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8 unique places to stay in Alabama

Fairhope’s Sheldon Castle boasts giant round doors, dramatic spires, and a wishing pond. Photo by Jessica Fender

They’re perched in trees, tucked into caves, and feature breakfasts cooked by internet-famous grandmas. Some are faithful restorations of centuries-old structures; others pure flights of fancy watched over—in one case—by a dragon. Travelers who don’t want to lay their heads just anywhere, rejoice! You’ll find not only comfort but character at these 8 unique places to stay in Alabama.

1. Smith Lake Cave, Houston

A seating area inside Smith Lake Cave

Guests can enjoy the open-air living room and firepits inside the cave before checking in to the cabin that sleeps 4. Photo by Jordan Shivers 

The hunt for the perfect honeymoon spot led to the recent opening of The Cave at Smith Lake, a cozy cabin tucked away in a private grotto on one of North Alabama’s favorite aquatic playgrounds. The adventure starts the moment you arrive, says property co-host Jordan Shivers. 

“When you pull up, you can’t see anything,” says Shivers. “You walk down a steep staircase and then descend into this liminal space. It just feels so mystical.” 

To the right, a waterfall tumbles into a ravine. Farther down, the cabin appears surrounded by the cave itself, which functions as an open-air living room, with firepits, lounge chairs, and multiple decks. A pier at the bottom of the property offers guests swimming and kayaking access in warm months. The dry season reveals a sandy beach for lounging in the winter.  

The cabin sleeps 4 with modern comforts such as air conditioning, a TV, a fireplace, and indoor plumbing, though guests can be forgiven if they prefer the 2 outdoor showers. 

Shivers discovered the property in 2015, just in time to surprise her cave-obsessed groom for their wedding night. In late 2021, she began helping the owner rent the property via Airbnb as well as host community events, photo shoots and, of course, romantic honeymoons.

You may also like: Alabama’s 7 natural wonders: How many have you seen?

2. The Lodge, Veto

Spend the night in a former general store and wake up to a full menu of outdoor activities in the tiny all-but-ghost town of Veto in North Alabama. 

The building, once the center of town life, has been in the Coffman family since the 1800s. Today, guests enjoy a modernized space with a wood-burning stove, reading nook, reclaimed architectural details, and—the main attraction—a healthy dose of solitude.

“Veto was once a bustling town,” says property host Mia Alvarez. “Now there’s only 1 road and 40 residents.” 

Perched at the end of the 10-mile Richard Martin Trail, the area is a favorite among cyclists and horseback riders. The Elk River beckons kayakers and anglers. And the nearby Jack Daniels Distillery, Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, and towns of Decatur and Athens all appeal to guests.

“People stay pretty busy,” adds Alvarez, who helps the fourth generation of Coffmans rent the property via Airbnb.

You may also like: Huntsville’s Craft Coffee Trail offers a caffeinated tour through the city

3. Sheldon Castle, Fairhope  

A dragon sculpture coiled around the spire of Mosher Castle

You might feel like you’re living in a fairytale at Sheldon Castle with its wishing pond, dramatic sculptures, and flower-filled grounds. Photo by Jessica Fender

In a faraway land called Fairhope, a compound of storybook castles offer guests one of the state’s most idiosyncratic stays. Five buildings (a sixth is in progress) with dramatic spires, some with giant round doors, a wishing pond straddled by a cobblestone bridge, and even a roof-hugging dragon sculpture named Hendrix—named after the artist who created the copper statue—add to the fantasy. 

The wooded enclave is the longtime home of a family of celebrated local artists that began with master woodcarver Craig Sheldon. His daughter, Pagan, and her husband, sculptor-muralist Dean Mosher, live there today. Creative touches around the property include masonry made of local stone and found art objects, ornate ironwork, and grounds filled with flowers.

Just one piece of the magical site is available to rent: a studio apartment with vaulted ceilings and bay windows. In 2021, it ranked among the most bookmarked Airbnb sites in Alabama. Though the property feels remote, it’s located only 4 blocks from the heart of downtown and not much farther from the beach.

You may also like: Dauphin Island, Alabama’s sunset capital offers fun for everyone

4. The Cottage, The Vault, and more in New Market

Instruments line the walls of the seating area inside Studio Vault

This remodeled 1970s-era recording studio is complete with instruments and other gear that singer-songwriter Whitney Dean uses to record. Photo courtesy Urban Lens Studio

Bethany Dean describes the passion project she began with her husband in 2016 as “a little Mayberry of rentals.” 

The couple began renovating defunct buildings in the tiny town of New Market just outside Huntsville and couldn’t stop. They now operate 7 one-of-a-kind rentals in the historic downtown. One of them, The Cottage, has been named the state’s “cutest tiny house” by national publications including House Beautiful. The brick floors and whirlpool tub contribute to that designation.

