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.

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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.)

10% off bookings for the rest of the year!

Yes, I know écovallée is cheaper than other yurt camps. And in a better location. With more gorgeous, planet-friendly facilities. In fact, it’s probably the most carefully planned and beautiful yurt camp in this part of the Milky Way. But offering a 10% discount to single parents and solo travellers still seems completely reasonable.

So that’s what’s going to happen for the rest of 2016.

The terms of this offer should be obvious. But if you do happen to meet someone between the time of booking and arriving, and suddenly want to bring them along, they’ll be more than welcome if they also arrive with the 10% discount. These things happen.

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.

offer

This offer is for anyone who makes a new booking, for one week or more, in an écovallée yurt for a stay in June or July 2014. The fizz and veggie box will be given to you on arrival and the one-hour massage can be taken at any time during your stay, by arrangement with the therapist. Please quote: “light dusting of sugar on the freshly picked cherry on the lovingly crafted icing on the delicious home-baked cake offer” when you make your booking.