THE NEST BEST THING
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.
NOT FOR A MOMENT DO YOU FORGET WHERE YOU ARE. AND WHEN THE WIND BLOWS, THE TREES MOVE. YOU ... MOVE
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.