec’h Tel: (Fr) 2 96 52 32 11, www.lesecuriesdekerbalan.comA night to remember

What’s it like staying in a treehouse? Marina Gask and sons find out...In a world where we’ll soon be able to order a Happy Meal while queuing to see La Joconde at the Louvre, it’s difficult to imagine how the march of time and progress can improve upon cherished sites from our past. But in the case of Domaine des Ormes, a holiday resort in Brittany, the addition of treehouses large enough for a family to sleep in can hardly be viewed as a downgrade. Or at least, that’s what I’m hoping.

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It’s 28 years since I last set foot in Les Ormes, yet I hardly recognise it. Back then it was just a campsite, albeit a huge one. A courier for a British camping holiday company, I developed a close and fond relationship with both the rain-soaked woods and the staff, who were endlessly amused by the travails of les anglaises as we baled out rain-flooded tents and caravans. Returning all these years later with my two boys, Dylan, aged ten and Freddie, six, I expect to be overwhelmed with nostalgia, but in truth there’s not a lot that looks familiar apart from the river that still, reassuringly, runs through it. Les Ormes is now a huge holiday complex with g�tes, apartments, clubhouse, a hotel, disco and more fancy facilities than you could shake a tent peg at. But of course, the boys don’t care. They’re sleeping in a treehouse tonight.I have visions of us huddled up in bed together, peering out into the woodland darkness and scaring each other deliciously with ghost stories and the creepy noises that will no doubt surround us. Their treehouse visions, from the sound of it, involve Bart Simpson catapulting frogs at Homer from on high. They’re city kids who may have climbed the odd tree but they’re not used to treetop adventures.

Driving around the extensive woods at Les Ormes, in every direction you look, it seems, you can glimpse treehouses. There are cabanes �chelle, nestling high up in the trees and accessible only by rope ladder, or cabanes tyrolienne, even higher up, to which entry can only be achieved after completing a mini adventure course involving zip lines and a suspended net. Luckily there are more sedate versions for families with kids under 12, and I breathe a sigh of relief as we are shown to our cabane familiale junior, a set of two treehouses accessible by spiral wooden staircase and a trap door. Not quite dangerous enough as far as Dylan and Freddie are concerned, but pretty exciting nonetheless.

Our treehouses are set in a small, woody area next to the cricket pitch. The cabanes en l’air are the brainchild of Arnaud de la Chesnais, son of the owner of Les Ormes who spent his childhood close to nature, roaming the woods at Les Ormes, and dreamt of giving people the opportunity to escape the modern world as he could. Clearly the chance to experience the French countryside up close has enormous appeal – in just six years more than 100 treehouses have sprung up around France, particularly in northwest and mid-France. Ours are large, sturdy wooden structures with tapered roofs perched on a wooden platform that serves as a little terrace, complete with a breakfast table and chairs and enclosed by a metal safety fence. The houses have small carved windows in the shape of squirrels and half-moons, covered with transparent plastic to protect against the draughts.

My first job, in the dying light, is to unpack the sports bags provided by the staff and make the beds – real beds. A necessity, I decide, as the cool-ish spring day has turned into a decidedly chilly evening – we’ll need all the layers we can get. Meanwhile the boys investigate the facilities, giggling at the thought of using a toilet that doesn’t flush (but does have a wooden seat). Apparently a sprinkle of wooden shavings from the bowl provided neutralises any odours.

Night is now falling, so after poulet frites from the plats � emporter, I light the candle lamps. Then, teeth brushed in the sanitation block five minutes away, we make our way back up the spiral staircase to our very own treehouse. The wind’s whistling up a fair storm now, and our treetop is creaking and swaying, so we pile on the sleeping bags and snuggle down for the night.

At 5am I’m woken by the sound of birdsong coming from a place apparently right by my head. Not just one bird but seemingly dozens of them, tweeting away for all they’re worth in their own little private woody world. It’s an amazing moment and I lie there peacefully, enjoying the cacophony, praying the boys don’t wake up just yet.

But, three hours later there’s another treat in store and it’s one worth shaking them awake for. Breakfast comes in a hand-delivered basket when you stay in a cabane en l’air, which you haul up from ground level using a pulley system.

This is exciting beyond words, and unpacking the mini pains au chocolat and chocolat chaud and laying out our picnic on the table, the boys pronounce it the best breakfast they’ve ever had.

