Nor­way’s per­fect pic­ture

The ex­cit­ing new movie was filmed in the stunning Vall­dal Val­ley

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Destination Britain & Europe - CELIA TOP­PING

IF you were a bil­lion­aire ge­nius cre­at­ing a robot with ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence, a star­tlingly mod­ern hide­away in the mid­dle of a re­mote wilder­ness wouldn’t be a bad place to carry out your project.

Bri­tish writer and direc­tor Alex Gar­land has set his stunning new film, Ex Machina, in the wilds of Alaska, but film­ing took place in Nor­way’s Vall­dal Val­ley. Of the dra­matic Nor­we­gian lo­ca­tion, he has said: “We knew that if we found a spec­tac­u­lar land­scape it would pro­vide a lot of the power of the guy. If he owns this land­scape, he must be spec­tac­u­lar too.”

No less spec­tac­u­lar is the Ju­vet Land­scape Ho­tel, which stands in for chief ex­ec­u­tive Nathan’s Alaskan moun­tain retreat, along with a neigh­bour­ing pri­vate res­i­dence. It is here that pro­tag­o­nist Caleb, a com­puter coder, wins the chance to spend a week at the home of his boss to carry out a Tur­ing Test on the robot.

De­signed by Nor­we­gian ar­chi­tects Jensen and Skod­vin and opened five years ago, Ju­vet Land­scape Ho­tel has won plau­dits for its or­ganic sim­plic­ity, mod­ern de­sign and tran­quil set­ting. It was built as part of a gov­ern­ment ini­tia­tive to de­velop 18 Na­tional Tourist Routes through­out Nor­way that would im­prove in­fra­struc­ture and in­tro­duce mod­ern ar­chi­tec­ture — view­points, rest stops and ac­com­mo­da­tion — to high­light the coun­try’s dra­matic land­scapes. The project started in 1994 and is due to be com­pleted this year.

Ju­vet is on the stretch from Troll­sti­gen to Geiranger. Un­like Nathan, the ho­tel’s real owner, Knut Slin­ning, is a tall and hum­ble Nor­we­gian with a sharp mind and warm laugh. The ho­tel al­most came about by ac­ci­dent. Slin­ning bought a hol­i­day cabin here in 1986 and was in­tro­duced to the ar­chi­tects when they came to sur­vey the area for the Tourist Routes project, with a mod­ern ho­tel in mind. Mod­est about his ac­com­plish­ments, Slin­ning in­sists the re­gion is the star and en­cour­ages his guests to ex­plore it, what­ever the time of year. Stand­ing in­side Ju­vet’s con­crete and glass cab­ins, you are so close to na­ture you can al­most reach out and touch the del­i­cate lichen cling­ing to the branches. The struc­tures have been slot­ted into the land­scape so as to feel they have crept in overnight to sit qui­etly, ob­serv­ing their sur­round­ings.

The out­door hot tub, glass-walled steam room and re­lax­ation area pro­vide a sub­lime set­ting to un­wind in af­ter a day’s ex­er­tions. Meals are eaten com­mu­nally on a long ta­ble in an old red barn. The menu re­lies on lo­cal in­gre­di­ents, and in­cludes bread baked by a 97-year-old woman and fruit grown on the shores of the nearby Nord­dals fjord. “We call Ju­vet ‘ The Low-Shoul­dered Ho­tel’,” says Slin­ning with a grin, “be­cause as soon as our guests ar­rive, you can see their shoul­ders begin to re­lax.”

When I wake at 9am, the sun is warm­ing the tops of the moun­tains op­po­site the ho­tel, tick­ling the snowy peaks with a soft or­ange and pink light. The sun doesn’t prop­erly hit the val­ley again un­til late Fe­bru­ary, but this doesn’t pre­vent me from get­ting out to en­joy some ski­tour­ing. The sport is favoured in Nor­way’s more re­mote cor­ners, where thigh power is re­warded by the glory of ski­ing down a moun­tain with­out an­other per­son in sight. Slin­ning tells me they’ve taken guests ski­ing up on the high­est peaks as late as July, in noth­ing but shorts and sun­screen.

How­ever, there are ski re­sorts with chair­lifts too, such as Stranda, 40km away, in the mag­nif­i­cent Sun­n­more Alps, with im­pres­sive views over Stor­fjord be­low. With 17 dif­fer­ent pistes and some of the best off-piste op­por­tu­ni­ties in Scan­di­navia, there is plenty to en­joy. On the way back, we stretch our cross-coun­try ski­ing mus­cles with an en­er­getic walk up to Gron­dalen wa­ter­fall, which fea­tures in the film. How­ever, in­stead of the cas­cad­ing del­uge on screen, the wa­ter is frozen, a glis­ten­ing blue-white mon­u­ment in the pris­tine, snow-cov­ered val­ley.

Fjords are a big part of Nor­way’s iden­tity, the frac­tured coast­line nav­i­ga­ble only by an elab­o­rate sys­tem of tun­nels and fer­ries, so the next day we take a boat out to the coun­try’s most pho­tographed and dra­matic in­let, Geiranger­fjord. The stag­ger­ingly steep cliffs plunge fear­lessly into the deep blue wa­ter, while wa­ter­falls hur­tle down in a tor­rent of spume. The two most fa­mous falls are the Seven Sis­ters, de­scend­ing fiercely on one side of the fjord, and their would-be Suitor try­ing in vain to grab their at­ten­tion on the other.

Slin­ning points out a cou­ple of im­pos­si­bly po­si­tioned sum­mer farms high on the sheer, ragged es­carp­ment. The Nor­we­gian Trekking As­so­ci­a­tion uses some as moun­tain re­treats. Rather more lux­u­ri­ous is the Union Ho­tel at the end of Geiranger wa­ter­fall’s walk­way, where I laze in its de­li­ciously hot pool, tak­ing in the sen­sa­tional view. When the snow fi­nally melts in spring, the land­scape of­fers hik­ing, raft­ing, kayak­ing, pad­dle-board­ing and canyon­ing, climb­ing, zip-lining and more.

On my way back to the air­port in Ale­sund, I take a de­tour into the town cen­tre, an ar­chi­tec­tural anom­aly as a re­sult of be­ing al­most en­tirely de­stroyed in a fire in 1904. Sev­eral young ar­chi­tects, re­turn­ing from their stud­ies in Europe, re­built the town in art nou­veau style, in­ter­preted in a pared-back Scan­di­na­vian way and em­bel­lished with Vik­ing mo­tifs. Rather like Ju­vet, it was a dar­ing ad­di­tion to this land­scape, pre­vi­ously pop­u­lated with sim­ple wooden struc­tures. Now UNESCO-listed, it also proves how mod­ern ar­chi­tec­ture can stand the test of time. Surely Ju­vet will be sim­i­larly cel­e­brated in years to come.


Ex Machina opens in Aus­tralian cine­mas on May 7. • ju­ • vis­it­nor­

Domh­nall Glee­son and Os­car Isaac in a scene from

top; Ju­vet Land­scape Ho­tel, Nord­dal, above left; and a Ju­vet wa­ter­fall, above

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