Welcome to One Night In, a series about staying in the most unparalleled places available to rest your head.
This past spring, my friend Kevin and I were tossing around some ideas of where we could take a summer trip. "How about backpacking in New Hampshire?" I suggested. Easy drive, little to no planning, low cost.
"Or we could go to Norway," he said, clearly thinking in a different vein.
As it turns out, a new budget airline, Norse Atlantic, was running mouthwateringly cheap promotional summer fares. I hadn’t been out of the country since before the pandemic and was itching to go. We got two other friends on board. Who cares how expensive Norway is when you’re saving so much money on airfare? we justified to ourselves and one another with each purchase and reservation we made. Right?!
Kevin had just graduated from Yale with an M.Arch and, eager to gorge himself on some Scandinavian design, learned that Snøhetta—a Norwegian firm he admired—had recently reinstated a complex of hiking cabins called Tungestølen on the edge of one arm of Jostedalsbreen, the largest glacier in continental Europe. (After a 2011 cyclone destroyed the original Tungestølen cabin, the local community raised funds for a rebuild that resulted in an international design competition Snøhetta won in 2015.)
Tungestølen, one of many cabins in a national network maintained by the Norwegian National Trekking Association, was more or less along our road trip route, Kevin said. Should we stay for a night?
And how could we not.
The Tungestølen hiking cabin complex overlooks the remote village of Veitastrond on a small plateau near the Jostedalen glacier in Luster, Norway.
8:45 p.m.: One of the benefits that comes with traveling to a high latitude Scandinavian destination in July—other than the chance to crack plenty of stale Midsommar jokes—is that you can squeeze a lot more into the daylight hours. My friends and I have been ambitious with our scheduling for this road trip, and so we aren’t due to arrive at Tungestølen until late in the evening.
At the town of Hafslo, our path turns off a main "highway," the road narrowing into one lane barely wide enough to let a single car through. Hugging the shore of a fjord, we drive into the dark maws of several tunnels cut through rock, where the threat of another oncoming car leads us to grip our arm rests. But we make it through, past a small structure with a tiny credit card reader (an honor system for the $2 road toll) and the isolated village of Veitastrond. A few more miles north along the now-unpaved gravel road, and we spot it: The complex of pentagonal wooden cabins sits on a rocky hill, seemingly in conversation with the mountains and glaciers around it. The vertical, gray-brown pine panels recall a dense alpine forest; the doors are painted a green that’s lighter and softer than the vibrant valley grasses.
We trundle up the road, past a few unaffiliated campsites and small cabins, with little sense of what awaits us. Supposedly, dinner tonight and breakfast and lunch tomorrow are included in our stay, but the translation on the booking site had been poor—the lunch description simply read, bewilderingly, "four slices"—and because our foreign SIM cards only include data, we hadn’t been able to call reception to let them know we’d be arriving late. In the past several days, I’ve developed an unhealthy attachment to Nugatti, Norway’s (admittedly subpar) answer to Nutella. I imagine digging into it by the spoonful for dinner when we’re inevitably told the kitchen is closed.
A stay at the Tungestølen hiking cabin includes breakfast, a self-made lunch pack, and dinner.
9:00 p.m.: As it turns out, our worries were for naught. The Tungestølen chef and manager are there to greet us at the main cabin, where we leave our shoes by the door and pad out into the communal space. The Norwegian Trekking Association’s 550 cabins range from full-service (manager or ranger, chef, rentable linens) to rudimentary (simple lean-to structures). I imagine Tungestølen is one of the nicest, yet it’s clear that many of the other guests are still using it functionally, as a hiking stopover.
The main room is long and open, the floor, walls and ceiling all a consistent light timber, with exposed beams and generous windows, one of which overlooks the edge of the glacier at the end of the sprawling valley floor. Cushioned built-in benches run along two walls. The cabin feels quintessentially Norwegian: clean and spare, yet undeniably cozy.
These cabins are clearly designed to have a porous border with nature; though angular, they’re devoid of loud features or colors that distract from the valley around.
The other more punctual guests have already eaten dinner and are laying around in the lounge reading and playing board games, but a table is quickly set for us. The fresh wildflowers arranged on the rough-hewn banquet table bring to mind the atmosphere of a farm-to-table restaurant more than a rustic, isolated glacier cabin. We aren’t complaining.
The chef sounds stricken while he shares the menu: the beef bourguignon, he tells us grimly, is not up to his standards. When it arrives, it’s delicious, and we trip over ourselves to tell him so. But this only seems to upset him more: clearly our palates are not to be trusted.