Packing up, I ask the boys what they’ve enjoyed most about their overnight treetop adventure. “Doing something different.”  “Cuddling up together in the dark,” and “breakfast” were their replies. And me? I think the addition of treehouses to the Domaine des Ormes will appeal to nature-lovers, thrill-seekers and hopeless romantics alike. Allowing visitors to get close to the acres of dense, mossy woods that I explored all those years ago gives a sense of being a million miles away from the modern world – ironic really, when the modern world has clearly come to Les Ormes.

Domaine des Ormes, La Cabane en l’Air, Epiniac, 35120 Dol-de-Bretagne Tel: (Fr) 2 99 73 53 53, www.lacabaneenlair.com    Adventure trailLe Ch�ne Perch� is a unique outdoor experience in the Signy-l’Abbaye forest in the Champagne-Ardenne region. There’s something to suit all tastes and ages as you explore the woods on an activity– packed journey by foot or by bike. Experienced guides will assist you along acrobatic woodland trails, educational nature rambles or even help with a spot of fishing. Your adventure ends with a night in one of four treetop houses, including La Ruche which can accommodate up to eight people and has no minimum age restrictions. The park is situated in Domaine de la V�n�rie, which has been recently renovated to cater for those seeking an authentic outdoor experience. Le Ch�ne Perch�, Domaine de la V�n�rie, Tel: (Fr) 3 24 53 35 62, www.lecheneperche.com Rh�ne viewsThe treehouse at Mamouna et Cabanotte can take up to four people. Set apart from the main house, it has views over the Rh�ne countryside. Prices start at €130 for one night with breakfast based on two people sharing.Mamouna et Cabanotte, Le Bayard, 69150 ThurinsTel: (Fr) 4 78 19 10 83,www.cabanotte.fr

MORE INFORMATIONCabanes de France www.cabanes-de-france.com For cabanes available in each region of France.H�tels Insolites www.hotels-insolites.com/dans-une-cabane.dormirLes Cabaneswww.lescabanes.com Website listing treehouses across France.Founded in 2000 by Alain Laurens, La Cabane Perch�e has become Europe’s leading company in treehouse architecture. Under the guidance of a highly skilled team, La Cabane Perch�e has built more than 200 treehouses across Europe. Here, Alain talks to Eve Middleton about the company and the work it undertakesWhy do you think treehouses have become popular in France? I think it’s because people want to reconnect to their childhood – all of us have built a den at some point when we were little. Now people who have the money to spend on an outbuilding want to revive that feeling of freedom you get when you’re a child.

Where is your favourite treehouse?My favourite is mine! It’s the first one we built as a company ten years ago. When it comes to the ones we’ve constructed, I tend to prefer the really high up treehouses, as for me that’s the true spirit of a treehouse. It has to be small and cosy, and then you can put all your treasures in it and have a unique space all to yourself – just like when you were a child.

What types of trees are good for treehouses?All the big trees – oaks, plane trees, lime trees, cedar trees. If our clients don’t own a big tree then we build exactly the same treehouse, but just with the addition of stilts to give it more support. In fact, most of the treehouses that are built as rental properties have to be on stilts to support the weight of a bathroom with plumbing, which can be very heavy.

What is the highest tree house you have constructed?It was at a height of 15 metres, and it was for a private client near Paris. Normally they are built between 12 and 15 metres, so to have one at the upper end of the spectrum is really an achievement. It’s more difficult when they are really high up, as we never cut a tree’s branches, nor do we nail the tree house on to the tree. We use alternative suspension techniques, which become increasingly difficult the higher the tree is. It also means that we have to revisit and adapt structures in several years’ time when the tree has grown.

Do you have any celebrity clients?We constructed an extensive treehouse for a very famous actress, but I am sworn to secrecy! It was a great honour though. We have also designed treehouses for the French singer Renaud and the photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand.

How did you become a treehouse designer?This is my second career – I originally studied economics at university, and worked in advertising until I was 50 years old. I wanted a new career, and to start completely from scratch – I had read Le Baron Perch� (The Baron in the Trees) by Italo Calvino, which is about a man who spends his life in the trees. It is a metaphor for independence, and I was inspired. It is a marvellous book. BUILD YOUR OWN TREEHOUSEwww.cabane-nature.frBuilt on demand by architects, €12,000-€55,000.www.la-cabane-perchee.com120 treehouses tailored to the trees in which they were built and to their owners’ tastes.