Two days after I decided to close écovallée, I met someone who told me she had been asked to keep an eye out for a venue in France for yoga and meditation retreats. Which planted the seed of an idea that grew quite fast.

This idea is now a seedling strong enough to plant out…

In 2017, écovallée will re-launch as venue for healing retreats, courses and seminars. It is clear that the world needs healing more than holidays – and I can’t think of a better use for this land than as a centre for personal (and global) development.

Here is a short document aimed at those looking for a low-impact place in which to explore the ways in which we can have a positive impact on our planet. Please feel free to retweet and share widely:

the écovallée venue (pdf)

I am leaving this blog online, because it contains some useful information, but this will be my last post. My journey continues and I am travelling light. Thank you for being a reader and I wish you all the best in the years ahead.

With love, Alex.

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I’ve had some enquiries in the last couple of days for short(ish) stays in July and August. Now, there’s always been a one-week minimum stay in those months… But… Seeing as it’s écovallée’s last year as a campsite…

There are now no booking rules. In other words, now there’s a new no-rule booking rule. You’ve read it here first. I’ll change the booking.com and airbnb parameters when I get a moment. (The sun’s come out and I’ve got some catching up to do before temperatures hit the 30s on Wednesday.)

Obviously, the longer you stay here, the better for everyone. And, if you’re paying the €20 per person to use the sheets and towels here, it makes sense to stay as long as possible. See you later.

Facebook Likers already know this year’s HUGE news – that the écovallée yurt camp will be closing at the end of this season. To help it go out in style, I have slashed the prices and extended the season until the end of October.

Here are the new – and final – prices, if you want to come and experience the fruits of our last 10 years’ labour of love.

*This price is if you bring your own sheets and towels. I'm asking for €20 per person to cover the cost of local laundry, because I don't have time to do it all (see all previous posts for details).

*This price is if you bring your own sheets and towels. I’m asking for €20 per person to cover the cost of local laundry, because I don’t have time to do it all (see all previous posts for details).

So, why am I closing?

Many reasons. In August, it will be 10 years since we came up with the idea. The full 10-year plan was that we would have a yurt camp and a house at the end of those 10 years. What we failed to include in that plan were two things: (1) the campsite would be a “success” in conventional terms; and (2) we would still be together as a couple and as a family.

Let’s take a closer look at those two things.

The campsite, despite increasing the number of guests and the turnover each year, and despite being one of the most beautiful, lovingly made yurt camps on the face of the planet, cannot be seen as a success on paper. I don’t have the exact figures to hand, but I’d guesstimate that it has cost us well over €170,000 excluding eight years of (wo)man hours, multiplied by two. Last year’s highest-ever turnover (if you’re taking notes) was about €16,000 before tax. This year, business has fallen off a cliff. I have availability every week between now and the end of October. For almost all of those weeks, as of writing, the availability is 100%. I’m not alone in this, although it’s not widely discussed, and you can imagine your own reasons for this collapse in tourism. But you’d have to say, on paper, it has been a disaster. (If I were a bank, in fact, the taxpayer would be bailing me out.)

Fortunately, I am not bound by conventional Western thinking. So, I’ll brief explain why it has been a success.

One of the things I’ve come to realise, this year, is that notions of success and failure are just that – notions. They’re not real. The only thing that’s real is what is going on around you, right now – what you can see, touch, hear, taste and smell. When you start comparing what’s real with notions in your head, you start to get upset – which is utterly pointless! Looking at what we’ve created, écovallée is perfect. It’s a stunningly beautiful campsite, in a tranquil valley, filled with wildlife, in one of the most beautiful and fascinating parts of France. Everything has been done with love – and to our own satisfaction. With our own hands. Using natural materials. When I think of a way that it can be more perfect, I do that, too. It’s all a joy.

So, we did that part of the 10-year plan, in the teeth of astonishing resistance from the authorities (resistance I now understand, don’t agree with, but accept).

Which brings me to that second thing.

I wasn’t happy about The Former Her Outdoors’ decision to leave. I won’t go into detail, but no one was treacherous to anyone. The relationship wasn’t working any more – hadn’t been for some time – and she was able to see it and take action. But, now it’s happened, everyone seems to be happier. She is living in a house, The Daughter and Boy have their own bedrooms for the first time and I live in what many people in the developed world would (notionally) see as paradise. It is paradise – and how could I possibly be upset to live there?

But I’ve struggled to see how I can continue to run a family campsite as a single guy. It seems a bit weird. I knew that écovallée would have to evolve as my Liddle Chillen became Big, but I couldn’t see how it was going to change. The fact that the 10 years of the 10-year plan are up this year makes a nice round number to draw the project to a close.

So, if you’d like to come and stay, this is your last chance.

Coming soon – dramatic changes following my decision to close. (Involves chickens.)

The last few days have been pretty busy. (An excuse you’ll find elsewhere on this blog.)

