The Walaker is the oldest hotel in Norway, and the ideal spot on the Sognefjord to slow down, stay a while, and get immersed in the rhythms of the region.
On the shores of the largest, deepest fjord in Norway, in a village that’s been a landing place for travelers for a thousand years, sits the oldest hotel in the country. It dates to 1640, at least. Maybe 300 years before that (the black plague took some of the urgency out of record keeping). What we know for sure is that for nine generations, one family has kept the inn thriving.
Walaker Hotel stands by the side of the mighty Sognefjord, in the small town of Solvorn. That we’ve only recently found it is a testament to how easy it is to get lost in the geography of this part of the world. A map of western Norway is a labyrinth of reaching fingers, tiny islands and jutting peninsulas. Fjords cut regularly into the landscape, stretching from the sea and snaking their way across the mainland.
Despite the drama of its surroundings, the Walaker doesn’t stand out for any grandiosity or glamor. It’s the sheer, quaint tradition — and a sterling word-of-mouth reputation — that finally grabbed our attention.
To talk to today’s manager, Ole Henrik Nitter Walaker, is speak to a long and unbroken chain of Norwegian hoteliers. He knows the people who come here as well as anyone. “They’re traveling slowly,” says Henrik of his typical guests. “They like to see how the local society works and they like to talk to people.” The scenery is no doubt a pull, too: visitors hike through pinewoods with views over the fjord, the ancient medieval church, and the small village.
“If you’re looking for Las Vegas,” adds Ole Henrik, “this is the total opposite.”
That’s an early candidate for understatement of the year.
The Walaker Hotel is about as far from Caesars Palace as you’ll ever find. Guest rooms lie in four different buildings, two that date back four hundred years, and two (much) newer builds from the ’60s and ’70s. Everything’s cozy, with windows (smaller in the old buildings, larger in the new) framed by the kind of wood panels and patterned decor that feel at home in a family inn. In the old buildings, the beds and chairs are of the antique style of the inn’s oldest form, but in fact they’re brand new: copies made by experts in Italy with upgrades in size and sturdiness.
It’s the kind of professionalism that extends to every space on the grounds. The mountain-framed gardens are Edenesque (depending on the weather). At 7:30 each evening, a four-course meal starts in the main building with seafood and produce sourced nearby.
But if it was just about a great hotel, you wouldn’t have to go to Norway. The fjords are superlative. “I think each has something special to deliver,” Ole Henrik tells us, giving credit to the thousand-odd others besides his own. “It depends what you’re looking for.” Some draw cruise ships, hopping along from fjord to fjord. Others draw slower travelers in search of pristine landscapes and UNESCO-listed natural beauty. Still others, the famous Norwegian cider sourced in the special microclimates created by sunlight bouncing off the water.
When it comes to this spot, Ole Henrik can boast access to glacier walking and the ancient stave churches — medieval wooden churches in a distinct architectural style, that date to the viking age. The oldest in the world is right across the water from Walaker. But in the end, those are just attractions. For most, it’s the slow, deliberate pace of this tiny, historic place that makes the strongest impression. In a valley peppered with the typical wooden houses of western Norway, Solvorn is small, picturesque, and welcoming. You could say the same for Walaker.
Nuts & Bolts
A bite-sized breakdown of your most frequently asked questions about the Walaker Hotel.
Who comes here?
Fjord-tourists who want to spend more than a day or two soaking in the small town culture before continuing along this scenic region. It’s mostly couples here, traveling slowly and deliberately — without kids (there’s an 18-and-up guideline, but they’re flexible if you need them to be). Come for ancient stave churches, spectacular hiking, or just a glass of champagne and a good book in the gardens.
When’s the best time to visit?
Walaker is open April to mid-October. That covers the mild temperatures of spring and fall, and the warm, sunny, sometimes rainy (but very popular) summer months. There are unique events throughout the year all over Norway (say, the Bergen International Festival in May or the Middle Ages Festival in Oslo in June), but keep in mind that Solvorn is fairly remote from the biggest cities. It’s a quick trip by plane from Oslo, Bergen, or Sandane to the local Sogndal Airport, and then a forty-minute drive from the hotel. Others drive, bus, or boat.
What else is there to do in the area?
The picturesque gardens and hotel may be where you end up the most, but there are activities aplenty on and around the fjord. Kayaking, boating, and biking are obvious. Take a ferry just across the fjord and you’ll find the Urnes Stave Church — the oldest in the world, built in 1130. About an hour away is the Jostedal Glacier, which provides a chance for glacier walking on the largest in Europe. Add to that Walaker’s own art gallery, opened for the hotel’s tricentennial, open daily and featuring work from Norwegian artists.
Best room for a solo traveler? A couple? A family?
The calculus here has less to do with size of the party than it does length. If you’re staying more than a couple days, the proprietor, Henrik Ole recommends a room in one of the newer buildings — they’re a bit more comfortable, and you’ll still get to soak up the more historic architecture of the site at breakfast, dinner, and so on.
What’s there to eat?
Breakfast and dinner are served in the hotel restaurant. Expect fjord-fished langoustines and mountain venison along with berries, cheeses, homemade apple juice, and raspberry nectar from small-scale producers. Dinner is a four-course set menu with wine pairings at 7:30 pm each night — and not to be missed.
Anything to say about sustainability?
The unbroken chain of ownership for nine generations means management is well aware of what the hotel needs — and what it doesn’t. They’re not renovating for the sake of it. Between that, an impressive list of sustainable initiatives, and the close relationships the hotel has forged with local food producers, we’re thinking this family business thing should catch on.
What’s the final word?
A historic hotel that claims the title of oldest in Norway, here you get the unbroken, peaceful experience on the fjords you might not if you’re hopping from site to site. Take a room, stay a while.
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Mitchell Friedman is an editor and social media manager for Tablet and Michelin Guide hotels. He’s been with Tablet since 2018, and wants you to subscribe to our newsletter.