Part 1. Creating an ecolodge : from discovering to thinking
"You love nature; you'd love Lac du Pêcher! »
Real encounters scarcely take place where expected. This one took place on skis, in the heart of the Evasion ski area, Mont Blanc Country. We were living in Megève at that time and this Saturday of January 2007, a day of migration on the roads to and from the Alps, was ideal for a breath of fresh air. Especially as it only took a few minutes walk for Laurence to joyfully be "chairlifted" up in the mountains. That day, she was not skiing alone but with Pierre, a foreigner who would soon become a companion of nature and skiiing, whom she met on the car park after gliding on a sheet of ice.
Soon gaining height, in a snowy weather where you couldn't see three meters away, we opened up new horizons by talking about the lands of South Africa, of Alaska... ". Until suddenly, Pierre said: "You love nature, you would love Lac du Pêcher! ». The information could have been overlooked, except that Pierre talked about the place on 2 or 3 occasions, without imagining for a second that in that morning, he was sowing the seeds of timeless rare moments which, since then, have germinated to give life to a remote ecolodge posted on the banks of Lac du Pêcher, in Cantal, in the Auvergne’s Wilderness of France. The first neighbour is indeed 3 km away.
An ecolodge as the "eighth wonder of the world" for a stay away from civilization
Determined to keep secret this address of Lac du Pêcher (where I was informed there was an inn), for a nice escape with my life companion, I quickly investigated on the web. After tedious research (which could never have been successful, when one regrettably retained "Lake of the fisherman" instead of « Fishing Lake »), the Internet site gave me to feel a place in the far end of the world… just enough to excite my imagination.
However, there was a snag: the inn was no longer running and the place was for sale. "It doesn't work," Pierre told me. "How can a place said to be the Eighth Wonder of the World not be bankable? "For someone who works in the tourism industry, and who is passionate about traveling, this did not make sense, and I couldn't stop trying to understand the « how », even more the « why » of what seemed to me to be simply unacceptable.
"It's an ecolodge! ", Love at first sight
Two months later, Daniel - to whom I had revealed the surprise as the great escape fell into « no way ! » - showed himself to be as challenged as I was. So we decided to find out what was wrong with the way the inn was run so that it could be stopped and now for sale.
It took no less than 5 hours of driving to reach the shores of the lake. That day, arriving by the small road from Cézérat after a lunch break in Allanche, we discovered a dried-up lake, a land of wide open spaces... and a lava stone building on these ghostly shores. It was with a burst of laughter that we both picked up this moment: "It's crazy, this is an ecolodge! "was my spontaneous remark, immediately connected to the subtle evidence of the place, without knowing anything about it yet. The site was already in the Parc Naturel Régional des Volcans d'Auvergne, with no mention of it anywhere on the road, classified as an ENS (Espace Naturel Sensible for sensitive protected natural area) without it being obvious yet. Everything, with hindsight, seemed to be woven underground... ready to germinate with the creation of the ecolodge.
So obviously, everything arose in the simplicity of the exchange: « we’ll create a luxury ecolodge »
After a few hours of visit, spread over 3 floors, no less than 1,400 m² of built-up area and a territory to be contemplated on the way, we set off again by these same small roads, not without first meeting a deer that crossed by hopping in front of us. We were definitely wondering.
Everything was fresh, light, joyful... connecting us immediately to the heart and the heart of the territory. And as we exchanged our impressions and points of view during the 5-hour-drive-back, we were greatly surprised by the fact that everything was just as it should be. What one of us said resonated immediately with the other: "By the way, this is the flavour of the Lodge and those trunks of my childhood jumped out at me when I walked into that room" or "behind the barn hill, there’ll be a Jacuzzi, right on the edge of the lake".
« By the way, it's called "instants d’Absolu"! » (meaning timeless rare moments). That was my last message on the way home. Like the intuition of an ecolodge where to come and live this connection to the magic of Life, when it is lived fully, here and now. An ideal to be rooted in the land of Auvergne.
Yet, how can one seriously imagine leaving a joyful and festive social life in Megève? What ecolodge project to consider?
If everything seemed so obvious, the only thing that still stood in the way of the idea of coming to give life to "instants d’Absolu" Ecolodge & Spa was the joyful and festive life we were indulging in Megève. For 12 years, we had both been involved in the tourism development of this winter and summer sports resort and I told myself every day that I could have paid to do the job. Daniel was at that time General Manager of the hotel " Au Coeur de Megève ", run by the Giazzi family for 5 generations. I was in charge of the Marketing and Development of the luxury chalets of "L'Alpaga" in the Hamlet of Mavarin and Granges d'en Haut in the Chamonix Valley.
After 7 years previously spent working together on the international development of Megève, between workshops on the one hand, and booking management on the other, we were used to taking part in the festivities that mark the life of this village, from jazz evenings to the Snow Polo tournament, from classical concerts to the magical Air & Space nights, in the presence of cosmonauts and sky enthusiasts.
In Megève, there was also Daniel's family and all his musicians of friends… at the time of the Friday rehearsals with the Harmonie municipale.
However, for me, everything was clear and it was unthinkable, after discovering this place, to imagine sweeping away this ecolodge project with a wave of the hand under the simple pretext that our life in Megève was among the most pleasant of lives. Not going ahead would have been like swimming against the current of the River of Life. I felt it inside and already the energy was flowing inside me to put this project on a paper.
