Tethered to windswept rocks on an island deep into the Arctic Circle is an unexpected sight: a tiny hotel with just four modernist sleeping cabins. Located 40 minutes off Norway’s coast, the island of Sørvær is so remote that the next nearest piece of land is the east coast of Greenland, more than 2,000km away. Views from the highest point on the island take in the dark slivers of surfacing whales, soaring sea eagles and the endless expanse of the Arctic Ocean. But perhaps the biggest attraction for visitors is the new perspective they may gain on life.
Island life tends towards the unique, and the hotel on this isolated spot, The Arctic Hideaway, is similarly offbeat. It’s the setting for a singular type of experience, where guests make an arduous trek to experience nature in the raw, find respite from burnout and discover the value of collaboration between unlikely disciplines.
That’s the whole idea, according to owner and jazz musician Håvard Lund, who initially devised the hotel as a collaborative creative space in 2016 after discovering how much his music benefitted from working with a mechanical engineer and a set designer. The experience helped him realise that once you leave specific industry language behind, we can all help each other in unexpected ways – and that there should be a place for it in the world.
“Discovering that I, as a composer, could help the engineer in his challenges, and that the set designer could help me construct my music, was a change in direction in life,” he said.
The Arctic Hideaway is the brainchild of jazz musician Håvard Lund, who initially devised the hotel as a collaborative creative space (Credit: Laura Hall)
The project today operates as a hotel for nine months of the year, supporting a creative residency programme for the rest. Some people come looking for space to think and write; others are bird watchers, divers or musicians looking for inspiration in nature. Once they’re here, it’s all about the simple things: exploring the nearby uninhabited islands; watching otters play along the shore; and witnessing orca teaching their young to hunt in the bay.
The design, with small sleeping cabins, encourages guests to spend time outdoors or in the shared kitchen and living space, fostering intimate connections with others. Lund believes that when sequestered in nature, the experience becomes about the community you build, the new perspectives you discover and the clarity of thinking you can recover. The result is a new outlook on what a hotel space can be and achieve.
In fact, the Norwegian name for The Arctic Hideaway is “Fordypningsrommet”, meaning “The Immersion Room”.
“I don’t really describe it as a hotel,” Lund said. “It’s more of an experimental laboratory.”
Two volunteer caretakers manage the day-to-day operations, greeting guests, getting them up to speed on island life, changing beds, making bread, stoking the sauna on the repurposed former ferry dock and organising meals. Guests are introduced to the limited island resources; they’re asked to take short showers – the hotel uses a pump and filters seawater into a small tank – and to help pitch in during mealtimes. For many, this self-sufficiency and simplicity is part of the appeal, and the hotel attracts like-minded people happy to join in and help.
Guests are encouraged to spend time outdoors or in the shared spaces (pictured), rather than in the small sleeping cabins (Credit: Laura Hall)
There is a heavy reliance on the public ferry for food deliveries – there’s no other way to bring supplies in than by boat – and any building materials have to fit in the ferry’s luggage section if they are to be transported to the island. As extreme weather conditions like high winds can cause problems overnight that you can’t fix instantly, problem-solving skills are essential.
“The biggest challenge is that we have to improvise,” said caretaker Laura Jørgensen, who is part way through her three-month caretaking stint with her boyfriend Jarl. “If something goes wrong, you can’t just snap your fingers and fix it.”
Being a guest here is a little like being in the audience in a jazz club – you must be receptive to the unexpected. Want to see the Northern Lights? Maybe you will, maybe you won’t. But perhaps you’ll discover a book in the lounge that opens up a new avenue of thought, or a guest will entertain you on the piano. Want to take the rowboat out? You’ll have to wait for the wind to die down, whenever that may be. In the meantime, maybe you’ll discover a treasure trove of sea urchin shells discarded by otters on a walk around the island. It’s all about the unpredictable and what that sense of space allows you to discover.
There’s also a jazz approach to the design in that it lacks unnecessary details: it’s all about the notes you don’t play. There’s no mini bar and no wide screen TV, no butler or pillow menu. Sleeping cabins are designed to fit a bed and not much else; the idea is that you have what you need, but no more, so your focus is more fully on nature. That means picture windows and no curtains, revealing a wide vista of the sea and the sky; and evening meals around a long table, opening up conversations and connections. After dinner, impromptu jazz performances may accompany the gathering wisps of the Northern Lights as they unfurl across the sky. Every aspect is calculated to put you more in touch with the extraordinary surroundings.
All food and other supplies must be brought in by boat, and the island is regularly cut off during bad weather or high winds (Credit: Laura Hall)
Future challenges include a proposed industrial fish farm in the archipelago, the creation of which involves dynamiting an island and exposing the area to pests, noise and waste. The prospect fills Lund with horror.
“You don’t understand it has been quiet until you hear sounds again,” he said. “It’s similar to when your fridge or freezer stops. When it starts again, you understand how quiet it has been. We have some days here when it is so quiet that you can hear the conversations on other islands.”
Lund will need to present a case to the local authorities as to why this hotel and area should be protected, in contrast to the job creation opportunities the fish farm will bring. But founding decision-making on economic terms in this space is like comparing jazz with classical music, according to the musician, who sees improved mental health and a strengthened connection with nature as the greatest gifts this space can offer.
“We’re in the middle of enormous longing for nature and a deep need for a place like this,” he said. “For me, if I make decisions based on whether I make money or not, I’ve failed. What I’m aiming for is a different kind of economy altogether.”
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