1 October 2010

Røisheim, Norway

Røisheim
Autumn is such a magical time in Norway. Nature begins its metamorphosis in advance of the rapidly approaching winter; great swathes of landscape start to glisten in shades of crimson, gold, and russet as the foliage starts to change. The last hardy berries of the bountiful summer months still cling on to branches for dear life, and alien-like fungi start sprouting on the mossy forest floor.

If summer in Norway is spent on the coast, then autumn is for the mountains. So it was that Mrs. Nibbler and I found ourselves alone (the Nibbler kids were happily ensconced with the grandparents) on the five hour drive north from Oslo towards the Bøverdalen valley, in the foothills of the majestic Jotunheimen mountains. The name in English roughly translates as "The Home of the Giants" and it is this mountain range that contains the mighty Galdhøpiggen, which at 2,469m is Northern Europe's highest peak. When we were there, its snow-capped summit was hiding demurely behind a blanket of clouds, but you are always aware of its looming presence.
Galdhøpiggen in the distance, shrouded in cloud
But we were not here to just admire the mountains. We're here to spoil ourselves with a stay at Røisheim, a small and rather unique hotel. Røisheim is an 18th century coaching inn that served as natural resting point for travellers along the formidable Sognefjellsveien, the highest mountain pass in Europe, which starts in Lom and travels south west over the Sognefjell mountains and into the village of Gaupne. From May to September every year Røisheim opens its doors to the public, who get to stay in one of its twenty unique rooms.

The term 'hotel' doesn't really do this place justice at all. In fact, the term 'time machine' would be more appropriate. The buildings of Røisheim appear to have changed little in almost two centuries. The tar painted wooden beams of the buildings seem as timeless and solid as the nearby mountains. Indeed, the sod roofs of the buildings give the appearance that Røisheim has magically grown out of the very land it sits on. Inside, it is no different; antique furniture, old books, and traditional Norwegian artefacts abound. Norwegian luminaries such as Edvard Grieg, Henrik IbsenFritz Thaulow, and Gerhard Munthe have all stayed at Røisheim and you sense the weight of their presence all around. Røisheim is run by the ever-smiling husband and wife team of Haavard and Ingrid Hov Lunde, and their warm hospitality makes you feel like a guest of honour in their own home.
Røisheim, 1892
Røisheim, 2010
The main louge


Each room is unique, some have their own fireplaces, and all have himmelseng (traditional four-posted beds) and badestamp (old fashioned wooden bathtubs). Our room was located in the second oldest building (the oldest dates back to the 16th century) at Røisheim, and it entailed a precarious walk up some rickety steps to get in. Once inside though, you have the feeling of being in a giant, luxurious treehouse.
Our 'treehouse' at Røisheim


You stay at Røisheim on a half-board basis, and at 7:30pm sharp a quaint bell rings out signalling dinner. We all filed into a small, but airy, dining room to find our individual tables labelled with rustic name tags. There's just one menu on offer here - gracious hostess Fru Ingrid prepares a daily changing five-course menu that incorporates mostly local ingredients. At dinner, avuncular host Haavard dons traditional Norwegian dress, which includes leather trousers and traditional hunting knife, and plays the role of sommelier. We opted for the paired wine menu that included a rather interesting Italian wine (I forget which type) that is made exclusively for the hotel.

We started with a light and fresh shellfish salad with crayfish that came with a cheese wafer, and sour cream and chervil sauces.

Next was house-smoked blackcurrant marinated halibut with salad leaves and chervil pesto. This dish packed quite a punch; the fish was intensely smokey and the tart blackcurrant balanced nicely with the rich, fatty halibut.

Then, a palate cleanser of some mango sorbet. Maybe I'm being a bit harsh but, although pleasant enough, I felt this was somewhat out of place. Given that the rest of the meal was so intensely Nordic and the setting so steeped in history, it just seemed a tad incongruent to be eating exotic, imported mangoes. Surely something local and seasonal, such as a berry sorbet, would have been much more appropriate.

The main course, though, was a masterpiece - a picture of autumn on a plate; reindeer fillet cooked perfectly pink was served with sautéed wild mushrooms, a cranberry marinated poached pear, nut roasted potato, and a creamy game sauce. I often forget that reindeer is considered quite an exotic meat outside Scandinavia (here in Norway it is quite common), but if you haven't tasted it before you're missing out on a real treat - think of a more tender, less gamey, and slightly sweeter tasting version of venison. It is a very lean meat, so you have to be careful not to dry it out, but here it was perfectly moist. The marinated pear provided some welcome acidity that was balanced by the creamy sauce. It actually reminded me of the venison dish I had at Noma, which was served with some of the various things a deer might come across in its natural habitat, and was every bit as good in my opinion.

On to the cheese course next. Here, local cheeses were served with some balsamic glaze and honey. The dark square cheese on the right was an amazing brunost (Norwegian brown cheese) - it was full of glorious caramel and coffee flavours, and was probably the best example of a geitost (brown cheese made with goats milk) I have ever tried.

Finally, we continued on the brown cheese theme with a dessert of homemade brunost ice cream with marinated berries. I was a tad sceptical when I first heard the ice cream described to me, but it turned out to be just heavenly. If you think about it, with its sweet and salty notes, brunost lends itself wonderfully to a dessert like this, and the end result was not dissimilar to a salted caramel ice cream (so good was it, that I even tried to make this ice cream a few weeks later). The berries were perfectly ripe and each one seemed to just explode with bursts of intense flavour in the mouth. This was such a delicious dessert. To round off the evening, we retreated to the lounge for coffee by the fireplace.


Leftovers from dinner
The next morning we awoke refreshed after a long and deep sleep (it's so quiet up here). After a lazy bath in the badestamp, we arrived for breakfast. A wonderful, traditional Norwegian spread had been laid out that included fresh bread from the bakery in nearby Lom, local cheeses, gravlaks, herring, homemade jams (including a delicious cloudberry jam), and mueslis.








Røisheim is such a magical place, and if you're looking for a quintessential Norwegian experience that is steeped in history, then a stay here should not be missed. It serves as an excellent stopover if you're heading from Oslo to the great fjords of the West Coast, or indeed as a great base from which to explore the Jotunheimen mountains. Mrs. Nibbler and I had such a fantastically relaxing weekend at Røisheim, cocooned away in its simple luxury. We left with our batteries recharged, a spring in our steps, and ready to face life anew.

Food:         7 / 10
Service:      8 / 10
Ambiance:  10 / 10

Røisheim
Røisheim Hotel
N-2687 Bøverdalen
Norway
Tel: +47 61 21 20 31