GUIDE / SOGNEFJORDEN

”The sense of isolation and of being secluded from society is priceless”

SOLVEIG KVAKESTAD
On adventures and everyday life on Norway’s biggest fjord
November 30, 2021

Having originally made a career for herself as a teacher in mathematics and physics, Solveig Kvakestad decided to change paths after a severe concussion and a year-long sick leave. With a passion for the outdoors and food, it was almost too good to be true when the over 100-year-old hikers hut Steinbergdalshytta came up for sale in 2017.

— I went to have a look with no other plan than to daydream, as the asked price was way more than I could afford. But time passed, Steinbergdalshytta was still on the market, and my dreams grew bolder and more substantial.  In May 2018 I placed a bid that was within my financial capacity, way lower than the initial price — and the bid was accepted! Solveig explain.

By easter 2019, Kvakestad opened her very own ”turisthytte”, a hikers refuge perfect for the outdoorsy and slow traveller.

For someone who hasn’t been to Sognefjorden and your fylke, how’d you describe it?

Dramatic, scenic and exceptionally beautiful.  There are high mountains and deep fjords. The landscape is so steep that I can drive from Steinbergdalshytta where I live at 1070 masl to Aurland by the Sognefjord in a bit more than 30 min. That means that at certain times of the year I drive from white snow through spring to summer by the fjord. I love it!

My favourite thing that makes me proud of the Sognefjorden area: 

It’s hard to restrict myself to just one thing. I’ve already mentioned the landscape… Still quite a newcomer to the region I am extremely grateful for the warm welcome I have received from the people in Aurland. And together with the Aurland community, I am happy and proud of our agricultural school, Sogn Jord- og Hagebrukskole SJH.  It’s the only school in the country teaching ecological farming and gardening. It produces the very best vegetables, fruits and flowers. It has its own small farm shop and is just a great asset to Aurland. 

My favourite weekend routine: 

Running a place like Steinbergdalshytta where life itself is very seasonal, my routine also changes with the seasons. In summer I don’t really have time for much else but work, and I guess my favourite weekend routine is tidying the reception in the evening, listening to the chit chat of contended guests playing board games in front of the old fireplace. Or serving one guest a drink, advising on tomorrow’s hike. In the winter season, my favourite weekend routine is putting on my backcountry skis just outside my door and then setting off into the white wilderness. At 1070 masl the weather is often rough, so a prepared ski track is of no use, as it would blow over very soon. But sliding on the untouched snow is a feeling like no other. Maybe I scare up a white grouse, I see the tracks of a hare or a fox… Sometimes I get the chance to share this with guests, but so far, few people find their way to Steinbergdalshytta in winter. The harsh climate and icy roads are scary to some, but to people like myself, it is immensely attractive and fascinating. That being said, it’s important to respect the elements, and from time to time a snowstorm makes it impossible to get out the door.  But enjoying a cup of hot chocolate in front of the fireplace with my dog Ambra, reading and listening to the howling wind and creaking noises from the walls standing up against the storm, is also a favourite routine. Then when the wind subsides, it’s just to start digging snow. I always have to check the forecast before planning my week. The mountain crossing will close whenever the wind is too strong or visibility too poor, and the barrier goes down between Steinbergdalshytta and the rest of the world.  The sense of isolation and of being secluded from society is priceless and I really recommend it!  But of course, sometimes it’s just very inconvenient, and luckily for me, I have Cecilie in Aurland. At her place, I am welcome anytime, and there my weekend routine will be like, we’ll walk the dogs, make some good food, have a glass or two, and invite the neighbours over.

My favourite cultural spot:

Steinbergdalshytta dates back to 1895. It was first built by DNT to accommodate hikers going from Finse to Vassbygdi, Aurland. The old timber log structure is still intact.  Until 1976 this was Steinbergdalshytta, consisting of two bedrooms with 8 bunk beds each, a kitchen and a dining room. Later on, the structure has been expanded, and it now has 16 guest rooms with a total of 45 bunk beds and a big dining hall. The old part serves as super cosy living rooms with a massive stone fireplace at the centre.

My favourite place for dining out: 

Ægir brewery pub in Flåm. The tiny village of Flåm has one of the best-known breweries in Norway. On the ground floor, there is a Viking style pub, and upstairs there is a restaurant serving good quality food.  Both upstairs and downstairs you get tasty Ægir beer.

