The tree houses and floating cabins of Cabanes Des Grands Lacs, eastern France, turn luxury on its head by offering a unique combination of isolation, novelty and immersion in nature instead of more traditional comforts.
In a scene reminiscent of Robin Hood’s Sherwood Forest, there exists a corner of the French countryside where an aerial village of rustic looking tree houses are nestled within ancient oak trees and accessed by a complex web of rope ladders and suspended bridges. They lack both electricity and running water and are positioned within an estate punctuated by lakes, where yet more wooden structures float, accessed only by rowing boat. But this is no alternative commune or relic from another time. Instead, “Cabanes Des Grands Lacs” claims to be the latest in luxury hotel experiences: close to nature, isolated from urban life and oh-so-charming.
The brainchild of Gaspard de Moustier, a dashing 26-year-old who in 2009 took a break from a career in finance to pursue a childhood dream, Cabanes Des Grands Lacs is located within his family’s 150-hectare estate in Franche-comté on the border of Doubs and Haute-Saône. With the idea to combine his passions for both nature and entrepreneurship, de Moustier set about creating his own vision of an escape from the city, a “hotel” of cabins integrated within nature where guests must live without their urban comforts. With 15 tree houses, he has recently expanded to the lakes, this season opening three floating cabins where the luxury quotient is higher – they boast solar powered electricity and running water. True to his entrepreneurial spirit, de Moustier has yet more plans to expand, with a spa scheduled to open in 2012. But the spirit will remain the same and Cabanes Des Grands Lacs will continue to offer a Robinson Crusoe “bafefoot luxury”, albeit within treetops and at the edge of a fresh water lake.
What is your definition of luxury?
Les Cabanes des Grands Lacs is a concept. More than the structures themselves, it is about the feeling they give that is purely luxury: a modern Robinson Crusoe! Everyone has their own definition of luxury. Mine is about rarity and the art of living. The art of living well means being close to nature, a return to natural sources and authenticity. Luxury is going back to raw materials such as wood and respecting the environment. Wood in wood…tree houses in a pure (rare) no man’s land…that is luxury. Luxury is also the power to create, innovate: being the first to introduce floating houses in France is a luxury for my clients and myself! Finally, the art of living well is also related to “real” food – we only serve regional products such as delicious cheese (comté) and local delicatessen “franc –comtois” to enjoy in the trees or on the water.
What is Cabanes des Grands Lacs exactly?
The Cabanes des Grands Lacs is a natural and aquatic domain of 150 hectares. A peaceful place where you feel free in the middle of nowhere. Les Cabanes offers a soft mix between total immersion in nature and a very cosy ambiance, comfortable and charming. The original idea was to bring an innovative product that is perfectly combined with nature. And to steal some time from the modern world.
What inspired you to create Cabanes des Grands Lacs?
Of course, the child who is still inside me at every moment and the fact that I grew up in this type of environment. Also, studying business and finance helped me realize that it was possible to combine nature with my other passion: entrepreneurship. Finally, during a four month trip by motorbike with my best friend in central Asia, I realised this was exactly my personal definition of luxury: feeling lost, taking time out in a “no man’s land”, not just respectful of nature but also making it better and innovating!
Did you have this dream since being a child?
Indeed, each and everyone of us has in his spirit the “cabane” of his childhood, of his dreams. Who, as a child, never dreamt or built a cabane in his garden or in his bedroom? Each of our cabanes have a personnlity that let each “cabaneur” appropriate the house to himself.
You previously worked in finance. Why move into the travel industry?
I was born and lived part of my childhood in the middle of nature. I love concrete, simple things. I love creating and sharing. This project was to still make adults dream and bring them back to their childhood. The project also led to a development of an exceptional area of nature without harming it!
Aside from the obvious, how do the floating and tree cabins differ?
The idea of the floating houses was bring both a different and more sophisticated product than the tree houses and create something new in France. On the water, we kept the wood of course, the charm and the candles. Nevertheless, the comfort is better: perfect isolation, running water, solar panels. We offer our clients the possibility of an aerial or aquatic world. Most of them choose one of each!
Were you scared that you were too young for such an entrepreneurial project?
Aren’t we always too young to die, is there an age to go back to studying or discovering new horizons? I think choices you make in life are not an age question but must be driven by passion, will and of course, opportunities.
Which of the cabins is your favourite?
This is a tough a question. If I really had to choose, maybe it would be the “Extreme” cabane because of its access with a little bridge, its amazing implantation in a sublime and old oak, on the verge of a waterfall that leads to our birds reserve and the river at the end of the domain. It makes me feel like Robinson Crusoe, at the end of the world!
Who is your typical guest?
We don’t really have a clientele. It goes from couples of course, to families, very stressed professionals or nature and adventure lovers!
Tell us about the process of actually building the cabins.
The construction of the houses is very exciting to watch. Each house is bespoke, made with larch and Douglas woods (which are rot proof) to a design that depends on the tree that welcomes it. Before everything, a professional analysis of the tree by an expert is necessary to confirm to us the health of the tree. This is repeated every year to be sure the tree is not suffering. Then, we determine the height and the type of access to the tree house, which depends on the structure of the branches. After that, it is just art and improvisation! The important thing is that there are no nails or screws driven into the tree. Moreover, the structure is an evolution: every year, the shrouds around the branches are loosened to let the tree grow.