They took a one hundred year old nursing home and turned it into a charming hotel by the sea. Lene Elisabeth and Øystein Elgheim had the courage, imagination and madness to carry out the extraordinary transformation.
Text: Edda Espeland / Translation: Linda Vikaune / Photo: Fru Elgheim
Øystein is an entrepreneur by heart and had already run the well known Balaklava restaurant in the old town in Fredrikstad. In 2002 he felt like trying something new and started toying with the idea of creating a gourmet restaurant with accommodation. There was nothing like that on the Hvaler islands, and he managed to persuade Lene that this would be their future.
When Lene and Øystein arrived at the property for the first time in 2001, they found a run-down house with 2.5 acres of overgrown land. The pair were not discouraged and started restoration works immediately. All the rooms needed painting, they had to buy new furniture, and every last trace of the nursing home had to be removed. They started with the lounges and a few of the guest rooms, and by Easter 2002 they were ready to welcome their first guests.
Since then they have gradually upgraded room by room, and in 2010 they added on an inviting garden room which soon became the most popular part of the house. Today they offer 14 double rooms with en suite bathrooms and can cater for 85 diners in the three dining rooms. In the summer they can serve a party of up to 130 people in the marquee outside.
Food and culture
Food is important to the hosts at Hvaler Gjestgiveri. Very important. Keen to explore new and exciting flavour combinations, they create a new three, five or seven course menu every day depending on the available produce and ingredients. One day it could be venison from Kirkøy, the next fresh mackerel caught the same morning. They pick mushrooms and berries themselves and pride themselves on cooking everything from scratch and never using artificial additives of any kind. Every dish is pure and natural. In short, they serve the kind of food they would like to be served. They often go to Italy, where they have a small house and their own vineyard. Many of the wines they serve come from here.
The kitchen is also happy to create a special menu on request from larger groups, for example the many parties, courses and conferences which fill the hotel after the summer. Many companies choose to have their meetings at Hvaler Gjestgiveri, and over the course of the year the hotel is also a venue for weddings, confirmations and anniversaries.
Every summer since 2002 Hvaler Gjestgiveri has hosted concerts. Singer, songwriter and composer Ingrid Bjørnov held the very first summer concert, and has gone it again every year for the opening – and closing – of the hotel’s summer season. She has also composed an “innkeepers’ opera” about Lene and Øystein and their setbacks and successes at Hvaler Gjestgiveri.
Lene and Øystein didn’t stop there. In October 2015 they opened a branch of the guesthouse in an old brick building by the river, formerly Fredrikstad motor factory in the centre of Fredrikstad. They had been looking for a central building for three years, because they wanted a supplement to the more seasonal operation at Hvaler.
When a hundred years of manufacturing history meets 2016, it creates a very special atmosphere. These new premises won’t affect the hotel at Hvaler, because the hosts plan to run both and coordinate them as far as possible. The idea is to serve the same food and drink, offer the same service and have the same hosts in both places. When guests call to book a table, they are now given the choice of “here or there”.
When darkness falls over the old motor factory it creates a warm and cosy atmosphere. The view of the river and promenade is like a live landscape painting, and the walls are decorated with art by Norwegian contemporary artists like Dag Thorenfeldt and Sverre Bjertnæs.
Guests seem to really enjoy the innkeepers’ fanfare of flavours paired with perfect wines.