Strange Suites: Floating Spheres, Prison Cells & Upside-Down Rooms

Hotels that offer more than just a place to stay.

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Free Spirit Spheres on Vancouver Island lures visitors with tree-top views of the vibrant rainforest. Photo: Boomer Jerritt/Getty Images

From wacky designs to absurd themes, some hotels around the world thrive on giving their guests experiences that are uncommon, bordering on the bizarre.

Free Spirit Spheres, Vancouver Island, Canada

Giant orbs suspended from trees 15 feet above the ground make the Free Spirit Spheres look like something right out of a sci-fi movie. Located in the middle of a rainforest on Vancouver Island, the hotel consists of three spheres named Eve, Eryn, and Melody. The spheres are of different sizes and are handcrafted from wood and fibreglass using the principles of canoe building. The interiors are modelled on a sailboat with large windows that look like submarine peepholes, giving guests aerial views of the surrounding forest and its inhabitants. Wooden staircases lead to Eve and Eryn, while the route to Melody is via a wooden footbridge connected to the bank of a nearby lake. Although the orbs are tethered to surrounding trees and the ground, wind and almost any movement within makes them sway gently. Common areas such as bathrooms, saunas and barbecue pits are on solid ground. (+250-7579445; www.freespiritspheres. com; doubles $155/₹9,630)

Jumbo Stay, Stockholm, Sweden

Accommodation inside a parked jumbo jet is the stuff aviation geek fantasies are made of. This brainchild of Swedish businessman Oscar Dios initially had local airport authorities wondering if he was completely sane. Dios bought a decommissioned Boeing 747 grounded at Stockholm Arlanda Airport from a bankrupt Swedish airline, and refurbished it. The 27-room hostel tries to provide an authentic airplane experience. Staff dress as airline stewards and all the original fixtures of the plane, including safety signs, have been retained. Rooms have double and triple bunk beds and the very familiar overhead luggage bins. There are two suites: The Black Box suite at the rear, and the 747 suite in the cockpit that offers a clear view of the runway and a chance to fiddle with airplane controls. The jumbo’s upper deck has a bar and restaurant, and there’s even a meeting room. As an added attraction guests are allowed to take a walk on the plane’s left wing. And best of all, when it’s time to leave, you’re only minutes from the airport check-in. (+46-08-59360400;; doubles from $61/₹3,750)

Crazy House, Da Lat, Vietnam

Vietnam Crazy House Hotel

Vietnam’s Crazy House has gained popularity because of its quaint, cavernous, Gaudi-esque aesthetic. Photo: Viet Thang Nguyen

Tim Burton meets Disneyland would probably be the best way to describe this unusual hotel. Created by architect Dang Viet Nga, the Hang Nga Villa—now called Crazy House—was a personal art project. But as the costs of the project escalated, it was converted into a hotel. Shaped like a house inside a tree trunk, the hotel is a cluster of buildings made from a mix of concrete, wood, and wire. The interiors are like caves and oddly shaped tunnels, ladders, and steps connect the buildings and floors. Nga wanted to create a structure that would bring people closer to nature. The success of that goal is debatable, but Nga definitely created one of the most prominent oddities of Da Lat city in central Vietnam. To add to the sense of creepiness, there are spider webs and giant mushrooms all around. Guests can choose from ten animal-themed rooms representing different countries including an eagle room for the United States, tiger room for China, and the ant room for Vietnam. (+84-633-822070;; from $25/₹1,500 per head)

Karosta Prison, Liepaja, Latvia

The two salient features of any hotel are usually comfort and hospitality. However, those who spend a night at Karostas Cietums in the city of Liepaja in Latvia, expect neither. Built in 1900 as an infirmary, Karostas eventually served as a prison that housed some of the most dreaded prisoners from Tsarist Russia and the U.S.S.R. in the 20th century. Capitalising on that past, it has now become a venue for those who want a glimpse of the adversities of prison life. This includes everything from eating prison food to performing hard physical exercise, sleeping on an iron bed behind bars, and receiving verbal abuse from staff dressed as prison guards. The premises have not been renovated or altered much, and retain their original haunting aura. Those who prefer not to spend the night in privation can make a day trip, and even experience how it feels to be locked inside a prison cell for a short while (open noon to 5 p.m. on Sat and Sun from 1 Oct to 30 Apr; 10 a.m.-6 p.m. daily from 1 May to Sept 30). (+371-26369470; and; $15.50/₹950 per head)

Propeller Island City Lodge, Berlin, Germany

Propeller Island Hotel Berlin

Berlin’s Propeller Island City Lodge has some truly strange suites. In addition to the Upside Down Room, the hotel has suites with levitating beds, coffins, and metal cages. Photo: Image Broker/India Picture

With coffin-shaped beds, upside-down furniture, and rooms full of mirrors and lion cages, the Propeller Island City Lodge tries to give its guests an experience that’s anything but traditional. The lodge started in 1997 inside German artist Lars Stroschen’s house in the heart of Berlin. It is now considered one of the most unusual hotels in the city. Looking to supplement his income, Stroschen rented out four rooms in his apartment. He redesigned each one with a quirky, elaborate theme. The intention was to create artwork that guests could live in. The rooms quickly grew popular and he purchased vacant apartments in the rest of the building and converted it into a full-fledged hotel. It is named after the Jules Verne’s sci-fi novel Propeller Island. Currently, the hotel has 27 rooms, each with a unique theme that is brought to life with handcrafted furniture and fittings. Living in an artwork means that guests are handed a manual of do’s and don’ts. None of the rooms have television, but sound systems play music chosen to complement the individual room’s setting.
(+49-030-8919016;; different rooms have different tariffs in the range of €89-260/₹7,600-22,200)

Appeared in the February 2014 issue as “Strange Suites”.




  • Tushar Abhichandani is a freelance journalist, struggling stand-up comedian, and former Assistant Editor at National Geographic Traveller India. He prefers travelling to places that are devoid of hipsters.


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