History Ullensvang
Tradition blends with modern setting: tennis hall and outdoor-pool next to the impressive hotel complex along the Fjord.

Ullensvang

Scandinavian kings, Emperor Wilhelm II and European nobility have choosen Hotel Ullensvang for a holiday. The peaceful village of Lofthus in the heart of Norway's unparalleled Fjord District, Hardanger, has inspired Norwegian authors, painters and composers throughout the ages. One of them was the world famous composer, Edvard Grieg, who found the tunes to his immortal 'Peer Gynt'-suite and 'To Spring' here. hotel ullensvang griegs hutHis humble composer's cabin still stands (picture) in the lovely garden of the hotel, with a view towards the awesome Folgefonna Glacier, towering above the magnificent fjord below.
From a modest guesthouse, established in 1846 by the Utne family, Hotel Ullensvang has sprung into a modern resort hotel. The Utne family still owns and runs the hotel, and despite all the modern facilities, you will find the personal touch, the old-fashioned Norwegian hospitality and traditions which a privately owned establishment knows how to safeguard.

Ullensvang is home to the largest fruit garden in Norway, with its 450.000 fruit trees. The fjord and the green luxuriant hills stretching up towards the Folgefonna glacier has for more than a century been a tempting destination for travellers from all over the world. The local vicar hosted travellers already in the 18th century. And the famous norwegian painters Tidemand and Gude have shown their impressions through Norway's most famous painting, "The Bridal Journey of Hardanger". "Had I known it was so beautiful here, I would have come before", said Björnstjerne Björnson, a Norwegian author.

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HISTORY IN BRIEF:

1845: 1 bed
1846: 2 beds - enough to establish a guest house!
1919: 50 beds and a proper hotel; open all year round.


#hotelullensvang1846: the first "hotel"

HISTORY IN DETAIL:

Hotel Ullensvang was established by Hans Utne, a young lad just 14 years old when he rowed across the Fjord from Utne. Young Hans was full of enthusiasm and soon managed to buy a small piece of land on the banks of the Fjord, where he built himself a boathouse. To begin with, these lodgings were referred to as a 'Staging Inn', and consisted of Hans Utne's own straw bed in the loft over the shipping office. After just one year, Hans Utne expanded his facilities by 100% now providing two beds. With this, the foundation for Hotel Ullensvang was laid. The year was 1846.
#hotelullensvangFirst hotel brochure

Across the Fjord, at Aga lived the first farmer in Norway to become a member of parliament, Johannes Johannessen Aga. He had several daughters – the youngest, Brita, was sent across the Fjord, initially to work for Hans, but not long afterwards they married. Brita was then 17 years old and Hans was 37.
#hotelullensvang1900: The hotel is growing.

1919: Through the years, the hotel was extended and modernised several times. But when the second generation, Bjarne Utne and his wife, also named Brita - took over most of the responsibilities of running the hotel in 1919, the building had become shabby and was in desperate need of refurbishment. This task was carried out, and at the same time, the hotel was split from the business and established as a separate company. The hotel now had 50 beds and was for the first time kept open on a year-round basis. Since then, the hotel is open all year around.
1939–1945: During the Second World War, the hotel was used as a retirement home for Bergen.
Ellen Harris Utne arrived in Lofthus in 1939, together with her husband Hans Utne. She was the first member of the family to have received formal training in hotel administration, a training she completed in 1950 while bringing up four small children at the same time. In 1962, Hans and Ellen Utne, the third generation of the Utne family, took over the managing of the hotel. By this time the hotel was thoroughly refurbished, but without destroying the old and traditional features of the building.
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As you walk through the hotel today, you will note that the Utne family's interest in traditions has been handed down through the generations.

In 1969, the 4th Generation Utne, Edmund Harris Utne and his wife, Ina Torill became involved in the hotel’s operation. In 1972 they started with their major expanding plans. In all the following years, the 4th Generation has made Hotel Ullensvang to what it is today: a state of the art and first class hotel.