Large, angular windows frame views of the mountains and valleys in the main cabin, which comprises a communal dining area and a lounge with built-in benches and a stone-clad fireplace.
9:30 p.m.: As we scarf down dinner, which includes a salad (beet, goat cheese) and dessert (baked pear with ice cream), the chef and manager drift in and out, sharing with us lore about the cabin and nearby village. We learn that Veitastrond used to host regular dances with the neighboring town to allow for extensive mixing and mingling, far more than other isolated communities would get. This is why the local people are "very genetically healthy," the chef says with raised eyebrows.
10:15 p.m.: Most of the other guests are trekkers; they’ve already stepped into their Solomons at the door and shuffled off to bed. But we—the road-tripping slackers—instead order a few Pilsners from the bar and sprawl out on the benches in front of the window and fireplace. Displayed on one wall are old regional maps and artifacts from the original cabin, including an ice axe that looks like it could make a starring appearance in a real-world version of Clue. All the books on the shelves are in Norwegian, except for Inventory of Norwegian Glaciers, of which there are, inexplicably, three English copies. I read from the book to my friends: "Due to the Gulf Stream and the prevailing westerly winds, Norway’s coast remains ice free in the winter and generally the climate is warmer than the latitude would otherwise imply."
"Isn’t that interesting?" I ask genuinely. They do not reply.
The Snøhetta-designed hiking cabins feature wooden glue-lam frames covered by sheets of cross-laminated timber (CLT) and clad in ore pine.
11:30 p.m.: There’s still light in the sky, but like every night on this trip, we’ll be asleep before it’s completely dark. Just a stone’s throw from the sleeping cabin, there’s a restroom building with communal showers and sinks. On my way out after brushing my teeth, I stand in the late night air in my T-shirt. It should be colder than it feels.
Yellow light pokes out of the cabin windows, pinpricks against the soft-blue hue cast over the valley. I look past the property fence, where a mama sheep and her twins chew their cud and stare at me warily. They’re using one of the cabins as their own shelter of sorts, pressed up against its beak-like outer edge. I look out at the parking lot, where a group of cows have gathered for some sort of convention, nuzzling at the side mirrors and scratching themselves against the bumpers of the guests’ parked cars.
These cabins are clearly designed to have a porous border with nature; though angular, they’re devoid of loud features or colors that distract from the valley around. That congruity with the environment is exactly what makes them so captivating. The structures have even been claimed, in a sense, by the other fauna of the valley.
Tungestølen serves as a starting point for adept hikers who want to explore the local mountains and glaciers, as well as less-advanced adventurers who wish to see the surrounding area.
11:30 p.m.: The two private cabins were already booked when we planned our trip, but I’ve never been so delighted to sleep in a dorm. The bunk room is made up of three levels separated by small olive-green ladders and narrow staircases that should make everything cumbersome but somehow don’t. Each landing houses two twin mattresses equipped with reading lights and an outlet, and small slit windows above. The mattresses are luxurious, and the low loft ceiling makes me feel like I’m burrowing into a nesting box. I want to stay awake for awhile to read and enjoy the space, but I’m asleep almost immediately.
7:30 a.m.: When I wake, it’s drizzling outside. I can hear the other hikers move through the bunk room with practiced synchronicity; their swishing pants and quiet huffs as they pull on heavy boots recall the sounds of a ski lodge.
The angular shape of the cabins—namely the beak-like, outward-facing walls—helps slow down strong winds sweeping up from the valley floor.
8:30 a.m.: I’ve gorged myself on the breakfast buffet and already had four cups of coffee, but I am starting to feel sleepy again. "I don’t nap," I’ve asserted loudly and obnoxiously through yawns several times on this trip, but I’m running on fumes. I curl up on the bench facing the large window in the main cabin and doze off. When I wake, some of the fog has cleared, and the Jostedal glacier peaks out from the lazy, low-hanging cloud puffs.
10:30 a.m.: We don’t have time for the full hike out to the glacier, but we can squeeze in a bit of walking. We meander along a trailhead near the main cabin, the damp moss bouncy under our feet. The rain has turned the tall grasses a bright green. Occasionally, a rattling bell spoils the location of a sheep and her lambs grazing in the brush. Fog slides over the top of the conifers; our shoes sink into the wet ground, mud seeping in. Ten or so meters below us, clear glacial waters cut through a deep riverbed.
I check the time; we need to turn around. We wave goodbye to the valley, to the glacier, then trundle back and pile into the car. We wave goodbye to Tungestølen, to the chef who merrily tells us to come back, then turn down the gravel road and head off to the fjords.
Hikers and other visitors to the area can stay at Tungestølen from June through early October.
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