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Buys 14th-C. Pyrenees home, builds treehouse village around

Emmanuel Grymonpré has invented a new style of treehouse. The shelters he’s built-in trees overlooking the Spanish Pyrenees don’t rely on any ground support. Instead, they’re suspended like birdcages over 20 feet in the air by simple cables.

When Grymonpré and his wife Karin Van Veen came to the Catalan countryside to fulfill their dream of opening a resort in the trees, neither had ever built a treehouse before. Though Grymonpré had spent a decade in the Venezuelan wilderness building adventure parks and he knew he could use his understanding of the forest and trees to create something unique.

High-flying abodes designed to respect tree

Instead of building a platform to support his high-flying cabins from below, Grymonpré projected his design upward. He first built his shelters on the ground and then raised them 4 to 7 meters (13 to 22 feet) into the air. Once airborne, he then fixed them in place by inserting a stainless-steel rod through the tree from which he hung cables to envelop the treehouses with adequate force to suspend them.

Grymonpré says that many people wonder if it’s hurting the tree to pierce it so completely, but he explains that it’s the outside of the tree that needs protecting and that his method is really healthier for the tree than treehouses that rely on the outer ring of the tree for support.

100% natural: no running water, no electricity

The treehouses at the couples Cabanes als Arbres resort can be reached by suspension bridges and trap doors and once “tree-board” inhabitants are truly isolated from all that is not natural. There’s no electricity, no cellphone service, and no running water. Toilets are a simple bucket with sawdust. The sink is a pitcher of water and a basin. Candles serve for light.

There is an on-grid main house (with showers, conventional toilets, and a restaurant)- the 14th-century Masía la Vileta- within walking distance of all the tiny, floating shelters, but for those who choose not to leave their perch, even meals are delivered via basket and rope.

Woodcraft, earthing, and forest bathing

The treehouses are all crafted out of local wood. Instead of relying on treated timber, Grymonpré used his knowledge of the strengths of different types of wood to create different parts of his shelter: chestnut for the base and the siding, madroña (“strawberry tree”) for the railings, and Douglas Fir for the shingles.

The fact that the treehouses are 100% natural is important to Grymonpré. He believes in the power of natural materials, even just touching a wooden door handle or balcony railing, as a way to improve mood and health (see “body earthing” and “forest bathing” for related views/research on the topic).

Nights in a nest

Grymonpré and Van Veen inaugurated their Cabanes als Arbres (“cabins in the trees” in Catalan) resort in 2009 with just two treehouses. Today they have 10 aerial cabins for rent and a waitlist nearly a year long.

They don’t advertise, but somehow guests find them (we met a family from Denmark who discovered them via google earth) tucked between the Montseny mountain range and the Pyrenees foothills.

The couple hope their guests will be transported both personally and on a more global scale by their time “in direct touch with the tree and its ecosystem”, “the pleasures of an exile among the foliage” and “some nights in a nest”.