The 1995 Whitsun weekend saw the introduction of a very special event, the "Hardanger Music Festival". For many years, Stig Nilsson of the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra had been looking for a suitable location for a festival of classical music. Finally they found their ideal location: Hotel Ullensvang in Hardanger. The Music Festival is fully booked each year and celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2005 – officially opened by H.M. Queen Sonja. Present was also the at that time Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik with his wife and the Icelandic Prime Minister, Ásgrimsson with his wife.

In 2005, the 5th Utne Generation, Hans Edmund Harris Utne and his Swiss wife, Barbara Zanoni Utne joined the hotel.

It is not easy to predict the future beyond this point, though there can be no doubt that the hotel's owners have plenty of new and exciting ideas. But one thing is certain: No matter which changes are made, the hotel's motto “Tradition and Quality” will always come first.
 


Visit of Indira Gandhi 1 - 16 June 1983 - Private
Visit of Indira Gandhi 1 - 16 June 1983 (Prime Minister of India 1966 - 1977, 1980 - 1984)

#hotelullensvang
Henry Kissinger (above centre): 56th United States Secretary of State - Nobel Peace Prize Winner

brandt willy
Willy Brandt: Prime Minister of Germany (1969 - 1974) and Nobel Peace Prize Winner

H.M. Queen Sonja of Norway 
HRH Crown Princess Mette-Marit & HRH Crown Prince Haakon of Norway    
Kjell Magne Bondevik    Prime Minister of Norway (1997 - 2000 & 2001 - 2005)
Halldór Ásgrímsson     Prime Minister of Iceland (2004 - 2006)
Theo Waigel    Federal Minister of Finance in Germany (1989 - 1998)
Gro H. Brundtland    Prime Minister of Norway (1981, 1986 - 1989, 1990 - 1996)

And the Artists and other dear and famous Guests

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1896: Edvard Grieg celebrates his 53 birthday at Lofthus

Edvard Grieg   Composer  (1843–1907)
Ole Bornemann Bull   (1810–1880) Norwegian violinist and composer
Adolph Tidemand   Norwegian romantic nationalism painter (1814–1876)
Hans Fredrik Gude   Norwegian romantic painter (1825–1903)
Bjørnstjerne Martinius Bjørnson (1832–1910)   Norwegian writer and the 1903 Nobel Prize in Literature laureate.

Arve Tellefsen    Violinist
Wenche Myhre    Norwegian Singer
Leif Ove Andsnes    Pianist
Cecilia Bartoli    Soprano
Jean-Yves Thibaudet    Pianist
Vladimir Ashkenazy    Pianist

Dimitri Ashkenazy    Clarinettist
Ole Edvard Antonsen    Trumpeter
Arve Tellefsen    Violin
Alexander Rybak    Grand Prix Winner 2009
Tine Ting Helseth    Trumpeter
Henning Kraggerud    Violinist
Solveig Kringlebotn    Soprano
Simon Trpceski    Pianist
Håvard Gimse    Pianist

Kjenga, Grieg and other stories

ullensvanghotel

KJENGA – THE HOTEL’S LOGO

Hotel Ullensvang has in its possession a kjenga (ale bowl), from 1846, the same year that the hotel was founded, and the hotel has chosen to use this kjenga as its symbol and trademark. The original is displayed in a glass case in the hotel. The kjenga was a common household utensil on the Hardanger farms in the 1800s. There is a long tradition of ale and beer brewing in Hardanger, and on most of the farms the farmer would have a barrel of beer standing in the cellar. Important occasions and visits from friends and relatives were usually marked with a bowl of ale. The ale was carried up from the cellar in a kjenga, which was handed round the table and drunk from. Ale was expensive, and so the table would often have a hollow in the middle, to collect any liquid that was spilled from the kjenga as it made its way round the table.

