Hillview Resort – designing a deep forest retreat

Hillview Resort, Grandvoir encapsulates a new vision of hospitality, where nature and architecture exist as one in the Ardennes, Belgium. Geraldine Dohogne, Founder of Geraldine Dohogne Design, discusses the design story behind the resort…

wooden table and chair in front of window looking out to woodland

Hillview Resort has been designed by as a masterful expression of biophilic design, sheltering 84 cottages, 16 guest rooms, a restaurant and bar, spanning over 60 acres in this pocket of luscious vegetation in the Belgian countryside. the resort is a call to discovery for the guest who stays, a place where concepts of work and rest are left behind. Instead, curiosity and play beckon the person who walks through the forest, and happens upon the bespoke cottages meticulously, and heartfeltly designed, by Dohogne.

As a design process, adventure is the word for the designer – from exploring all of the possibilities of biophilic design, to working closely with local artisans to design and make every element, the energising process of pushing new frontiers enfolds guests as they move through the landscape, and stay within the lodges.

“Every space was designed for the guest to be completely immersed in nature.” discussed Dohogne. “My aim was to complete the need of guests to enjoy themselves, to feel connected to the environment and to just relax from the busyness of everyday life.”

mood lighting and an unmade bed in a cabin in Hillview Resort

Image credit: Sara Vanderwalle

The forest is the main character in this story of beauty, comfort and serenity. It is amongst its storied, toweringly graceful trees, that the cottages nestle. Within this ecological sanctum sanctorum, as soon as a guest steps over the threshold, they are ensconced in their own bubble of peace – privacy is guaranteed under the canopy of the trees. Next comes the internal harmony of soft and structured materials at play; the gently smoked wooden beams gracefully stand alongside the soft hush underfoot of the natural woven rugs – at every glance and felt touch, through texture, colour, and choice objets, inner nourishment is offered up to the guest.

A colour palette of tobacco and soft ochre interplays with calming tones of misted black and textured green, mimicking the chiaroscuro of sunlight and shadow, that can be observed through the floor to ceiling windows, that face out into the green expanse. The tones have been carefully selected to add richness to the interior, without overstimulation. The materials – wood, stone, hessian – belie their natural origin, and speak to their hyper-locality to the region. A signature feature of any Geraldine Dohogne Design, the materials are intrinsic to the landscape.

kitchen and dining space in forest lodge with natural materials

Image credit: Sara Vanderwalle

Dohogne’s core philosophy, of letting the environment truly infuse her designs with a sense of place, is alive and present here. A stay at the Ardennes is literally like no other, as the Studio worked closely with local artisans to craft the furniture and soft furnishings that give the lodges their unique sense of intimacy, and comfort. Everything has been created from a blank page, from the positioning of each of the 84 cottages along the landscape, the particular flora that meets the guests as they approach the front door of their abode, to the antiques selected from local markets.

“Sustainability is at our core, both across our local sourcing and in our materials,” expanded Dohogne. ” Our black paint is made from black charcoal, and all of our chalk paint with natural pigments; finally, most of the works are based on wood and stone.”

natural wood under stair desk and chair

Image credit: Sara Vanderwalle

Whether a solo explorer, or a happy group of kith and kin, freedom is a defining characteristic of a stay in Hillview Resort. Through practical, considered design elements, guests have the autonomy to tailor their own experience. Inside, the open plan living space sets the stage for ease of connection, both to the outside, with the depth of windows designed, and within, with generous dining, living and cooking areas. Every cottage comes equipped with a fully fitted kitchen, ready to cook up a cosy dinner or to make your morning coffee, enjoyed on the private deck, in the company of viridescent calm, pure forest air and dappled light.

This outside space is a deliberate design choice: whether seated within, or contemplating on the terrace, guests are treated to sweeping views into Belgian forest. As the natural canvas of the forest will evolve and flow throughout the year, guests are invited to watch the seasons change, ensuring that each visit will be of its own kind.

When a guest desires a meal prepared by a chef with seasonal produce, they can take a short walk to the main restaurant and bar – Bois des Bois – and enjoy an effortlessly convivial meal. The restaurant honours the authentic flavours of the region, with a focus on localised sourcing. There too guests will find a localised market with fresh, seasonal produce – leaving the enchanted forest is rendered completely unnecessary.

For the programme of events, Hillview Resort privileges autonomy once again. Should guests have a desire to explore the forest, a bike rental programme is easily available. For the nurturing of mind, body, and spirit, a yoga platform hosts a series of classes. Within the Ardennes, the act of constant doing is replaced by a contented sense of being.

exterior view of Hillview Resort cabins

Image credit: Sara Vanderwalle

A story of sustainability is also key to this project. Dohogne personally, in her designs for over a decade, has taken the approach of being as respectful as possible to the natural surroundings, upon which a project is realised. Hillview Resort has allowed the designer to set a new standard for the Studio, having created a contained world with biophilic, sustainable design, encompassing clean energy, recycled water management, naturally occurring materials, local craftsmanship reducing carbon footprint, and monitoring the environment to sustain the local ecological homeostasis.

view of the surrounding Ardenne countryside from Hillview Resort

Image credit: Sara Vanderwalle

The cottages are powered by renewable energy, owing to the solar panels used throughout, and the site employs circular design in its harvesting and reuse of water, an engineered design to ensure that the cottages exist in harmony with the forest. With this project so many firsts are achieved – it is the first of the Studio to create a full world in itself with circular, sustainable design enfolded throughout; it is the first to be in the forested heart of Dohogne’s native home – Belgium; a coming of home of sorts, but a home more akin to a tranquil haven.

Main image credit: Sara Vanderwalle