Floating saunas are one of Norway’s “hottest” trends.

by Ron Bernthal

Gausta floating sauna (photo Gaustablikk Hotel)

One of the hottest trends in Norway in recent years, architecturally savvy floating saunas offer an unbeatable combination of a hot sauna experience and a more than refreshing dip in a chilly Norwegian lake or fjord.

In Norway you can find saunas near famous rock formations, like the ones near Preikestolen, or rustic saunas in stunning fjords, or rural saunas under the Northern Lights in the Arctic region, including one located in Svalbard, located halfway between mainland Norway and the North Pole. Another interesting fact about the floating Norwegian badstu (sauna) is that some of them are located in the harbors of several of Norway’s bigger cities. See the list below for locations of several floating hotels.

Floating sauna Soria Moria in Lake Bandak, Dalen, Telemark (photo Dag Jenssen)
Jumping into Lake Bandak, Soria Moria (photo Dag Jenssen)

Soria Moria, Dalen, Telemark
Soria Moria looks like a work of art, glittering like a gem in Lake Bandak in the county of Telemark. The sauna is the first installation in a project called “Vannvegens fortellinger” (Tales of the Waterway), which focuses on art work along the Telemark canal. In “Tales of the Waterway,” art, architecture and light are used as instruments in a comprehensive concept to highlight the attraction of the landscape and make the places along the canal more visible. The inspiration for the floating sauna is derived from surrounding landscape and history.

The Northern Lights over Tromso (photo Yngve Olsen-Saebbe/www.nordnorge.com)
(Pust Sauna in Tromsø (photo Yngve Olsen-Saebbe/www.nordnorge.com)

Pust, Tromsø
Pust (“breathe”) is one of the newest of Norway’s floating saunas. The sauna is located in the middle of  Tromsø harbour, and can accommodate 20 people at one time, with private facilities for women and men. Pust aims at offering sauna and bathing for everybody, year-round, breathing space with a view of mountains, water and Tromsø Pust is shaped like a traditional drying rack for fish, a tradition that goes back to when people settled in this region thousands of years ago. 

In the past few years, urban sauna culture has taken Oslo by storm. The harbor promendade of Norway’s capital city now boasts several options for sauna sessions followed by refreshing dips in the fjord. The mix between Oslo’s busy, vibrant city life and quiet, re-energizing experiences in the adjacent fjord is truly unique. It’s a common sight, in winter or summer, to see locals enjoy a sauna and dip in the fjord before heading to their nearby office.

Floating sauna in Oslofjord (photo Oslo Badstuforening)

The organization named Oslo Fjord Sauna runs several sauna, and a hot tub called Stampen (“the tub”). The charming sauna Måken (“the seagull”) floats next to the Oslo Opera House, and three others, Skarven (“the cormorant”), Anda (“the duck”) and Havørnen (“the sea eagle”) have a capacity of 12 to 16 persons each.

The Green Boats Sauna are located in Oslo at Aker Brygge, close to restaurants, shops and museums. Green Boats Saunas offers different sauna experiences, from drop-in to private sessions, and offer luxurious treatments with aromatherapy, salt scrubs and aufguss. Aufguss is a German word, pronounced more or less like it’s spelling, meaning “infusion.” If you too feel the need to treat yourself to a unique and healthy break, for relaxation of both mind and body, you can choose which aufguss sauna to visi.

Salt, Oslo (photo Tord Baklund/www.VisitOslo.com)

SALT, an acroynom for sauna, culture and entertainment, is a nomadic art project with pyramidal constructions called “hesjer” which are based on traditional coastal construction methods. SALT is currently located in Oslo, along the harbor promenade and close to the Opera house. SALT includes three sauna accommodating over a hundred people in total, ande also serving food and drinks and presenting musicians and lectures in their largest sauna. The program at SALT usually includes concerts, festivals, lectures, exhibitions, debates and family events.

Sauna KOK floating in front of Oslo Opera House (photo Didrick Stenersen/www.visitnorway.com)

The sauna boat KOK (“boil”) offers a warm, wood-fired sauna, refreshing baths and sightseeing trips in the inner Oslofjord. KOK floating saunas can also be found in the towns of Drammen and Hamar as well as in Holmsbu.