ullensvanghotel

THE WANDERING CABIN

The cabin (above) in which Grieg composed his music was popularly known as “Komposten” and, despite the fact that it was hidden away, Grieg was nevertheless perturbed. “?Komposten’ is in truth a dreadful-sounding name for an artist’s residence, but that is the name with which the Hardanger farmers wittily baptised the little building that I had set up during my winter hibernation there,” Grieg wrote in a letter. He added: “Fate would have it that an old-established footpath, of whose existence I was ignorant, led right to the place. And don’t you think the farmers found their way there. For they wanted to ?cock an ear’.”
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The cabin was later moved down to the fjord’s edge, to where the fruit store stands today. Grieg announced that he wanted to move the cabin and needed help, but no-one came. So he went to Brita, as he always did when he had a problem. “What should I do?” “You must provide the beer and aquavit, and I’ll bake some lefser, and then they’ll come. They’ll do it voluntarily, but not for money.” In another letter, Grieg wrote: “One fine morning on the stroke of nine, some 50 farmers and peasants turned up, evidently in festive mood, to join the communal effort to move the cabin down to the sea. It was part pulled, part rolled on young tree trunks to its new home.” He continued: “But the work was not yet finished, for now the piano had to be moved to its new place, and a troop of soldiers was sent, which after a few minutes came galloping in overconfident boisterousness with the heavy case, as if it were a shuttlecock. – I later sold “Komposten", which has now been moved to Ullensvang Parsonage, as a playhouse.”

THE VISIT OF OLE BULL

(1810 – 1880) Norwegian violinist and composer
Before the cabin was sold Grieg had been abroad, but in the summer of 1879 he was once more at Lofthus, and many of his friends came visiting. Mrs Sara Bull writes in her biography of Ole Bull:
“The summer of 1879 was one of the happiest Ole Bull spent in Norway. It was a memorable day when he, together with some of his friends, travelled in to Lofthus in Hardanger, which, according to what Ole Bull told the farmers, should be made immortal because Edvard Grieg had chosen to stay there and write some of his best works. They were now coming to celebrate his birthday. No place could have been more enchanting. Nowhere could the idyllic and the sublime in nature be more beautifully united. The little work cabin with just one room, which the composer had built in order to be completely undisturbed, hang halfway up a rocky knoll near the fjord. In the meadow above, the apple trees blossomed around the old farmhouse, where the guests gathered. Down the steep mountainside, not far away, a wonderful waterfall tumbled, while, on the other side of the broad fjord, mountain upon mountain raised their mighty peaks into the sky, crowned by the great Folgefonn glacier with its eternal snows. The day was as successful as friendship, music and beautiful surroundings could make it.”

Who would have thought that the versatile little composer’s cabin with such “wanderlust” could also become a henhouse? This proved in fact to be the cabin’s final incarnation, when it ended up on Bokn, an island between Haugesund and Stavanger. It was discovered in the nick of time, by the author Sjur Lothe from Haugesund. He took the initiative to have it moved back to its original site by the fjord at Lofthus and, with the help of Ullensvang Youth Club doing the practical work, the cabin was moved yet again. Owing subsequently to building work in front of the cabin, it was moved again for the fifth and last time in the spring of 1962, to the place where it stands today – in the gardens in front of Hotel Ullensvang.

EDVARD GRIEG (1843 – 1907)

The Grieg family came originally to Norway from Scotland in the 1700s, in the wake of the Stuart rebellion against the English and the English victory in the final and decisive battle at Culloden in 1746. Edvard’s mother was Gesine Judith Hagerup, and his father, Alexander Grieg, was the son of a merchant.

Edvard Grieg was born in 1843, at Strandgaten in Bergen. His musical talent became evident at an early age, and Ole Bull, the celebrated Norwegian violinist, who was a friend of the family, arranged for Edvard to study abroad, in Germany. At Christmas 1864, Edvard was already secretly engaged to his Danish cousin, Nina Hagerup. At the beginning of June 1867, he journeyed to Denmark, and the couple were married in Copenhagen on 11 June.

IN SEARCH OF INSPIRATION, PEACE AND SECLUSION
Nina and Edvard Grieg came to Hardanger for the first time in midsummer 1877, eager to see the much-praised and magnificent Hardanger fjord and landscape. The couple took lodgings at Nedre Børve farm, about 5 km south of Lofthus, with the intention of staying in Hardanger for some time. Børve proved, however, to be too remote and inaccessible for the Griegs, and before the onset of winter they moved to the Utne family’s hotel at Lofthus. Here in the busy hotel, Grieg was unable to find the peace and seclusion he needed in order to compose, and so in the late autumn of 1877 he had a small wooden “composer’s cabin” set up in the grounds of Lofthus farm, where he could work undisturbed. It was not long before the local people had jokingly taken to calling it “Komposten” (“the compost heap”).

