Story and photography by Bo Zaunders
The Juvet Landscape Hotel
Ultimate nature, ultimate Norway
Could this be it?
From Andalsnes, in a rental car, following the National Tourist Road via Troldstigen, we had arrived in Gudbrandsjuvet, and were now at what was supposed to be Norway’s hottest destination hotel. It certainly didn’t look it - just an old farmhouse in a beautiful forest setting, with a river below and mountains above. A man stepped out to meet us.
“Oh yes, you have come to the right address.” Guiding us to the other side of the house, he pointed to a thicket of trees. Close scrutiny revealed some freestanding elevated dark pine boxes, each with a floor to ceiling glass wall.
So this was the Juvet Landscape Hotel. And the man, as it turned out, was owner and manager Knut Slinning.
We entered one of the lodgings – seven in all – and a strange thing happened: standing by the massive panoramic windows, it felt as if you were still outside, immersed in nature. Down below, in a white mist, gushed the Valdolla River, and in the far distance rose snowcapped mountains. Surely, reaching out your hand, you could touch the green branches just inches away. Contributing to the impression must have been the dark bare walls and the relative emptiness of the room - just two designer chairs and a minimalist table. The intended effect was, as Knut aptly put it, “like being inside a camera, and the window is the lens.” He then pointed out that all the structures were positioned so that no room looked into another.
After settling in, checking the beds, hidden in a dark alcove, and the tiny bathroom, aglow in bright yellow, we were ready to find out more about this highly unconventional hotel.
The spa, an important part of the property, is partially hidden beneath a grass roof, and features sauna, steam, and massage rooms. In an area open to the outside stood a small wood-burning fireplace, along with tables and chairs, and in front of it stretched an open sundeck with a hot tub. On the sundeck we met some other guests, among them a doctor from Philadelphia and his wife, a young couple from Australia, and a woman from the Philippines. When the subject of food came up we were told that dinner would be served in a barn next to the farmhouse, a large former cowshed, converted into a communal dining room. Interesting. Everything so completely state-of-the art, then the introduction of a 19th century cowshed - from ultra modern to rural robust in one act.
As it turned out, the dichotomy worked beautifully. Everyone gathered around a long table under heavy wooden beams in a room filled with antiques, and lit with chandeliers and strategically placed candles. The food, all made with local produce, was commendable, and wine flowed. A sense of wellbeing prevailed. I couldn’t help but think of MFK Fisher, the American food writer, and her much quoted line: “There is a communion of more than our bodies when bread is broken and wine drunk.”
Completed in 2008, the Juvet Landscape Hotel now tops the charts of the world’s best small hotels. Recently it was nominated for the Mies van der Rohe award – an honor, which in Norway, as far as I know, has only been bestowed upon Oslo’s new opera. So how did it all begin? On the following morning I met with Knut Slinning for a short interview.
“Without the National Tourist Routes project,” he said, “this never would have happened.” It transpired that the government had invested a good deal of money to improve the infrastructure along scenic routes throughout the country. An important part of the project was the design of viewpoints, all of which must be contemporary and architecturally interesting. Providentially, as the project was carried out, Knut made friends with one of the architects, Olav Jensen, who came up with idea of “wooden tents.” A nature-lover and outdoorsman, and by then deeply attached to the area where he had had a summerhouse since 1986, Knut caught on to the idea, and consequently bought the farm property.
Norwegians’ deep love of nature never ceases to impress me. It goes back in history and seems imbedded in their very soul. As for design, there’s a now a thrust toward the most modern imaginable.
At Juvet, the two sensibilities meet happily.
Located between Trollstigen and the Geiranger fjord, Juvet Landscape Hotel lies smack in the middle of Norway at its most scenic, offering perfect conditions for hiking, wilderness camping, rafting, and back country skiing. As for skiing, Knut Slinning, the owner and manager, can become quite lyrical when he expands on the subject. “In the Alps,” he says, “when you go touring, you stand in a line, but in Juvet I can take you to a summit where you’ll ski all the way down to the fjord ‘ and you won’t meet a single person along the way.”
For information about the general area, go to www.visit norway.com and check out Geirangerfjord and Trollstigen.
For specifics about the Juvet Landscape Hotel, visit www.juvet.com/
© April 2012 LuxuryWeb Magazine. All rights reserved.