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Flotating sauna Heit Sørfjorden (photo Tor Hveem)

Heit Sørfjorden Sauna, Hardangerfjord
Heit (“red hot”) offers steaming sauna and a fresh swim in the fjord, while offering breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains and glaciers. The sauna is located just south of the village of Lofthus in the Hardangerfjord. 
A sauna master receives the guests upon arrival, making sure the guests get a personal and pleasant experience. The stove in the sauna is in the Finnish style and is fired up with wood. The sauna can take six persons at a time.

Gausta floating sauna (photo Gaustablikk Hotel)
Gausta floating sauna (photo Gaustablikk Hotel)

Gausta floating sauna, Rjukan, Telemark
Located at lake Kvitåvatn, with a beautiful view towards the Gaustatoppen mountain, the highest mountain in Telemark county, and near the town of Rjukan, you will find the two Gausta floating saunas. The saunas are owned and run by the Gaustablikk Mountain Resort, a resort offering excellent skiing in winter and hiking, kayaking, fishing and biking in summer and autumn. The resort also offers a spa and a swimming pool.

SvalBad Sauna (Photo Svalbad)

SvalBad, Longyearbyen, Svalbard
 SvalBad is a floating sauna docked in the cold, Arctic harbor waters of Longyearbyen, Svalbard, a group of islands located halfway between mainland Norway and the North Pole. Both the float and the sauna itself are largely built with repurposed materials from old buildings, both from Longyearbyen and the Svea mines. Local history is literally built into the walls. Here you can join the “Polar Bears” experience and take a refreshing, cold swim before going back into the sauna.

Preikestolen BaseCamp
The first travellers that visited iconic rock formationj called Preikestolen (The Pulpit Rock) arrived just after the turn of the 19th century. Since then, the area that is now Preikestolen BaseCamp has served as a starting point for explorers who want to experience the famous landmark. What started as a small, private farm where visitors could overnight has become a basecamp complex of accommodations and all-year outdoor activities such as hiking, kayaking, climbing, and floating saunas. After a day of activities in the mountains and lakes, the two floating saunas offer a relaxing and unwinding experience on the lake Refsvatnet, surrounded by pristine nature.

Spa Boat Vulkana (photo Vulkana/www.visitnorway.com)

Vulkana Spa Boat, Tromsø
Vulkana is a former fishing and whaling vessel redesigned to become an Arctic spa and adventure boat, with sauna, hammam, saltwater tub, cold water pool, zen lounge, bar and a small restaurant. Vulkana offers a wide variety of adventures and fun activities such as midnight bathing under the Northern Lights or midnight sun, drop-in weekend bathing, morning sessions with brunch, bathing lunches, evenings with James Bond inspired cocktails (mock martinis), fjord cruises for small groups and in winter, Ski by Boat cruises.

Vulkana is a place for activity and energy as well as an oasis for tranquility and contemplation in Tromsø, the largest city in Northern Norway. With a location at nearly 70° north, and between fjords, mountain peaks, and islands, the city is a prime starting point to explore Northern Norway chasing the Northern lights or enjoying activities under the midnight sun. 

Veitastrond Journal: Trekking Cabins Near Norwegian Glacier

Distant view of cabins at Tungestølen with mountains (photo Jan M. Lillebø)

by Ron Bernthal

Situated in the western part of Norway on a small plateau overlooking the beautiful Jostedalsbreen Glacier, Tungestølen is the name of a group of new, pentagonal-shaped cabins designed by the Norwegian architectural firm Snøhetta for a local branch of the Norwegian Trekking Association (DNT).

Some of the uniquely shaped cabins at Tungestølen (designed by Snøhetta_photo by Jan M. Lillebø)

Designed for the changing weather conditions of this mountainous site, the four new Tungestølen cabins opened in June, 2020, offering visitors a comfortable and design-friendly overnight shelter every year from about late-June to to mid-October.

On Christmas Day, 2011, the original Tungestølen cabin, which had served as an important destination for glacier hikers for more than a century, was destroyed by the cyclone Dagmar that swept over Norway and neighboring countries. Determined to replace the old cabin, Luster Turlag, the local branch of the Norwegian Trekking Association, along with the small village of Veitastrond, located three miles from the original cabin, raised enough funds for the first phase of constructions, and iniated an international architectural competition among design firms with experience working in rural areas. In 2015 Snøhetta won the competition and the first four cabins are now open to the public. An additional five cabins will be constructed when the second fund-raising drive is completed.

