Tyres. It was made with tyres. It was the only feature I could recall about the eco home we were staying in for the weekend. So when we drove past a pile of unused old tyres at the side of the road, just outside the village of Ger in Normandy, we feared the worst. Resembling some ramshackle back lot of an old breakers’ yard, this pile of tyres wasn’t like the plush, futuristic residence I had seen in the photo. “Have they only just finished building the home?” I asked. We agreed – and prayed – that this was unlikely to be our home for the next three days, so we drove on. Fortunately, the landing of the Earthship – as it’s aptly known – was big news amongst the residents of the surrounding French villages and farms when the 26-week construction finished in June 2008, and the first person we asked points us in the right direction. After an overnight cabin stay on the ferry from Portsmouth’s Continental Ferry Port to Caen, it had taken us one-and-a-half hours to drive from the port to the Earthship. From the front, it’s a glass-fronted piece of avant-garde architectural design; from the rear, its steep grass bank resembles a quaint dwelling from Hobbiton in Lord Of The Rings.
We are greeted by Carol, our guide to Earthship and sister of Kevan Trott, the man behind this futuristic home. As she opens the heavy wooden door, we are greeted with a bright hallway that runs the length of the house. The huge south-facing windows reach to the ceiling, allowing floods of light to pour in, while simultaneously heating the house. I then bombard Carol with questions: “Will it be warm?” “Will we have enough electricity?” Thankfully, The Earthship is self-sustainable – generating its own power (via the ten solar panels on the roof), treating its own water (through a filtration system that collects rainwater) and, with the windows acting as a greenhouse, able to grow its own food. There is a master bedroom, a double bedroom, a twin room, a bathroom and a large kitchen and lounge area. It’s a sturdily built eco home: the wood ceilings and beams are made from locally sourced oak, the granite floor comes from off-cuts from the local quarry, while 750 tyres rammed with earth provide solid foundations, along with 5,000 aluminium cans and 10,000 bottles. The walls are made of adobe – a mix of sand, earth, straw and water.
Kevan is the European Associate of Earthship Biotecture, the brainchild of American Mike Reynolds, which saw the first Earthships land like alien life forms in the desert of Taos, New Mexico back in the Eighties. Nowadays, it seems a pragmatic way to preserve the planet. Fortunately, the La Manche region of Normandy has so far retained its natural beauty and springtime is when the area bursts into life for the active family. Horse riding is available in April at places such as La Fosse Arthour – a wonderful national park for children to explore, with woodland treks, fast-flowing streams and a beautiful lake. You can even try a spot of small-scale rock climbing. We opted to explore on bikes and headed to the village of Saint Georges to find the hire shop before discovering it was, in fact, someone’s shed.
Such an experience is indicative of Normandy’s rustic charm: children can enjoy carefree play in the countryside, while parents can explore beautiful medieval towns, such as Domfront. Follow the spiralling roads up into town and you’ll be greeted by its focal point: a medieval castle with panoramic views of the La Manche region. There’s even a children’s playground to keep children entertained, while the town itself features grocery stores selling local produce.
For a little more excitement, Normandy’s 400 miles of coastline provides plenty of fun. There are 80 French Sailing Federation schools in the area and canoeing and surfing lessons are particularly appealing to children. Or simply enjoy a day at one of the many beaches, teasing clams and crabs from rock pools as the tide goes out. There’s more animal attraction at the numerous zoos in the region, but arguably the most fun children’s theme park is the viking- and pirate-inspired Festyland, full of exciting rides and roller-coaster action.
For something more educational, The Bayeaux Tapestry, the beautiful artwork that tells the tale of William the Conqueror, is a popular attraction with local schoolchildren. During the summer months, the town of Bayeaux is also home to the Bayeaux Maze – a 12-acre cornfield labyrinth, which is at its most magical during the evening, as children solve riddles and follow the torch-lit trail.
As you’d expect from a region that inspired the likes of Monet, many towns have beauty spots to discover. The jewel in the crown, however, is Mont Saint Michel – a stunning 1,000-year-old abbey perched upon rocks just off the coast. We approached at night, when it’s aglow like a fairytale castle, and followed the narrow streets up to the cathedral as cats darted around the dimly lit streets and alleys.
After that trip, I awoke the next day with a warm feeling. This was not just due to another peaceful night in the French countryside, but from knowing that my holiday had been eco-friendly. I was left with one more question for Carol: “Why can’t all homes be built like this?”
A one-week stay for up to six people at the Earthship costs from £600; www.earthship-france.com. A four-berth overnight cabin from Portsmouth Continental Ferry Port to Caen costs from £251, including car; www.portsmouth-port.co.uk
Read Your dream green holiday for more ethical travelling ideas.