Creating a Memory at Roulotte Retreat

by Keith Savage · 8 comments


Gitana, my roulotte at the Roulotte Retreat, Scottish Borders

There are many amazing places to stay in Scotland. Mind you, it doesn’t hurt to have titanic natural splendor capable of turning the viewer into a gibbering lunatic as the backdrop for these places, but there are accommodations that bewilder in their own right and would fetch rave reviews even if located in the center of an abattoir. The trick is in finding them, and, I have to say, finding them is one of my greatest pleasures while traveling around Scotland.

It might seem strange on first blush to have such a preoccupation with special accommodations. After all, wouldn’t really nice accommodations be really nice anywhere? Is it really about Scotland? Fair questions but ones easily answered: The accommodations that I hold dearest are those whose magnificence evoke the landscape in which they’re found. Look at Three Glens, which is literally built out of the materials Neil Gourlay found on his farm.

All of this preamble is to say that I’ve found another one, a really special one, in the heart of the Borders: The Roulotte Retreat.

Roulotte is the French word for caravan, and the Roulotte Retreat is a pretty wildflower meadow with a small lochan around which are arranged seven bespoke gypsy caravans that Avril and Alan, the duo behind the retreat, have turned into stunningly unique accommodations. While the idea of staying in a gypsy caravan was definitely left of center, I didn’t waste much time making up my mind. I had to see what it was like, even if it meant putting a kink in my travel plans.

Roulotte Retreat is a short drive west of St. Boswells near the Bowden kirk and in the shadow of the Eildon Hills. It is a secluded span of acreage where each roulotte is given enough space from its neighbors for it to feel quite private. I arrived to meet Avril, a warm hostess, who showed me around the meadow and led me to my roulotte, Gitana, for the night. We chatted beneath fluffy clouds, and she explained with deserved pride the philosophy of the retreat and the nature of the roulottes. They had a vision for a place to restore, recharge, and rejuvenate, to reconnect with oneself and others. In 2008, they traveled to France in search of artisans who could create Romany style caravans that would anchor their outpost of romantic and creative pursuits in the wilds of the Scottish Borders. Here it stands, six years later, in a meadow of native flowers and grasses and already my single night seems a paltry stay.

Each roulotte at the retreat has a different theme. Devana has an Oriental style, Maharani evokes a Rajasthani aesthetic, and Shivanni is Himalayan in design, just to name a few. The roulotte I was to stay in, Gitana, has a magical theme with wild strawberries, butterfliles, and hidden faeries carved in the beautiful walnut walls. As we stepped through Gitana’s butterfly doors, ‘magic’ was the first thought that came to mind. I can’t explain Feng Shui, but I know when a place feels right. Gitana was perfect. We talked more, but Avril certainly must have thought I was thick-headed as I stared about the place like a baby at an iPhone.

A roulotte is not actually a large space, but every last bit of Gitana had been maximized for comfort, practicality, and roominess. A small kitchen area opened directly on the left with a range, oven, and every convenience you could hardly believe fit in such a small space. Further along the wall stood a beautiful wood-burning stove that, I found out later, warmed the entire roulotte. Every piece of furniture, every table, shelf, and pillow seemed to have been designed to fit inside Gitana. It was the work of a Tetris master.

Details. They matter. I know little about interior design, but over the years I’ve come to use good interior design as a measuring stick for the quality of the experience. When someone pays attention to the details, as Avril and Alan have done with their roulottes, you feel the love in the place as a guest. Perhaps the most stunning aspect of Gitana are the whimsical carvings in the warm walnut wood. Faeries cling to curling fronds interwoven with small flowers blossoming above clusters of strawberries. Butterflies flutter across door panels. No surface has escaped the tasteful embellishment that, as a whole, creates an atmosphere of wonder. I feel like a kid tucked away safe and sound in a tree fort, or a Hobbit hole, and I love the feeling.

