Vatnahalsen Høyfjellshotell, and why it’s good to talk to locals

Vatnahalsen Høyfjellshotell, and why it’s good to talk to locals

Bonding with people from different cultures is officially good for your health. In their new ‘Cruise Mates‘ campaign, Thomson Cruises highlight the results of research they did with the Human Nature Research Lab at Yale University. It found that Brits who bond with up to five new people from different cultures while on holiday can experience a happiness boost of 10%.

Do you agree? It sounds plausible to me. My most vivid travel memories come from times when I’ve talked to locals, and listened to their life stories. The more different to my own, the better. One recent experience was when I met Jannet Aksnes, manager of the family-run Vatnahalsen Høyfjellshotell, while on a press trip with Visit Norway.

Vatnahalsen Høyfjellshotell

Vatnahalsen Høyfjellshotell is a 40-room mountain lodge, built in 1896 as a sanitorium for TB sufferers. It’s in a remote part of west Norway, only accessible by rail, foot or bike. We arrived at Vatnahalsen after a breathtaking ascent on the Flåm Railway, through the winding twists of the scenic mountain route. At 820m above sea level, the place was cold.

Vatnahalsen Høyfjellshotell

We stowed our luggage in the unlocked cabin by the side of the railway tracks (no crime here), and headed up the slippery slope to the hotel. Waiting to greet us was the enticing smell of sweet waffles, and Jannet Aksnes’ sunny smile.

Vatnahalsen Høyfjellshotell

Vatnahalsen Høyfjellshotell is a homely, cosy place to stay if you want to get away from it all in the Norwegian countryside. It felt even more enticing when Jannet told us about her life, growing up at the hotel.

Vatnahalsen Høyfjellshotell

Forty people lived in Vatnahalsen’s tiny village. From the age of six the village’s ten children would take the train to school at Flåm. School hours were 10.30-14.30, timed to coincide with the train’s timetable. I could just picture the youngsters, bundled up against the cold, waiting for their school ‘bus’ to arrive on these tracks every morning.

Flåm Railway

The railway line at Vatnahalsen Høyfjellshotell

The school is now closed. Since her childhood, Jannet has seen many changes to Vatnahalsen Høyfjellshotell. The hotel has always been lively. As well as the hotel’s visitors, eighty cabins are set nearby, where people come every weekend from Bergen. From the 1930s this area was a skiing hotspot, known as the ‘St Moritz of the Nordic’. Visitors have, on the whole, mostly been from Norway, but last year better transport links brought more guests from overseas.

Vatnahalsen Høyfjellshotell

The hotel’s popularity has extended to day-trippers from cruise ships. 40,000 came last year, to drink coffee and eat the mouth-watering waffles made by Jannet’s mother. Jannet told us she now has a burly ‘waffle muscle’ on her batter-stirring arm. Because of the huge demand, the Aksnes family are working with a larger company to build a waffle hut, separate from but near the hotel. The next few years will see big changes for Vatnahalsen Høyfjellshotell.


off on a snowshoe hike….

Vatnahalsen Høyfjellshotell

Meeting Jannet and spending a few hours at her family’s hotel really did leave me with a cosy glow. Thomson Cruises are trying to promote similar encounters, by running a campaign to encourage British holidaymakers to get to know locals. Actor Larry Lamb (from Eastenders and Gavin and Stacey) went around meeting ‘Cruise Mates‘ – new-found friends from his ports of call. These include Miguel, a fisherman in Ibiza; Christine, a Flamenco dancer in Barcelona; and Thelonious, a cyclist in Palma, who knew the best routes for beaches and views. Here’s Larry in Ibiza:

Do you have any stories to tell about meeting locals while on holiday?

More info

If you’d like to read more about Vatnahalsen Høyfjellshotell and the western fjords of Norway, you can read my post:

Fjord Norway: Flåm Railway, Fjordsafari and Vatnahalsen Høyfjellshotell

To find out how to reach Vatnahalsen Høyfjellshotell, visit their website. The only way to get there is by train, from Oslo, Bergen or Flåm. In the summer it’s possible to hike or to cycle from Haugastøl/Finse, Myrdal or Flåm.

Pin for later:

Vatnahalsen Høyfjellshotell

This is a collaborative post with Thomson Cruises. All views are my own.










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  1. August 24, 2017 / 6:45 pm

    I do agree! It’s so refreshing to talk to people from different cultures and I feel I’ve missed out if I come away from a holiday without doing this. Maybe it makes us see our own lives differently. Have you seen Gretta’s post on a similar subject?

    • August 24, 2017 / 6:57 pm

      I have! I read it this morning. Thanks for stopping by and I think you’re right – talking to people who are different to us helps us see our own lives from a fresh perspective.

