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Chewton Glen: the treehouse of wonder

Looking like floating wooden space ships – but with wrap-around balconies and hot tubs – they’ve got picture windows, vaulted ceilings and enough eco-credentials to make me weep re-cycled tears of joy

May 24, 2013 | By:

Tucked away on a sprawling estate, up in the tree canopy, Chewton Glen's treehouse suites raise the stakes for Hampshire holidays. Caroline Phillips reports. Plus: a treehouse treat on booking

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Seeing the wood from the trees (while lounging in the balcony hot tub, if you like)

When it comes to treehouses, I know what to expect. I’ve already been there, done that.

In Kerala, India, I slept 40 feet off the ground, atop red flame trees, in a magical place reached by a gangway. It had stupendous views over coffee plantations and a tree growing through our bedroom.

At night, fireflies sparkled like fairy dust and we nodded off to the sound of cicadas. “Beware! With the coffee ripening, monkeys are on the prowl,” read a bedside notice. “Don’t be alarmed if you hear strange noises on your roof.” That was a mere five years ago.

Nearly 50 years ago, I had my own treehouse in rural Berkshire. It was at my parents’ weekend cottage, and was an arborial des res that was to be found halfway up an oak (I think).

Made from a few planks, somewhat rickety and perilous, it had walls that were open to the elements. In fact, it might more appositely have been described as a platform: a sort of landing stage en route to climbing to or falling from higher branches.

And now tree residences have now become very zeitgeisty. The Tree Hotel in Sweden (just below the Arctic circle) is part hotel and semi-art installation – they’ve even done some treehouses up to look like birds’ nests.

Meanwhile the just-opened Red Kite Tree Tent, Powys, offers just that – and the UK’s first – a canvas pod suspended in the trees of Cwm Clyd forest.

Then there’s Chewton Glen, the grande dame of Hampshire hotels, which has opened six treehouses that make even a treehouse-ophile like me re-think all my preconceptions. There are no monkeys and no rickety floors here; just wooden structures so achingly smart that they’re (rightly) known as ‘suites’.

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“Forget my inner child. This appeals to my inner tree fairy”

They’re in a secluded valley in 130 acres of hotel grounds, built on stilts and entered by wooden gangways. Looking like floating wooden space ships – but ones with wrap- around balconies and hot tubs that brush the tree canopy – they’ve got picture windows, vaulted ceilings and enough eco-credentials to make me weep re-cycled tears of joy. (Think sustainable materials, rainwater harvesting, solar panels, low-energy lighting.)

Slumber in the lumber 

Inside they’re all contemporary and curvy, and done up in neutral and forest-colour good taste – with tartans, delicious copies of Fredrikson Stallard’s iconic strapped log tables and tweed-covered hot water bottles.

Then there are sensual baths – the size and shape of giants’ eggs – that look over the woods and deer. Staying there, it would be foolish not to lie in one for most of the evening and slaver oneself in the REN products provided.  So I do.

Our kids ignore the plasma screen and cool (even by land standards) entertainments systems. They clamber up the loft steps to play Monopoly and drink hot chocolate with marshmallows in their secret bunk room eyrie.

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Meanwhile we drink local cider, and tea from fresh chamomile flowers, in front of the wood burning stove; order room service on an iPad; and later, have breakfast delivered through a hatch. Forget my inner child. This appeals to my inner tree fairy.

These log-built lodgings are tranquil and cosy, with just the sound of crows cawing. Outside, there should be lions and elephants (as this little spot is clearly somewhere Out of Africa). Instead there are mature trees of moss, lime and peppermint green, and badgers and pheasants and binoculars with which to spy on them.

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To the trees: your log-built lodging awaits

We become Children of the New Forest and play in the grounds – since the hotel thoughtfully provide enough Hunter wellies in our pad to meet global needs. We wander through the woods and past streams to the Solent, the stretch of water separating mainland England from the Isle of Wight.

Out of our trees

Yet in our stilt-sanctuary, we’re just two minutes by push-bike or golf buggy from civilisation as we know it: from the hotel’s world-ranking spa; its restaurant, where waiters re-fold my napkin when I go to the loo and we eat giant oysters and the sweetest and most succulent of scallops; and where there are WAGS and Mumsnetters.

The hotel is bordered by the New Forest with its heath land, wetlands, grassy plains and ancient woodlands. In spring there are foals; in summer there are purple heather and, in Brockenhurst, an ice cream stall where ponies queue up. And, come autumn, there are mushrooms – from cepes to golden chanterelles.

We go riding at Burley Manor Stables on steeds that are somewhere between Thelwell and stallion in size, and somewhat like the former in temperament.

We trot under a sky that extends as far as the eye can see and across terrain, without people or houses, that stretches forever and beyond. We canter across gorse, grass and heather, resting briefly at inky natural pools and riding up delightfully close to wild and semi-wild ponies. Nearby cattle are grazing. The air is as clean as toothpaste and our spirits as high as larks.

The forest has, in other parts, been gentrified and gastronomified: we eat in the Pig (home cured piggie sausages) and midst Nottting Hillbillies in Lime Wood (superlative Marmite mushrooms, devils on horseback, baked crab and apple and quince crumble). But there’s more, much more.

There are beautiful sandy beaches, Beaulieu’s Cistercian abbey and Lord Montagu’s Palace House; Lymington’s Saturday market and its Georgian high street; and Mudiford Beach, with its rows of traditional beach huts.

There are reasons aplenty to visit this region. But now, with the treehouses, there’s an even bigger temptation to go down to the woods today.

• Book and stay at Chewton Glen during June, July and August and enjoy either a complimentary afternoon tea hamper when booking a treehouse or an afternoon tea on the terrace when booking a bedroom in the main house.

To book, call reservations on 01425 282212 and quote ‘high50’. Subject to availability.

Treehouse Suites at Chewton Glen cost from £600 per night, B&B (www.treehousesuites.com)