De­sign and na­ture are in per­fect har­mony in this Scan­di­na­vian na­tion’s off-the-grid ho­tels, dis­cov­ers Barry Stone.

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Scan­di­na­vian ho­tel ar­chi­tec­ture takes its in­spi­ra­tion from the land­scape’s in­com­pa­ra­ble beauty

Nor­we­gians have crafted some ex­cep­tional liv­ing spa­ces within their up­lifted, glacially scoured world, which is great news for ar­chi­tec­ture trag­ics like my­self who want a dash of de­sign with their na­ture, but who don’t want to com­pro­mise ei­ther. The fur­ther you go off the grid here, the more you’ll be in­spired not just by the cal­i­bre of de­sign, both nat­u­ral and built, but also the cal­i­bre of the peo­ple you’ll meet.

In the Steigen archipelago and coastal dis­trict of north­ern Nor­way, Randi Skaug was cross­ing the small chan­nel that sep­a­rates Nausthol­men, the is­land she owns, from the is­land where I was stay­ing, Man­shausen, owned by Børge Ous­land. We’d ar­ranged to have cof­fee. Skaug was the first Nor­we­gian woman to sum­mit Mount Ever­est. Ous­land was the first per­son to walk alone and un­sup­ported to the North Pole. Nor­we­gians have a rare affin­ity for na­ture, but there’s a down­side. Come here and you might feel like you’ve spent your whole life se­ri­ously un­der­achiev­ing.

Randi and Børge could live any­where, but chose to come here, to the Grøtøya strait in Steigen. The for­mer trad­ing post and fish­ing hub is just a minute’s boat ride from the main­land, where the kayak­ing is serene, the moun­tain tra­verses ex­hil­a­rat­ing, and the rap­pelling down gran­ite cliff faces en­liven­ing. Steigen even has its own glacier.

My sea cabin here had two bed­rooms, a Co­rian bath­room and kitchen, and a wall of glass that gave me a front-row seat over the strait be­low and Grøtøya Is­land be­yond, which can be cir­cum­nav­i­gated in a kayak in two tran­quil hours. Randi of­fered to kayak it with me, but she’s al­ready pad­dled the bulk of Nor­way’s 25,000-kilo­me­tre coast­line. I didn’t want to slow her down.

El­e­men­tal liv­ing

Fur­ther south is the Flein­vaer archipelago, not too far from the main­land to be con­sid­ered re­mote, but far enough that you need de­ter­mi­na­tion to get there.

My ac­com­mo­da­tion, Fordyp­n­ingsrom­met Flein­vaer, is the prod­uct of Hå­vard Lund’s vivid imag­i­na­tion. The well-known jazz mu­si­cian has cre­ated an eclec­tic mix of build­ings on the shore­line of Flein­vaer’s sec­ond-most heav­ily pop­u­lated is­land: a sanc­tu­ary from the stresses of ev­ery­day life, a workspace for vis­it­ing artists, and a tri­umph of sus­tain­able liv­ing. My njalla – a view­ing box atop a four-me­tre pole that echoes lo­cal Sami stor­age huts – pro­vides a win­dow onto the in­fi­nite north­ern lights-filled sky above, and an ocean be­low.

The Ju­vet Land­scape Hote in Vall­dalen lies not far from one of the world’s great drives, the Troll­sti­gen (Troll’s Path), opened in 1936 with 11 switch­backs. Ju­vet sprang from the mind of its owner, Knut Slin­ning, who’s never both­ered to ad­ver­tise the place. Thanks in part to sci-fi film Ex Machina, set at Ju­vet, the world comes to him. The cen­tury-old barn has been re­stored, with the cow byre now the din­ing room and the old pigsty the kitchen, but it’s the nine sleep­ing places that re­ally in­spire.

Watch­ing the sea­sons

I spend my last night at 29|2 Aur­land, a farm and guest­house near Flåm. Its Goat Barn is a stun­ning fu­sion of mod­ern de­sign and 18th-cen­tury car­pen­try, its in­te­rior filled with re­cy­cled doors, win­dows, rugs and fur­ni­ture, ev­ery item sourced by own­ers Bjørn and Tone Røn­ning, who are de­ter­mined to add to Aur­land’s con­sid­er­able charms.

Man­shausen, Fordyp­n­ingsrom­met, Ju­vet and 29|2 Aur­land all wrap you up in the same warm em­brace. Sit­ting in their in­te­ri­ors is like be­ing in­side a cam­era, their win­dows like lenses that bring into fo­cus im­ages that oth­er­wise might be lost in a broader land­scape.

That’s what good ar­chi­tec­ture does; it makes you see the world in a new light. By nar­row­ing your gaze you are freed to see new things. Less be­comes more.

And in Nor­way, that’s a lot.


01 The view from one of Man­shausen’s sea cab­ins © Steve King 02 Ju­vet Land­scape Ho­tel in Vall­dalen © Per Eide Stu­dio 03 29|2 Aur­land is close to spec­tac­u­lar Aur­land Fjord © Helge Hansen/Mon­tag Pho­tog­ra­phy 04 Ex­plor­ing Nor­way’s land­scape 05 Kayak­ing the...

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