Bank Vault

Or spend the night in the Bank Vault, a fully renovated bank from 1926. Photo courtesy Urban Lens Studio

Among the Deans’ other unique stays? A bank from 1926 where guests can eat dinner inside the vault, and an updated 1970s-era recording studio complete with instruments and gear that singer-songwriter hubby Whitney Dean uses to record. 

“Our rentals offer all the perks of a hotel, but with their own special stories and experiences,” says Bethany Dean.

A mom-and-pop barbecue and a meat-and-three serve visitors in New Market. Just a few miles away, are Huntsville’s restaurants and cultural attractions and outdoor areas that offer all sorts of recreational activities.

You may also like: Why you should visit Huntsville, Alabama

5. The Cottle House Bed & Breakfast, Andalusia

A wraparound porch, a home full of antiques, and a pastoral setting complete with flower fields and a catch-and-release pond greet guests of The Cottle House Bed & Breakfast in Andalusia. But the main attraction these days? The biscuits that unexpectedly launched an Alabama grandma to internet stardom 3 years ago. 

“I don’t measure, so I don’t know what to tell you,” Brenda Gantt says in her now-viral video, which has gotten a million-plus views on Facebook. She’s whipping up a batch of buttermilk biscuits with one hand and filming with the other. “You just have to practice.”  

Today, the grandmother of 5 and former schoolteacher cooks up Southern classics for a legion of Facebook followers, shares her lifetime of cooking experience via 2 cookbooks, and hosts guests at Cottle House, where stays include her delectable breakfasts. 

As for the “bed” part of the B&B equation, the beautifully restored 1905 cabin features 3 bedrooms with queen beds and 2 full baths. There’s also a 1-bedroom cottage for those seeking more privacy. Reservations can be made only via text inquiry.

You may also like: 16 sweet spots to get your sugar fix

6. Wanderlust Treehouse, Crane Hill

Take luxury glamping to new heights and escape your devices on 40 wooded acres in North Alabama. The Wanderlust Treehouse’s forest-chic interiors include floor-to-ceiling windows and a soaking tub, but no TV or Wi-Fi.

Guests at the adults-only retreat can use the bed swing, firepit, bikes, and the outdoor showers below the treehouse. They can access all 40 acres, which include a seasonal 2-acre lake, nature trails, and plenty of wildlife to watch. 

Nearby Lewis Smith Lake offers more outdoor recreation, as does the Sipsey Wilderness, located inside the Bankhead National Forest, both within an hour’s drive.  

You may also like: 3 epic waterfalls in Alabama worth a road trip

7. Blackberry Lane Farm, Chelsea

Beds with checkered linens inside the guest room at Blackberry Lane Farm

This rustic farm cabin sleeps 7 and offers a pond for kayaking and fishing. Photo by Susie Clements

The last thing you might expect to find on the front porch of a restored 1812 log cabin is heavy metal icon Ozzy Osbourne. And yet that’s exactly who showed up to film at Blackberry Lane Farm on a 2018 trip through Alabama for his reality TV show, Ozzy & Jack’s World Detour

But don’t worry, solace seekers. Most weekends are decidedly quieter. Guests of this cabin set on 40 acres of farmland are can expect visits from more local celebs—longhorn cattle, horses, chickens, and cats.

Laid-back and rustic, the cabin sleeps 7 and feels remote even though downtown Chelsea on Birmingham’s outskirts is minutes away. A small on-site pond gives visitors the chance to kayak, catch and release fish, or just chill under the waterside pavilion. An old-fashioned claw-foot tub and original chink log construction add to the picturesque authenticity.

“It’s a rustic stay,” says co-owner Susie Clements, who runs Clements Family Vacation Rentals with her husband, Randy. “But it’s very relaxed if you want to unwind.”

You may also like: How to have a magical visit to Birmingham

8. Magnolia Manor, Columbiana

A chess set, cream couch, bookcase, and upright piano inside Magnolia Manor

Check in to this restored 1853 farmhouse that offers a massive kitchen, clawfoot tub, and a large back porch. Photo by Susie Clements

Nearby, in Columbiana, the Clementses rescued a piece of Alabama history by renovating an 1853 farmhouse that had fallen into disrepair. Today, the centerpiece of Magnolia Manor is a restored 1906 baby grand piano. It pays homage to the home’s most famous former resident: composer and singer Mildred White Wallace, better known as the Dixie Bluebird. 

Original floors, locally quarried marble fireplaces, and other salvaged architectural flourishes punctuate the large, bright, and airy space. There’s plenty of room for a crowd. Whip up a feast in the massive kitchen, relax with a glass of tea on the broad back porch, or soak in an original claw-foot tub in a bathroom warmed by a gas fireplace. 

The 3,200-square-foot home, located in Columbiana’s downtown, needed everything from a new roof to new siding. Piecing it back together for its 2021 opening was fun “but also very tiring,” Susie Clements says with a laugh.

When it comes to accommodations, travel columnist and guidebook author Jessica Fender’s motto is “the quirkier the better.” Follow her forays into great stays at

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