Norway’s world famous fjords and more than 15,000 miles of coastline make travel by cruise ship one of the most popular ways to visit the maritime country. But a land-based trip, following the National Tourist Routes and staying in Norway’s historic hotels, is another great way to experience the stunning scenery, as well as the vibrant Norwegian culture and local cuisine.
A select group of hotels belong to Norway’s association De Historiske, characterized by their history, atmospheric charm and gastronomy. From country manors and estates to a walled fortress and a warehouse, the varied properties have been transformed into first-rate boutique hotels with modern amenities and an emphasis on authentic cuisine. Many of the historic properties offer leisure activities, including hiking trails, biking and kayaking.
Combining air travel, ferryboat rides and a driving tour, my springtime trip took me to several outstanding historic hotels between Oslo in southeastern Norway and the west coast fjord town of Ålesund. All offer unique experiences and the chance to discover Norway’s fascinating heritage and outdoor culture.
Near Oslo, Losby Gods is an 1850s manor house built as a hunting lodge during the heyday of Norway’s timber trade. The cozy lounges in the original house reflect the period styles, and a large added wing houses modern guest rooms. The property and its picturesque surroundings offer a choice of recreational activities including golf, hiking and cycling. The golf facility includes an 18-hole course and a special 9-hole course for soccer golf, played with a soccer ball. Bikes are available for guests to enjoy miles of trails through the forest and beautiful lake region.
Losby is renowned for its wine cellar and offers wine and craft beer tastings, as well as tastings of Aquavit, the national liqueur distilled from potatoes and infused with herbs such as caraway, cardamom, cumin, anise, fennel and citrus zest. My favorite was Losby Manor’s private label, Hunter’s Aquavit, produced since 2011.
I slept like royalty at Königs Winger , a one-of-a-kind accommodation. The 1700s walled fortress played a strategic role in Norway’s history for 330 years, and since the mid-17th century, 11 of the last 13 Norwegian kings have stayed there. High on a hilltop near the Swedish border, the fortress was converted in 2013 to a design hotel with conference facilities and spacious rooms overlooking Norway’s longest river, Glomma. Inside the ramparts, a small museum depicts the history of Norway’s armed forces, and a restaurant serves four-and five-course dinners in the former commander’s residence. Wine tasting is offered in the catacombs for small groups, and golf can be arranged at nearby Kongsvinger, on one of Norway’s top golf courses. In winter, the course offers lighted cross-country ski trails.
One of the most charming, rustic lodgings with 1700s farm buildings is Røisheim Hotell near the Jotunheimen National Park and the town of Lom, a convenient stop between East and West Norway. Guests can choose to stay in the original lodge, the converted storehouse or a cozy stable room; the inn’s historic dining room is known throughout the area for its traditional regional cuisine. A pleasant hiking path leads up the wooded hillside behind the property, and the trailhead to Norway’s highest mountain, Galdhøpiggen, is nearby. Lom is home to one of Norway’s largest wooden stave churches, built around 1160. Representative of Norway’s Viking history, the Lom stave church is still in use and open for tours.
Hotel Brosundet is on the main canal in Ålesund, the Art Nouveau town which was rebuilt in characteristic architectural style following a catastrophic town fire in 1904. Originally a codfish-drying warehouse, Brosundet features gigantic wood beams and exposed brick walls, reflecting its history while highlighting contemporary style. Brosundet ceased operation as a fish warehouse in the 1980s and became a guest hotel in 2006, and today the design hotel is well known for serving some of Norway’s best seafood at its Restaurant MAKI. Oddly, the hotel has a refreshing aroma that permeates the building – not fishy, but a wonderful wood scent.
Dubbed “adventure capital of the fjords,” Ålesund makes a good base for excursions by bus, ferry or small cruise boat. Just across the canal from Hotel Brosundet, the adventure outfitter 62° Nord offers a variety of outings, including a wildlife sea safari by high-speed inflatable boat and small craft cruises through the magnificent Hjorundfjord, along with fishing, kayaking and bicycles for hire.
From Ålesund, I traveled by cruise boat to two of my favorite hotels that feature exquisite fjord views. Hotel Union Øye, tucked in a storybook setting near NorangsFjord, has welcomed guests since 1891, including notables King Wilhelm II, playwright Henrik Ibsen and author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Each individually appointed room, beautifully restored in period décor, is named for a famous guest. The petite hamlet of Øye invites a stroll, and marked hiking trails lead from the valley into the highlands. For a daylong endeavor, the towering mountain behind the inn, Slogen, is a strenuous climb that affords mountaintop views across the rugged landscape.
On an adjacent fjord, the Storfjord Hotel sits on a hilltop with a panorama of Storfjord and the Sunnmøre Alps. The original log house, of traditional Norwegian style with grass-sod roof, became a hotel in 2007 and expanded to include larger dining areas and two new buildings handcrafted in the old style –with sheep’s wool placed in the gaps between logs for insulation. The meaning of “room with a view” is well defined here, as many of the rooms feature private porches, and throughout my stay, I was spellbound – gazing across verdant hills against the backdrop of steep, snow-capped mountains plunging into cobalt glacier waters. With hiking paths, kayaking, candlelit dining and inviting resting spots, Storfjord Hotel is an idyllic retreat to relax and recharge.
In addition to the more than 40 historic hotels, Norway’s De Historiske association includes some historic waterfront restaurants and ships. The M/S Henrik Ibsen, built in 1907 and reconditioned in luxurious style in 2010, offers dining and a cultural, historical day-trip cruise along the scenic Telemark Canal, not far from Oslo. Oslo’s historic gem, the medieval Akershus Fortress, houses the newly opened Festningen Restaurant, perched on the old ramparts with views of Oslofjord. The chic but informal brasserie features a creative menu of Neo-Nordic cuisine with seasonal, locally-sourced ingredients and a wide selection of wines.
Combining a storied past and contemporary flair, De Historiske properties give a nod to Norwegian heritage; and for travelers, either by land or sea, the historic hotels make a great stay. In Norway, the water is never far away. Www.VisitNorway.com