The Upgrade

Hotels Are Setting a New Bar for Treehouse Design

From Mexico to Norway to China, our columnist extols the virtues of skyward stays.

An overhead view of the raised casitas at the Acre Hotel.

There are certain things that have the power to make us smile at any age. Take treehouses. What’s not to love about scaling heights like a super hero to take a bird’s eye view on the world around us? Hotels have taken note of this primal joy. It’s not an entirely new trend. My own first experience dates back almost a decade to the still incomparable dining pod at Soneva Kiri on Koh Kood Island in the Gulf of Thailand, an hour’s private flight from Bangkok. Twenty feet above a tropical rain forest, lunch is served by an acrobatic waiter who swings between the trees on a zip line to deliver baskets of pre-selected European wines and spicy Thai delights.

Recently, however, I’ve been noticing a proliferation of elevated accommodations with tasteful design, especially on home sharing sites like Airbnb. Selfishly I’m thrilled the trend has inspired hoteliers around the world to experiment with the concept. In fact, I’m being lured to Bhutan next month by the promise of dining up a tree in Bumthang, a region verdant with apple orchards and rice terraces in a remote kingdom known for its Gross National Happiness.

California's Redwoods engulf the treehouses at Post Ranch Inn.

One need not go far to tap into their childhood wonder. On a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Big Sur, Post Ranch Inn offers sleek freestanding treehouses perched on nine-foot high stilts, entirely surrounded by California’s famous Redwoods. Triangular in shape and built of local wood and steel, each features a skylight to watch the stars from the king-sized bed after dark.

South of the border among 25 acres abundant with greenery in the foothills near San José del Cabo is Acre, 12 aeries sitting within a natural palm grove on the tip of the Baja Peninsula, accessible by steel stairs and decorated with Mexican artisanal furniture. Handmade screens from indigenous palo de arco wood provide, the Baja breeze, and plenty of natural light. Wake up to birdsong for complimentary morning yoga or linger in the bed linens made by Oaxaca artisans. Further south, 35-minutes south of Zihuatanejo along Mexico’s Pacific Coast, on a 200-acre private nature preserve, the American owners of Playa Viva hired Deture Culsign along with ‘treehouse design studio” Artistree to build three 700-square-foot treehouse casitas entirely with locally sourced, sustainable materials, principally bamboo. Perched six feet above ground, each cylindrical structure has an ocean facing bedroom and deck. Electricity and hot water are provided by solar power.

(CLOCKWISE FROM LEFT) One of the 12 aeries at Acre on the Baja Peninsula. Playa Viva's spherical, all-bamboo accommodations designed by Artistree. Qiyunshan Tree House Hotel brought modern aesthetics to rural China.
The Treehotel's Mirrorcube suite blends into its surroundings in northern Sweden. (Photo by Hufton + Crow)

Deep in the Norwegian woods north of Oslo, architects Jensen & Skodvin designed Juvet to connect guests to the breathtaking scenery with minimal intervention by forgoing conventional design to create a “landscape hotel” with small all-glass cubes. Each structure rests on massive steel rods drilled into the rock, leaving existing topography and vegetation nearly untouched. Transparent oil with black pigments was used to treat the interiors in order to minimize reflections from the inner surface of the glass walls. By removing physical barriers between humans and nature, the Oslo–based firm creates the sensation of staying inside a camera with the windows as a panoramic lens looking out to the aspen, birch, and pine trees above a dramatic gorge along the Valldøla River.

Since opening in Sweden’s Luleå River valley in 2010, Treehotel has sparked curiosity for its standalone suites shaped like everything from a UFO to a bird’s nest. The 2016 arrival of Mirrorcube by Tham & Videgård Arkitekter brought the property even more attention. Seemingly suspended among the country’s northern forest, its 360-degree reflection camouflages the two-room suite into its surroundings, which includes a tree trunk that cuts through the middle of the space.

Not always on the travel radar, rural China offers fertile ground for skyward stays. In a forest deep within the Anhui Province, Moshe Safdie alum Xiang Nan and his Bengo Studio stacked a series of modernist boxes on top of one another up to the tree line at Qiyunshan Tree House Hotel. Stark white walls, polished wood plank floors, and streamlined furnishings keep the focus on views of the Huangshan mountains through floor-to-ceiling windows. It’s another side of China, and one of the latest takes on the fascination with retreating up into the trees.

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