Extraordinary Escapes: 16 unexpected accommodations to book in the South

Take your vacation to the next level at one of these fascinating stays—from a Hobbit hut to a tree house to a nineteenth-century castle
Buckhead, Atlanta, Georgia
Atlanta tree house

Jeremy Harwell

Branch Out
Tree House  Atlanta, Georgia

This tree house is everything you wanted as a kid, updated for your grown-up tastes. Comprising three houses, or rooms, it’s interconnected by rope bridges strung with twinkling lights. In the sitting room, find furnishings plucked from fairy tales, such as a plaster cast of a Siberian tiger paw. The bedroom has a double bed with luxury linens and wheels; on clear nights, roll it onto a platform that overlooks a stream. The third room is the deck, which surrounds a 165-year-old shortleaf pine—one of seven trees that make up this magical hideaway just minutes from downtown. Guests are an easy drive from some of the city’s best restaurants and bars, but most stay at the tree house to soak up the quiet and calm of the woods. Want to go? Act now. This backyard oasis, which was recently ranked as Airbnb’s most wished-for listing, is booked months in advance.

All Aboard
Buffalo Creek Vacations  Clyde, North Carolina

What do you get when you cross bison with a caboose? Buffalo Creek Vacations, a unique getaway spot in the Great Smoky Mountains near Asheville. The site spans seventy-two acres and includes five log cabins and two retired cabooses. Each remodeled caboose has loft beds, a full kitchen with granite countertops, even heated bathroom floors. But their most distinctive feature is their view: a large herd of bison feeding and frolicking nearby.

Hobbit hut
A Hobbit hut at Forest Gully Farms in Santa Fe, Tennessee

Jon Giffin/Forest Gully Farms

Sleep in the Shire
Forest Gully Farms  Santa Fe, Tennessee

Experience a night in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth at this farm just outside Nashville. You’ll sleep like a Hobbit in an underground hut tucked into the hillside; a nearby cavern contains a tiny kitchen and dining room. Your Shire-inspired stay includes access to a bathhouse, laundry room, and the full fifteen-acre farm. Don’t miss the foraging tours offered by the owners, who’ll show you around the property before leaving you to explore the trails on your own. (Well, their dogs, Jedi and Trooper, might tag along.) Hike to small waterfalls, relax by a fire pit, gather fresh eggs, and—depending on the season—pick wildflowers and blackberries. Pro tip: If you spot a gold ring, do not, under any circumstances, pick it up. 

Mugdock Castle on Sullivan’s Island in South Carolina

Taylor Gates/Stay Duvet

Crash in a Castle
Mugdock Castle Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina

Be queen for a day (or twenty-eight days, as that’s the minimum stay) at this castle on the western end of Sullivan’s Island in Charleston Harbor. The original building, the Winter Hall, was constructed in the 1890s and has served as a church, a fort chapel, and a private home. In the heart of the grand hall, a twenty-seven-foot vaulted ceiling, exposed beams, wrought-iron chandeliers, and Gothic-style arched windows set the stage for a regal stay. An adjoining Romanesque addition, the Summer Hall, houses most of the castle’s seven bedrooms and features a rooftop terrace with stunning views of Charleston.

A giraffe walks around outside of Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge

Photo courtesy of Disney

Walk on the Wild Side
Royal Asante Suite at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge • Lake Buena Vista, Florida

Imagine waking up in a hand-carved canopy bed so large, it had to be constructed in your hotel suite. Now imagine strolling from that bed onto a private balcony to watch giraffes graze. Turn that dream into reality at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, where the Royal Asante Suite stands as Walt Disney World’s most extravagant (and yes, most expensive) room. The 2,115-square-foot suite (the largest on Walt Disney World property) starts at $2,708 a night, and offers many of the comforts of home: a kitchen, a dining room, and a living room (though this one is fashioned like a circular hut complete with a soaring thatched ceiling). Museum-quality African art—masks, sculptures, beadwork, and textiles—is displayed throughout the suite, as it is elsewhere on the property, which is home to more than thirty species of African wildlife, including gazelles, zebras, and blue wildebeests. Guests of the lodge may also indulge in cuisine from the continent, such as Zulu-style samp and beans and West African koki corn. Not even Simba had it so good.

