It's not immediately obvious who's in charge at D'une Île, so we linger awkwardly in the courtyard for a few minutes. A demanding retriever drops a stick at my feet. The hotel cat takes a drink from a silver wine cooler under a table. A blond boy comes running up to his father to show him the butterfly that's just landed on his shoulder. It's as though I'm in some sort of pastoral dream sequence…
Eventually, Michel emerges from the kitchen in a vest, chef's trousers and clogs. He shakes our hands vigorously and pours us two icy, homemade elderflower cordials. "Welcome to our island," he says, proudly, before heading back to the stove.
The "island" Michel Mulder and his wife Sofie Sleumer have created is 55 miles south-west of Paris, in the centre of Le Perche, a conservation area in Basse-Normandie (southern Normandy). The Latin name for the area, Sylva Pertica, refers to the forests of oaks, beech and ash that once defined the landscape. Today, remnants of the forest can still be found on high ground. Between the trees, sunken paths hollowed out by centuries of hooves and boots lead to hedge-fringed meadows of wheat, corn, barley and rapeseed.
Le Perche was granted "le parc naturel régional" status in 1998 and, for the past 15 years, has served as a weekend retreat for urban escapees – Parisians who have been steadily resurrecting the area's dilapidated farm houses and chateaux. Outside of France, however, the region remains virtually unknown.
D'une Île, two miles away from tiny Rémelard, opened in April 2012. This enclave of medieval woodsmen cottages and a restaurant is tucked away at the end of a country lane, past a pond, a cherry orchard and a wildflower meadow. The owners, a beautiful, creative young couple from Amsterdam, took over the lease from Michel's father last year. They run the hotel almost completely single-handedly. When I arrive with my boyfriend for a couple of nights in early summer, all but one of the nine cottages have been newly refurbished, and all are fully booked.
Outside, the traditional, two-storey stone buildings are covered in patchy peach stucco. Inside, each has been uniquely furnished by Sofie, who trained as a designer and interior decorator. The walls have been stripped back, the exposed stoneware whitewashed. Industrial lighting is strung out over the original 16th-century beams. Rustic wooden chairs are juxtaposed with 50s enamel-topped sideboards. All the furniture is vintage and most is available to purchase from the owners. Unusual found objects – glass conicals, turtle shells, a collection of botanical specimens in jars of formaldehyde – are positioned artfully throughout the rooms. The Dutch artist Just van der Loos exhibits his work here, too. He transforms found objects – a trumpet, a safari hard hat – into light installations that add a playful note to the rustic charm of the interiors. Jewellery by Martine Viergever, photographs by Isabel Nabuurs, pottery from Gerrit-Jan van Ham, poetry from Martijn den Ouden and music from Daan Hofman is also sold.
Only one of the cottages is self-catering: the rest of the guests are served breakfast and dinner in the informal restaurant. On our first evening, we gather with around 20 guests – Parisian couples, Dutch visitors and a Canadian family – on the mismatched vintage garden furniture in the courtyard for seafood linguine with lobster sauce and a glass of rosé gris. The cat sits on a bench beside us, enjoying the meal vicariously.
To my delight, Sofie reveals that the following day Rémelard will host its annual brocantes fair. After a breakfast of croissants, compote and coffee we meander through the normally sleepy village, which has been transformed into a flea market. Young and old are bargaining over old enamel pots, crockery, books and old magazines.
At lunchtime, we find a bakery in the main square that sells the baguette du Perche – a speciality of the region. This crusty, fragrant bread is made from locally grown grain by local bakers. Each loaf bears an official seal of the region. We pick up a stick, a bottle of local cider, some wild boar saucisson and a chunk of homemade cake from a stallholder and take them back to D'une Ile for a picnic on the central lawn where Artus, the demanding dog, is imploring guests to throw his slobbery stick. After lunch, I read my book in the shade of a tree. Nearby, Michel is teaching the Canadian kids a riff on his guitar. Fat caterpillars fall out of the branches above on to the pages of my book.
Besides its bread, Le Perche is renowned for its musty manoirs, many of which are designated historical monuments and open to the public. The next day, we drive past 10km of poppy-edged fields, via the village of Nocé – seemingly uninhabited but with an abundance of red geraniums – to the Manoir de Courboyer, a fortified estate built at the end of the 15th century. We reach the top of the turreted tower via a cool, spiral staircase and explore the simple rooms completely undisturbed.
That afternoon, back at "home", we pass through the gate at the back of the central lawn and take a steep path directly through the woodland that rises up behind the property. You could happily get lost in the woods for hours, but the lure of the local wine list and Michel's home cooking soon has us scuttling back down the hill for supper.
After the meal, we share some chocolate and freshly plucked cherries with a couple who discovered the hotel on a Dutch design blog. Their two-year-old boy is safely tucked up in their cottage. The smaller guests who are still awake dangle off the trapeze in the nearby barn as their parents sit in the glow of the peachy cottages. A chorus of frogs starts up in the background.
We hear of the future plans for D'une Île: for a new suite with glass walls and a bathtub built into the floor of the living room; another new room with a huge antique window; the placing of seven antique bathtubs in the orchard. "So when it's hot, you can put on a swimsuit, order a glass of cider, take a book and have a nice cool bath under the apple trees," says Sofie.
It doesn't feel like any hotel I've ever stayed in – perhaps "island" really is the best way to describe this undiscovered, creative corner of France.
• Travel was provided by Eurotunnel Le Shuttle. Tickets from £22 per car, each way. Accommodation (excluding meals) was provided by D'une Île. Double rooms from €95 per night; €525 per week