Child­hood fan­tasies get a so­phis­ti­cated twist at one of Europe’s must-visit ho­tels


It was late af­ter­noon in north­ern Swe­den, and I’d just fin­ished help­ing the owner of Tree­ho­tel in­stall a new gas stove in the com­mu­nal kitchen of a lo­cal camp­ground on the banks of the Lule River. Sure, not how I en­vi­sioned spend­ing my af­ter­noon when I first checked in, but when the man who cre­ated one of Europe’s must-visit ho­tels, who trav­els the con­ti­nent speak­ing on the virtues of sus­tain­able ar­chi­tec­ture asks for your help for any­thing, well, it makes you feel sort of ... spe­cial.

When we were done, Kent Jon­s­son Lind­vall, who be­gan his work­ing life as an elec­tri­cian and still does all Tree­ho­tel’s elec­tri­cal main­te­nance, asked: “Would you like to see where it all be­gan, where the idea for Tree­ho­tel came from? We have to drive fur­ther into the for­est to see it, but it’s not far from here, if you’ve the time.”

Oh yes, I replied. For that, I have time aplenty. We drove into the for­est past thick stands of Scots pine and Nor­way spruce, then hoofed through a meadow rife with blue­ber­ries and lin­gonber­ries to the base of a lad­der so high it wouldn’t have been out of place in a cir­cus. It rose to meet a square, tim­ber-clad tree­house, with an in­clined roof and tiny bal­cony. This was the very tree­house film­maker Jonas Au­gust­sén had built in 2008 when he came here to make his doc­u­men­tary, The Tree Lover, about three men from the city who re­dis­cover their love of trees and na­ture through the build­ing of a tree­house. Au­gust­sén wanted to re­mind us of the im­por­tance of trees, to help us re­con­nect with them. “When I came here and saw this,” Kent said, “I knew what we had to do.”

Four hours by train north of Stock­holm just be­low the Arc­tic Cir­cle, Tree­ho­tel opened in 2010. There are seven “pods” in all – Bird’s Nest, The 7th Room, The Cabin, Mir­ror­cube, The UFO, Dragon­fly and The Blue Cone – all four to six me­tres above ground, all de­signed by dif­fer­ent ar­chi­tects to avoid any hint of rep­e­ti­tion.

Bird’s Nest has an ex­te­rior of twigs and branches and was in­spired by sea ea­gles’ nests Kent had seen while salmon fish­ing in east­ern Siberia. Mir­ror­cube mea­sures 4 cu­bic me­tres and is clad in re­flec­tive glass. The Cabin’s roof dou­bles as an out­door ter­race, The 7th Room has a rope ve­randa and Dragon­fly even has an op­tional con­fer­ence room.

All are ac­cessed by a mix of stair­cases, ramps, de­scend­ing man­ual and mech­a­nised lad­ders, and rope bridges. The toi­lets burn waste into ash, cof­fees are posh, floors heated and lights are low-en­ergy LEDs. In­te­ri­ors are filled with Scan­di­na­vian-de­signed fur­ni­ture. Once in­side, the sense of soli­tude is tan­gi­ble. Not for a mo­ment do you forget where you are. And when the wind blows, the trees move. You ... move.

When Kent and part­ner Britta first came to the small town of Harads they bought the derelict shell of a 1940s re­tire­ment home, a pen­sionat, and gave it new life as a guest­house. Now it is also Tree­ho­tel’s re­cep­tion and res­tau­rant, and a 400m-long path leads from it to the edge of their 21st cen­tury pod-filled for­est, a path that fills you with an Alice in Won­der­land-like sense of ex­pec­ta­tion and won­der. Meals are taken in the pen­sionat, cooked by Britta and Se­bas­tian, a lo­cal chef who is at home with Tree­ho­tel’s phi­los­o­phy of un­pre­ten­tious hos­pi­tal­ity. On the menu is moose stew with baked pota­toes, and Arc­tic Char – like At­lantic salmon but bet­ter.

You don’t want to be late for a meal, al­though it has hap­pened. A few weeks ear­lier a Ja­panese guest rang to say she couldn’t de­scend her pod be­cause some “sheep” were milling about be­neath it, and she was afraid to come down. Ac­tu­ally, they were rein­deer. Herds can num­ber in the hun­dreds.

The Cabin, high in a canopy of 100year-old pines is the first pod you see, and it stops you in your tracks. And lucky me be­cause, thanks to some un­heard-of book­ing quirk, it would be two days un­til the next guests ar­rived. I looked down at the master key in my palm. “We don’t have any guests ’til Thurs­day. Stay in which­ever pods you like,” Kent had told me.

Seven pods, two nights. What a cruel piece of arith­metic.

I was so primed for this place. When I was eight, I built a tree­house in my dad’s apri­cot tree. It had three lev­els made mostly from fence planks and old wooden beams, with hes­sian bags for doors, a flat roof you could sit on, and held to­gether by nails. Hun­dreds of nails. A year later, when the tree be­gan to pre­ma­turely wither, we all blamed the nails. I’ve al­ways felt bad about that. I loved that old tree.

You won’t find any nails in the trunks or branches at Tree­ho­tel. Pods are held aloft by a com­bi­na­tion of slen­der steel posts and mul­ti­ple trunk-hug­ging ad­justable brack­ets that can ex­pand as the trees grow.

Snoop­ing around the pen­sionat on my last day I un­cov­ered some draw­ings for a new project, Arc­tic Bath, a spa on Lule River that will float in sum­mer and freeze into place in win­ter, its cen­tral bath “heated” to four de­grees to keep it from freez­ing and its ex­te­rior clad in a ri­otous dis­play of real logs, rem­i­nis­cent of a log jam on this old log­ging river.

Set to open at the end of this year, Arc­tic Bath will be fur­ther tes­ti­mony to Kent and Britta’s on­go­ing les­son in how in­spir­ing ar­chi­tec­ture can soften hu­man­ity’s en­croach­ment on na­ture.



Tree­ho­tel show­cases nat­u­ral beauty that doesn’t cost the earth in pods such as the 7th Room which has a rope ve­randa, and the Cabin, whose roof dou­bles as an out­door ter­race.

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