SOME OF THE GREATEST TREASURES OF NORWEGIAN MUSIC
Each day, Edvard Grieg would make his way to the little cabin on the hillside behind the hotel. The painter Wilhelm Peters, who also stayed at Lofthus that winter, described the cabin as a wooden box with room for a piano, a stove and Grieg himself.

Many of the most treasured pieces of Norwegian music were composed at Lofthus, including:
Våren (Spring)
The Holberg Suite
String Quartet No. 1 in G Minor, Opus 27
Den Bergtekne (The Mountain Thrall)
Album for Male Voices, Opus 30
Some of the incidental music to Peer Gynt

The Holberg Suite was composed at Lofthus farm in the parlour of the family home of the fruit grower Arne Lofthus, who was a good friend of Grieg’s. The idea for “Spring” came to Grieg when he was walking one spring day in the valley of Elvadal. Sitting down on a rock to rest, he was captivated by the rushing sound of the river, wrote down the first notes and then completed the piece back in “Komposten”.

On another occasion, in the spring of 1878, Grieg was sitting in his cabin one day, looking out over the fjord, when he saw a huge avalanche thundering down into the waters at Velure. This gave him the inspiration to write a new version of “Dovregubbens Hall” (“In the Hall of the Mountain King”) for Peer Gynt, which he later used.

Grieg’s cabin stood opposite the hay barn up by the hotel. As he disliked anyone listening while he was composing, he had the cabin erected far enough away from the farm to ensure that he could be left in peace. If he discovered anyone listening, even if it was his own wife, he immediately closed the piano. While the cabin was being built, Grieg gave two concerts in Bergen, to pay for the cabin and the winter lodgings at Lofthus, where the Griegs could live more cheaply than in town. He stayed at Lofthus for a long time, and used the cabin extensively. On the rare occasions when the Griegs took a stroll through the village together, the diminutive Grieg (only 1.54 metres tall) was always first, followed by Nina one step behind, and three steps behind Nina his sister-in-law, Tonny Hagerup. This “image” has been immortalised in our own day in the wooden statues made by Lars Stana that stand in the hotel gardens.

GOOD FRIENDS WITH THE FIRST GENERATION OF HOTELIERS – BRITA AND HANS UTNE
The Griegs made many good friends locally, not least Brita and Hans Utne of Hotel Ullensvang. Brita, the hostess, was particularly valued as a discussion partner, whose advice Grieg sought frequently. Edvard and Nina always dined with the Utne family. Grieg’s favourite foods were fish soup made from young coalfish, fårikål (mutton and cabbage stew) and raudgraut (red fruit dessert) with cream.

The people of Hardanger received Grieg well. Here he felt “alive”, far from the coldness of the city-dwellers in the capital, and passionately enthusiastic about the rural folk of the western fjords. In fact, he idealised the “beautiful, noble and enlightened farmers”, praised their dialect, their customs and their ways, warning one correspondent: “Not one disparaging word about the farmers, thank you!” Naturally, after a while Grieg began to observe things he liked less well, and the ideal Sunday image he had of the people could not persist for ever. His primary interest was art, so in general he felt no great desire to socialise with the farmers, who understood little of what a Norwegian composer meant when he talked about “culture”. He was, despite it all, an outsider, an urbanite with an umbrella and galoshes who, while he might admire the Hardanger farmers’ wives on their way to church dressed in their beautiful traditional costumes and headdresses, was not one of them. He only ever attended church once, when he was asked to be godfather to one of Brita and Hans Utne’s sons. He gave his own silver pocket watch to the child as a christening gift. The boy was named Sverre and the pocket watch is now on display at Troldhaugen, Grieg’s home near Bergen. 