What led to this busyness was that I had guests booked in Mustardseed (one of the 18-foot yurts in écovallée) on June 11th. Which was great. Except that, on June 10th, it was still full of the other 18-foot yurt (which is called Peaseblossom), plus all the deconstructed beds of both yurts and the new outdoor kitchen roof, recently made by The Former Her Outdoors.

Regular readers will not be surprised that there was also rain on the forecast.

Here’s why I felt the kitchen roof needed replacing (my mate Philippe’s the real star in this shot – thank <Deity Name> he was here to help – I couldn’t have done all this without him):

old kitchen roof

Here’s me sorting out the bracing on Peaseblossom’s roof wheel, which fell to pieces while it was being put away at the end of last season:

yurt roof wheel

The forecasted rain came early, so we put the frame up fast:

yurt frame

Then the cover:

yurt roof

Before we turned our attention back to the kitchen:

new kitchen roof

It doesn’t take long to put the cover on, but look how it transforms the space:

new roof

After that, I remembered to take a shot of the finished yurt, just for you:

completed yurt

Next, the floor needed scrubbing, mopping and leaving to dry, so the deconstructed beds could be moved in. Then the beds in Mustardseed had to be reconstructed and made. The pots, plates and everything else were washed up and put in place in the kitchen, the solar shower and compost toilet cleaned, plus countless other jobs.

The guests had only booked one night. (They did this through booking.com, which prompted me to look harder at the settings and change the minimum number of nights to three – there’s more to this business than construction, cleaning and looking nonchalant when people arrive.)

Today was relatively easy: Said goodbye to one set of guests, then did a quick changeover for Puck (the 12-foot yurt), after buying all the stuff for the Welcome Picnic – ‘cos they’re staying for the week.

So that’s almost it. Apart from a few more hours of setting up Peaseblossom, écovallée is ready for its last ever season as a campsite.

More on this soon.

When it comes to marketing, the only way to know what really works is… testing. So, I’m listing the three yurts on three well-known websites and will pay close attention to the results. Mustardseed is with booking.com, Peaseblossom is with Airbnb, and Puck is with Canopy & Stars. Of course, I also try and attract direct bookings – so I’m in the competition, too. (It doesn’t matter who you book through, really – you win every time.)

Happy Holiday Games. And may the odds be ever in everyone’s favour.

As promised, here’s the first almost-live blog on getting the yurt camp ready for opening on Thursday.

This year, Philippe came along and helped me put up Mustardseed – one of the two 18-foot yurts in the camp. It all went smoothly. Which was a good thing, as there was some kind of fierce storm due at 5 pm.

If you’re going to try this at home, you will need:

Yurt 1

A platform set into the corner of a few acres of mixed woodland. In this case, there’s quite a bit of false acacia (perfect for yurt platform uprights, fence posts, firewood – and lasts in water for 100 years), hornbeam (a personal favourite), hawthorn (which provides the welcome first bit of green in spring), oak (mainly spindly – I need to do some thinning out – but half a dozen beauties), sweet chestnut (which produces a very labour-intensive breakfast toast topping, and isn’t great for firewood; but it got us through a few winters), wild service trees and a whole bunch of other green stuff.

You will also need to carry the frame of your 18-foot, coppiced-chestnut, Kyrgyz-style yurt, by hand, from way over there.

yurt 2

Clean off the edging strips that go round the platform. These ones are 1 cm plywood – it doesn’t need to be marine ply, although that would probably last longer.

yurt 3

That unfeasibly heavy oak door spent the winter leaning against the sink in the outdoor kitchen a few metres away. It must have been carried for miles in the last 10 years. That’s the shower in the background.

yurt 4

Screw in the platform edges, with an unnecessarily intense look of effort. It’s not actually that hard with a machine. (A few years ago, I put some up with a socket set – don’t ask.)

yurt 5

Stand the walls up and try to remember how they fit together. Wonder why you didn’t take a moment to mark them in some helpful way at the end of last year. Or the year before that – even more sensible.

yurt 6

Pause, while Philippe takes a caught-on-CCTreeV shot.

yurt 7

Unwind the tension band.

yurt 8

Raise the roof.

yurt 9

Here’s further proof that marking poles when it matters is worth considering. Although, it does mean the yurts are different every year.

yurt 10

Here’s what Mustardseed looks like for 2016.

yurt 11

If there’s a storm coming, you need to carry the cover over, heave it on and rope up the wall.

yurt 12

Like this.

(The storm didn’t come.)

You will probably know that it’s been 400 years since Shakespeare finally put down his pen. (After writing his Will, perhaps.) To mark this event – and because the yurts in écovallée are named after the fairies in A Midsummer Night’s Dream – I’ve put this final ad together.

 

shakespeare yurt ad

True Shakespeare fans will be pleased to know that the font used is Arial.