See that tiny little red spot? It’s the gite in the middle of nowhere in France that will bring you back to nature and reinvent yourself… for at least a few days.
What is it? It looks like a tiny red cube plonked down in a green field in the Haute-Marne countryside of France, 55 kilometres from Dijon. Up close, it’s an off-grid holiday home that has become a hotbed for romantics and nature lovers. Conceived by France-based German artist Gloria Friedmann, Le Carre Rouge (“the red square”) is somewhere between conceptual art and a gite. There’s no electricity and no running water. If you’re allergic to modern comforts and prefer living like a Spartan, this is the place for you.
What’s the set-up? The two-storey cube has a surface area of 640 square feet, with one side entirely glazed to open up views of a lake. Brick, clay and wood are the main materials inside. On the upper level, there are three futon-style beds that can sleep six. The ground floor is an open kitchen with no-frills dining facilities and a wood-burning stove (logs are provided so you won’t need to bring an axe). Gas lamps are the only form of lighting. When nature calls, you relieve yourself in a 19th-centuryish toilet nearby. An outside water pump provides refreshment.
Kind of challenging for a holiday, isn’t it? That’s precisely the point of Le Carre Rouge, where joie de vivre is derived through what many would call drudgery, austerity and inconvenience. Friedmann’s idea was to “bring humans face to face with nature”.
“The minute you arrive at Le Carre Rouge, life begins to change,” says Friedmann, who once stayed here for three nights. “It takes a long time to get anything done, from setting the fire to doing the dishes. You spend the day focusing on certain tasks to acquire something you normally take for granted. No more hi-tech electronic gadgets. But somehow, life feels good.”
How popular is it? It’s a mystery to many urbanites why Le Carre Rouge is booked out weeks in advance. Initially, Friedmann and the NGO that facilitated the project, La Fondation de France, expected less than 10 visitors a year, but the annual occupancy rate has been nearly 100 per cent. Many guests are French, including a musician who visits regularly to compose in solitude. There’re also foreign visitors, including a Japanese couple who arrived one January during a heavy rainstorm. They survived to record the adventure in the guestbook.
Will we starve if we can’t use the stove? Outdoor barbecues are an option and the closest restaurant is 10 minutes away by car. Cafes and bistros can also be found in the area. If you have any queries or problems during your stay, you can contact a woman in the village. However, adding to the challenging spirit of Le Carre Rouge, she doesn’t speak English.
What’s the bottom line? Weekend rates start at €130 (HK$1,335) while a week’s stay costs €280.
Le Carre Rouge is at Route de Santenoge, Villars-Montroyer, Haute-Marne, France. It can be reached only by car. Tel: +33 325 842 210 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published in the Post Magazine on 25 March 2012