Get Off the Beaten Path with These Unique Overnight Stays
In the age of Airbnb and Vrbo, there has been an unprecedented surge in short-term rentals. With so many rental properties on the market, how do you make yours stand out from the rest?
It’s safe to say that the following rentals have cracked the code. From secluded treehouses to refurbished shipping containers to a monolithic dome, these nontraditional accommodations offer guests a unique experience they won’t find anywhere else. And while the structures themselves are Instagram-worthy, each rental also gets top marks for location, amenities, and customer service. Read on to learn more about these distinctive destinations and the masterminds behind them.
Le Petit Chateau
A Hidden Gem in Northwest Georgia
Photos Courtesy of Candlelight Forest
John and Angie Tatum are passionate about creating experiences that encourage unplugging from the world and reconnecting with family. That passion ultimately led the couple to create Candlelight Forest, a unique set of four getaways located in the beautiful Chattanooga Valley of Chickamauga, Georgia. It’s on this property that you’ll find Le Petit Chateau – a charming, French-inspired treehouse that encourages guests to embrace the outdoors and a simpler way of living.
Le Petit Chateau first opened in 2016 after a group effort from the Tatum family. “The creation of this treehouse was a true family experience,” share the Tatums. “Our daughter Sarah Grace conceptualized the entire feel of the treehouse. Everything about Le Petit Chateau has been thoughtfully designed for both beauty and efficiency.”
Take, for example, the covered outdoor kitchenette. This practical space allows one to enjoy a late-night mug of hot chocolate while gazing up at the stars. Rustic old-world windows and doors found throughout the treehouse are nostalgic touches that also filter in plenty of natural light. Quaint French farmhouse décor seen in the two bedrooms and upstairs loft is a nod to the chateau’s European inspiration.
“Though the footprint of the treehouse is small, every inch of space is used to create an experience that is described by our guests as the best of being in nature without the discomfort – a true ‘glamping’ experience,” explain the Tatums.
While a stay at Le Petit Chateau is a delight in and of itself, the outdoor amenities of the property are also a pull for many guests. Visitors can spend their waking hours canoeing and paddle boarding on Lake Angela, fishing, hiking, and even interacting with the resort’s pygmy goats and chickens.
“We really enjoy the way these experiences awaken children to the outdoors at a different level, where they are free to run and play in ways they may have never enjoyed before,” add the Tatums. “Our guests, especially families, often comment about how refreshing it is to disconnect from the busyness of life and reconnect to their loved ones through the experience of our ‘simple times’ resort.”
These days, La Petit Chateau stays booked throughout the year – especially on the weekends. According to the Tatums, “Our greatest reward from the past few years is the number of returning guests we’ve had. Experiencing their joy time and again is our favorite story and something we take great pride in.”
Chattanooga’s First Monolithic Dome
Photos by Wagner Lane/W. Abercrombie Real Estate Photography
While dome-style homes aren’t a new concept (just try a quick Google search), the Scenic City certainly had never seen one prior to 2018. But when Glenn Bodnar and his wife Donna Brownfield started looking for a no-fuss, low-maintenance home they could rent out for some extra income, the monolithic dome home seemed like the perfect fit.
“There is no roof to replace, no wood rot, no bugs that can penetrate,” Bodnar explains. “With this home, all we have to do is paint!”
With a background in construction and real estate, Bodnar was in a prime position to build Chattanooga’s first dome home. “When we first submitted our plans to the city, they thought it was strange, but they were very interested in our design and vision,” he shares. “The city inspectors checked on us regularly to see our progress and even helped us with the design so that my wife could have an open floor plan with a queen-size bed and full-size bathtub to accommodate our guests.”
For the past three years, Domania! has been listed on Airbnb and Vrbo, and the property stays booked approximately 20 days per month year-round. Guests rave about the uniqueness and efficiency of the space, as well as the unmatched acoustics the dome’s architecture allows for. After an overnight stay, some visitors will contact Bodnar with questions about building a dome of their own.
If the setting itself wasn’t enough, the Bodnars go above and beyond when it comes to customer service. Their dome is filled with all of the comforts of home, including a Tempur-Pedic mattress, organic soaps and shampoos, and late-night snacks. They’ve also outfitted a patio in the backyard with a grill, outdoor dining set, and tiki lights for ambience. “Donna even places wine and a card in the fridge if it’s a special occasion,” adds Bodnar. “The guests love the special attention!”
