In écovallée, you will sleep in one of two 12-foot coppiced yurts, handmade from ash or chestnut. These sit on raised platforms, with floors of pine tongue and groove and lockable doors. Your yurt has a double bed with a comfortable mattress and pillows, a mosquito net, sheets and towels (if you’re not bringing your own), somewhere to put your things, and a bedside table with a battery powered lamp. You should bring your own head torch. (Head torches are brilliant.)
Through the roof of the yurt, you will see the leaves that provide natural air conditioning for the length of your stay. You will hear birdsong that changes with the seasons (the Golden Oriole is a personal favourite – listen to this) and, at night, almost certainly owls and deer. You may also hear the soothing sound of the Dordogne river, a few hundred metres away.
What you won’t hear is people – unless you get talking to with whoever is staying in the other yurt. When you do bump into them on the 12.5-acre site – and you will – they will be among the most interesting people you have ever met. Or, if you have écovallée all to yourself – as some people do – that will be perfect, too.
The making of écovallée
The écovallée yurt camp was created over a 10-year period by Alex Crowe and Clare Milling, with occasional help from two children who didn’t stay small for very long. The whole idea was to create the most environmentally friendly, yet luxurious yurt camp possible.
All the structures have been created to have the lightest impact on the environment. The wooden uprights are fast-growing acacia from these woods and the sawn timber has been sourced within 1.5 hours’ drive. The stone in the Puck kitchen wall was gathered as close as possible to where it is. And the terrace in the Ariel kitchen is made from soil moved only a couple of metres. It took a month. The fixtures and fittings are secondhand, although the gas hobs and barbecues were bought new.
Most of these structures have been made at least twice, building in improvements along the way.
The “tree bog“, for example, replaced a stylish-but-rustic bucket compost toilet that needed emptying up to twice a week. Wheelbarrowing a dustbin of human waste down the field towards the poly tunnel quickly loses its appeal, and Alex designed the tree bog so that it will never need emptying. Ever. It also has some wonderful acacia and oak bracing to support the roof, and a new sink stand made by a local artist (not shown – neither the support nor the artist). The floor and seats are solid pine and over engineered. It is probably the most beautiful compost toilet you have ever seen.
The solar shower has also evolved. At first, it was a swimming-pool shower in a square cubicle. The cubicle was replaced by the snail-shell design made possible by Project1P. The sun-warmed swimming pool shower had a limited capacity which wasn’t a huge hit with guests and, a couple of years ago, it was replaced by a 160-litre integrated panel bought from a company in Greece. Waste water runs into a rubber-lined gravel bed, where it is cleaned by plants, before emptying into a willow trench that was first prepared by free-range pigs. (It’s a long story.)
Up at reception
Due to planning issues, it looks a little less green. Alex lives here all ear round in two yurts, next to a building made from concrete (which is banned down in the valley). This houses a kitchen and bathroom, and has a fridge freezer, washer dryer and WiFi powered by 100% renewable electricity from enercoop.
Back down in the valley
Across the field from the Puck yurt, you will see a large orchard and vegetable patch that formed part of the self-sufficiency experiment described in Alex’s long-running blog: the(d)evolutionary. You may have seen these when écovallée was on TV in 2010 (if not, you can see our almost-exactly 15 minutes of fame here). When the campsite first opened in 2010, it was featured in The Guardian as one of Europe’s top 10 luxury campsites. It has also been well reviewed by previous guests on Trip Advisor and Facebook.
But that was all in the past and may be completely irrelevant for you.
What you can be sure of is that your experience of écovallée will be unique and perfect. The most common word used to describe it is paradise. If you can feel, even for a moment during your stay (which could be meditating in a hammock, paddling past a chateau in a canoe, doing yoga on the bank of the river, encountering wildlife, stargazing, or bathing in the sights and sounds of the environment we evolved to inhabit), it will have been worth the trip.