Hotel Review: Isfjord Radio
Our rib boat rides the Arctic waves of the Isfjord (Ice fjord), as Steinar steers the boat with a confidence that can only be built with years of experience in the Far-Arctic. After a two hour ride along the shores of the fjord with changing mountain scenery and occasional glacier tongue, I start to make out the radio masts in the distance. We’ve arrived at the Isfjord Radio, one of the most remote hotels in the world at 78 degrees north surrounded by untouched vast wilderness. There are no roads leading to the Radio and the only access is an adventure by snow mobile, husky sled or boat. The hotel overlooks the Isfjord and mountains that surround the Cape Linné, named after the botanist Carl von Linné.
On arrival at the station we are met by Felix and his two helpers, Arwen and Milky, two white husky dogs who stand guard outside the radio. We’re helped out of the boat and our orange survival suits: hefty jumpsuits that will float and protect in case of falling into the sea. Straight out of our suits we’re served a hot welcoming drink in a wooden cup - a carefully brewed mix of mint, orange and sea buckthorn with a splash of cognac - my first glimpse of the attention to detail that is the Isfjord Radio.
The wilderness boutique hotel itself is a carefully considered combination of cosy luxury and respect to the legacy of the radio station. There once was a time when this station was the only link to mainland Norway 1000 km south, an Arctic outpost. Today the radio equipment along with the massive satellite dish are accompanied by carefully selected luxurious interior design which reflect its surroundings, the radio not only has running water but there is also wifi and electricity. A real luxury in place so remote. The 22 twin and double rooms span across 3 buildings and all have private phones for alerting one of the trained guides to accompany you if you wish to step outdoors. The soft bath robes awaiting in the room are just a cherry on top to the signature Scandinavian cosy-luxe and like a cordial invitation to the wooden barrel sauna followed by a dip in the Arctic Sea.
Foodies, pay attention, as the stars of the show hide in the kitchen! The feeling of utter wonder follow as a series of incredible dishes, each containing one local ingredient, come out of the kitchen. Many of the ingredients that are not native to Svalbard are always brought in from the mainland Norway, and wherever possible, local ingredients are used. The radio works with one the three local trappers left on the island to bring the best quality game to the table, such as seal or reindeer. To be sure of the freshness, the chefs of the kitchen catch their own fish. I learn this as I’m served a delicious cod dish from surrounding Isfjord, caught by Jonny and his crew. It is apparent the team in the kitchen is not only passionate and has a wealth of experience, but clearly has a carte blanche to experiment with flavours resulting in one of the best dinners I’ve so far had in my life. A real treat after awakening the senses with a day of outdoor activities.
There are about 3000 polar bears on the island and some of them are documented in the pictures hanging on the wall and stories as the guides tell us of their personal encounters with the elusive face of climate change. One morning last winter the radio’s window only had a frosty print of a polar bear’s nose, as it had taken a peek indoors during the night in February. The presence of the Arctic creature becomes even more real once we step outside for a walk, but only under a careful supervision of our armed wilderness guides. Usually polar bears can be viewed from a safe distance, however the guides are prepared to deter the bears for their own safety. We walk along the beach as Steinar points out interesting facts about the geology; proof of Svalbard once crashing into Greenland millions of years ago and about more recent history; the silver coloured Russian wood, drifted by the currents from far away as there are no trees growing on Svalbard. In addition to hikes in the Cape Linné the guides take visitors to see the Russian mining town of Barentsburg and the spectacular calving Esmark Glacier.
As sun begins to set behind the horizon, we’re all eager to go watch the sky that changes from a magical golden yellow to fiery reds as we catch the last rays of the Sun before the magical hues of purple and blue are all around us. The Sun will make its way back up again in the next couple hours as the Midnight Sun season only ended couple weeks ago, on 24 August. From now on it will take big leaps towards its opposite, the polar night, season the Northern Lights have their turn to fire up the Arctic skies. Back inside the hotel, we’re all just recounting the day’s events as we sit in the lounge with glasses of wine and gaze outside for sightings of arctic foxes and whales swimming in the fjord - or even the king of the Arctic to make his evening stroll across the beach.
As we depart the rocky coast and the Radio team wave us farewell, I think of the lucky ones who have already booked their spots for a Christmas at the Radio as I’m sure it will be magical. I can’t wait to go back already.