My favourite breakfast place:

At Marianne café, I get delicious rolls with homemade jam or the renowned Norwegian delicacy brown cheese from Undredal together with my morning coffee. All her baking goods are made from ecological flours. It’s the natural meeting place in Aurland for a coffee break and lunch.

My favourite space for great design:

Glass artist Merete Rein glass blowing studio and gallery in Aurland. The heart of the studio is the furnace, which holds the melted glass. It is the heat and the glowing masses which creates magic in the process, and here is the opportunity to create. Merete strives to understand the glass in order to succeed. “Clear water” is a series inspired by free running water. Her work is her voice in the world.

Merete Rein’s glass blowing studio.

My favourite excursion:

Hol Ysteri/Ostebygda (the Cheese village). Although not in the Sognefjord region, it is my favourite excursion, less than one hour drive from Steinbergdalshytta. Despite being a tiny place, here they make some of the best cheese in the whole of Norway. It’s also a place where I have many great friends.

My favourite local entrepreneur or creative I want to promote:

Vestavin in Jølster.  With several similarities to my story with Steinbergdalshytta, Camilla Aasen recently bought a farm in Jølster with plans to transform it into a winery for local fruit wine. Her idea is to find and highlight the quality of local fruits and other resources. Resources that might be considered as having no value, or that have not been in use for a long time. In other words, basic sustainability. Some of her wines will be served at Steinbergdalshytta.

My favourite place for a creative or business meeting:

Fretheim Hotel. The hotel is immediately adjacent to the Nærøyfjord UNESCO World Heritage site. The oldest part of the hotel has been carefully restored to reveal beautiful details, with open fires and antique furniture in the lounges, library, conference room and, not least, in all the historical guest rooms.

My favourite hotel for a staycation:

Besides Steinbergdalshytta, my old workplace Vatnahalsen has a marvellous and remote location. Only accessible by the spectacular Flåm railway set in a dramatic landscape, it’s the perfect place to rewind and load your batteries. 

My favourite route for a run or walk: 

Running up and south towards Geiterygghytta, then east towards Kongshelleren and back to Steinbergdalshytta. This is sky-running and mountain-running at its best. Open terrain, no trees, ever-changing light and weather. Trail running changed my idea of running. Before I had much focus on speed and performing better.  Running on stony paths, I have to put that aside. Running is for fun, and the health benefits are just as good, maybe even better. A favourite route for hiking is from Finse to Vassbygdi. One of the best-known hikes in Norway, and for a reason.  It takes you from 1222 masl at Finse past Geiterygghytta, Steinbergdalshytta, then Østerbø and down to Aurland by the Sognefjord. Spend two, three or four days on this hike. Incredible views, friendly people, changing weather — and sore feet!

My favourite place for fashion:

I love dresses but wear mostly sports pants. Sustainability is important to me, so when I need new clothes I go for second-hand. As I live far away from any major city, I usually go for the options finn.no or a local second-hand store. I find them both in Årdal, Ål, Lærdal and Sogndal.

My favourite example of tech innovation in the Sognefjorden area:

The passenger ships Vision of the fjords and Future of the fjords.  Launched in May 2018, Future of The Fjords is a game-changer for the passenger vessel segment. Sharing the zigzag design of her sister ship Vision of The Fjords, which mirrors the twisting mountain paths they sail alongside, Future replaces her sibling’s dual-fuel solution with all-electric propulsion to ensure efficient, silent and environmentally responsible operation on the itinerary between Flåm and Gudvangen. An innovative charging solution enables her to gently bleed power from the local grid network, while also, uniquely, taking on sewage to ensure zero emissions to water.

My favourite local media:

Sogn Avis keeps a watchful eye on the Sognefjorden region and keeps us informed. 

My favourite thing at home:

An old reindeer sleeping bag hanging on the timber log wall in the old part. As the story goes it was placed under an overhanging rock wall, and they’ve served as a warm and dry place for hunters to spend the night. We’re now in the process of restoring an old stone hut by Steinbergdalshytta. We’ve made replicas of the named reindeer sleeping bag, and from next summer, guests will have the unique option to stay the night in “Førarbui” as the reindeer hunters did in the old times.

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