Lodging in the Trees, Underwater and in the Ground

From Tunisian caves to Swedish mines, unusual hotels can be found around the world to make your vacation a special one

Like an iceberg, the little red hut bobbing on Sweden’s Lake Malaren hardly hints at what’s beneath the surface; some 10 feet below is the “second” floor. (Howard Davies / Alamy)
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If a standard hotel room just won’t cut it for your next vacation, you may be in luck: Dozens of imaginative souls have established lodgings in the air, below the ground and under the sea. We’ve rounded up nine such spots that take you out of the ordinary, including a 16th-century silver mine in Sweden, the Tunisian cave dwelling that was used as Luke Skywalker’s childhood home, and a marine research lab in the turquoise waters off the Florida Keys.

Live Like Swiss Family Robinson

Bamboo Treehouse, Rincon, Puerto Rico, 541-499-3885
Jo Scheer built three treehouses, or “hooches,” on his property in northwestern Puerto Rico partly to display the beauty and versatility of the area’s abundant bamboo. Two hooches are entirely in the treetops, while the third treehouse forms the master bedroom for a house based on the ground.

The treetop lodgings rise above remote promontories that provide views of the Caribbean and lush valley; each hooch has a kitchenette, bathroom, and solar-powered electricity and hot water.

Cedar Creek Treehouse, Ashford, Washington, 360-569-2991
When Bill Compher built his treehouse in the early 1980s, he fulfilled a longstanding wish. From his new perch in Gifford Pinchot National Forest, he could revel in the views of nearby Mount Rainier. In 1998, he turned his eyrie into a guesthouse. Built 50 feet above a creek in a western red cedar tree, the house has a living/eating area, sleeping loft and toilet. “You can lie in bed and stargaze right above you,” he says. “The most common comment I get from guests is ‘Thank you for living your dream.’ ”

Winvian Resort Treehouse, Litchfield Hills, Connecticut, 860-567-9600
“Big kids never had it so good,” boast the owners of this New England resort’s treehouse cottage. And, with rates starting at $750 a night, it might be the crème de la crème of tree houses.

The vibe of this two-story “cottage” is kid-clubhouse, but it also includes very grown-up features such as a whirlpool, fireplace and full bar. The resort itself has all sorts of spa services, a gourmet restaurant, horseback riding and hiking around 113 acres of rolling hills in northwest Connecticut.

Play Hobbit

Hotel Sidi Driss, Matmata, Tunisia, 011-216-75-240005
Familiar to many as Luke Skywalker’s Tatooine home in “Star Wars,” Hotel Sidi Driss is actually a very large pit on the edge of the Sahara. Berbers of southern Tunisia burrowed into the ground—sometimes as far down as two stories—to protect themselves from enemies and extreme temperatures that define a desert climate.

Located in one of those burrows carved out in the seventh century, the troglodytic hotel has 25 guest rooms, six separate bathing facilities and a small restaurant. Accommodations are basic; remember, Luke didn’t grow up in the lap of luxury. Bits of the original movie set still remain in place, and the surrounding region boasts numerous “Star Wars” locations; www.tunisia.com/tunisia/travel/star-wars-tunisia provides an excellent guide to them.

The Cedar Creek Treehouse Observatory is 10 stories up an old-growth fir. It sits on two levels with a view of nearby Mt. Rainier and the Tatoosh Range. The observatory is reached via the Rainbow Bridge. (Bill Compher)
Like an iceberg, the little red hut bobbing on Sweden’s Lake Malaren hardly hints at what’s beneath the surface; some 10 feet below is the “second” floor. (Howard Davies / Alamy)
Familiar to many as Luke Skywalker’s Tatooine home in “Star Wars,” Hotel Sidi Driss is actually is a very large pit on the edge of the Sahara. (David Stares / Alamy)
Jo Scheer built three tree houses or “hooches” on his property in northwestern Puerto Rico partly to display the beauty and versatility of the area’s abundant bamboo. (Jo Scheer)
According to local lore, the man who originally turned a cave in the Ozarks into a 5,800-square-foot home did so because he feared nuclear winter. (Associated Press)
Only certified divers may sleep in this renovated marine research lab located in Florida’s keys. (Stephen Frink / Corbis)

Sala Silvermine, Sala, Sweden, 011-46-224-677250 
There’s room for two only in this tiny room 500 feet beneath the surface of central Sweden. The space is part of a silver mine that was active from the 1500s until the early 20th century. Guests receive a tour of the mine complex, with its myriad galleries and lakes, and then are tucked in with a picnic basket for a late-night dinner. Breakfast is delivered the next morning.

Forget your cellphone; it won’t work underground. And don’t whistle, yell or swear, because such things anger the "mine lady" who haunts Sala. “We have many examples from people who have whistled,” writes Marketing Director Sofie Andersson. “Torches and radios have stopped working, the elevator has stopped. . . . But mostly she is very friendly, and she loves it when people sing.”

Beckham Creek Cave Haven, Parthenon, Arkansas, 888-371-CAVE 
This unusual place owes its existence to one man’s paranoia: According to local lore, the man who originally turned a cave in the Ozarks into a 5,800-square-foot home did so because he feared nuclear winter.

Today the five-bedroom dwelling is open to the public, for a minimum of two nights. This is no humble abode; the haven has sunken tubs, a game room outfitted with a pool table, and a slickly furnished living area dominated by a waterfall. The site has played host to numerous celebrities —it boasts a heliport for special guests—as well as a fair share of wedding parties and family reunions.

Kokopelli’s Cave, Farmington, New Mexico, 505-326-2461 
While this young cave was made in 1980, the sandstone in which it nestles is 65 million years old. The one-bedroom cliff dwelling offers striking views of the Four Corners region (sections of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah).

Getting to Kokopelli’s requires stamina; guests must hike down a 70-foot trail to the cave’s entrance and then descend a ladder to get inside. Once there, however, the accommodations are welcoming, with a flagstone hot tub, waterfall-style shower, CD player and full kitchen.

Pretend You’re Captain Nemo

Jules’ Undersea Lodge, Key Largo, Florida, 305-451-2353
Only certified divers may sleep in this renovated marine research lab located in Florida’s keys. But don’t fret if you’re not; the staff runs three-hour scuba certification classes to get you 30 feet under safely.

This human fishbowl of sorts stands five feet above the floor of the Emerald Lagoon. It features two small bedrooms and a well-stocked kitchen, although a “mer-chef” delivers meals. The real beauty of the place is the view; three 42-inch portholes provide close encounters with jewel-toned tropical fish as they swoosh through the depths.

Utter Inn, Vasteras, Sweden, 011-46-213-90100 
Like an iceberg, the little red hut bobbing on Sweden’s Lake Malaren hardly hints at what’s beneath the surface; some 10 feet below is the “second” floor, a metal structure attached to the hut by a tube just large enough to hold a ladder. Once you’ve descended the ladder, you’re in a vibrant red room outfitted with twin beds and large picture windows. (A bathroom and small kitchen are above the water in the hut.)

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