In the final post in our series on Norway, we invite you into one of the world’s leading design hotels, an exclusive and quintessentially Norwegian accommodation.
Yet as it turns out, “exclusivity” and “quintessentially Norwegian” is usually an oxymoron. We’ll tackle that subject further below….
Acclaimed in design circles and publications around the world, the Juvet hotel is billed as “Europe’s first landscape hotel.” The raison d’être is its surroundings, rather than the upholding of a brand name or the comfort and convenience of its guests. Here, your privilege lies in interacting with a breathtaking, virgin landscape from the vantage point of your one-of-a-kind, high-design, and categorically sustainable forest cabin.
A TripAdvisor reviewer comments:
“Different, unforgettable, what money should be used for” – Drr0ck
The wow factor
The dark interiors and dim lights turn each floor-to-ceiling window into an intense, glowing display of nature, as if viewed on a screen from within a darkened movie theater.
Just a stone’s throw from the Gudbrandsjuvet (photo below) – a mythic-looking natural wonder where a waterfall of the raging Valldøla river cuts a deep gorge through hard rock – the vivid, seemingly phosphorescent water that winds past the seven individual guestrooms is at first boisterous and wild, transforming into a meandering, quieter incarnation as it pools in front of the subterranean River Spa.
Juvet translates to “gorge,” but the gorge itself is just one facet of the harmonious balance between forest, mountain, river, and valley. Similarly, the modernist cabins somehow coexist easily with both their environment and the traditional red farmhouse that serves as dining room and common area.
For me, the ethos of the place was as impactful as the views:
1) Egalitarian – Although the positioning and topography ensure that each cabin has total privacy, from ours we were able to see down onto a large deck with a hot tub commanding what was arguably the best view on the property. “That must be the Presidential Suite,” we joked, only to realize later that it was in fact the River Spa, a common area open to each and every guest.
2) Giving – To expand on that idea, it’s worth noting that this area was formerly a country home of the friendly-but-reserved mountain-man owner, Knut. The fact that he decided to embark on this project when the nearby National Tourist Road was developed, in essence sharing his hidden slice of heaven, would have been considered an unusual decision where we come from.
3) Open – When I asked about hiking paths, I was informed that I could go wherever I pleased; there are no “no trespassing laws” for land in Norway.
4) Sustainable – Each cabin is constructed of fast-growing pine on stilts, so that they can be easily removed leaving virtually no footprint. Towels are reused, food is local, and products are environmentally sensitive: you won’t find little packaged plastic bottles of soap and shampoo anywhere here.
5) Minimal – Why take or use more than you need? Over dinner, a fellow Norwegian guest explained the logic behind his own home, where not a single piece of furniture was unused. While this minimalist sentiment is no longer revolutionary, hearing a Scandinavian describe it in a place like this was truly remarkable.
6) Culturally respectful – One of Knut’s primary objectives was to sustain the cultural heritage of the region. He maintained the original farm buildings, serves local Norwegian fare describing each vendor by name, and arranges outings designed to ensure you’ll fall in love with the area and way of life.
Location, location, location
As with many places in Norway, it’s best to plug coordinates into your GPS rather than relying on maps or road signs.
The hotel is just off Norway’s Geiranger-Trollstigen National Tourist Route (Rv63), about two-thirds of the way between Geiranger and the Trollstigen lookout. Alesund is the largest nearby city, a couple of hours away.
The location allows daytrips to the UNESCO-listed Geirangerfjord, the Geiranger-Trollstigen National Tourist Route, skiing, river rafting, and hiking … to name a few possible excursions. Then again, you might not ever want to leave the River Spa.
It feels more like a B&B, and less like a hotel. There are no bellhops here, and Knut is your only concierge. He’s a wealth of information … but only if you ask.
