When you’re in a wooden box perched on a very tall stick on an island at 67°N 13°E looking out to sea and all the sea beyond that, you probably won’t sleep. Though when that box has ecclesiastical tendencies – windows pointing to Jesus, sucking in the wonder of life and all that – and heated floors and sways, proper sways, in the breeze/wind/gales lapping the world outside, you might actually nod off. But then you’ll probably get one of the custodians of this magical-mystery place to wake you up at intervals, ‘cause you’ll be well miffed if you miss the show.
Because when you’re at 67°N 13°E – the Arctic Circle in old money – on a cluster of islands called Fleinvær in sustainable cabins dreamt up by a revered Norwegian musician (Hävard Lund) and realised by edgy Nordic architects (TYIN and Rintala Eggertsson) and there’s a fresh glitter of snow on the ground and the sky’s a shade of cinematic blue Pantone totally should’ve made their colour of the year, waiting for the Northern Lights to make a cameo, that show is pinch-yourself, life-reflecting, bucket-list ticking, why-haven’t-we-done-this-before mind-blowing.
This is The Arctic Hideaway – four cabins, five social spaces, and a tiny archipelago of wonder connected by sea spray and dreams of a better life – way out in the Norwegian Sea. It’s where people come not to escape from life, but to reconnect with it. Whether there’s two or ten of you, it’s all yours. You bring your own food, or wait for the weekly drop-off of essentials. That phrase ‘digital detox’ is thrown around willy-nilly these days but here, you’d be daft not to. There is decent wifi but unless you’re filing a travel piece, turn it off. This place is meditative, a balm for your psyche, music for your soul, any life-enriching cliché you can think of.
We had grand plans – finish writing that smash-hit rom-com, paint, grow out our hair – but, you know, vodka. We did, however, dress said vodka bottle in a person-shaped doily and call it Mags, after one of our favourite drinking buddies, so it wasn’t a complete waste of time.
We also baked bread and ate it still-warm, something everyone should aspire to. And we went on windswept walks head-to-tootsie in boiled wool and screamed to be heard because the howling wind took our breaths and vowels away. I’d like to say we sat in the all-wood Swedish sauna then jumped into the freezing sea for health and adrenaline reasons, but we were too chicken. We talked for hours about stuff that doesn’t normally get talked about, and one of us learnt a chord on that guitar that’s knocking around. One of us also took up meditation, which is apt because this whole place is one big meditation. And if you’ll indulge the naffness, we learnt to breathe again. Then, you know, vodka.
And getting here’s a doddle. Torunn, the big cheese at UP Norway – world experts in creating bespoke Norwegian getaways – makes sure of that. Seamless SAS flights from London (lounge access included, and SAS does good lounge) to Oslo, where Torunn just knew we’d love a night at Hotel Continental, the smartest address in town and home to Theatercafeen, the smartest restaurant in town with the white tablecloths and Kalix caviar to prove it. Though we downed cocktails and legged it to the one big communal table over at Scandi-cool Ett Bord where they’d rustled up a vegan tasting menu. Again, Torunn’s handy work.
From Oslo it’s the shortest of flights, over fjords and mountains and flickers of civilisation, north to Bodø, a pocket-sized city that will be the European Capital of Culture in 2024 and your conduit for The Arctic Hideaway. This is where the twice-daily ferry will take you the one-hour ride to Fleinvær Archipelago and your crazy-cool cabin, stopping off at the other inhabited bits out at sea, taking in all that colossal scenery as you go. I mean, some people actually commute on this thing. Can you imagine? And there’s a bar on board. Can you imagine?
You have crazy dreams at The Arctic Hideaway. Like, proper crazy. Batty stuff. We asked around – the whole other two people here, Luke and Elspeth, those custodians we mentioned, over from England for two months of looking after the joint, which is a good gig if you can get it – and they’re having crazy dreams too. Like, nuts. Maybe it’s the air. Maybe it’s because you’ve escaped the political apocalypse back home and your brain’s free to boldly go to places no brain has gone before, maybe it’s the fact that the sun manages only a trippy few hours of winter haze for six months of the year in this neck of the Arctic woods, maybe it was all that Marmite we put on our daily still-warm bread.
Whatever. You’re set free here. You’ll need your thesaurus for new words for majestic. You’ll probably jazz up your CV so you can become one of those custodians. Maybe you’ll finally write that screenplay. But while you’re here, the penny will drop. This is why human brains are so big, to take in all of this.