Isfjord Radio

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We woke up early to start our journey to Isfjord Radio Hotel. The light was still quite dark outside. This time of year Svalbard is bathed in a soft blue light for most of the day as the sun is still under the horizon. We were there in mid-February when it transitions from four months of complete darkness to the first rays of light.

The former radio station is only accessible by boat in the summer and snowmobile or dogsled in the winter. We had decided to make it a snowmobiling trip and it was just going to be the two of us and our guide Thomas. We were given several layers of clothing and loaded up our snowmobiles. Weather permitting, we would stay for two nights and return on the third.

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We travelled through endless hills and valleys in the Artic wilderness. We had never been anywhere so remote and untouched before. At one point, Thomas stopped and had us lie in the snow to experience the Arctic silence. Along the way we would occasionally see Svalbard reindeer, which are shorter and stockier than their counterpart on the mainland. We even spotted a walrus on an iceberg off the shore of Grønfjorden, not far from our destination.

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It was dusk when we finally made it to Isfjord Radio. We were greeted with mugs of hot apple juice mixed with chilli and Calvados and given a brief overview of the place. It turned out that we were the only guests during our stay other than the owner and his business associates. Inside the shell of the old radio station, which was was established in 1933, was a well-designed boutique hotel. We stayed in a suite on the top floor that had shared bathroom facilities at the end of the hall but we basically had the whole floor to ourselves. After a full day of riding the snowmobiles, we were glad to trudge through the snow to reach the wooden sauna overlooking the sea. We were skeptical when our guide first informed us of the ritual to go for a dip in the water below after warming up in the sauna. It was not possible the first night as the shore was covered in drift ice but on the second night, one of us braved the cold to walk down and take a swim in the Arctic Ocean. He did it not only once, but twice (and even has a certificate to prove it). After the sauna each night we were treated to a five-course dinner that included fresh fish and reindeer caught by one of the few remaining trappers on the island.

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The next day we decided to take a shorter excursion around the area surrounding the hotel. We went south along the coast which proved to be quite icy. Thomas then led us through a valley that looked as if we were the first ones to go through that season. We rejoined our route from the previous day and made our way back to the hotel.

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On our return trip we made a small detour to see Barentsburg, the last remaining Russian mine settlement in Svalbard. Once a thriving coal mining town, the population has dwindled to 500 residents as of late. There is a hotel, a few restaurants, a cinema, a school and the Russian consulate. The buildings belong to another era and the whole town feels stuck in time of the former Soviet Union. One of the two northernmost Lenin statues remain here (the other in the abandoned Russian mine Pyramiden). After a short break and lunch we continued on our way.

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The weather conditions were not as good on our last day. For most of the trip we had snow and low visibility. We were told to follow close and to not lose sight of the driver in front of us. For some periods, we could literally not see anything around us and it was impossible to tell if we were going up a mountain or down to the bottom of a valley. Thomas was relying solely on GPS to drive us through the white-out. At the beginning of every season, the guides go out on a day with good conditions to map out the routes and ensure they are safe. After driving for eight hours we finally made it back to Longyearbyen. In total, we travelled 250 kilometres on our three-day Isfjord Radio trip. It was an adventure that we will not forget.

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Svalbard

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This is the furthest north we will ever go. Halfway between Norway and the North Pole, Svalbard is the northernmost inhabited place in the world. Although a part of Norway since 1925, anyone can live and work here.

Longyearbyen is the main settlement and is located on the largest island of Spitsbergen. There are a few other small research stations and mine settlements but not much else. Polar bears outnumber people on the archipelago. In fact, is is illegal to go beyond the town of Longyearbyen without a gun or a guide who has one in case of an encounter.

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Do

There are no roads outside of settlements so there are only two modes of transportation in the winter; snowmobiling and dogsledding. The first day we went on an eight-hour snowmobile trip to Tempelfjorden. We drove through valleys and onto the frozen fjord to reach our destination. At -35 degrees Celsius with wind chill, it was a very cold but clear day and we had amazing views of the glaciers and mountains.

The next two nights were spent at the remote Isfjord Radio Hotel. It was another 100 kilometre trip each way on the snowmobile. The terrain was much more difficult than the day before but when we arrived at Isfjord it was all worth it.

When we got back to Longyearbyen, we took a break from the snowmobile and went dogsledding. Unfortunately, due to avalanche risk we did not get a chance to go ice caving but it was still a nice day out with the dogs. Our last day was spent exploring Longyearbyen. There are a few museums and shops around town. There is even a brewery which started production in 2015. Before Svalbard Bryggeri, it was illegal to produce alcohol in Svalbard. We went for a tour and tasting of the northernmost beer. Lastly, we stopped by the Global Seed Vault, the world’s largest seed bank to safeguard against future loss of seeds due to war or global warming.

