Færsnes Gjestegård in Vegårshei offers a unique old bathing culture, quiet, beautiful scenery, traditional timber buildings and great meals.
Text: Edda Espeland / Translation: Linda Vikaune / Photo: The Hotell
The farm is beautifully situated on the hill between two lakes, surrounded by vast forests and can trace its history back to the bronze age. The Færsnes family arrived around the year 1660 and the host, Stian Mo Færsnes, is the sixth generation owner. When he took over in 1978 he planned to continue the dairy production, but that was not to be. Instead he carried on working, and on his many travels he learnt a lot about the hospitality business. Realising the potential of his farm, he sold his company and moved back home. After a few years of contemplation, poetry and cooking, the idea found its shape and in 2001 he opened Færsnes Gjestegård. As there were few houses left on the farm, everything had to be built from scratch – and all in timber.
First he built the hexagonal Tower House, without a single 90 degree angle. Squares aren’t natural, according to Stian. Today the house is a huge hotel suite with bedrooms, lounges, an open fireplace, swimming pool and sauna.
The Longhouse was built on one of the many potato fields on the farm. It is inspired by ancient building traditions and contains the eco heating system, kitchen, restaurant and beds. The Aust-Agder county crest has symbols for timber and iron, and the Longhouse’s feasting hall embodies this in its timber ceiling and walls and iron slab floor.
The Firehouse is a mini suite with a four poster bed.
Bathing and cultural history
Færsnes Gjestegård has preserved the old laugar or bathing traditions. It has four saunas which give a glimpse of an almost forgotten cultural history. The large suites have indoor swimming pools.
Norwegian farms have long sauna traditions, the host explains, however a lot of it was forgotten after pietism swept the country. Experiences from abroad led them to frown upon bathing houses thinking they were houses of sin, drinking and whoring.
The bath houses give the farm its unique character. The smoke sauna is probably the oldest in the country still in traditional use. When host Stian takes you the smoke sauna, it’s like taking a magical journey three thousand years back in time. Inside he will tell you about the night of 13 December 2002 – when he met the seductive forest sprite Huldra there. For Færsnes is described as a Hulder farm in the old village chronicles …
It has had many uses throughout history; apart from being a traditional sauna every Saturday it was also used to smoke food, which Stian still does, often serving food that has been cured in the smoke sauna. It has also been a grain store, birthing room and deathbed.
There are also two other wood fired saunas at the farm, one in the Towerhouse and one on wheels that can be pulled by a tractor and placed anywhere, plus one electric sauna in the Barn.
Guests come from all over the world, and when a group books a stay at Færsnes Gjestegård it doesn’t matter if they are two or 30 – they get the farm to themselves.
Game in the kitchen
Færsnes is surrounded by huge forests with wild berries, mushrooms and game. At the end of the day it is time to gather around a beautifully set table and enjoy distinctive food prepared with love. The many joys of the forest and wilds are mirrored in the menu and the ingredients have often been caught and picked in the local area. That makes for a good meal.
Stian likes to smoke the fish and meat himself, and his food philosophy is in keeping with good slow food traditions.
“If you want to be a good cook, it’s important that you like to taste your way to the best and share it with others,” he says. Not only does he share the food and the experience, but he likes to share his company and good stories from the farm and area history at the dinner table.