– and one of the 50 best overnight accommodations and restaurants in the Nordic region.
Text and photos: Tor Kjølberg
The Walaker Hotel is not only situated in beautiful surroundings, it is considered to be one of the fifty best overnight accommodations and restaurants in the Nordic region. Last summer we visited the small community of Solvorn and found both the Walaker Hotel and its surroundings to be breathtaking.
Driving along the roads on the west coast of Norway is like traveling in a postcard. You may have seen pictures from the area – high mountains, often with snow on the peaks, steeply diving into the narrow fjords, consisting of a blend of deep green and blue water. A waterfall spreads its fingers along the mountainside, keeping its hand over flowering fruit trees, almost like an illusion.
This is however, real life. To be honest, we must admit that there are challenges as well. Driving in some of the long, dark tunnels is like moving in a dark empty room, when you enter into them from the bright sunlight outside. It appears like a daring deed if you don’t slow down. There are roads that are so narrow that it is almost unbelievable that they are registered as county roads.
If you have not yet been to the west coast of Norway by car take the challenge and experience this beautiful part of Norway.
Between Sogndal and Gaupne, off route 55, there is a small road down to the Lustrafjord. This small road winds down through a fairy tale landscape to the emerald green Sognefjord between high mountains and dramatic waterfalls. Suddenly you arrive at a blind end. You have come to the small village of Solvorn, which for a moment may remind us of a small town at the south coast of Norway with small white painted wooden houses and only one main street, but you are in fact still in Sogn, and have arrived at our planned destination, the Walaker Hotel.
Christian Nitter took over the trading partnership at Vollaaker in 1690. The Walaker Hotel has been in business as an inn since 1640, probably much longer, and is the oldest hotel in Norway. In the early years it functioned as the local court. Today, more than 300 years later, the Nitter family is still carrying on the tradition.
Ninth generation Ole Henrik Nitter Walaker, is managing the hotel. He tells us that the old inn building was rebuilt in 1930 to make it functional for modern hotel operation. The hotel consists of several buildings, which have been restored. In front of the hotel is a large lush garden behind a white wooden picket fence and a charming abour among lilacs, roses and fruit trees. The guests may enjoy their breakfast there on a sunny summer morning, or a glass of wine in the afternoon or evening.
Behind the hotel’s charming veranda you have the feeling that this is more a great house than a hotel. When you enter you find the reception area and the intimate restaurant to the right. The original wallpapers are still in place together with several pieces of art. To the left you find the living room and a small separate dining room, also decorated with antiques, pieces of art and a piano. Ole Henrik says he plays the piano on special occasions.
We stayed in one of the historical rooms on the first floor with view to the garden, the private beach and Urnes on the south side of the fiord. On the same floor there is an extensive library, but the most interesting reading is probably to be found among the comments in the guest book in the reception area.
The old courtroom next to the main building is presently used for accommodation and meetings.
In 1964 a new building in old style was erected in the garden beside the old “Courtroom”.
The old cowshed, which actually housed pigs, originates from 1882. When it was officially proclaimed that the old churches were too small, the 300 year old local beautiful timber church was torn down and the materials were sold to the inn for 420 kroner. Thus it is probably the only cowshed in the world with inside rose paintings on the timber walls. You may actually still smell the vapor of animal household from the timber walls. Today the building functions as Gallery Walaker, which displays works by domestic and national artists.
Walaker Hotel and Gallery is open from May through October.
In the cozy dining room so called “short travelled food” is served. Walaker Hotel is actually situated in the middle of a dish, with crawfish in the fjord, wild deer in the mountains and local production of berries as well as cheese.
The authors Espen Grønlie, Ole Peder Juve and Hans Petter Smeby have travelled all over Scandinavia searching for comfortable dining and overnight stops. They have selected what they call the 50 best, and Walaker Hotel is mentioned in their book ”50 beste spise- og overnattingssteder i Skandinavia” (Intermekanika 2010).
Personally we enjoyed our two dinners, skillfully prepared by Chef Steffen Andreas Lundli from Vesterålen in the North of Norway. The first dinner consisted of creamy onion soup with croutons with bronze fennel from the kitchen garden. Smoked cured ham from Flåm was served with herb salad, spruce shots syrup and horseradish cream as a side dish, deliciously juicy and tender. The main dish was lemon baked cod with glazed celery sticks, salt baked radish and carrots with potato purée and red wine sauce. Dessert was chocolate pave with stewed strawberries and rhubarb with homemade vanilla ice.
For the starter and side dish we chose a white wine, Bockenauer Felseneck Riesling GG 2005, Shäfer-Frölich, and for the main dish a red wine, Savigny les Beaune 2008, Pavelot.