River Revival
Edisto River Tree Houses • St. George, South Carolina

Sometimes a trip is more about the journey than the destination; this particular trip is about both. Your adventure begins with a shuttle ride up the Edisto, the country’s longest free-flowing blackwater river. After paddling ten miles, you’ll arrive at the halfway point of your journey, where you’ll see your home for the night—one of three tree houses tucked near the river’s edge. Each comes equipped with candles, futons, and a furnished kitchen; you pack a cooler. The next morning, continue downriver to wind up back at your car, as you spot egrets, great blue herons, and wood storks along the way. These self-guided trips may be only twenty miles in total, but they take you light years away from the workaday world. 

Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, Georgia

Photo courtesy of GDEcD

Feed Your Soul
Monastery of the Holy Spirit • Conyers, Georgia

Rest. Reflect. Repeat. That’s what the Monastery of the Holy Spirit encourages guests to do during individual and group retreats at this Trappist community southeast of Atlanta. Rooms are simple but have everything you need: a bed, desk, and reading chair. Optional prayer services are held seven times a day, starting at four in the morning. During meals, retreatants are expected to observe the same silence as the monks. You might find it easy to let go of life’s stresses on the monastery’s peaceful grounds, which include walking trails, lakes, and expansive lawns, as well as one of the South’s oldest bonsai nurseries. 

The King’s Suite at the Guest House at Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee

Jeffrey Jacobs

Fit for the King
King’s Suite at the Guest House at Graceland • Memphis, Tennessee

Sleep in a suite inspired by the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Steps from Elvis Presley’s former home, the Guest House at Graceland is a 450-room resort that includes some twenty suites with designs overseen by Priscilla, Elvis’s former wife. One of the rooms was made to loosely resemble the King’s master bedroom, thanks to its gold tufted paneling, red velvet drapery, and silver shag carpet. It even has a TV on the ceiling above a canopy bed—just like Elvis’s room did. Order a slice of peanut butter and banana pound cake (inspired by his favorite sandwich), and tune into one of the closed-circuit channels running loops of Elvis’s ’68 Comeback Special or his 1973 Aloha From Hawaii concert.

See You Later, Alligator
Wildlife Gardens  Gibson, Louisiana

Experience true Cajun culture at Wildlife Gardens Bed and Breakfast. Its four rustic cabins are built over a swamp teeming with bullfrogs, birds, and of course, alligators. Walk a nature trail and check out the trappers cabin museum, which tells the story of bayou residents that spent winters here capturing raccoons, muskrats, and otters for the fur trade. No stay would be complete without a visit to the alligator farm to meet thirteen-foot Troy and his mate of twenty years, Helen. At night, relax on your cabin’s screen porch before falling asleep to the symphonic sounds of the surrounding cypress swamp.

The Shack Up Inn in Clarksdale, Mississippi

Michael Harding

Beat the Blues
Shack Up Inn • Clarksdale, Mississippi

You want luxury? Keep it moving. But if you want an authentic Delta experience, book a stay at the Shack Up Inn. The inn sits on the grounds of the former Hopson Plantation, south of downtown Clarksdale, a city synonymous with the blues. Crash for the night in grain bins that have been converted to cottages or sleep in one of the dozen or so sharecropper shacks on the property, which looks a bit like an artist’s junkyard. The restored shacks offer some creature comforts—indoor bathrooms, Wi-Fi, air conditioning—but their beat-up cypress wood walls, corrugated tin roofs, and modest furnishings evoke their storied pasts. You’ll no doubt spend some time in the old cotton gin, now a lobby, gift shop, and beer bar, which hosts live blues performances.