Avril leaves me with a half dozen fresh eggs from their chickens and vows to stop by later. I sit on the comfy chaise and flip through the cloth-bound journal where other guests have written their experiences. It veritably glows with praise. A short hallway leads to the bedroom where a massive bed fills the back of the roulotte (how did they get it inside??). Avril had mentioned they use only the highest quality mattresses to promote good sleep, and I nearly drift off as I lay there staring at the wooden slats that form the curved ceiling.

The roulotte has a full bathroom, shower included, with working plumbing, so guests need not be inconvenienced. There are lights in every room as well, but all of this infrastructure is remarkably well hidden from view. The only conveniences missing are internet, TV, and radio, and this is purposeful. Roulotte retreat is just that – an escape from the matrix, a chance to unplug from the world that never sleeps and plug in to the one lost in the shuffle. As lame as it sounds, not having access to internet is a pretty big deal for me. Amazingly, for the first time, I didn’t miss it during my night in Gitana.

If there’s a danger to Gitana and Roulotte Retreat it’s that you won’t want to leave. You might think a gypsy caravan would be a dark place, but Gitana proves the opposite. Light pours through butterfly-shaped window panes. If privacy is desired you can pull shut curtains crafted by Avril’s mother. I put my novel on hold when I travel around Scotland, but I had a hankering to write as I relaxed inside Gitana. The roulottes would make a perfect incubation chamber for any creative type, and I have to say I dreamed of reserving Gitana for a season to finish my book. The energy was ripe.

I returned to Gitana in the evening after a meal at the fantastic Buccleuch Arms. Avril arrived a short while later, a sack of croissants and a couple glasses of wine in tow, and led me around the retreat. Alan joined us later, and in them I found that same infectious inspiration you get from people who are doing with their lives what they love. Each roulotte is as impeccably designed and dressed as the last, evoking its theme and providing a work of art in which to rest and sleep.

Back in Gitana I started up the stove, poured myself some Thistly Cross cider, and cracked open a book. I missed Sarah – the roulottes are perfect for couples – but resolved myself to enjoy the sumptuous caravan I had all to myself. Don’t tell her, but for this one night it wasn’t too hard.

Roulotte Retreat is a special place. In some ways it felt a privilege to partake in Avril and Alan’s dream. I slept like a baby and in the morning I fried up a couple of those eggs and drank tea on the roulottes steps, watched the Borders sun fight through the clouds. One night surely isn’t enough, but you take what you can get. I vowed to come back to Roulotte Retreat with friends, to book all the roulottes and drink wine around the firepit at the center of the meadow. I can’t think of anything better.

In the meantime I’m clicking through Roulotte Retreat‘s website, as you should, and dreaming of the day.

Disclosure: I was provided with a complimentary one-night stay at the Roulotte Retreat. All thoughts and opinions expressed here are my own.


MarcoNo Gravatar February 5, 2015 at 3:49 AM

Very nice article Keith!
I stayed at the Zenaya for two nights last year and i agree, the attention to detail surprised me. The hot tub was definitely worth the money too. Had a fantastic time going off grid and will return there for sure!

Keith SavageNo Gravatar February 5, 2015 at 8:09 AM

Great to hear you loved it, too, Marco!

AnnNo Gravatar January 8, 2015 at 12:06 PM

Wow, what a cool-looking place. If I ever make it back to Scotland, I’m going to look these up. Your website never fails to intrigue and delight!

Keith SavageNo Gravatar January 8, 2015 at 3:39 PM

Thanks, Ann! You won’t be disappointed with the Roulotte Retreat.

ChristieNo Gravatar January 7, 2015 at 9:50 PM

Keith,
You had help plan our trip to the North, but these accommodations are beautiful. The craftsmanship is remarkable. I may need to rethink our direction. I look forward to checking out more on the Roulette Retreat website. Thank you,
christie

Keith SavageNo Gravatar January 8, 2015 at 9:45 AM

Hi Christie!

Do take a look at their web site. I wish I could send you to all the great places I’ve been, but you would need a long, long time in Scotland. There’s always another trip! 🙂

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