As mentioned above, there’s a lot of heart here. Service, on the other hand, is as minimal as the interiors. Towels will be changed upon request, but there is no daily housekeeping service. Don’t expect a tour of the grounds; you’ll be given a key with a flashlight for the evenings, and left to yourself.
That’s not to say that your wishes won’t be accommodated or that you won’t be made to feel perfectly at home. However, like the tables in the Norwegian guest’s home, nothing superfluous will be added without being requested.
Resting your head
Although it’s easy to assume that this is a luxury hotel based on design or price (about $340 per person per night at the time of writing, including breakfast and dinner), it’s not. It’s an experience hotel.
These were the furnishings of our room: two cots with duvets, two chairs, a table and a few lamps. There are no soft bathrobes, no fluffy slippers. No TV or phone, and limited wifi (ours was the cabin closest to the main lodge, but I doubt the signal reaches to the other cabins). There are no paintings on the walls, and no curtains on the windows (each guestroom has a unique layout and view and offers total privacy). The shower consists of a fixture on the bathroom wall and a drain on the floor (luckily the spa has fantastic showers). The one product provided triples as soap, shampoo, and shower gel. Even the wood of the cabin seems thin and temporary (this is purposeful).
Although Spartan, the rooms are thoroughly comfortable. Small sliders near the bed bring the sound of the river along with a cool breeze, while heat radiates from the floorboards.
When Knut heard about the National Tourist Route – which I’ve written about as possibly the best public works/tourism development project ever – he met with the developers and then commissioned Norwegian architects Jensen and Skodvin, who were designing the nearby Gudbrandsjuvet lookout.
(These are the same architects that constructed a purposely circuitous path on the lookout so that visitors would be inclined to wander contemplatively through nature rather than rushing up to the gorge for a quick view and a photo opp.)
The hotel was constructed in 2009 to immediate acclaim, in a way in which “every room gets its own surprising view of a dramatic piece of landscape, always changing with the weather and the time of the day and the season,” and acknowledging our impermanence on Earth. After all, as Knut has said, “we are only guests in nature.”
The beautiful River Spa is open to all guests, with rainforest showers and – yes – fluffy towels and robes, plus a sauna, steam room, relaxation areas, and massage room. Its subterranean position means the building does not interfere with the view from the (wifi enabled) lodge/dining area.
Our advice is to opt for the full package, because there are few restaurants within easy driving distance. Breakfasts and dinners are served at a large common table, with products sourced from local farms and breweries. As an appetizer we were served a tender and delicate whale carpaccio, which was tender and delicate (the waters of Norway are carefully regulated, and these whales are in danger of overpopulating).
Although exclusivity runs contrary to Norwegian ideology, Juvet does feel exclusive because of its isolated setting and limited number of guest cabins. There is also an air of privacy and respect, as guests go about the days quietly, strolling near the river or enjoying the experience from their rooms.
It takes a particular type of disposition to be interested in the Juvet experience, and that makes for great dining table conversations. Your fellow guests will likely have stayed at other unique venues, trading notes on ice hotels, treehouse hotels, airstream hotels, and more. Our meal ran late into the night, wine flowing, as we discussed everything from Michelin restaurants in Lyon to endurance sports in Norway, and hidden getaways in Greece to Scandinavian design.
We stayed here after a day spent on the Geiranger-Trollstigen Tourist Route, whose mix of exemplary architecture and vertigo-inducing scenery left me so visually stimulated that it was difficult to sleep, despite cuddling up in a Norwegian duvet to the hypnotic sound of a passing river. It was the icing on the cake: a place that embodied the message of that route and the country that built it.
If your vacation isn’t a vacation without the traditional forms of luxury, don’t stay here. If, however, you’re open to embracing a new definition of luxury, one which equates to unique, sublime experiences that only a handful of people will ever know, then a trip to Norway is worth it for this hotel – and the nearby experiences – alone.
*While researching this article I was a guest of the Juvet Landcape Hotel. To read about our commitment to candid and balanced reviews, see our disclosures page.