At the centre of all Norwegian people’s lives lies the hytte or cabin, says Bronte Aurell, author of North: How to Live Scandinavian.
A hytte is a cabin and these are little places Norwegians hike to or use as a base to hike from, weekends and holidays.
A hytte is usually made of wood, is often painted grey or red and is always located in the middle of nowhere (i.e. most of Norway). The nearest shop is usually at least an hour away.
Hytter are always top places in the Norwegian soul for feeling very koselig (‘cosy’) and hyggelig. Certain things characterise most Norwegian hytter: Inside, the walls are wood panelling, the furniture is wood, the floor is wooden and any utensils that can be are made from wood, giving it the feeling of, well, nature.
A traditional hytte will most likely have old copper pans on the walls, some skis, and maybe some stuffed animals.
Whatever you eat at the hytte, you can be guaranteed it will be served on mismatched crockery – all the stuff someone’s mum didn’t feel quite worked at home.
Hytter are usually small places, ranging from pretty up to date to rather basic – this largely depends on where your hytte is located. You may be in a very remote area, so chances are you won’t have access to certain facilities. Some lack running water (this comes from the nearby fjord, well or stream, even if you have to hack through the ice to get to it), some only lack hot water.
Some have only wood fires and take approximately 16 hours to warm up when you arrive (then it’s like a sauna for the rest of your stay).
The toilet is known as utedo and is sometimes located outside. It has no lights and, when you’re done, you need to add woodchips to your business to ensure you leave it fresh. Of course, some newer hytter have toilets and heating and all things modern. Peeing outdoors is a natural part of hytte life and you soon get used to it. At one, with nature…
How to enjoy your Norwegian cabin
Because of the location of most cottages in the wild, summer is the least popular time because that is when mosquitoes take over and make life unbearable. Peak hytte times are Christmas and Easter (when a stay can be combined with skiing, Norway’s favourite sport). Most weekends in ski weather will be spent at the hytte – even if the cabin is a six-hour drive from your home.
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There is plenty to do at the cabin. If you own it, it is a perfect time to do repairs and make things cosier for future trips. When you are not skiing, you read crime novels, play cards. The Yatzee dice game is very popular, as is Ludo. Your iPad won’t have 4G and there is no Wi-Fi or TV so people end up playing games. The only way to break up the fun is to eat something, usually waffles with brown cheese.
Another way to enjoy your hytte time is sitting outside in the sun to get your face tan going (every Norwegian knows to wear light blue tops for maximum tan enhancement). Any evidence that you have maximised outdoor time means bonus points.
How to prepare for your Norwegian cabin stay
While at the hytte, you must also remember to wear the hytte uniform: stillongs. This is thermal layers of clothing. Wool underpants, wool leggings, wool socks, wool tops. Flannel shirts. Top it with a real Norwegian jumper. Comfort is key, so leave the fancy clothes at home.
Because of the lack of shops, deciding what food to bring for your hytte break is an art form. When shops in the vicinity are going to be closed for several days over Christmas and Easter, Norwegians fill up the car with ingredients for all eventualities. There’s enough food to keep you safe should you become snowed in or the car breaks down or if someone declares war on Sweden.
Despite having the car loaded with food, it is likely that at least once during your time there you will end up eating stuff from tins and that, at least once, you will have spaghetti with ketchup. You will also eat more waffles than you ever planned.
In your entire life. If you don’t have your own cabin and you fancy a hiking holiday in Norway, you can rent cabins or book into some along your route. Most of the cabins can’t be pre-booked, though, and nobody is turned away, so it can get all-cosy at times, trying to fit parties in for the night.
For this reason, the usual Norwegian rule of not talking to strangers does not apply.
How to book a Norwegian cabin stay
In summer, Norwegians love to retreat to a cabin in the mountains or fjords when they want to escape the rush of city life. Some have running water, some not. They don’t have WiFi – the idea is to unplug, embrace the wild and connect with nature.
Many Norwegians own their cabins but for those who don’t, the Norwegian Trekking Associate (DNT) manages over 500 cabins scattered along routes all over the mountain ranges and forests which operate on a ‘take something and leave something’ system. So you use the waffle batter, but you leave tea instead.
The system relies heavily on trust – visitors sign their names in the guest book so that they can be charged for their stay afterwards. Find out more at english.dnt.no.
Taken from North by Bronte Aurell, £20 Aurum Press. Photo credits: Anna Jacobsen and Andreea Chidu, Martin Reisch and Christiann Koepke on Unsplash