Many, many years ago, back when I was working as a glaciologist, I attend a conference of a group of scientists studying the Flichner-Ronne ice shelf, in Antarctica. The conference was doubtless interesting, and indeed a highlight was visiting the brand new Norwegian Glacier museum. But the thing that always stuck in my mind was the magical venue. The conference was organised in a place called Hotel Mundal, a classic Norwegian “belle époque” hideaway lying on the shores of the Fjærland fjord, and owned by the family of conference organiser, Olal Orheim (who was also instrumental in founding the Glacier Museum). The hotel was established in the late 19th century to cater for wealthy tourists visiting the glaciers at the head of the fjord, who until then had no choice but to stay on ships anchored offshore.
Back when I first visited, at least if travelling by land, Hotel Mundal was in the back of beyond. The tunnel that now connects Fjærland to Sogndal did not exist, and although you could drive into the area along a largely deserted road, and through another tunnel, to the north, the only way out was by ferry along the fjord. These days, the road is a bit busier, and the ferry port sits abandoned.
I always dreamt of returning one day, and this year, finally, I did, together with my better half, and her mother, who celebrated her 80th birthday at the hotel.
It turns out we were lucky: Hotel Mundal had been sold several times, and was in decline for some time. Last year did not open at all. But this year it has been rescued, by a wonderful couple, Carrie and Idar, who together with their small but fabulous staff (and unbelievable cook) have undertaken to return Mundal to its prime, an epic labour of love.
Every day it seems new treasures are rescued from the cellars, mementoes of famous visitors such as Kaiser Wilhelm or Walter Mondale, or strange, arcane devices for which the purpose is yet to be revealed.
It’s a wonderful place just to relax and bury yourself in the sense of history and belonging. Clearly it is also painfully photogenic, and I cursed my lack of ability as an interior photographer (or indeed any other kind). But to get a sense of the place, I think it is maybe appropriate to share some photos from a camera with a least one foot in the past, the Bessa III 667, using Portra 400 film. Possibly, somewhere, in a neglected box, I’ve got some earlier snapshots of Mundal. I guess I should take a look for them.