The Faraway Tree

Words by: Georgina Fuller

Arriving in the dead of  night after a 12-hour journey with three tired, whinging young children, who refused to sleep en route, to a treehouse, 15 metres above the ground with nothing but a headtorch and tealights, probably wasn’t the most auspicious start to a family holiday. Waking up amongst the trees the next day, to a basket of freshly baked baguettes, croissants, jam and coffee, on a terrace overlooking a fairytale château, however, soon lifted our spirits.

Our treehouse, Échauguette, nestled in the forest that forms part of  a 300-acre estate, 130km from Paris, looked out over Le Grande Noë – a stunning 16th century château – which has been in the de Longchamp family for 600 years.

Échauguette looked rather like one of Robin Hood’s fortresses or something out of JRR Tolkien’s books, with its medieval turret, straw roof and yellow flag. It is one of six professionally built treehouses on the site, which also includes a small farm (with goats, ponies and chickens), boules, table tennis, football and bikes. The estate is part of the Perche – a national park in picturesque Normandy. The treehouses range from a cosy two-person Paradiso (16 metres) to the epic Chêne Fou, which sleeps up to nine people.

The treehouse interior was basic but beautifully crafted; two double beds with a handcrafted ladder made from wood from the estate and a single bed/day bed for one. The outside terrace, surrounded by netting, provided ample room for a table and chairs for breakfast and supper, which Agnès – a member of the de Longchamp family who oversees the running of the treehouses – delivered in a picnic basket and pulley.

We were treated to succulent slices of beef and the local goats’ cheese and a delicious apple tart, made in a nearby patisserie, on our first evening. There is also a children’s menu for fussy eaters.

We are not what you would call seasoned campers, or even seasoned glampers, but they say that you don’t grow until you step outside your comfort zone, although sleeping 15 metres up from the ground in a cabin with no running water or electricity was actually surprisingly comfortable. We had called ahead to ask Agnès to provide towels and bed linen for us, so everything was already made up by the time we arrived. There were also several power showers and proper loos on site, just outside the forest, so we weren’t completely roughing it.

Agnès said they got the idea for the treehouses from a cousin who runs a similar business on his camping site in Brittany. The cousin had their first treehouse custom-built for his wife to sleep in on their wedding night and, after lots of  queries from friends and relatives, soon had another one built on his camping site.

Our children (Charlie, eight, Edward, five, and Jemima, three) absolutely loved it there, and the five-year-old asked if Anna and Elsa lived in the château. When I was little, my favourite book was The Magic Faraway Tree, and staying there brought back memories of the magic of my own childhood too.

Fortunately, Agnès, who was married to an English accountant and spent over a decade living in London and Exeter before moving back home to the château, also had an eight-year-old son, who was more than happy to play football for hours after school with our eldest son.

We were also very kindly given a tour of the local region in a horse and carriage by Claude, the charming mayor. Unfortunately, he didn’t speak much English and my French hasn’t progressed much beyond the Tricolore books I studied at school, but he was able to point out the local crops, churches and sites.

Agnès’ parents, Jacques and Pascale, also very kindly gave me a tour of the beautiful château, which was designed by the famous Scottish architect Robert Adam, and where they offer three charming guestrooms for those who don’t fancy the Tarzan and Jane treehouse option.

Sophie, Agnès’ sister, lives in the former laundry house on the site and runs the organic farm, so it is very much a family business.

It certainly made for a memorable few days, and the children were also excited about going on the ferry again on the journey back, where the cinema showing of Trolls and gift shop kept them quiet for several hours.

Prices start from £118 for a two-person treehouse, open from March to October. The writer was a guest of Orne Tourism (normandy-tourism.co.uk), which offers a range of ideas for holidaying in the area. Brittany Ferries (brittanyferries.com or 0871 244 1400) has return Channel crossings to nearby ports of Caen and Cherbourg from £110pp for a car and two passengers.

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