Well, more of another idea for a headline.

another ecovallee concept

(I think I prefer this, but it depends on the context. The earlier ad has more of a generic headline, but was designed for the wall of a break room – ie, A holiday that’s out of the world of this functional room. But today I met a friend of a friend who came to see écovallée for the first time. He stood at the top corner between the yurt and the kitchen and said: “This is my dream.” And I remembered that, yes, it was my dream – and now, it’s there. Shakespeare lovers will also know why we called the three yurts Mustardseed, Peaseblossom and Puck.)

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During the last nine years, I’ve (occasionally) paid to advertise écovallée in relevant newspapers and magazines. But I’ve never been able to attribute a single booking to that activity. When écovallée was listed in The Guardian as one of the top 10 luxury campsites in Europe, it sold out in three days (full disclosure: there was only one yurt available that year). Our 15 minutes of fame on prime-time ITV led to… precisely one booking. Twitter doesn’t lead to much – even when tweets are re-tweeted to thousands. The Facebook page has yet prove itself. And, let’s be honest, who uses Google+? In fact, this blog is responsible for more bookings than everything else put together.

So my question to you – should you choose to answer it – is: What prompts you to book your holiday – advertising, editorial, social media, or something else? When the world changes at ever-increasing broadband speed, it’s hard to keep up.

In the meantime, here’s an ad I put together yesterday, for a friend to put up at work. Even if we’re not sure what’s effective, we have to keep trying…

ecovalle ad 2016

Summer thing to look forward to

Me and the kids at the dune de Pyla in 2012. Coming back up was a different story.

Regular readers of this blog will know that écovallée was created by me and (the former) Her Outdoors as the perfect yurt holiday for people with young children. More specifically, Guardianreading families who are interested in the environment. We’ve had Daily Mail readers – which I’ve found surprising and alarming – and this has taught me that that particular newspaper is very good for lighting fires. (Previously, I thought it had no use whatsoever.)

Now that we are no longer living together as a family, the question is: How does that change écovallée?

Since September, I’ve been wondering how it looks to have a family campsite run by someone who is, essentially, a single parent. I’m not even a single parent all the time, as my kids live with their mum, about 15 minutes away. I’ve imagined that this might put off families who are together.

That it might look a bit odd.

But – in the last day or so – I’ve realised the error in my thinking. I recognise that the worry exists only in my head as a not-very-useful thought. Past guests at écovallée have included people travelling on their own, with a sibling, or with up to three children, and couples who are together – with and without kids – kids they’ve had with each other and with other people… Basically, everyone. And that hasn’t changed.

We all have our own stories and we’re all at different places in those stories. So I’m not going to worry about how it looks any more. (Phew.)

I’ve tweaked the website to reflect this slight change. For example, I’m now calling the “couple’s yurt” a “small yurt” for solo travellers, couples and people with small families. It’s a bit embarrassing that I didn’t spot this before. Sometimes, you can get so focused on your “target audience” (I used to work in advertising – please forgive the jargon), that you exclude other people who may want to come. My previous word choice may have even put off some people travelling on their own. Or people who are single parents (is this even the best expression for this?). If you’re one of them, I apologise.

In fact, écovallée is for everyone who wants to experience living outside, in a beautiful environment, in a beautiful structure, with very low impact facilities. If that sounds like you, come on down/across/up/over. This summer is going to be fantastic. Come and share it with existing friends, make new ones, or just come here on your own.

And bring a good book.

And a head torch.

Head torches are cool.

As I type this, the cranes are migrating north again. It seems like they’ve only just gone south – and there wasn’t really a winter while they were wherever it was they went.

It’s the third year in a row here without snow. Good news for heating costs. Confusing for all animals who don’t have access to the Internet, and can’t come to their own conclusions about whether it’s too warm, why it might be, and what (if anything) they can do about it.

But that’s beside the point.

The point of this post is to reveal one of the works in progress here at écovallée reception. This structure was created a few years ago, to provide shade during the many months when you can sit outside for all three meals a day.

bamboo roof on free gazebo

Following my usual practice, the uprights are acacia from just over there, placed in posts holes that are back-filled with whatever came out of the holes in the first place. Originally, we bought some rolls of that split bamboo you find in DIY shops. They were hugely expensive (€70 for the roof, I think), badly made, and messily fell apart quite quickly. In an effort to tidy the place up a bit, they went to scrap.

Past guests will be familiar with a clump of bamboo next to the entrance to reception. This has been getting increasingly dense, partly because this is where I usually throw the washing-up water. (I know, I should have a forest garden up here. Give it time.) In a moment of clarity, I realised that I could replace the split-bamboo with real bamboo – cut to the right length – and reduce the amount of bamboo taking over that corner of the driveway. In fact, I may end up using the lot.

It’s already looking pretty good. Many thanks to Ben from Quinta do Figo Verde, who helped me get the project started and convinced me to put those cross pieces in. I’m just plodding away, processing and putting up six pieces a day. If the weather’s with me, it should be finished before I need it.

Perfect yurt for couples

Introducing easyurt: Stay in the 12-foot couples’ yurt for less than before, when you bring your own sheets and towels.

First of all, Happy New Year to readers and guests past, present and future.

There’s plenty to be excited about in the coming months – with some huge changes guaranteed for écovallée.

For those of you still wondering, after the not-so-recent posts, the yurt camp will be open for business as usual. I’ll be receiving guests from mid-May until the end of September and you’ll find the prices here.

As with last year, I’ve found a way of keeping the prices down so that the maximum number of people can come and stay here. A few of last year’s guests complained that écovallée is “too cheap” and I’m “underselling” it. But the idea was always to create a planet-friendly yurt camp that I would want to – and could afford to – stay in. In 2016, you can stay for less than last year if you: (a) bring your own sheets and towels and (b) leave the yurt and communal areas as pristine as they were when you found them. Both of these will mean less work for me, which will leave me more time to socialise with you.

Everybody wins!

Of course, you can always opt for using the sheets and towels that are already here – for a fee that covers the cost of the local laundry. But I’ll still encourage you to leave the place looking beautiful.

One final thought for now – if you’re planning on coming, don’t leave it too long to book. The exchange rate is still in your favour…

I’m keeping the prices for 2016 the same as this year, but there are a few changes you should be aware of.

prices 2016

Change the first

Because I will be running écovallée on my own, I will no longer have time to do the laundry. So when you come, you can either bring your own sheets and towels… or pay €20 per person for sheets and towels that will be laundered in Lalinde.

Change the second

To encourage guests to leave écovallée as they found it, there will now be an additional cleaning charge of €40. The good news is that this will be returned to those who leave the place immaculate. Which should pay for lunch on the way home.

Change the third

You can now book from any day of the week. Outside July and August, it’s a four-night minimum stay. Inside July and August, it’s still full weeks.

Weeks are already being booked, so don’t leave it too long. This year was our best-ever season – with some of the most interesting and lovely guests we have ever had. But next year promises to be even better…

Every now and then, I like to bring you a minute (or so) from écovallée. Here’s a video I shot yesterday, on my reasonably priced phone, from the hammock outside Mustardseed…