In the summer of 1878 there was a heatwave with “temperatures so high that all human activity is restricted to – bathing. My fingers stick to the paper, my clothes to my body, etc… I can get nothing done, absolutely nothing. I sleep, eat, swim and walk in the mountains”. Grieg is exhausted and needs rest after an intense period of work that is exceptionally rich in his composing career. In the space of one year, he has written a string quartet, a work for baritone solo and orchestra, twelve songs for male voices, a ballad, a movement of a trio sonata, and three piano pieces. Apart from the latter, these works are at the very pinnacle of Grieg’s musical achievements. Of that there is no doubt.

Several letters in the possession of the Utne family bear witness to their friendship with Grieg and the gratitude Grieg felt towards the couple at Lofthus. A letter from Leipzig dated 18 November 1878 illustrates his warm feelings for Hardanger and the people he has come to know:  “My dear friends, Hans and Brita. Yes, permit me to call you so, as you are dear to me; I feel it best in my ever-recurring longing for Hardanger and the joy I feel at the thought of seeing it again. Moreover, I have only just begun to understand truly that I did not spend my time among you in vain. If I could only have some peace to work, there would not be a single summer when you would not find me among you”.

In 1903, Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson was a guest at Hotel Ullensvang, together with his wife, Caroline, and son, Erling. They had come from Bergen, where they had attended Edvard Grieg’s 60th birthday celebrations. Grieg had long urged Bjørnson to come to Lofthus and stay at the Utne family’s hotel. Bjørnson was so enthusiastic about Brita after his stay that when he later saw Grieg again in Kristiania (now Oslo), they agreed to invite Brita (who by now was a widow) to accompany them to Copenhagen to a performance at Det Kongelige Teater.

When the imposing figure of Bjørnson, the tiny Grieg and the slender Brita in her traditional Hardanger costume entered the theatre auditorium, everyone’s opera glasses were trained more on these three than on the stage, reported the Berlinske Tidende newspaper the following day.

Utne Brita-NinaGrieg-TonnyHagerup on the way to Copenhagen
Utne Brita, Nina Grieg, Tonny Hagerup on the way to Copenhagen

Nina Grieg continued her friendship with Brita Utne also after Grieg’s death, and she spent many summers at the hotel. The delight she took in these visits was shown in generous gifts to Brita, including a silver belt for her Hardanger costume, given in 1929, which is now on display in the hotel.

THE IMPORTANCE OF HARDANGER AND FOLK MUSIC FOR GRIEG’S MUSIC

Edvard Grieg frequently emphasised how much Hardanger had meant to him as an artist and as a person. He was overwhelmed by the immense beauty and grandeur of the landscape, and between fjord and mountain he found the peace and tranquillity he needed to realise and bring forth the musical ideas he had long felt were shut inside his creative mind. In a letter from Lofthus dated April 1878, Grieg writes: “Again I must impress on you how wonderful it is out here now.  Incomparable weather, a cloudless sky, and nature awakening all around us! Not to forget the starlings. There is a whole concert going on, everywhere one goes”. And in another letter: “Yes, ?this Lofthus’, as you say so disdainfully. But you should see ?this Lofthus’, see the sky-high mountains, snow-clad right down to the sea, see these millions of picturesque things (…)”.

But it was more than nature that stimulated Grieg in Hardanger. Here he met exceptionally skilled fiddle players who could perform the traditional folk tunes convincingly. Grieg’s experience of the music as it was played in an area where the characteristic Hardanger fiddle had arisen, must have strengthened him in the belief in the value that folk music could have as a source for the renewal of Norwegian music. This is reflected in Grieg’s own music, where the Hardanger fiddle resounds and one seems to hear melodies redolent of country airs and folk tunes.

The great composer Edvard Grieg died in Bergen Hospital on 4 September 1907, and at his own request was buried in a tomb cut into the mountainside in the grounds of his home at Troldhaugen, just outside Bergen.

Mr. Harris

Managed by: Utne family
172 Rooms
20 Suites

The various outlets of the hotel offer delightful culinary experiences, supported by stunning nature.

ullensvanghotel restaurant terrasse
Where culinary delights meet eye candy.

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Open fireplace in the restaurant. More than heart-warming.

 

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Where mind meets soul.

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