Asheville Glamping
Asheville Glamping in North Carolina

Jessica Flinchum Photography

Camping 2.0
Asheville Glamping • Asheville, North Carolina

Whether you prefer to spend the night in a teepee, a safari tent, a vintage Airstream trailer, or a geodesic dome, Asheville Glamping has you—and your sleeping bag—covered. The most popular offerings on the fifteen-acre property (less than half an hour north of downtown) are those igloo-like domes. Perched on rolling green hills, they offer stunning views—especially at night, when you can count stars from the climate-controlled comfort of your bed. Choose a cozy dome for two or a huge hemisphere that sleeps eight and features a loft connected to the main floor by a nine-foot slide.

Puttin’ on the Fitz
F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum • Montgomery, Alabama

If walls could talk, the former abode of F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife, Zelda, would surely have a lot to say. This two-story, Craftsman-style house is the last home they shared as a family; now a museum, the upstairs residence was recently opened to overnight guests. Fans of the Jazz Age writers will love checking out the room’s period pieces, including a sleigh bed, record player, and copies of the couple’s books. Guests also receive a complimentary tour of the museum, which showcases Zelda’s art and first editions of Scott’s novels. 

The Inn at Christmas Place
The Inn at Christmas Place in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee

Sleigh Bells Ring
The Inn at Christmas Place • Pigeon Forge, Tennessee

If you’re one of those people who start counting down the days till Christmas in June, you’ll love the Inn at Christmas Place. The Bavarian-themed hotel celebrates the most wonderful time of the year all year long with nutcrackers, wreaths, stockings, and decorated trees in every room. Get in the spirit with visits from Mr. and Mrs. Claus and other holiday characters, such as Rudolph and Frosty, or join Santa for storytelling and Christmas carol sing-alongs in the lower lobby. Go all-in and book the Santa Suite, which has a fireplace and decorated mantle. 

Sleep with the Fishes
Jules’ Undersea Lodge • Key Largo, Florida

This lodge has all the typical amenities you’d expect from an inn: comfy beds, hot showers, and a well-stocked kitchen. But there’s one big difference: It’s twenty-one feet below the water’s surface. To reach Jules’ Undersea Lodge in the protected mangrove lagoon at Key Largo Undersea Park, you must be a certified scuba diver or take a course upon arrival. The lodge has a wet room, where you leave your gear, a common room, and two private bedrooms with big windows that afford guests views of the marine life outside. Pizza (yes, pizza!) delivery is included. It arrives piping hot, safely encased in a waterproof box. 

The Rock, Georgia
Conestoga wagon camping at The Rock Ranch

Photograph courtesy of GDEcD

Home on the Range
Conestoga wagon camping at The Rock Ranch • The Rock, Georgia

You don’t have to go west for a taste of life on the prairie; just head to The Rock Ranch, a family-friendly farm about an hour south of Atlanta. Here, you can camp in a Conestoga wagon, a vehicle that nineteenth-century settlers relied upon for its large wheels and protective canvas top. Each of The Rock Ranch’s eight wagons is outfitted with four sets of bunk beds and comes with lanterns and fire-starting materials. For a small fee, The Rock Ranch will also provide all the fixings for a hot dog dinner and s’mores, including skewers for cooking over an open fire. Whether the experience conjures Laura Ingalls Wilder and Little House on the Prairie or brings to mind the popular 1980s computer game Oregon Trail, you’re sure to experience a bit of nostalgia at this pioneering destination.

Big Cypress Lodge
Big Cypress Lodge in Memphis, Tennessee

Pyramid Scheme
Big Cypress Lodge • Memphis, Tennessee

Can’t decide between a campsite and a hotel? Head to Big Cypress Lodge, which offers the best of both. Located inside the Pyramid, a former arena that’s now the site of the world’s largest Bass Pro Shops superstore, the lodge is something of an indoor terrarium. Tree house rooms are tucked among hundred-foot cypress trees overlooking alligator ponds. You may also opt to stay in a vintage duck-hunting cabin, a fly-fishing lodge, or the impressive Governor’s Suite, which includes a wraparound indoor balcony with captivating views of the swamp below.

This article appears in our Fall/Winter 2018 issue of Southbound.