The following weekend, I wrote down the partnerships I liked to imagine: Guide Rivages des hôtels de Charme (which would be one of our first partners), very much alike Alastair Sawdays-Special places to Stay in the United Kingdom, Voyageurs du Monde. I would write down even the proposals for stays, with a wellness approach. The naturalistic approach, we will acquire it on this site, over the years, in the connection with this raw nature, just as meaningful as powerful and transforming. Lived as a regenerator.
For Daniel, it took a little longer to imagine taking the step. "Give me 72 hours and I'll give you an answer" was his answer to my question: "Can you imagine us leaving Megeve and moving there? "Less than 48 hours later, however, Daniel had to say yes.
Synchronicities, destiny at work " because it was there ! "
It will take a few years of work and reflection, no less than 20 return trips to embroider the existence of this ecolodge. No less than 3 years in fact between the meeting in March 2007 and the opening in June 2010, after nearly a year of work.
Because, to create an ecolodge as to build an ecolodge, beyond the business plan necessary for the bank and the partners who will expect more than just passion, it takes a real dose of enthusiasm, patience, courage, some would say... even unconsciousness, I would add.
In the meantime, many encounters will have been engaging, enabling us to energise this project: this very first meeting with Bernard Delcros, whom we met at the time he was President of the Community of Municipalities of the Pays de Murat, with whom we were going to work together... that of Chantal Reversat, who will be our financial adviser at the Banque Populaire du Massif Central and with whom we very quickly had a friendly contact (with a banker, we are aware that this may come as a surprise, having been called upon so many times. And yet!). Equally decisive were these meetings with Jean Pinard, then in charge of the development of Auvergne, at the CRDTA before it merged with the Greater Region; with Bruno Avignon for the Cantal destination.
Among the just as strong and decisive encounters were those that made us feel how much our destiny was at work. One day when we were returning home disconcerted by so many problems we had to face, at the last toll stop (in Cluses, 30 minutes away from Megève) on our way back, we came across a "Cantal - Auvergne" sticker posted, for a reason that still remains unpenetrable, on the toll booth. A Cantal lover who wanted to shout it there, loud and clear... a little joker... a person in charge of the toll booth from Cantal? So many unanswered questions. And in the end, it doesn't matter! Basically, we have crossed so many of these synchronicities on our way that it quickly appeared to us as our Way of Life. You would have had to be blind not to see.
The creation of a charming ecolodge, step by step, in the volcanic soil of Auvergne
In the end, it was not because I had exclaimed loud and clear: "this is an ecolodge" that I was clear about what an ecolodge is. Nor was Daniel. A Lodge, we somewhat better knew. We had experienced a few in South Africa and kept alive the wonderful moments spent at Makalali in the Kruger Park or at Falaza in Hluhluwe Park. But then, why didn't we shout "this is a lodge"?
I already felt, without being able to name it, the powerful energy of this site. I could feel the energy of the Earth, much more so when the lake was empty. Today, the elements are more balanced. It was as if Life was pulsating in this place, in a slightly comatose state, but which required to live. Fully.
However, if the evidence was there to such an extent we could call it an ecolodge, we would have to clarify what an ecolodge is to be able to merge as well as possible with this place, to alchemise our energies. It is a long study on which we will fall on the Internet, entitled: "ECOLODGES: EXPLORING OPPORTUNITIES FOR SUSTAINABLE BUSINESS" which will make us clear about it. The ecolodge is described as meeting 3 major criteria, after having established the evidence of what a lodge is, namely a structure that accommodates for board and lodging:
- An ecolodge is located in the heart of a natural park or reserve, in short in a natural territory of wide open spaces.
- An ecolodge takes into consideration the two principles of environmental protection through preservation and awareness.
- An ecolodge makes a local commitment to return to the territory.
Everything in this meaning of the ecolodge was made natural and immediate sense to us and it jumped in our face as a new evidence that the link to the Parc Naturel Régional des Volcans d'Auvergne needed to be more asserted. Since then, we had studied this territory a little more closely. The services offered in the surrounding area were waiting to be structured. There was a musher for dog sledging, a horse riding centre in sight, a nature interpretation centre, the Maison de la Pinatelle... but also craftsmen and potters. So many partners with whom we would weave the happiness of Living naturally as an Art.
A few years later, there would be a painter-binder (now retired), other craftsmen, including a cheese-maker and a jam-maker, a cutler... so many living forces that could participate in the same chain of development, in a global intelligence of quality offer.
In what was becoming clearer day after day, there was conservation fee, which was to involve us as much as our guests. Because we had been lucky enough to travel and seen how many parks abroad open their doors to the public in return for a financial contribution. It is with the LPO (Birdlife) that we started in 2010, willing to participate in the safeguarding of the kite on the high volcanic plateau. 10 years later, and after many other actions such as raising awareness of the bat, listening to the invisible during charming and surprising evenings, equipped with ultrasound detection devices (to differentiate murins, pipistrelles, identify the bicoloured noctule and no less than 11 species on the site), we are once again working together with the LPO to raise awareness this time about the preservation of the shrike.
Finally, to finish putting the spirit of the ecolodge on paper, we had to learn that we would be subsidized by the Auvergne region and beyond, by the French State (in the form of reduced charges and taxes), as soon as the building was located in a ZRR (Rural Revitalization Zone), confirming, if necessary, the intelligence of a territorial vision, and supporting our wish to participate in a crucial local development.
Once the time for meeting and reflection over, it would be time for rehabilitation and launch.