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Luxury treehouse, giant maze: Six unusual places to explore in France

You do not need to leave the country to experience exotic and quirky places - there are plenty to explore much closer to home

Stays at the Safari Lodge in La Flèche Zoo are one of the most sought-after Pic: Safari Lodge / La Flèche Zoo

The pandemic has given many of us an appetite for new travel experiences after long periods of restrictions and confinement – but you do not need to jump on an international flight to get your fix. France has plenty of quirky activities and accommodation ideas to take you out of your comfort zone closer to home. Here are six.

For a taste of Africa, head to the Blue Tiger Treehouse in the Haut-Languedoc Regional Nature Park in Courniou, Hérault. Access to this luxury treehouse is via an aerial bridge leading to another world: a perfect mountaintop hideaway for couples, with fabulous views in every direction.

Its exotic colonial African decor and private plunge pool invite you to spend an entire weekend just lazing about. The glass-walled shower is suspended over the trees, making your morning ablutions an experience to remember. There is also a kitchen.

Breakfast is included and you can order other meals in advance if you simply want to relax and enjoy the views. Otherwise, there are plenty of hikes, markets, vineyards, chateaux and cycling trails in the area.

Open from June 1 until the end of October, the Blue Tiger is not accessible for people with restricted mobility and, because it is perched in the treetops nearly 10m off the ground, it is not suitable for children, although the site will accept one child over the age of seven. From €145 per night.

The Blue Tiger Treehouse in Hérault is accessed via an aerial bridge. Pic: The Blue Tiger

If heights are not your thing, why not hit the road in a horse-drawn caravan? Pets are generally welcome, and there are itineraries all over France.

It is an ideal way to explore a new region of France, or take a closer look at the countryside on your doorstep

The roulottes (caravans) are simply furnished, but you will find it more convenient (and easier to pitch) than a tent. The pace is designed to be slow, so there is plenty of time to explore, paddle in streams, eat picnics, and meet farmers along the way.

You will also spend a lot of time looking after your horse – grooming, feeding, watering, harnessing and taking admiring photos of it – although previous experience is not necessary.

Your packing list might include wellingtons as well as a sunhat, mozzie cream, swimming stuff and a thick jumper. You will often find yourself cooking over a campfire, drinking local wine, and realising you have not checked your phone for days. 

Visit france-ecotours.com for a selection of holidays in Ariège, Jura, Vendée, Périgord, Burgundy, Gers and Brittany.

Tours run from early spring until mid-autumn, depending on the chosen region. Prices start at €1,109 per week for a caravan for up to four people.

A horse-drawn roulotte provides a rural touring break at a leisurely pace. Pic: france-ecotours.com

One of the most sought-after stays in France is at the Safari Lodge in La Flèche Zoo, near Le Mans in Sarthe, where you are literally locked in with the animals.

There are 20 lodges overlooking the spacious animal enclosures and you can choose to get up close with leopards, lions, tigers, bears, wolves, monkeys or lemurs – but the most popular (and expensive) are the three with windows into the underwater polar bear enclosure.

As well as the animals, attractions include hot tubs, private gardens, gourmet dinners and massive breakfasts, all in luxurious surroundings. The price (usually €450+ per night for a couple) also includes admission to the zoo, plus an hour with a keeper who will tell you more about the animals.

The lodges get booked up quickly and you might have to put your name on a waiting list. It is also obviously possible to visit the zoo without booking accommodation, but it is a very large site – the enclosures allow animals to disappear from view if they choose to – and you might need two full days to see everything. It is open all year round.

Three polar bear lodges at La Flèche zoo in Sarthe let you sleep up close to the animals. Pic: Safari Lodge / La Flèche Zoo

To get a flavour of Mexico, visit Barcelonnette in Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, practically on the Italian border. A very popular Mexican festival is held in summer, but there is a South American vibe all year round due to a wave of emigration to Mexico between 1850 and 1950. 

Having made their fortunes, some of the émigrés returned and constructed Mexican-style villas around the town.One of them now houses the Musée de la Vallée - La Sapinière, which is definitely worth a look. Also check out the Mexican restaurant in town.

There are hiking trails all around, but Gyrotreck offers guided tours on Segways, which are fun (learning to ride one takes around three minutes).

The Labyrinthe Géant in Guéret, Creuse, (not far from Limoges) is great to visit if you have the legs to get lost in this maze which stretches over 15 acres.

The site also offers escape games, a mini-zoo, a barefoot walk and a snack bar. It is ideal for families, but also a fun place for Big Kids to sneak off to when their offspring are safely sitting in classrooms at school.

The association behind the maze deserves all the support it can get, as its aim is to give severely disadvantaged people jobs. Read the full story (in French) on labyrinthe-gueret.fr, where you can also check opening times. Entrance €7 (adult).

Finally, the Rouffignac Cave in Dordogne is great for people who prefer not to walk – you can take an electric train around the caves, which are decorated with 250 drawings dating back 13,000 years. The transport is handy since the caves stretch for several kilometres. Most of the drawings are of mammoths, although there are also depictions of horses and rhinos.

The caves are open from April 10 - November 1. Entrance €8 (adult) from the on-site ticket office.

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