No rings of power but electric lights: France's cosy Hobbit homes

A look at Tolkien-style halfling abodes and the people who created them

Three-way split image of three hobbit-style homes-in-the-ground in France
Clockwise from Left: La Maison du Hobbit in Vosges, La Terre du Milieu in Moselle and Naturadream in Hautes-Pyrénées
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"In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit," wrote JRR Tolkien as he introduced the world to the four-foot tall gentleman-hobbit Bilbo Baggins in his 1937 novel The Hobbit. 

Far from Middle-Earth, we meet humans who are also charmed by life in hobbit-style holes.

La Maison du Hobbit - Vosges

“I had the ‘quirky homes’ bug even before I read JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. It became a dream of mine to adapt his universe into a tangible reality.”

So says Vincent Kern, who laboured for more than 2,500 hours to turn his childhood aspiration into reality: recreating Bilbo Baggins’ house.

The result – La Maison du Hobbit – lies nestled in the heart of the Hautes Vosges valley, just south of the village of La Croix-Aux-Mines (Vosges) along the Sadey road.

Smoke billowing from its chimney is the only clue to passers-by that the grass they are wandering over might hide a whole dwelling below.

Although legions of French readers have been inspired by Tolkien’s imagination, Mr Kern is part of a select few who have woven his words into actual architecture.

He is a graduate of the École nationale supérieure d'art et de design de Nancy, one of France’s most prestigious art schools. It was here that he sketched his first designs inspired by Tolkien’s stories.

His career led him to join the Compagnons du Devoir, a French organisation uniting craftsmen and artisans, where he specialised in artistic ironwork. For a while, he put his sketches to the back of his mind.

Having buried those ideas for many years, Mr Kern eventually decided to let them see the light of day. Today, Maison du Hobbit is one of the closest French reproductions of a hobbit house – and accommodates paying guests.

Four round openings punctuate the front wall, highlighted by brick surrounds.

The largest, hobbit-sized hole has the front door, which leads to the main room.

While it gives the impression from outside of being too small for humans to live in comfortably, the interior is actually close to three-meters high in places. It was, in fact, built using the hull of a boat. Of course, Mr Kern had to make modifications to turn it into a rental proposition. 

While the cosy atmosphere of hobbit-life is recreated as authentically as possible, he has also included electricity and a bathroom with running water.

Above the Maison du Hobbit is a small vegetable patch, built on different levels, which acts as insulation and keeps the house cool in summer. 

“I have made my own interpretation of the hobbit house. It would have been blatant plagiarism otherwise,” said Mr Kern with a laugh.

‘Hobbit architecture’ is at the crossroads of several building styles – not quite bubble-houses, nor kerterres, nor troglodyte houses.

Mr Kern variously called his offering “a fully-fledged cabin”, an “unusual gite”, a “burrow” and a “cave” during our interview.

“This is neither a building, nor a house, per se. I am no architect and do not claim to have built a house. It is an artistic creation, a sculpture, that happens to be habitable.”

Reservations: Maison du hobbit

Domaine de la Pierre ronde -  Côte-d’Or   

Gaëlle Lajugée and Yannick Boisfard were also inspired by Tolkien, building a complex of hobbit homes that grows bigger by the year. 

Domaine de la Pierre Ronde in Saint-Martin-de-la-Mer (Côte-d’Or) was voted among France’s top 50 most beautiful holiday locations by The Times in 2015 and offers activities centred around the Lord of the Rings universe, such as Elvish massages. 

Reservations: Domaine de la Pierre ronde

La Terre du Milieu - Moselle

In Spicheren (Moselle), meanwhile, Martial and Monique Bousch have opened La Terre du Milieu (‘Middle-Earth’ in French) – four hobbit-inspired bed-and-breakfast rooms.

Their business started with a cabin in their garden, they told The Connexion, which gradually grew into accommodation open to the public.

Reservations: La Terre du Milieu

Naturadream - Hautes-Pyrénées

On the same theme is architecture firm Naturadream’s 33 bioclimatic houses in the Hautes-Pyrénées.

Although they look much like hobbit houses, with entrance doors completely integrated into the rolling hills, Naturadream director Benoît Darré denies any influence.

“I personally have no attachment to the world of Tolkien,” he said. “He is not my source of inspiration.”

Rather, Mr Darré said his “domes” were inspired by organic architecture and Antoni Gaudí, the Spanish architect most famous for the Sagrada Família in Barcelona.

“Gaudí was a precursor in biomimetic curves, which take inspiration from nature to build a shelter or a house,” he said.

His most famous model of house is the Naturadome prototype, built using military fighter jet hangars measuring 4.75m in length and 14.3m in height.

One of his designs, a 150m2 property in Tarbes, is made up of several rooms with a pool, terrace and 2,500m2 of outside space. It was listed for €346,000 by real estate agency Architecture de collection.

“From an architectural standpoint, it is the complete opposite of a hobbit house, which is fairly dark inside with low ceilings,” he said.

“Here, light beams into rooms that have five-meter-high ceilings. It is comfort-oriented,” he added.

Naturadream’s houses are almost completely self-sufficient.Wood waste is layered on the ground above the dome, becoming a source of nutrients for the vegetable patches as well as insulating the house.

Mr Darré is proud of his firm’s reputation for exceeding energy performance requirements in the industry.

Naturadome houses meet the most recent environmental criteria set by the government in its réglementation thermique RT2012. The domes are 65% better performing than the maximum possible rating in terms of energy, because the domes work as a carbon well.

“We have a negative balance of 60 tons of carbon dioxide for every 100 square metres thanks to the fact we trap it in the ground,” he said.

The many regulations imposed on the architecture sector around energy performance may be the reason why hobbit houses have not spread further across France, Mr Darré said.

“A hobbit-house is easy to sketch, easy to turn into a movie set. It is a lot more complicated to turn it into something habitable,” agreed Mr Kern.

Reservations: Maison du hobbit; Domaine de la Pierre ronde; and La Terre du Milieu