Treehouse Hotels Bring Visitors Back to Childhood

Sleeping Among the Birds

Giant orange eyeballs, airplanes you can sleep in, and multidimensional birds’ nests. Those who want to relive their childhood fantasies of sleeping in a treehouse have their choice of rustic wooden models or the ultra chic. SPIEGEL ONLINE takes a look at hotels for tree climbers.

Perched crookedly among the branches, more garish than sublime, the rooms all offer guests the sounds of the breeze rustling through the leaves and birds chirping — all 10 meters (32 feet) above ground. Welcome to the first treehouse hotel in Germany.

“We built it like children would have: filled with nooks and crannies, colorful, and with lots of imagination,” says the hotel’s owner Jürgen Bergmann. But it’s not only families with children who frequent the Kulturinsel Einsiedel near Görlitz, a city in eastern Germany that shares its border with Poland. A night in the treetops has also become a favorite 40th or 50th birthday present.

Bergmann is sure of the hotel’s appeal to men. “It’s a lifelong male fantasy to be in a treehouse,” he says.

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A night nestled in the trees. Germany’s first treehouse hotel, Kulturinsel Einsiedel, opened near Görlitz in Saxony in 2005. The wooden rooms, with names like Modelpfutzen’s Treetop Summit, are connected by narrow walkways.

Guests, both young and old, share outhouses and cold water outdoor showers. Still, the rooms are booked to capacity, says the owner, Jürgen Bergmann.

Many treehouse hotels have eccentric designs. The Free Spirit Spheres hang on Canada’s Vancouver Island. The owner, Tom Chudleigh, says the idea came to him from “the spirit realm.”

Chudleigh hopes one day to expand his offering from three to 40 round rooms, all interconnected. He dreams of a resort in the trees.

No simple plane wreck. In Costa Rica one can spend the night in an old Boeing placed high in the trees.

The terrace features rocking chairs and a view of the sea. The special suite attracts families and pilots alike.

At the new treehouse hotel in Sweden, called the Treehotel, all of the rooms are designed by different architects. This one is the mirrored cube.

A square sushi roll: “The Cabin” hangs among the birch trees near the Swedish village of Harads. In all, 24 rooms are planned.

The third completed room, called the “Bird’s Nest.” Just like with the other two rooms, the owners of the hotel took precautions that none of the trees would be injured during its construction.

Storybook treehouse: Also in Sweden is the Woodpecker Hotel, high among the branches of an old oak tree in a park in Västerås. Not for those with a fear of heights: one can only reach the room, some 13 meters high, with a ladder. Fortunately, a toilet is inside.

Somewhat easier to reach, but higher still is the Canopy Tree House in the middle of the Peruvian rain forest. Guests at the Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica Lodge sleep some 27 meters above ground.

Luxury treehouses: Those who want to stay at the Tsala Treetop Lounge in South Africa don’t have to worry about outhouses or cold water showers. They relax with room service and private pools.

At the Post Ranch Inn in California’s Big Sur, high among the cliffs of the Pacific coast …

… guests have well-appointed rooms surrounded by green trees.

The bed and breakfast Vertical Horizons Treehouse Paradise in the US state of Oregon doesn’t offer a pool or fireplace, but owner Phil and his wife Jodie make the guests breakfast. The couple built the three treehouses themselves, and each has its own theme.

Another treetop hotel in Oregon is the Out’n’About Treehouse Treesort, where owner and treehouse expert Michael Garnier created 16 different rooms. Guests wanting more of a thrill can fly along the hotel’s zip line

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These days it’s easier than ever to fulfill one’s dream of sleeping among the branches. More and more hotels are offering the experience, not only in Germany, but also in the jungles of South America, in Africa, Australia and even in the polar regions. And lately it hasn’t only been ramshackle shacks that are hanging between the branches. Some of the treehouses offer real luxury, such as fireplaces and hot tubs. Others are treehouses in name only.

In Bergmann’s hotel, which opened in 2005, things are still on the rustic end. The toilets are truly outhouses, and the outdoor shower, which naturally only has cold water, is not for everyone. But that hasn’t scared off visitors. Bergmann says the rooms are filled to capacity.

What attracts his visitors, Bergmann says, is simply the thrill of being in a treehouse itself. “We take them on a trip back into their childhoods,” says the 54-year-old with the long white braid. “It’s a place for the soul: cozy, romantic. One feels very at home.”

Treehouse Purists and Gigantic Eyeballs

He might have crooked cottages with unusual names, but Bergmann is a purist when it comes to building treehouses. Others have different interpretations. On Vancouver Island in Canada, some four meters (13 feet) off the ground, are three orange-colored balls, about the size of small campers. With round windows on the sides, they look like giant eyeballs.

Tom Chudleigh is the founder and builder of the three Free Spirit Spheres, made out of wood and fiberglass. He confides that the idea for the unusual hotel rooms came to him from the “spirit realm.”

“Architecture can shape your surroundings,” he says. “The spheres give off, with their shapes, a feeling of being at one with the environment. They hover in the air between the trees and make this magical world accessible.”

Chudleigh wants his guests to feel a connection to nature when they spend the night with him. The balls hang on ropes from the trees and sway back and forth in the breeze. The concept has been well-received. Eve, Eryn and Melody, as he has named them, have been booked almost all year.

Interest in his hotel has gained rapidly in the last few years, Chudleigh says. He built everything from the frames down to the furniture, leaving only the plastic wrapping and the windows for others to do. His dream is to have 40 balls connected together — a whole resort in the treetops.

Many of the treehouse hoteliers tend to have a vision, and often it is an outlandish one.

Allan Templeton just positioned a whole airplane between the trees. Along the cliffs of the Pacific coast in Costa Rica, the silver and red monstrosity juts out of the tropical forest and looks like it just made an emergency landing.

But a look inside the suite of the Hotel Costa Verde proves that it is not dangerous. Inside, the room is outfitted with local teak, and over the wings is a terrace with rocking chairs and a breathtaking view of the ocean.

Sushi in the Trees

It’s a form of recycling,” Templeton says. He found the discarded old Boeing from the 1960s at the airport in Costa Rica’s capital, San Jose, and remembered an article he once read about airplanes that had been converted into homes. Templeton, an American and the son of a B-17 bomber pilot, decided he wanted something just like that for his hotel.

After extensive renovations and a risky maneuver involving a 90-ton crane, the Boeing finally landed among the trees. The suite has been open since the end of 2008, and the guests have included families and several pilots.

“Maybe they come here with especially romantic ideas,” Templeton says, laughing.

The newest member of the treehouse family is also no wooden shack. Hanging in the woods near the Swedish village of Harads are the new rooms of the Treehotel, opened in July by the Lindvall family. There is a mirrored cube, a multidimensional bird’s nest and a square-shaped sushi roll. All of the planned 24 rooms have been designed by Swedish architects.

Like Tom Chudleigh and his spheres, the owners of the hotel want to offer rooms that are in harmony with their environment. “Respect for nature is very important for us,” says Sofia Lindvall, who runs the hotel with her parents. “We haven’t damaged a single tree with a screw. The rooms are either hanging or are on stilts.”

The interest in the treehouses has been so strong that the Lindvall family holds tours every day for those who can’t get a free room.

“Many people only first notice once they are here how high up 10 meters is from the ground,” Lindvall says. “Many get quite scared.”

One can’t be afraid of heights and stay in a treehouse, no matter what the design.

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Full article and photos: http://www.spiegel.de/international/zeitgeist/0,1518,716603,00.html