  2. August 25, 2017 / 6:58 am

    This is fascinating to read Nell – and you may not have found out about the history of the place if you hadn’t talked to Janet. I definitely agree that travel is more rewarding if you talk to local people along the way.

  3. August 30, 2017 / 1:59 am

    How very interesting! I love things like this, it’s what makes travelling so special! Bonding with locals is a great experience. It looks like Norway was a fantastic experience x

    • September 3, 2017 / 8:07 pm

      It was amazing Donna.

  4. August 31, 2017 / 5:32 pm

    Meeting locals does bring it all to life! What an experience! x

    • September 3, 2017 / 8:14 pm

      It was fab Susanna

  5. August 31, 2017 / 10:40 pm

    You definitely learn so much talking to locals – history, culture and just a sense of what it’s really like to come from a place, rather than just dip in and out. Such a lovely post – and so true!

    • September 3, 2017 / 8:30 pm

      This was one of my top experiences from my trip to Norway.

  6. September 1, 2017 / 11:03 am

    I know I should be making a comment about engaging with the locals but my mind is wandering towards that pile of delicious waffles….
    And I’m back! Yes, I agree, it does enhance travel. I remember a wonderful hour spent with a jazz drummer when we were staying in Ystad, Sweden, during the jazz festival. Will never forget that.
    Also, making conversation with other travellers can make a big difference. I have lots of great memories chatting to people on our recent river cruise – you learn about their home towns and countries too.

    • September 3, 2017 / 8:35 pm

      Yes, that’s a really good point. I met so many people when I was on my gap year (and the second gap year I took, post-Uni). I see those days as being formative. They really helped give me a broad world-view. I’m interested in trying a river cruise some time – yours looked amazing.

  7. September 5, 2017 / 12:22 pm

    The locals always know the best places for food and entertainment. We always use our hotel or holiday park concierge service to find places you’ll not see listed in tourist guides

    • September 6, 2017 / 11:59 am

      That’s a good tip Claire!

  8. September 5, 2017 / 12:53 pm

    Oh i love that they are being so successful they are going to open another waffle hut!!

    • September 6, 2017 / 12:00 pm

      It’s great, isn’t it. Those waffles were just too good!

  9. September 7, 2017 / 1:51 pm

    That place is adorable! It’s so neat that you were able to experience a tourist destination that’s actually up-and-coming rather than totally overrun. I wonder what it’ll be like in ten years…

    • September 8, 2017 / 10:23 am

      I do hope it stays like this. It was perfect.

  10. September 14, 2017 / 9:26 am

    Nell I am so glad I read this as a positive story about cruising. When we were in that part of the world earlier in the year we watched the crowds from the ships seemingly just mingle in Flåm not adding a lot to the local economy. I am so glad so many people made the trip to eat waffles with Janet. Makes me check my bias – always a good thing! #FarawayFiles

    • September 14, 2017 / 7:00 pm

      Yes, as far as I could make out, the cruise trippers regularly take the railway up here.

    • September 14, 2017 / 7:01 pm

      She was fabulous!

  11. September 15, 2017 / 2:27 am

    Looks sooo cozy! And interesting about the test re: happiness and talking with locals. I totally believe it! #farawayfiles

    • September 15, 2017 / 12:35 pm

      Yes – I was convinced too.

  12. September 15, 2017 / 4:44 am

    I have tons of stories about meeting locals during my trips. When I started traveling, I did it for the sights, monuments and natural attraction. I quickly discovered the essence of travel is found on the people you meet. It is what you remember the most from a country. I have stories involving taxi drivers, couples I have shared a table with and people who have invited me to their houses. #FarawayFiles

    • September 15, 2017 / 12:35 pm

      I bet you learned so much from going to people’s houses!

  13. September 15, 2017 / 2:45 pm

    Of course I agree with you. You get the best stories if you talk to the locals, as you’ve demonstrated here. Finding out about other people and their culture is one of my favourite reasons to travel. Thanks for sharing on #FarawayFiles

    • September 19, 2017 / 7:53 pm

      And thank you for hosting!

  14. September 21, 2017 / 8:50 am

    I love talking to the locals, much to my teenagers’ chagrin sometimes! I found that the Norwegians were very willing to share and I learned a lot this summer up there as well! Thanks for sharing with #FarawayFiles, Erin

    • September 24, 2017 / 6:50 pm

      I’ve found them all to be very proud of their country and its history.

  15. September 27, 2017 / 3:33 pm

    Talking to local people is definitely the way to go! I once ended up hitch hiking across the Gobi desert with somebody we met in Ulan Bator. #FarawayFiles

    • September 28, 2017 / 12:39 pm

      Now that’s a story I need to hear some time!

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