Just what the doctor ordered – a stay at the Dr Holms Hotel
“Welcome to Norway” said the immigration officer as we passed through immigration at the airport. A very civilised start to the holiday I thought as I smiled back.
We had just landed at Oslo airport and were about to travel by train to the mountains some 3 hours away at Geilo (pronounced yay-lo). We had just flown over a thousand lakes and I was looking forward to arriving at our destination and exploring.
Approaching Geilo we had first sight of a picturesque but frozen wonderland. Spread out near the lake, Geilo is a resort town of some 3,000 permanent residents and up to 30,000 visitors who occupy the 15 or so hotels and around 5,000 cabins.
Situated right in the centre of Geilo, which is itself between two of Norway’s most important National Parks, Dr Holms Hotel is something of a meeting place for those interested in getting closer to nature and having a good time. It would be our base for the next few days.
Opened in 1909 as a sanatorium where the patients of Dr Ingebrikt Christian Holm could receive treatment for TB and respiratory diseases, the hotel has now developed to become a resort hotel offering all of the ingredients for a relaxing short break or holiday.
Proximity to the mountains provides easy access to a wide range of winter sports activities; far more than a ski resort. This is a place to both come and practice what you know or to try a winter sports activity for the first time.
The hotel is the perfect base to situate yourself with fabulous views down the broad valley and up to the Hallingskarvet plateau. Because this is not a particularly steep valley you can walk or take the bus around from place to place very easily, whether it’s been snowing or not.
But the hotel is a meeting place, relatively quiet in the week and full of life for apres-ski at the weekend. In fact you don’t actually have to have been skiing to enjoy the apres-ski – everyone seems to be there in the late afternoon.
It is definitely the most happening place in the town and a great place to watch Norwegians and holiday-makers alike letting down there hair with what can be seen as great enthusiasm! It’s a very friendly atmosphere whether you are there in a group of just on your own; someone is bound to talk to you. If you’re there later in the evening there are live singers offering the revellers the chance to sing along.
The restaurant is relatively big as befits this large hotel offering a breakfast buffet every day and a special evening buffet on Saturdays. A particular treat is the Julbord, meaning Christmas table, served from the beginning of December until just before Christmas. This is when Oslo and Bergen companies invite their staff to a Christmas party at which they can enjoy a feast and drinking of bacchanalian proportions.
Here you can experience local Norwegian and Swedish style Christmas specialities including smoked lamb ribs (Pinnekjot), cured salmon (Gravadlax) meatballs, sausages, reindeer and elk as well as shellfish of many varieties.
The Julbord offers a chance to try the famous Lutfisk which is rehydrated dried fish served in a creamy sauce or, if you are feeling more adventurous, Rakfisk which is salted and fermented Char. The latter famed for its pungent aroma created during the process of being buried underground for months to ferment. But the taste is not that strong, especially when served with boiled egg, spring onions and boiled potatoes and sour cream.
But don’t worry the are plenty of more familiar dishes and desserts including rice pudding, a local favourite, and the lovely breads and cakes that Scandinavia is famous for. These include Pepper Kakkar, a ginger and all spice flavoured biscuit often served with mulled wine known as Grog!
If you really are into food then there is a good cafe come delicatessen with a range of local beers, cheeses and meats to try, as well as a small farmer’s market on Saturday’s near to the Office of Tourism; a must visit destination of this fascinating and beautiful area.
The rooms at Dr Holms are traditional. Although not luxurious, they are comfortable and have decent bathrooms and most importantly are warm. This is a good hotel at which to be based, set in the centre of town with easy access to restaurants and shops. The bar and coffee shops are places to relax after the day’s events and if you fancy a night out there are one or two really special restaurants within a 5 minute walk.
The hotel is situated close to one of the lifts giving easy level access to the one of the larger area of pistes. There are two main downhill skiing areas either side the valley, one in the sun and one bathed in shadow for 6 months of the year. The cross country trails pass right by the door and give access to over 200-km of well-groomed trails that take you around the lake and up or around the plateau. You can make it as easy or as challenging as you like.
If you don’t fancy going out or the weather is bad, then within the hotel are two swimming pools where with steam rooms saunas attached as well as an outdoor hot-tub. The pools are not huge but as it’s quiet in the week and at weekends the majority of visitors will be focused on the apres-ski scene in the bar, it wasn’t too busy.
There is also an Elemis spa where you can treat yourself with a relaxing massage or spa treatment. After a day learning to ski, the massage was particularly welcome and particularly good.
Access for the less able is not particularly well catered for with lots of stairs but, there is a lift and hopefully this will not be an issue for most of those intending to take part in a multi-activity holiday. The route down to town from the hotel is easy enough either down a little path or down the side road and under the railway bridge some 100 yards. It’s a bit slippery especially after a snow storm, so good soled walking shoes are needs to move around town.
One other thing you must do in the hotel is see the old library and read through one of the copies of the history of the hotel. Here you can see many pictures of some of the hundreds of stars and members of royalty that have visited, as well as understand how this famous hotel was appropriated by the invading Nazis and then managed and built up since that time. The place certainly has history, as indeed does Geilo itself.
As we departed I realised I had experienced something different, something really quite refreshing. In fact you notice there is something different about the people who live and work in Geilo. They all seem incredibly satisfied with life.
Could this have something to do with the fact they get to live in one of Norway’s premier resorts and get to enjoy the fresh air and outdoors life every day? Getting a taste of this is good for everyone, something Dr Holms recognised a century ago and which you can enjoy yourself.