A skiing holiday with a difference - in Norway

It may not be the Alps, but skiing in Norway has a charm all of its own.


The humble pizza might not seem much of a yardstick by which to judge a ski resort, but those on offer at Havdalskroa somehow encapsulate the ski holiday experience in Norway - very different fromthe Alps.

Havdalskroa is a mountain restaurant in the resort of Geilo. Its enthusiastic manager, Knut-Arne Bredal-Thorsen, has come up with local variations on the predictable theme. There's the Chevre, topped with local goat's cheese from a nearby farm, and the Laksepizza, made with Norwegian salmon that's smoked on the premises.

One thing needs to be made clear before you read on. Geilo is not for skiers interested only in miles of piste bashing. Its slopes are mostly modest, its runs short. It is spread out, inconveniently, across a shallow valley, with lifts on either side.

The surrounding mountains, which include the country's highest plateau, the 1,933-metre Hallingskarvet, lack the drama of the Alps. But the resort's appeal to those who want a more rounded winter break is inarguable, and even some hardened mountain veterans of my acquaintance find it a refreshing alternative to the giant ski complexes of France, for example.

In Geilo even something as corny as a sleigh ride, muffled in blankets in falling snow, or under a clear, frosty night sky, takes on a particular charm.

Getting there

Package: Crystal Ski offers packages at Dr Holms Hotel. Prices for seven nights half board start from £415 or £539 (for two sharing — departing from Gatwick on January 17 or 24) — discounts of £384 and £260 respectively. Forest cabins available on the same dates for £238 for each of 4 sharing (down £280). For those seeking slightly more demanding skiing Crystal also offers packages in Hemsedal (about one hour from Geilo). Seven night half board at the Hotel Skogstad, departing on January 24 from £525 for each of two sharing.

There's charm, too, at the striking, pale cream painted Dr Holms Hotel, opened in 1909 and founded by the eponymous doctor, a specialist in lung disease and personal hygiene, who also ran a sanatorium and health spa. With its shades of Davos and Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain, the hotel has long been patronised by Norway's royalty. When it was occupied by German officers during the Second World War, about which locals are understandably diffident, it is said that the Lebensborn programme, which in this case involved delivering Aryan babies to unmarried Norwegian women, was practised there.

The hotel has the modern accoutrements, such as a spa and pool but its atmosphere, enhanced by the numerous examples of period furniture and walls hung with original works by celebrated Norwegian landscape and portrait painters is timeless.

Across the valley is a recently developed and equally excellent hotel, the Vestlia Resort, which has just opened an additional wing with an indoor pool long enough to allow a serious work out.

There's also interesting art here, from the wealthy owner's sizeable collection, including a sketch by Edvard Munch for his best known work, The Scream.

Out among the trees, surrounded by snow, there are also some beautifully appointed self catering cabins.

If you harbour the notion that Norwegian cooking is by and large boring - boiled fish and potatoes maybe - prepare to be surprised. The culinary revolution that has swept Scandinavia has reached here, too.

While both the previously described hotels have fine chefs, in the centre of Geilo is the Restaurant Hallingstuene.

There I ate a superb dinner of mountain trout fillet with lemon herb butter, and cloudberries with ice cream.

The pound may have strengthened significantly against the krone but Norway still isn't cheap.

This meal would set you back around £60 a head before you've had a drink. The restaurant has a wine cellar with prices starting at around £25. It also has a couple of bottles of 1990 Romanée-Conti at around £6,550.

It's perhaps a statement of the obvious that, as a viable alternative to downhill skiing, Geilo has Norway's equivalent of Premiership football: cross country.

Asked which she liked better, a hotel receptionist shot back: "Are you asking me if I'm Norwegian? Besides the magnificent, floodlit World Cup stadium, where serious competitors share the circuit with skiers simply out for exercise and a lung full of fresh air, there are 220 peaceful kilometres of tracks within a 5km radius of the resort. But take heed, if you haven't tried it - it's trickier than it looks. Those skinny skis have minds of their own, particularly on downward stretches."

Best of all, perhaps, though this is by no means exclusive to Geilo, there are the Norwegians themselves.

I'm sure there are grumpy locals, as there are everywhere, but so far, while skiing in Norway, I haven't encountered one.

Most speak good English and have no difficulties with British humour. An example writ large was Elisabeth Andreassen, born in Sweden to Norwegian parents and a huge star hereabouts, best known for winning the Eurovison Song Contest in 1985 with the group Bobbysox.

With unflagging courtesy and humour she signed CDs and posed for photos with fans who had just heard her perform songs, including a somewhat surreal 12 days of Christmas (in Norwegian) at a festive concert at the resort's ultra-modern Cultural Church.

The Trois Vallées this most certainly isn't but, like Knut-Arne's pizzas, that kind of warmth makes a little skiing go a long way.

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