SET against a backdrop of forested, Alpine peaks in the south-east of France, it’s not hard for the village of St Martin Vesubie to live up to its nickname of Little Switzerland in Nice.
During an unexpected pre-Easter heatwave, however, it is snow rather than summer that is left to the imagination as most of the white stuff has melted away, along with the chance to try the sport of skiing with horses (think waterskiing but with a horse instead of a boat, and on snow instead of water).
But if you want to relax and get close to nature while keeping your creature comforts – without destroying the planet – the Moonlight Chalet could be what you’re looking for. It is a collection of small eco-lodges tucked away on the edge of the village, in an idyllic natural setting – with a pond and gardens looking through trees to mountains above and a river below. n
WINING AND DINING? Waking up to an organic version of a traditional French breakfast, laid out on a rustic kitchen table, is blissful, with baskets piled high with fresh baguettes and pain au chocolat.
Although Moonlight doesn’t offer dinner, a few minutes’ walk away, in the village, La Dame de Coeur is an excellent, cosy restaurant serving generous portions of home-made favourites – including the extremely tasty tartiflette, a traditional mountain dish of potatoes, cheese and bacon – with a choice of fine wines.
Moonlight’s sister lodge (www.greenecolodge.com), perched just beside a ski-run at the nearby resort of La Colmiane, offers a varied menu for hungry hikers and skiers in environmentally friendly surroundings with the same quirky, rustic feel.
BUDGET OR BOUTIQUE? From €100 per room per night, prices are nearer to budget while the experience is definitely more boutique.
ROOM SERVICE? You can’t get much closer to nature than constructing a room around a fir tree, with a hammock above the traditional bed for anyone keen to take the treehouse idea a bit further.
While eco-friendly toilets often spark fear in guests, the ones here seem to be slightly more style over substance, with artificial grass flooring and flushes artfully concealed beneath a fake mushroom. Some bathrooms recycle water from the sink to the cistern.
All the lodges have interesting details adding character, such as metal spoons bent to form pegs to hang a mug on, and towel rails fashioned from antlers.
WORTH GETTING OUT OF BED FOR? It would be easy to stay here and relax all day, reading or practising yoga by the river nearby. But the mountains offer plenty of routes for hiking and skiing.
Biathlon is a fun alternative for either season at La Colmiane, using mountain bikes or skis and shooting electronic targets with laser guns – from €30 per person per half-day, plus €15 mountainbike hire (www.mercantourvtt.com.)
Trekking paths are easy to follow, but Space Between (www.space-between.co.uk) has English-speaking guides.
For a fix of history and religion, visit the church of St Croix in the nearby village of St Dalmas Valdeblore, which many believe contains a relic from the cross upon which Jesus was crucified.
There is a wolf park (www.alpha-loup.com) in the area, but it was disappointing, with little explanation about how it was protecting the animals.
LITTLE EXTRAS? Eyemasks by the bed are a nice idea but my favourite feature was a cowhide-covered bath positioned at the foot of a bed, exhibiting a liberal French attitude to life and leisure.
GUESTBOOK COMMENTS? A great place only an hour’s drive from Nice, with the right mix of curious character, country calm and top-quality food, but it would be good to have information about how each feature helps the environment.
Moonlight Chalet, St Martin Vesubie, Côte D’Azur, France (00 330 6 89 25 36 74, www.moonlightchalet.com)
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Wednesday 22 May 2013
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