The future of Domania! looks bright, so much so that Bodnar has considered purchasing larger lots to build entire dome villages complete with five to 10 domes of varying sizes. As for the Bodnars? “If you happen to see a perfect piece of land, please let us know,” he says. “We are actively looking to build our dream dome for retirement.”
The Cottages at Hidden Falls
One-of-a-Kind Cave Dwellings
Photos Courtesy of The Cottages at Hidden Falls
If you had told Rick Gattone three decades ago that his love of caving, and later a career building ponds and waterfalls, would lead to the conception of hand-built cave cottages, he wouldn’t have believed you. Thanks to a prime piece of real estate in the foothills of Lookout Mountain and Gattone’s desire to try his hand at vacation rentals, his property – dubbed The Cottages at Hidden Falls – was born.
“I actually mulled over a few ideas for rental cabins – things like earthships, straw bale houses, and underground houses – before landing on the cave cottages,” explains Gattone. “In the end, I took design elements from many of these forms of construction; for example, I chose insulated concrete walls for their strength and longevity, and I utilized faux stone to make my cottages look like ancient ruins.”
He adds, “Ultimately, my 10-year-old self just wanted to build some ‘cool forts’ for people to come enjoy the area and stay in.”
Since opening Bedrock Cottage in 2017 and Cavern on the Green in 2019, demand has grown every year. In fact, Gattone notes, “If we didn’t block off a few nights per month for routine maintenance and deep cleaning, we would be booked 100% of the time.” Of the hundreds of guests who have overnighted at The Cottages, some have been architects and builders (who always have questions, according to Gattone), and there have even been a few famous rock stars.
The allure, of course, is the hand-carved exterior of the cottages, but the interior offers a pleasant surprise of modern amenities and charming décor. The cottages’ roofs are another guest favorite. “Since the cottages are built in to the side of a hill, it’s easy to step onto the roof and enjoy the dramatic view of Lookout Mountain,” says Gattone. “We’ve placed artificial turf on both roofs and stone furniture on the mostly flat Bedrock Cottage to encourage guests to hang out up there.”
Gattone is currently in the process of building a third and final cave dwelling to finish out the development, which he promises will be the “caviest” one yet. “It’s going to have a waterfall that flows out of the bedroom and into a lagoon pool below,” he shares. “I always thank my guests for coming to stay and thus supporting my construction habit.”
On the Rocks
Tiny Homes with Big Views
Photos by Tretheway Media
“Find your repurpose.” It’s a saying that Michael and Teah Hicks live by, and at their rental property – On the Rocks – it comes to life in a very real way. On the Rocks consists of three tiny homes, each crafted from old shipping containers.
It all started when Michael, who has worked in construction for over 20 years, began to search for a new way to express his creativity. “This project became his obsession,” Teah shares. “Michael actually built his first container home in his office parking lot and kept it there until he found the perfect spot to place it. While driving on Lookout Mountain one day, we discovered the property and knew this was it.”
The couple has owned On the Rocks for a whole year now, and in that time, it’s been booked practically every night (unless blocked off for maintenance or personal use). Although the Hickses own other rental properties, they say the demand for On the Rocks is much higher because of its uniqueness.
And it’s easy to see why. Stepping onto the property, you’re met with panoramic views on the bluff of Lookout Mountain. At one of the tiny homes, a large front porch offers a daybed swing with string lights overhead, while the roof of another is outfitted with hammocks and seating to maximize the views. Inside, amenities include the standard bed, kitchen, and bath – but the design is smart and stylish. The Hickses have incorporated tile showers, vintage sinks, and shiplap ceilings to give the shipping container an elevated feel.
There is one caveat – you won’t find internet or television on the property. But with a gorgeous vista and a s’mores kit provided by the Hickses, who has time for work emails anyway? “Our guests love a good sunset on the property, and they love being able to watch the gliders fly past from Lookout Mountain Flight Park, which is just down the road from us,” explains Teah.
More container homes could definitely be in this couple’s future, but one thing’s for sure – they’ll always make time to relax and enjoy the view. “We built these tiny container homes with the purpose of a retreat for ourselves and others to come unplug, unwind, and meditate,” Teah says. “It’s just the best getaway.”