The next day’s dinner delight consisted of a creamy cauliflower soup with chorizo and parsley for starters. The side dish was deliciously tender smoked thin cut slices of minke whale with a fresh salad and ramsons crème freche. The evening’s main dish was grilled anglerfish with baked turnips, sautéed summer cabbage and oyster mushrooms. Our side dish was pommes lyonaise and sauce from mussels. It was a peasant delight to be served a typical old Norwegian dessert, Walaker’s ‘Vailed farm girls’.
For the starter and side dish we chose Chateau Couhins-Lurtoin 2005, Andre Lurton white wine, and to accompany our main dish our choice was an Albariño 2011, Pazo Señorans.
A family story
Ole Henrik Nitter Walaker tells us that he has always enjoyed his work. The hotel has been a family business for nine generations. He took its management about 15 years ago. – a sliding takeover, he says. He doesn’t like to call himself hotel manager. – titles are unimportant. I am owner and manager, he concludes.
It is all about managing, to manage the hotel and make it a little better from generation to generation. It is important that the guests get the feeling of quality. Ole Henrik’s son, five year old Theodor, will probably follow in his father’s footsteps when it’s time for a change. He has already realized that this is the perfect job, probably because he occasionally is allowed to shoot the guests with his water pistol.
“It would be a shame to break the succession,” Ole Henrik points out.
Seventy percent of the guests at Walaker are Norwegian. Some Americans and tourists from other parts of Europe find their way here too. People travelling for business are used to busy city hotels. Walaker Hotel with its peaceful beautiful surroundings is also popular with business travelers tired of busy city hotels. There isn’t even a television to intrude on the perfect idyll here.
How the guests find their way to the beautiful Solvorn and Walaker hotel is not at all a mystery. The hotel is so special that it is often written about in the media, on the internet and recommended by friends and family.
Many celebrities have visited the hotel throughout the ages. Ole Henrik is very careful when mentioning names, but is content to mention Edvard Grieg. “Nosy guests may study the guest book, – but celebrity hysteria is not our theme,” says Ole Henrik.
In his tenure as manager Ole Henrik has striven to raise standards, not least when it comes to the buildings, and first of all to improve the domestic infrastructure. “It is important to look ahead, but at the same time be true to old qualities,” is his motto. “When thinking about the food traditions,” he smiles. “One thing is for sure,” he tells us “we are not going to be bigger, at least not in the next ten years. It is more important for us to embellish the gardens, and perhaps stretch the season by accommodating conference guests after the tourist season.”
What does a manager of a seasonal hotel do in the wintertime?
“There is a lot to do here even when the hotel is closed. Repairs, planning and quality time with my dear Astrid and Theodor. In October we are going to France for our holiday.”
Ole Henrik is very proud of his employees. “They are clever, and they are thriving”, he says. “Many of them come back season after season. The most faithful have been here for nine summers. We experience a lot together, and a private party now and then in the evening is a welcomed activity.” Ole Henrik’s staff philosophy is the importance of having fun at work.
No days are equal. Sometimes surprising events occur.
A huge American luxury yacht with helicopter on deck and Russian guests on board anchored just outside our hotel. They were celebrating a birthday and entered the hotel in the middle of the night to buy fresh party food to be delivered on board, no price asked. Such an honorable visit would be good promotion for the hotel, they believed. After some negotiations they had their food, but when the yacht arrived again some weeks later, they were told that the hullabaloo was more an annoyance to the hotel guests than promotion for the hotel.
Ole Henrik Nitter Walaker (41) is a long time planner. “I will run this hotel for another 27 years,” he says.
We get the point, since by that time he will be managing a historic hotel which has been continuously operated for 400 years. Theodor will then decide if he wants to be part of the “team”
“Then it will be party time,” he concludes. “Champagne from morning to evening all through the summer.”
Between abundant breakfast buffets and four course dinners there are several exciting things to do in Luster.
You must take the trip across the fjord to Urnes. A small car ferry departs from the quay just outside the hotel and takes only fifteen minutes to cross the fjord. Another fifteen minutes walking time, or a short car drive passing small berry and fruit farms and a deer farm, you reach Urnes stave church which appears on UNESCO’s 1979 world heritage list. The church originates from around 1100 and has an entrance portal from another and even older church. The wood carvings on the older parts of the church are typically from Urnes.
Muntehuset (The House of Munte) is also a place to visit. This was an important meeting point for artists and intellectuals during the romantic area in the 1800s. People like Flintoe, J. C. Dahl, Fearnley, Tiedeman and Gude have been here.
Feigumfossen (The Feigum Waterfall) with its 218 meter is Norway’s highest waterfall. A well marked path leads to a viewpoint to the waterfall.
If you feel for a lazy day in the small community, then the little pearl of Solvorn is the right place for both walking and reflection. Take some time to walk among the small white wooden houses, which once were inhabited by so called strand possessors (poor people who subsisted by what they found alongside the fjord). The small houses could accomodate families of more than 12 people. Today these small white wooden houses are primarily used as summer vacation houses.
The oldest hotel in Norway, written by Tor Kjolberg