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Treehouse fun in France


By John Scheerhout
Our accommodation was pretty sparse: three beds shoe-horned into one room, no electricity and a loo that had saw-dust instead of flushing water.
We weren’t about to complain, though. Actually, the standard of living was rather elevated.
Ever since man came down from the trees, people with childish dispositions have been trying to climb back up.
So the Scheerhout family (OK, mainly me) succumbed to the age-old boyish urge to climb stuff and spent a magical three nights sleeping high up in 150-year-old oak in the grounds of a Chateau de la Grande Noe in the beautiful Perche region of Normandy.
The cabin and terrace of our treehouse accommodation were thoughtfully crafted, suspended by a series of ropes so not a single nail was hammered into the tree.
Every year, the ropes are adjusted so our 23m high tree, named Fermette (Little Farm), can continue to grow and – eventually – outlive the treehouse.
The beds were cleverly arranged: a double accessed via a small pair of ladders and two singles, one of which was pulled out from under the larger bed.
Instead of electricity, we had candles and torches. Outside on the terrace were a table and chairs from which to watch the setting sun through the leaves.
The children’s books waiting for us on the shelves were a nice touch although, frankly, reading came a distant second-best to assorted tree-related monkey-business under our lush green canopy.
Below, various farm animals clucked and bleated, a constant and happy distraction for our kids, six-year-old Mischa and Joe, four, who never tired of running up and down the spiral staircase to ground level. It was all perfectly safe, with rope ‘fencing’ preventing any falls.
Nearby was the chateau itself, set in lovely manicured grounds. At the time of our visit in early September, the apple trees were groaning with fruit. When the sun – briefly – didn’t shine, we played table tennis in the spectacular orangery.
Behind the chateau, there was a thick, mature forest to discover. The chateau and the farm have been in the de Longcamp family for 600 years. To ensure it stays that way, six tree houses have been built to bring in some extra revenue.
The project is run with thought, care and enthusiasm by Anyes and Gavin Davey, who live with their children in the farmhouse adjacent to the chateau. They had lived in London, where Anyes had gone to learn English before meeting Gavin, an accountant.
Now they look after a stream of mostly French visitors to their spectacular treehouses, the biggest of which is a 27m-high 200-year-old Oak (Mad Oak) whose massive canopy embraces two treehouses and even a ‘terrace’ at the very top.
And how we were looked after! Just because we were living like monkeys didn’t mean we had to survive on berries.
Breakfast and dinner arrived in a wicker hamper stuffed with goodies. Every morning and evening, usually while we weren’t looking, Anyes or Gavin surreptitiously hooked the hamper on to a pulley rope and left it to dangle just above the forest floor out of reach of any hungry foxes (or wolves as I liked to tell the kids).
Once we realised it had arrived, we made a great drama of hoisting it on to the deck and examining its mouth-watering contents.
On our first night, dinner was goats cheese for starters, a beautiful stuffed turkey, shredded celeriac and carrot salads, camembert and tartlets for pudding, washed down with a cider that had more in common with champagne than Strongbow. Just to be on the safe side, there was also wine and beer.
Of course, these culinary delights were lost on the kids who, as night fell, were too busy playing with their torches in the encroaching darkness while Mrs S and I tried in vain to polish off the remaining food in the candle-light.
The following morning, another invitation to gluttony was waiting for us at the end of the rope: this time our wicker surprise yielded croissants, coffee, apple juice, honey and red-current jam. And so the grazing continued across four days and three nights.
Virtually all the food was locally sourced, some of it produced on the working organic farm on which we were staying.
Anyes’ mum made the red current jam while her sister pressed the apple juice.
Of course, if it goes in so efficiently at one end, it won’t be long before it will be evacuated through the other, which brings me to the tricky subject if our loo: it relied upon the user ladling sawdust from a bucket on to the waste.
Except in the direst emergencies, we preferred the short trip to the rather more modern facilities in the immaculate nearby shower-block. There is a line, it seems, even wannabe monkeys are reluctant to cross.
When we weren’t hanging around, we were enjoying day trips around the beautiful Perche region. Not far away was retired farmer Claude Lessieu who took us on a delightful trip along the back lanes in his horse-drawn carriage.
The kids loved the pony-riding at the nearby equestrian centre, whose owner specialises in therapy for autistic kids.
The charming nearby town of Longny was a lovely distraction, especially Le Petit Bistrot des Loups (yes, more food and drink) where the Eric Cantona-mad owner Jean-Loup Grard (or John the Wolf as he translates it) welcomes all visitors, particularly Mancunian ones.
If you are really nice, he will reach behind the counter for his super-strength calvados. It turns out even monkeys get drunk! Well, cheeky ones at least.

TRAVEL FACTS
TO stay in a treehouse at La Grand Noe visit www.lagrandenoe.com. The Scheerhout family travelled with Brittany Ferries, which offers return Channel crossings from £75 per person based on two travelling. For information, ring 0871 244 1400 go to www.brittanyferries.com. For more information
about the region go to www.normandy-travel.co.uk.
 

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