The calm fjords, the busy capital, or the barren Arctic – which Norway do you prefer?
Text: Mikael Lunde
Longyearbyen, the largest town on the Svalbard archipelago, has a gourmet restaurant and one of Europe’s best wine cellars. Sound urban, does it? Well, think again – this place lies at the very outskirts of civilization, halfway between the Norwegian mainland and the North Pole. Its kindergarten employees are armed to protect the kids from polar bears.
It’s a place of striking contrasts. And so, indeed, is Norway as a whole – a country that is larger and more diverse than most people probably realize.
“A large establishment, with large, magnificent hallways, comfortable stairways, a spacious vestibule with a fireplace, an elegant salon, large rooms with wide beds and verandas outside (…) with all windows facing out towards Bjørnefjorden and the glittering ice desert of Folgefonna.”
In 1903, that’s what the engineer and writer Ole Wilhelm Fasting found at Solstrand hotel & bad – sitting on the water’s edge at the entrance to the western fjords.
The establishment was built a decade earlier by the ship owner and future Norwegian prime minister Christian Michelsen. “It was, for the wealthy of the time, an escape from the stresses of daily life in nearby Bergen”, says its modern day proprietor Pernille Schau-Larsen.
In a series of round trips by De historiske, you can stay at several of their hotels in one all-inclusive package. Ultimate Norway covers the fjords, the capital city, and the Arctic. Kicked off, if you wish, with a taste of the seasonal menu at Solstrand.
“We have a great shielded location by the fjord, with huge windows letting in the sound of birds and the scent of the sea”, says Schau-Larsen. “Our kitchen is closely tied to the coastal culture. We use fresh root vegetables, fruits and berries, and fish and shellfish, depending on the season. In addition, Bergen has always been a city of trade, so we’ve always had international impulses here.”
Across the mountains, it’s a rather different world. When Kristian Gahre first came to Oslo several decades ago, he encountered a busy seafront filled with heavy traffic and industry. Coming from tiny Mandal, the capital seemed huge and overwhelming.
The hotel Camillas hus where Gahre works occupies one of the city’s oldest wooden Swiss style villas, centrally located right behind the royal castle. It is named after Camilla Collett, the Norwegian author who once lived there – in what was then pretty much the city’s first suburb. “When it was built in 1845, this was practically the countryside”, says the hotel host Mario Rego.
At the turn of the century, this is where the successful car dealer Bertel O. Steen established his business. The hotel restaurant next door, Ni & Tyve (meaning “twenty-nine,” after the street address), was his private residence and still retains the atmosphere of a private house and garden. It serves Mediterranean food with a Nordic twist.
“I believe Oslo may be the only city in the world that has a metro system made to transport passengers out of the city,” says Flemming Nilsen, the general manager at luxurious Lysebu in the forest close to the Holmenkollen ski jump. A ten minute walk from the hotel there is, indeed, a metro station (above ground), where city people exit with their skis or mountain bikes.
“It’s a stark contrast to the higher tempo of the city. When you come to the hotel, we want you to leave behind your stress and problems”, Nilsen says.
Apart from its location and history, Lysebu is best known for its award-winning restaurant and the world-class wine cellar. Many of their ingredients are from their own garden, and they have a seasonal menu. “Sensory experiences are a large part of what De historiske is about: the atmosphere, the architecture – and the food.”
If Oslo represents Norway’s urbanity, then Svalbard lies at the opposite extreme. The archipelago ranges from 74° to 81° north latitude – or, in simpler terms, considerably further north than most people will ever go.
For him, Svalbard is first and foremost a place full of surprises. Actually, the first surprise is the fact that the settlement exists at all. “Many are startled by the fact that Longyearbyen is such a thriving community”, says Heio. The town has more than 2,000 inhabitants and even sports a gourmet restaurant.
The restaurant is called Huset, meaning “the house”. And at Svalbard, it really is The House, serving as the town’s natural gathering place since its construction in 1951.
At this unlikely place – where you’re not to walk outside without an armed escort, and where any temperatures above zero degrees Celsius usually means “summer” – this is a place where Huset’s cellar keeps upwards of 20,000 bottles of wine. It is one of the finest collections in Northern Europe.
After a long day spent hiking, taking a boat trip along the coast, or visiting the nearby Russian mining town (!), it’ll probably taste extra good.
Svalbard is a Norwegian archipelago in the Arctic Ocean, midway between the mainland and the North Pole. Almost two thirds of the 61,000 square kilometre archipelago is covered in massive glaciers. The islands are large indeed – include them in Norway’s total land area, and the country will be larger than Germany.
Longyearbyen is the largest settlement, but there are others – including the Ny-Ålesund research station, the Norwegian mine at Sveagruva, and the Russian mining community of Barentsburg.
The Svalbard Islands are known for their incredible nature and wildlife, the mines and research facilities, and the much-publicized Global Seed Vault. And, of course, Huset’s wine cellar.
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