You open your eyes in a huge double bed perched 30 feet above the ground. The first thing that hits you is the pungent smell of red cedar. Then there’s the view: framed by the lace-curtained open window are graceful branches of oak and sunlight filtering through green leaves, all set against the pale blue morning sky. Birds twitter, a cock crows, and the high is unlike anything you’ve ever experienced.

The notion of a tree house hotel may sound like a Disney fantasy, but nothing could be further from the truth. At the Château de Valmer, a family-run hotel near Saint-Tropez with two luxurious perched cabins, the ecologically minded owners are providing much more than a catchy Tarzan-and-Jane decor. While guests can fulfill childhood dreams of spending the night in a tree, the idea is to get closer to nature—without necessarily having to rough it.

When the Rocchietta family, owners of the Château de Valmer hotel since 1949, decided to add two custom-designed cabanes perchées to their property, they called on Alain Laurens, a renowned French tree house architect based in Provence. In the peaceful village of La Croix-Valmer, far removed from the buzz of nearby Saint-Tropez, the hotel’s sprawling property includes lush gardens with a pool and a long, palm-lined path leading straight to the sea. And it also has a small stand of oak trees overlooking a vineyard that yields delicious organic red and rosé wines.

“We’d been looking at that green oak tree for years,” says marketing director Numa Rocchietta, “trying to imagine how we could create a romantic spot that would be unique.” Their first tree house, surrounding the tree trunk, offers a canopy bed and a charming bathroom stocked with everything a guest might ever need, from hairdryer to Cinq Mondes spa toiletries. The newly opened, larger tree house, high in a cork oak, is a suite with an inviting sitting room and a separate room with bunk beds for kids.

The Château de Valmer’s 42-room stone Provençal bastide was recently renovated to include a pretty spa with an indoor pool and glass-walled solarium overlooking the garden. It’s also only a stone’s throw from Gigaro Beach, a quiet curve of white sand with limpid turquoise shallows that is never overcrowded, even in high season.

But first you’ll probably want to have your buttery morning croissants and coffee delivered to your tree-house terrace for a moment of utter peace. Later, come sunset, as you sip the chilled rosé produced by the vines below, there’s a soft breeze wafting woodsy aromas as the frogs begin their nightly song. There’s no TV, but the spectacle is right there in the boughs, and the true height of luxury is a chance to sleep in a tree, closer to the stars.

Château de Valmer Gigaro, La Croix-Valmer, 04.94.55.15.15. website

Alain Laurens website

 

Originally published in the July/August 2010 issue of France Today

 

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