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EAT

There are surpassingly quite a few good restaurants in Longyearbyen given its remote location. In particular, there are two restaurants housed in historic buildings that serve tasting menus which reflect the local food sources and ingredients.
Gruvalagret
Huset

STAY

Basecamp Hotel in Longyearbyen
Isfjord Radio Hotel

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Maaemo

Maaemo is an Old Norse word meaning ‘Mother Earth’. It is also the name of a restaurant in Oslo which focuses on the flavours and nature of Norway. It only uses organic or wild produce from the country. The tasting menu consists of over twenty dishes and we also opted for the juice pairings. It was an amazing meal and one of our favourite dining experiences.

SnackS

Potato flatbread langoustine claw steamed with  beer and fermented turnip

Potato flatbread
langoustine claw steamed with
beer and fermented turnip

 
Fermented trout  with leek

Fermented trout
with leek

 
Sourdough duck liver and rhubarb

Sourdough
duck liver and rhubarb

MAIN

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Emulsion of Norwegian flat oysters
warm sauce of mussels and dill

 

Paired with smoked apple juice

Scallop cooked in the shell
with fermented celeriac
verbena and smoked scallop roe

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Cod from the arctic gently
cooked with salted butter
horseradish and winter herbs

Paired with white tea and elderflower:

 

Langoustine cooked
with spruce

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Lightly smoked arctic char
aquavit and burned onions

 

Grilled eel
elderflower and warm eggs

 
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Paired with sour plum and cherry:

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Rømmegrøt - a porridge of very sour cream and freshly milled wheat
smoked reindeer heart, browned butter and aged plum. vinegar

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Fresh rolls out the oven
glazed in birch syrup


churned butter and salted butter
with buckwheat

 
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Salt baked rutabaga
broth of salted sheep

Paired with blackcurrant, thyme
and beet vinegar

Duck “Royale”
chestnuts and lingonberries

 
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Paired with black cherry and star anise

Frozen blue cheese with pickled black trumpet mushroom

Dessert

 

Fresh milk and rhubarb root
woodruff and preserved blueberries

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Paired with raw milk and birch

A dessert made from salted butter from Røros

Dessert Snacks

 
Grains and cloudberries

Grains and cloudberries

Young pinecones preserved in honey

Young pinecones preserved in honey

Brown cheese tarte

Brown cheese tarte

 
Buckwheat “chocolate”

Buckwheat “chocolate”

 
Warm traditional Norwegian waffle with miso

Warm traditional Norwegian waffle with miso

Cinnamon bun just out of the oven brown cheese and beef fat

Cinnamon bun just out of the oven
brown cheese and beef fat

Cotswolds

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Only a couple hours outside of London, the Cotswolds is a great weekend getaway from the city. Known for its honey-coloured cottages and country pubs, each town is more photogenic than the last. We strolled through the villages of Bourton-on-the-Water, Stow-on-the-Wold, Lower and Upper Slaughter, Broadway, Chipping Campden and Bibury. Our hotel, The Wild Rabbit, is located in another small village called Kingham. A modern British inn, each of their rooms is named after a woodland creature. We sat by the fire in the pub one night and the next we had dinner at the restaurant, which is also where they serve breakfast in the morning. It is owned by the Daylesford Estate, whose farm is a short drive away and is home to the original Daylesford farmshop. We stopped by to pick up some organic goods and before we knew it, the weekend was over and it was time to head back to the city.

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South Tyrol

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We wanted to go somewhere in the mountains where we could just relax over the winter holidays. We found the perfect spot in South Tyrol. Although a part of Italy today, this region is in many ways more Austrian than Italian. Most speak German as their first language and food is a mix of schnitzels and knödel alongside pasta.

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San Luis Retreat Hotel & lodges

San Luis is hidden in a forest above the town of Meran (or Merano), which has a great Christmas market. Chalets and treehouses surround a lake that is frozen over the winter. We stayed in one of the Loft Chalets, which has its own sauna and a hot tub on the terrace. Every morning we woke up to find breakfast set up in the kitchen of our chalet. Lunch was a more casual buffet while dinner consisted of several courses that changed each night. There was even afternoon tea with cakes and ice cream available. When we weren’t sitting inside by the fire, we were in the pool that opened to the outdoors, or the whirlpool in the middle of the lake.

The entire retreat is amazing and they made Christmas there very special. It was exactly the holiday we were looking for to end the year with.

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