Or Palliasse or pallet, from the French paille, meaning ‘straw’. Until very recently, most of the world’s population would have been familiar with a type of paillasse, a straw-filled mattress used for sleeping on, often stuffed with aromatic and cleansing herbs, those such as rosemary, valerian, that were known to induce sleep, cure ailments and keep away bugs. In fact many still have mattress rolls, the same idea, whatever they are filled with, that are either folded or rolled away during the day to be brought out again at night, or remain in constant use – seating by day and beds by night.

As teenagers we had paillasses to sleep on when we went camping, I don’t remember the filling but from memory my guess  is that they were filled with cotton.

Deep paillasse set in metal or wooden framed beds were often supplemented with a feather topper for luxurious comfort. For many of us, nothing much has changed here really, as despite all efforts to make modern mattresses suit any and every need, we still prefer a duvet or topper between the mattress and the top sheet.

I’ve slept more recently on straw bales, set within a  wooden frame, beneath a comfortable mattress , and the smell of new straw is itself fresh, summery and soporific. Perhaps it was the fresh air and mountain atmosphere, or it could be inherited memory.


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