Like many good stories, this one began around a campfire.
In 2008, travel guide Kent Lindvall hosted one of his far-flung fishing trips to a remote part of Russia's Kamchatka region. Here he got talking to his guests, Swedish architects, about the inspirational film Tradelskaren (The Tree Lover), where three urbanites rediscover their rural roots by building a house together in the woods.
Back home in the Lapland forest, some 40 miles from the Arctic Circle, not far from where the film was set, Kent and his wife Britta decided to buy land behind their 1950s-style guesthouse, which had been earmarked for logging. Two years and a lot of technical drawings later, the Treehotel opened, not tree houses in any traditional sense but a futuristic, fantastical, architectural experiment.
The hotel opened with four "cabins" set about 50m apart, on the hillside behind Britta's inn. Each is uniquely designed by a celebrated Swedish architect: a magical red "Cone" appears to glow amid the foliage; the "Mirrorcube", a reflective glass structure vanishes from view completely with subtle changes in sunlight; and the "Bird's Nest" constructed exactly as the names suggests, is a woven sphere of branches and twigs. I stayed in the "Cabin", created by interior design wunderkind Marten Cyren, which juts out seemingly unsupported over the hillside, the bed positioned square in front of a picture window to give uninterrupted bird's-eye views of the forest and Lulea Valley beyond.
The latest addition, which opened this spring, is the "UFO", a completely circular cabin that appears to be hovering in the trees: a flying saucer that sleeps four. There are plans for up to 20 tree houses on the site, and Britta and Kent have lately thrown down the design gauntlet to international architects. The next fantasy tree pod will come from Finnish architect Sami Rintala; a long, horizontal beam-like wooden structure, balanced across six pine trees. And watch this space for a creation from German artist Carsten Holler, best known for turning the Tate Modern's Turbine Hall into a sculptural kid's playground with his 2006 exhibit Test Site.
There are currently six tree houses, each sleeping two to six people. Despite the high-design, the modern interiors and, quite frankly, the cost of staying here, these are not really luxury cabins. Sure, there is underfloor heating and artful fixtures and fittings, but an eco-conscious ethic underpins all the designs, so the loos are slightly tricky and showers have to be taken back down at Britta's guesthouse or in the sauna. (See The extras, below.) Some guests love this "camping" atmosphere – especially supplemented by Britta's excellent home cooking and mumsy charm – but others find the necessity of stepping back into the 1950s-style guesthouse for meals and ablutions breaks the tree houses' surreal spell.
The food and drink
Britta's home-cooked "moose balls" (huge reindeer meat balls) were a hit with my daughter and me. Dinners are hearty and drawn from local ingredients, such as smoked elk with lingonberry sauce. Main courses average around SKr250 (£25). Breakfasts (included in the room costs) are exemplary Scandinavian feasts with cloudberry jams, frothy hot chocolate and myriad herring on wagon wheel-sized rye crackers.
Set in the forest, between the tree houses, is a circular "tree sauna" complete with wraparound balcony and showers. Kayaking, hiking, mountain biking and fishing are just some of the ways to occupy yourself during the 24 hours of daylight in midsummer; in winter this Northern Lights-illuminated Lapland forest setting is absolutely magical, with husky dog safaris, snow shoeing, skiing and ice fishing excursions all bookable from the hotel. The gloriously named village of Jokkmokk (pronounced yokmok), a centre for Sami culture and crafts, is an hour's drive away.
Most of the tree houses are designed for families/groups, but the steep ladder access on some cabins makes it difficult, if not dangerous, for very young children. Although some cabins have wide gangplank access, the hillside setting would make using a wheelchair hard.
Tree houses cost from Skr3,500 (£346) to SKr4,200 (£415) per night, based on two sharing, including breakfast. Double rooms at Britta's guesthouse cost Skr400 (£40) and tours of the tree houses can be arranged. The hotel is about an hour's drive from Lulea's international airport, with new direct connections to the UK with SAS (0871 226 7760; flysas.com) from £299 return.
Treehotel, Edeforsväg 2 A, S-960 24 Harads, Sweden (00 46 928 104 03; treehotel.se).