I lose count of the number of hairpins as we wind our way from the pretty Norwegian coastal town of Alesund along fjords, through fishing villages and past snowy strawberry fields towards the Juvet Landscape Hotel – a new site of pilgrimage, so I’m told, for architecture buffs and wilderness junkies alike.
Our destination is too hidden for sat nav but, after about two hours, we round a last bend in the dirt road and park beside the restored farmhouse and barn of Burtigarden, one of the biggest and oldest farms in inner Sunnmore. Like staring at a new haircut I don’t particularly like, I try to keep my disappointment hidden from Knut Slinning, the lanky outdoorsman and former teacher who built Juvet using the architects Jensen & Skodvin and money from the Norwegian government, which was looking to renovate portions of the country’s National Tourist Routes.
Slinning points me towards a cluster of seven free-standing, boxy, lightly weathered pine huts. They don’t really grow on me as I hop over the puddles and up the stairs of mine. But as I open the door to the 30 sq ft cabin and walk into the sparsely furnished room, the impact is overpowering. Never before have I stepped outside into the wilderness by entering a building.
It is like a magic trick. For a moment I am disoriented and hesitate before moving towards the large, sleek glass windows overlooking the Valldola River and the woods beyond its banks. Mountains scarred by 100 slender waterfalls rise in the distance.
The floor is cantilevered above the riverbank’s boulders, beneath which water rushes around a sweeping bend. The sound pulls me towards the window until my forehead rests on its pane like that of a child peering into a sweet shop.
This is what you come here for. The rest is pleasant enough, but it is this rare encounter with nature through architecture that makes Juvet special.
Everything is geared towards the experience. The rooms house a bed, two chairs and one lamp with two small reading lights next to the bed. There are no curtains and no pictures on the walls. The shower rooms are about as small as the loos on an intercity express train. Path lighting is missing because a torch will do and this ensures that the pace of life here is dictated by the sun and moon.
Who needs radio, television and WiFi when you can open a hatch next to your bed to let in the sound of the river?
Luxury is sitting in the sauna or hot tub of Juvet’s small spa, perfectly private, thanks to the clever way the architects have used the undulation of the land to hide the building.
Meals are served at long wooden tables in the renovated cowshed. The light in the barn is dimmed by mismatched granny-ish lampshades on low-hanging wooden chandeliers and the walls are decorated with bits of old farm equipment and sepia photographs of long-dead Norwegian country folk staring humourlessly into the camera lens. Dinner consists of carpaccio-thin smoked cuts of moose, venison and whale and a main course of almost inedibly salty local fish.
On our second night I share the table with a dozen boisterous Trondheim car salesmen on their second annual corporate retreat to Juvet. They are determined to hike and then abseil across the river below our huts – an experience Slinning is happy to organise.
Though Slinning arranges everything from hunting and rafting to road trips, one of the best reasons to come here is to ski among the fjords. The Stranda ski resort is less than an hour away and, while small, has something neither the Alps nor the Rockies can match – a panoramic view over two fjords that leaves the impression you may just plop into their clear, icy water if you fail to stop in time. Stranda is also a good place to come for late skiing – the season runs from early December until May 1.
If you are up for an extra challenge, Slinning can organise “ski and sail” trips, where you ski to the fjord, travel by fishing boat to the next desirable spot, make your ascent by foot and then ski down the slope again. And, after the effort and adrenaline, there’s always the reward of the peace of your room back at Juvet.