Want to go out on a limb for your next vacation—literally?
Once the sole province of young boys and Ewoks, tree houses offer adventurous travelers (read: unafraid of heights) a unique travel experience in an age of roadside motel chains and globe-stretching hotel corporations.
Building a hotel in the treetops is hardly a new idea: Brazil’s Ariau Amazon Towers Hotel has been inviting guests to explore the jungle canopy from its rooms since the mid-1980’s. But the concept has blossomed; today you’ll find them everywhere from Massachusetts to China.
Better yet, this new breed is more than just planks of wood nailed to an old oak. The Costa RicaTree House Lodge, in Limón, for example, has a full kitchen and luxurious bathroom built around a gnarled 100-year-old Sangrillo tree. Head to South Africa’s Tsala Treetop Lodge, in Plettenberg Bay, and you’ll find infinity pools and fireplaces.
“A lot of people had good experiences with tree houses when they were growing up,” explains Michael Garnier, a builder who has constructed tree-based dwellings around the globe and also operates the Out’n’About Treehouse Treesort, a sprawling 36-acre wonderland in Oregon. “It draws an adventurous type of person,” he says. “The kid comes out in them.”
Sometimes, it’s the solitude and seclusion afforded by sleeping in nature that attracts people to high-flying hotels. Take northern Sweden’s eerily beautiful Treehotel, whose mirrored cubic exterior reflects the forest on all sides.
It’s the vibrant cacophony of the rainforest, by contrast, that’s on display at Tranquil Resort, a working coffee and vanilla plantation in southern India. Chances are high that guests might find themselves in a not-so-tranquil situation: nose-to-nose with howler monkeys, who reportedly dance on the roof at night and have even startled guests by bursting into bathrooms. “I’ve found nowhere else like it in the world,” says former (unshaken) guest Haley Spurway.
Modern tree houses present a rare opportunity to drive past the McResort and break free of travel’s predicable stops and well-traveled routes. Up in the leaves, you’ll find something unique and exceptional—surely the reward of any good journey.
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Treehotel, Harads, Sweden
Why It’s Unique: Leading Swedish architects gave the backyard staple a strange futuristic makeover at the Treehotel outside Harads village (population: 600).
Perched four to six meters above the ground, each of five treetop suites has its own look, whether resembling a bird’s nest, a flying saucer, or a construction of Lego blocks. The most ingenious suite has a mirrored exterior, reflecting the forest on all six sides.
Access: Ramp, bridge, or (if you’re lucky) electric stairs.
What to Do: Pursue the Northern Lights by dog-sled ride or snowshoe hike through the Lule River Vally in winter, or go fishing and kayaking in summer.
Playa Viva, Juluchuca, Mexico
Three tree-house casitas completely built with sustainable materials; each have a bedroom and full porch for dining and lounging, and the master development plan calls for a beach club, lounge, and 40-room boutique hotel, plus solar-generated electricity and hot water.
Access: Series of stairs, ramps, and bridges.
What to Do: Tour the resort’s 200 acres, 80 percent of which is a private nature preserve.
The Aviary, Lenox, Massachusetts
Why It’s Unique: Located on 22 acres of parkland designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the two-story Aviary tree-house in the Berkshire Mountains features a limestone wet room with an antique soaking tub, circular stairs leading to the second-floor sleeping quarters, and a Bang & Olufsen entertainment system.
Access: Ground-floor entrance.
What to Do: Sample the season’s bounty in Wheatleigh’s elegant Dining Room restaurant, or poke around the historic area’s local galleries, antique shops, and museums.
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