The kind of camping idealized by Huttopia—a new chain to North America, but one that has dozens of outposts across Europe and strong growth in China—is fairly minimalist, but not exactly roughing it, either. Founders Philippe and Celine Bossanne, according to their daughter, Margaux Bossanne, got the camping bug while traveling across Canada in the late 1990s. Margaux is now the North American brand director for Huttopia, and she explains that the very particular American-French flavor of what her parents have evolved combines the joys of being in the outdoors (including campfires and the ability to cook outside), but eliminates some of the pain, like setting up a tent or sleeping on the ground.
To learn more we visited Huttopia’s brand-new Adirondacks location outside Lake George earlier this summer. But Margaux says that the fall is the best season for a stay, with fewer insects, lower humidity and gorgeous autumnal hues.
What’s the melting point between Huttopia’s French-ness and American-ness?
In France, especially 25 years ago, camping had this reputation that wasn’t very nice. With Huttopia they wanted to bring what they saw in America back to France, where now what we’ve made is more back to nature and very family-oriented, which is actually a very French thing. They realized that people want to get out of cities and need nature, but in a comfortable way.
This partly explains the tent structures, which dot the sites and are far enough apart not to hear other campers. They’re sort of more like tree houses with wooden platforms and canvas walls. Why this design?
Well my parents had this 19th-century camp idea that you see in old photographs of these spacious tents that you can stand up inside and be very comfortable. But the goal is not luxury. We say it’s “camping ready,” because you have everything you need: a bathroom with a shower and toilet, and then in the kitchenette a sink, dishes, a fridge. Some have a wood stove, and electricity for lighting. But it’s meant to be cozy so that you’re reminded to go outside and be out in nature. I always bring it back to being a kid, because we have a lot of families, and to create memories it has to feel like camping, to actually be living differently. I’s all those little things.
One brilliant part of the layout is that there aren’t cars near the sites. These all park out of the way, so you don’t have any intrusion.
That’s totally something that’s on purpose. This way it’s safer to be out on the grounds, for kids to run around and go see their friends, and we do have activities for kids, too, to give parents a break, but the layout without cars near where you’re staying is all to emphasize that this is a natural place.
Speaking of that, and the experience of really camping, it’s nice that the site in the Adirondacks has grills to cook outside. I wonder about this; it’s perfectly normal for Americans, but how French is it?
You can’t camp without cooking. This is kind of universal. But we also have to adapt every site differently. For instance in the Adirondacks because we’re on a steep hill, we have these nice, wide porches with a grill and a lounge area. But in places where it’s flatter we can just have the flat ground with chairs and so on. We kind of like that every Huttopia is a little bit different, and that’s also like wilderness—you don’t want everywhere to be identical. But as for cooking, this is also how camping is social: We want guests to bring food to make, and yes we have a restaurant at a central lodge, but it’s not that we expect you to eat every meal there.
Yes, but the lodge is nice, with what Americans and Canadians would probably identify as the design ethos of national parks. And I understand that most Huttopias also have pools. Can you explain these elements?
Well, the French way is to have a pool and restaurant. It’s just more comfortable. When parents arrive in France at a Huttopia they’re thinking “Ah, we have a pool! We’re going to have a nice vacation.” And the lodge is a community space. It’s funny because the actual name that we have for it in France, it means “center of life” but unfortunately it doesn’t really work in English. But the goal with this and with the pool is to be where kids make friends with other kids, where they then go off and play, and where people grab a coffee and chat. People can meet, socialize, play, do all these things, and then go back out to their own accommodation. At Huttopia we say you’re not camping on your own, but with your neighbors. We want people to feel like there’s a community, like you’re all on an island somewhere.