Living the high life

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A Birthday to Remember? Forget Camping, Head Out and Try Some All-Weather Treehousing

When young girls turn 13 and Daddy — who secretly always wanted to live in a treehouse — takes them, wife, dog and cake for a late autumn trip to a forest in the Corrèze, how will his surprise birthday present be received?      

The cabane de la margo tree house

Tree Tops – French Style

That’s the issue French News Online’s professional gardener, food and nature correspondent Mike Alexander put to the test when he took an unusual family break. Oh and yes he left all the tools of the trade behind him.

Life In a High Tree

Firstly a confession: I have to admit I was not overwhelmingly thrilled when I initially heard I was to become a Dad all those years ago. I made all the right noises and tried to appear enthusiastic, but the truth was I never managed to move emotionally beyond being ambivalent.

That all changed dramatically when a maternity nurse handed me a damp, red faced, screaming bundle telling me to ‘hold your daughter’. After that, and much to my amazement, I was smitten. Thirteen years later nothing has changed, which is why I found myself writing this article perched half way up an ancient oak tree in the depths of La France Profonde

Destination Not Disclosed
To mark her debut into the teens (they grow up so fast don’t they) and after much head scratching I opted to surprise my daughter and one of her friends with a two-nights away stay in a tree house in the Corrèze (département 19). I confess that at  first I was a little worried that fashion-fast-food-Facebook-fanatic girls might hate the mere thought of two entire days and nights without electricity, running water or broadband.

But then I wasn’t about to tell them ahead of the trip, describing it vaguely as a secret location. As we walked through the forest from where we had left the car, to the still undisclosed spot, I could hear rumblings of dissent beginning behind me. However the moment the girls spotted the Robinson Crusoe-style cabin perched six metres up a tree, all signs of rebellion melted away to be replaced instead by sighs of delight.

Memories – For Life
Personally I hate the amount of commercialisation we and our children are exposed to and in choosing the tree house I was hoping for a gift that would leave memories for life rather than just short-term gratification.

Tree house gites have become very fashionable in France in recent years and we had to make bookings several months in advance for this one. Even in Autumn, a mid- week booking was all I could get. This particular tree house is in demand year-round so the term ‘season’ doesn’t really apply in the sense that it does in more ground-based accommodation.

Fantasy Kitchen
– Swiss Family Robinson Style –

The tree house itself is a little piece of paradise. Built in rustic style from recuperated timber, it is a hybrid of something from Robinson Crusoe, The Swiss Family Robinson and every-ones childhood fantasies. Naturally it’s devoid of those modern luxuries, spoiled us have come to expect in our lives. The loo is a dry toilet in a small outhouse and lighting comes via candles and occasionally a torch. On the other hand it is incredibly cosy to be enveloped in wood leaves and nature sitting around a log burning stove with an oak tree as the dominant architectural feature in the room.

Watching this video should soon convince you that tree house breaks are a great experience:

The Sound of Silence

One’s life becomes a sort of odd dichotomy. At night it can be so quiet you begin to wonder if you’ve gone deaf and at first light you wake to bird song and a vivid display of orange, yellow and gold as sunlight filters through the leaves that surround you on all sides. Suddenly my bling-bling child was happy to sit and play cards or monopoly by candle light and the absence of computers and mobile phones never came up in conversation once on the trip. During the day we went for bracing walks in the surrounding countryside or barbecued beside the tiny stream below the tree house. Best of all the most pressing thing we had to do all day was to pay a visit to the donkey and the horses in nearby fields.

Judging from the visitors book — brimming with positive feed back (one guest mentions spotting 14 bird species in 24 hours) — I was not the only one to be impressed by having branched out into a holiday high in a tree.

Most importantly, from my point of view, it was an opportunity to give my dear daughter a memory she will carry with her always, rather than some transient gizmo or fashion item all too soon tossed into the depths of the closet and forgotten.

View across lake from Cabane de la pecheur

Where to Find this Tree House and How to Get There.

The tree house nestles 6 metres up the trunk, in the hollow of an ancient oak. Below it is a decked terrace, and nearby a small stream lined with lake plants.

Visitors take breakfast on the terrace among the foliage and birds, or on the terrace at the foot of the oak (homemade jam and eggs from the farm, selection of tea, coffee, chocolate are provided by the owners).

Guests can also use the small kitchen in the tree house or enjoy an outdoor barbecue. The farm owners can supply picnic baskets to eat by the stove in winter or on the terrace when the weather is warmer.

The tree house located as it is in this unusually shaped oak – is however not too far from the main farm house with its reception area, and staff offering guestroom service and table d’hote.

You can shun all modern comforts and escape to the tree house or you can mix and match at will.

Want to Try it For Yourself?

Open All Year Round
– even in the depths of winter! –

The Tree House is located in the Corrèze (département 19) – you can find the exact location by clicking this link to Google Maps.

Other accommodation is also offered, including a lakeside fisherman’s cottage. To book and for further information, visit the La Ferme des Histoires Mélangées website (in French)

Bon Weekend – Bon Vacances – November 2011

Writer: Mike Alexander
Follow Mike on Twitter 

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