Village of Veitastrond in western Norway (photo VisitNorway)

In the meantime, the four new Snøhetta-designed cabins use pentagonal and oblique construction, made with wooden gluelam framing, covered by sheets of cross laminated timber, and covered in ore pine. The outward-facing walls of the cabins have been given a beak-like shape to slow down the strong winds that sweep up from the valley floor. Inside, the shape of the cabins frame the mountains and valleys outside through angular and panoramic windows, adding views and light to the spaces.

Window frame with view (photo Jan M. Lillebø)

The main cabin at Tungestølen offers a space well-suited for group meals around large, wooden tables. At its highest, the main cabin ceiling measures 14 feet, creating a social meeting spot with panoramic views overlooking the surrounding landscape. The main cabin also contains a lounge with a large stone fireplace, offering a cozy retreat from the sometimes chilly summer days outside.

The remaining cabins consist of a dormitory and smaller private units. Once all nine cabins are completed in the next construction phase, Tungestølen will have enough capacity to accommodate up to 50 visitors.

Surrounded by a dramatic landscape with steep mountains on all sides, Tungestølen serves as a perfect starting point for experienced hikers who wish to explore the local glaciers in guided groups, but also for families with small children who prefer to take shorter and less advanced hikes in the surrounding area. The nearest town, Veitastrond, is surrounded on three sides by Jostedalsbreen National Park, and sits at the northern end of an isolated valley. The town is just ten minutes from Tungestølen by car, or a pleasant one-hour walk along the pretty Storelvi river. If driving from Bergen, expect a five-hour trip (about 165 miles) through spectacular scenery, including a fjord-crossing car-ferry.

Scenery along the Storelvi river near near Veitastrond and Tungestølen (photo VisitNorway)

Smaller cabins designed by Snøhetta (photo Jan M. Lillebø)

Norway is home to the largest public trekking hut system in the world, a way of life for many Norwegians, and becoming more popular with international visitors as well. The Norwegian Trekking Association (DNT) oversees more than 500 cabins across the country, often located throughout Norway’s National Parks as well as in other areas of natural beauty. While many of the huts are spare and rustic, others are more generous in size and offer restaurant-style dining areas and lovely bedrooms. Opening and closing times for the hwing

Dining room table with window view at Tungestølen (photo Jan M. Lillebø)

There are three categories of huts/cabins – staffed lodges, self-service, and no-service cabins. Access to self-service and no-service cabins require a DNT master key available only to DNT members. DNT staffed lodges are open to members and non-members alike, but DNT members are offered a discounted rate for accommodations and food.

A “lodge” is the correct term for the most developed, staffed trekking cabins, with prepared meals, electricity, and hot showers available. They are located in higher use areas, may have longer open dates, and receive see a large amount of visitors during summer. Sleeping arrangements are mostly in one and two-bunk private rooms, and one of the highlights is the family-style three-course meals made from local ingredients and with bountiful portions.

Small, traditional mountain cabin in Sisli (photo Mette Martinsen)

While most huts are quite rustic, often built in the traditional, Norwegian country-style look, Norway is presently undergoing a surge in designing innovative urban and rural structures, from office buildings to mountain huts, always using local materials and colors that blend seemlessly into the environment.

As an example, visitors to Norway’s Skjervsfossen waterfall can watch the Storelvi river rush by through a glazed floor panel in the restrooms of a nearby service building, which is built from local stone to accentuate its connection with the surrounding landscape. Bergen-based architecture studio Fortunen designed the small service building containing two restrooms and a technical room at the site of the waterfall in Norway’s Granvin region. The Norwegian Public Roads Administration and National Tourist Routes in Norway had asked Fortunen to create striking, but low-key restrooms that would complement the rugged riverside site and make the most of the views towards the adjacent cliffs and valley.Tall, narrow windows and glass panels set into the concrete restroom floors provide views of the river, forest and mountainside that ascends steeply upwards in front of the building.

Norway’s popular Scenic Routes have attracted many other significant architectural commissions in recent yeas, including a mining museum on stilts by Peter Zumthor, and Reiulf Ramstad’s visitor center and path network that zigzags across a rugged mountain landscape.

Snøhetta, headquartered in Oslo, has received design commissions for the Norwegian National Opera in Oslo and the National September 11 Memorial Museum Pavilion at the World Trade Center in New York City, among many others. Other recently completed works in North America include Calgary’s new Central Library, the reconstruction of Times Square in New York City, and the expansion to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.