Cave Homes: Can You Dig It?

Go beneath the surface and explore the hidden lives of underground homes.

| January/February 2012

  • At the Desert Cave Hotel in Coober Pedy, Australia, guests can sleep in underground rooms.
    Photo Courtesy Desert Cave Hotel
  • The sandstone cave homes of Kinver Edge are thought to have inspired J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit.” Regulated by the earth’s natural temperature, the homes stayed warm in winter and cool in summer. Although the Kinver Edge cave homes are no longer inhabited, several families lived in them at their peak in the 1800s.
    Photo By Phile Parsons
  • The Australian town of Coober Pedy has restaurants, art galleries, bars and hotels, all underground.
    Photo Courtesy Desert Cave Hotel
  • A citrus grove thrives underground at the Forestiere Underground Gardens in Fresno, California. Developed by Baldassare Forestiere in the early 1900s, the underground gardens today span more than 10 acres and include courtyards, bedrooms, a kitchen, a parlor and even a chapel. Open grottos admit sunlight to grow the many citrus and fruit trees.
    Photo Courtesy Forestiere Underground Gardens

For thousands of years, people have been living cozily in underground homes. Homes carved into the earth benefit from its nearly constant temperature, keeping them comfortable year-round. Some cave homes were built out of necessity, others for delight. Discover cave homes’ quirky comfort and charming eccentricity in these visit-worthy spots scattered across the globe.

Kinver Edge: The Original Hobbit Houses

On the border of Staffordshire and Worcestershire in England lies Kinver Edge, a sandstone hill where people have lived in cave homes for centuries. The soft sandstone made carving homes out of rock easy—so easy, in fact, that when a family moved out, the neighbors would tunnel through to the adjoining home, doubling their home’s size!

The homes are thought to have started as a hermitage for a group living in religious seclusion, and several families lived in Kinver Edge at its peak in the 1800s. Although the homes had no electricity or plumbing, they were warm in winter and cool in summer. Despite their primitive appearance, the homes’ interiors boasted plastered and painted walls and nonessential rooms, including parlors. Smoke from the elaborate fireplaces traveled up sloped chimney flues over the tops of the sandstone cliffs.

Brightly colored doors and small gardens lend these homes a cozy cottage feeling that many believe inspired J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. (Tolkien lived in nearby Birmingham.) Although the cave homes aren’t occupied today—the last residents moved out in the 1950s—Britain’s National Trust has taken over the deteriorated houses and has restored one to the Victorian period.

Learn more: National Trust’s Kinver Edge and the Rock Houses information page 

Forestiere Underground Gardens: A Mediterranean Paradise

When Baldassare Forestiere emigrated from Sicily to the United States in the early 1900s, he dreamt of starting a citrus empire. Unfortunately, the 70 acres of land he purchased in Fresno, California, contained nothing but rock-hard, inhospitable dirt that wouldn’t accommodate fruit trees. To escape the summer heat, Forestiere dug himself an underground home—and during the process discovered that the soil 20 feet below the surface was fertile enough to grow his dream orchards.

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