Photos Courtesy of Canopy Treesort
For anyone wanting to get up close and personal with Mother Nature – while still having a warm shower and cozy bed – look no further than Canopy Treesort. This low-impact glamping experience provides everything you need, and nothing you don’t, to unplug for a few days in the wilderness.
“My wife, son, and I bought the property where Canopy Treesort now sits in June of 2020, just following the onset of the pandemic,” says owner Ched Sharpless. “We had this vision of being able to enjoy nature and the simple life without having to give up the comforts that would allow us to enjoy our stays more.”
That vision took half a year, and some manpower, to bring to life. “The land was totally raw at first, so I had to blaze a road by hand that got us about 150 yards into the property,” Sharpless explains. He spent the next month and a half camping on the land with his dog Daisy, exploring and planning potential build sites. The following four months saw family and friends helping Sharpless construct Canopy from the ground up.
The finished product is truly something to behold. A tree deck – suspended between a birch and white oak – supports two sleep pods made of cedar wood. These hand-crafted pods are 84 inches round and 10 feet long, which allows just enough room for two twin mattresses, cooling and heating devices, a closet, shelves, and LED lighting. Each pod’s pièce de résistance, however, is the floor-to-ceiling dome-shaped window that boasts panoramic views of Sand Mountain and the night sky.
Although a relatively new rental, Canopy Treesort has already been met with glowing reviews, with guests calling it “a cozy, magical dream” and “a perfect blend of whimsy, functionality, and nature.” “The most rewarding feeling is all the positive feedback we get from our guests,” says Sharpless. “People come to Canopy to escape and decompress from the confines of everyday urban living.”
Sharpless reports that over the past six months, the property has been rented 16 days per month on average (mostly weekends). Looking toward the future, he’s hoping to get more mid-week rentals and rent out Canopy Treesort closer to 24 days per month. “We also have an expansion in the works,” he shares. “We recently purchased an additional 10 acres and have started work on another structure. We’re hoping to have it ready by next spring, and we’re continually grateful for our guests’ suggestions and creative ideas for this wilderness wonderland.”
The Treehouse at High Point Farms
A Honeymooners’ Paradise
Photos by Creative Revolver
The Barn at High Point Farms has been a sought-after wedding venue for the last decade. Located in Flintstone, Georgia, the 70-acre working farm features an authentic barn, historic farmhouse, flower gardens, and some friendly mini Nubian goats. After hosting the first wedding on the farm for her daughter, Jill Baldschun, owner Margie Gardner decided it was time to take the next step and add a treehouse to the property.
“We needed a place for the honeymooners to lodge after their wedding, so this treehouse was designed with newlyweds in mind,” Gardner shares.
Although it was originally intended as additional lodging on wedding weekends, a slow wedding season in 2020 gave Gardner the idea of putting the treehouse on Vrbo and Glamping Hub to generate some extra income. Needless to say, it worked. “There is rarely a week that goes by that somebody isn’t renting the treehouse,” says Gardner. “People have been so anxious to get out of their apartments and the big city to come to the farm, where we specialize in space and fresh air.”
Nestled in a canopy of trees, the treehouse itself provides a romantic getaway for couples young and old. White-washed wood walls, pendant lights, and Boho-inspired décor give the space a dreamy quality, while vintage elements like the doors and reclaimed barn tin ceiling – borrowed from the farm’s own barn – tie in the history of the farm. Other striking features include a spiral staircase leading up to the second story and a large farmhouse sink that marries utility and charm.
“Our guests like that the treehouse isn’t cookie-cutter, that it tells a story,” explains Baldschun, who now co-manages the property. “It is just a peaceful place to be. They often sit on the porch and eat at the little table we have set out for them – it’s their own little piece of paradise.”
When craving activity, guests enjoy walking the property and, of course, visiting the goats. The duo also offer optional “add-ons” for guests ranging from curated bonfires to a guided farm tour in a golf cart. “Another add-on is farm-fresh bouquets waiting for you at the treehouse,” adds Baldschun. “With so many of our guests being young lovers, having a beautiful bouquet of flowers from our own gardens is a special touch.”
Gardner continues to block off renting the treehouse on wedding weekends (the honeymooners have to have lodging, after all), so weekdays and winter offer the most availability for overnighting in this idyllic abode.