Looking for a holiday that ticks everyone’s boxes? Here are five top reasons to stay in a yurt in écovallée (in the Dordogne, in southwest France), from someone who lives there all year round.

 

yurt camp

écovallée on a cloudy day, with the Play Yurt, Mustardseed, the outdoor kitchen and solar shower visible.

Lots of space

How would you like to swap your four walls for a 12.5-acre park, with a huge field surrounded by woods, overlooked by no one, a trampoline, Play Yurt, sand pit and more to entertain the kids? 

City-dwelling parents often realise they’ve never been more than a few feet from their children since the day they were born. In écovallée, they can be 100 yards (metres) away, with no worries at all. Toddlers can learn to walk on grassy slopes and up steps cut through the woods – it might be the first time they’ve experienced their natural habitat. 

If you are travelling without children, come during term time and enjoy the peace. Cars are not allowed in écovallée, and only a few planes fly over each day on their way to land at Bergerac, 20 minutes west. The rest of the time, it’s just you in a hammock made for two, buzzards circling in the midday heat, deer in the cool of the evening, and bats at dusk.

Letting your eyes rest on the trees in the breeze on the far side of the valley is as relaxing as watching the ocean. And the best news is, you’re already home for the night. If you’ve made the short trip down the hill to the medieval market town of Lalinde for supplies, you can relax and look forward to the evening show in the actual-sized planetarium.

rouffignac01

A few of the drawings you’ll see at nearby Rouffignac.

Human prehistory

You’ll be at home in the Dordogne in a way you’ve never been before – because the Dordogne and Vézère valleys are where we modern humans established ourselves as a species, about 40,000 years ago. Our ancestors sheltered in the limestone caves carved out by the retreating ocean that covered Aquitaine about 4,000,000 years before that. Some of these are decorated with images of the wildlife of the time. It’s incredible to stand a few inches from a painting that was created thousands of years ago, by the Michelangelo, Tony Hart or Banksy of the day.

The Vézére valley has 147 prehistoric sites and 25 decorated caves dating from the Paleolithic era. In 1979, UNESCO designated these a World Heritage Site, including the caves in Lascaux. (Lascaux II is a millimetre-accurate replica, which is well worth a visit.) Les Eyzies, with its cliffs overhanging the road, is an incredible place – and home to the national museum of prehistory. It’s not all primitive art, though. Other caves have magnificent rock formations and are naturally air conditioned – so great places to visit on a hot day.

There are too many caves to see in one trip, so you should plan ahead. Here’s a site that might help.

golden oriole

The golden oriole has the most exotic song you’ve ever heard. A real bird of paradise.

Rare birds

Nothing beats turning into the road towards écovallée and following a swooping green woodpecker down the hill. Or spotting a buzzard as it glides out of a tree, hoping the sound of your car will scare its next meal out of hiding. Every few weeks sees a rare or stunning bird come back to écovallée, like the hoopoe or golden oriole. At certain times, woodpeckers and cuckoos abound. At others, you drift off to sleep with owls hooting their presence to each other. Crossing the river on the way into Lalinde, you will see storks, ducks and swans. Hire a canoe for a microadventure upriver and you may even spot a kingfisher. 

solar shower

The big solar shower tank was new in 2015. Now everyone gets a hot shower whenever they want.

Low-impact living

Everything about écovallée has been created to minimise its environmental impact. The yurt frames are carbon positive (having re-grown since). The two outdoor kitchens are made using wood, rocks and pounded earth from écovallée, recycled fittings and furnishings, and are lit by solar fairy lights. The 160-litre solar shower drains into a reed bed and willow trench. The compost toilet and baby-changing area – a tree bog – will never need emptying. The fridge-freezer at reception runs on 100% renewable electricity. And the eggs and vegetables (when in season) are grown a few hundred metres down the field. 

Come and see how écovallée was made, pick up some ideas, and offer a few of your own. You may meet new friends who are on a similar path to yours. If you have enough friends already, why not bring some of them instead?

How to repair our pizza oven

Playing with mud – the pizza oven at reception during construction.

Try before you buy

Maybe you are thinking about getting off the hamster wheel of 21st-Century living. Perhaps you want to do something similar to écovallée. Or you’re considering buying a yurt as a studio, spare room, or home. Come and talk to Alex about the good and the bad. Find out what he would have done differently, knowing what he knows now, nine years after moving to rural France, and seven years after living in a yurt full time.

Yes, it’s beautiful. And peaceful. And warm. And it doesn’t rain all the time. And you stay fit. And healthy. And you get to live fully as a human being, in the environment we evolved to live in, with all your needs easily met. It’s perfect for a holiday, where you can unplug from the grid, and still hook up to WiFi if you must.

But could you live somewhere like écovallée 52 weeks of the year? Growing as much of your own food as you can? Cutting your own wood? Generating income to pay for life’s mandatories, like petrol, gloves and insurance? Right now, you can only guess that this lifestyle would suit you. The next step is to try it on for size.

For further details, visit ecovallee.com – there is still availability in all three yurts (two 18-foot yurts sleeping up to five and one 12-foot for a couple) for 2016. Book early to avoid having to stay somewhere else.

Years ago, I promised a compost toilet that looks like the kind of toilet you’d find in a luxury hotel. I think this probably does the job.


Can’t stop to chat. More photos coming soon(ish). Must go and turn some hay.

A few weeks ago, we bought a 28-metre string of solar fairy lights from Nigel’s Eco Store. Twenty-eight metres! That’s enough to go all the way round the snail-shell solar shower, then across to – and all the way around – the tree bog. Look:


Can’t see them? How about now:


Only one thing confuses me about these lights – and that’s this claim made on the box: “Up to 40 hours run time per night”.

I’m showing all the stages of the tree bog, because at least one reader is just about to start theirs and you never know who could glean what from my experience…


Having decided to use tongue and groove, I needed to add extra joists on either side of the seat to make sure the platform is solid. I also decided to make a wrap-around chute to encourage the processed food to gather in the right place, rather than just a urine guide at the front. The chute is stapled around the joists but stops above the straw to encourage airflow in the chamber (this is a key part of tree bog functioning from what I’ve read, but there aren’t many around and I’d love to have some feedback from people who know more about it).

Although there’s a good chance the chamber on the left will never fill up (we only have two yurts and are only open for a few months of the year), I’ve left the option to switch sides open because there’s NO WAY I’m going to want to play around down there after the tree bog opens for business in the next few days.


This is the dry fit of the seating area. I ended up using the same tongue-and-groove as the flooring instead of ply, partly because of the horrible glue used to make ply, partly because I didn’t know what finish to use so it could be cleaned easily, and partly because – at €39 per square metre – it was far too expensive. (Also, I think ply always looks a bit naff.)

On the left you’ll see some trim I’m going to use to finish the bog. I’ve never used trim before, but the pine is from trees only a couple of hours away from here and it should look excellent.

(It’ll also give me an easy headline for a blog post next week.)


Two coats of white-staining oil for the floor and some recycled tongue-and-groove, and we’re nearly there. I’ve got the toilet seat. You’re going to love the toilet seat.

This morning I had a superb brush with bureaucracy (nothing too exciting – it’s to do with a number plate), then picked up some decking pieces that meant I could spent the afternoon doing this:


Cutting flooring around posts with a blunt, antique coping saw could be easier, but if you don’t worry about how long it takes, it’s really not so bad. (I also got to use the rasp my dad gave me a few years ago. Rasps are cool.)