Karen Blixen has stayed here. Kaiser Wilhelm, Queen Sonja of Norway and Coco Chanel as well. Hotel Union Øye reminds us what it really means to travel in style.
I don’t mind if things get a bit rough when I’m walking the mountains in Norway. I’m quite happy to go to the bathroom behind a bush or eat a packed lunch on a rock, but when I come down from the mountain, I want to be comfortable. Luckily the English mountaineers who came to Hotel Union Øye at the foot of The Sunnmøre Alps in the late 1800s thought the same. When they came down the mountain, they wanted to soak themselves in beautiful bathtubs, eat a three-course meal using silverware and enjoy a glass of port in a wicker chair on the veranda. And so it still is at Union Øye.
Before we came here, we had taken a guided tour of Norway’s only Barony at Rosendal. We had also visited the quaint and stylish homes of Norwegian composers Edvard Grieg and Ole Bull outside Bergen. Here we had revelled in ancient architecture and decor, without being allowed to touch any of it, of course. Some rooms were closed off, as it often the case when famous homes become museums. At Union Øye, you can touch anything you like. You can even bathe in the bathtub of Kaiser Wilhelm II (he brought his own, naturally), who visited the hotel every year from the 1890s to 1914. You can You can sleep in the same bed as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the author of Sherlock Holmes, or mountaineer William Cecil Slingsby. All the rooms are named after famous visitors, many of them regulars.
There are no television sets in the rooms at Hotel Union Øye. On the other hand, I have magnificent view of a large waterfall from the canopy bed. Sitting at the little blue salon at the other end of the room, another waterfall appears.
– Looking at this waterfall makes me so happy, I say to my husband.
– I’m sorry we don’t have one at home, he replies.
Our children, who sleep in fold out beds on either side of the canopy bed, run around the corridors where there is much to discover. An armor from Scotland, for example, with a real sword. A huge rock sits outside our bedroom door, and it turns out it’s been lying there since World War II when it fell through the roof during a bomb attack. When the boys have finished running, they make an even greater discovery. The hotel has wi-fi!
We eat a three-course dinner in the dining room, followed by coffee in the salon where one of the employees tells stories of the hotel. The beautiful pieces of furniture we are surrounded by were not here to begin with – the original furniture were in fact burned on a Midsummers bonfire in the 1970s, when Formica made it’s way into the hotel. In the 1980s, Union Øye was completely run down when physiotherapist and acupuncturist Per Ola Ratvik visited it and was immediately enchanted by it. Ratvik envisioned what the hotel must have looked like in the past and decided to renovate it with the help of local enthusiasts. Today the hotel is more or less as it was when Kaiser Wilhelm II first set foot here, albeit with some modern conveniences. Electricity, for example and, yes, wi-fi. But as a guest, you still dress up for dinner and have your coffee in the salon with live piano music.
– Some things made in the past are better than the tings we make now, my son commented, before declaring this to be his favourite hotel.