Isfjord Radio – the name itself is loaded with Arctic magic. On this former radio station guests check in as far north as it is possible to check into a hotel, and have a unique opportunity to experience the might of the Svalbard landscape.
Text: Edda Espeland / Translation: Linda Vikaune / Photo: Fredrik Fröberg
Basecamp Isfjord Radio is located 100 kilometres from the nearest settlement, Longyearbyen, and just getting here, crossing glaciers, mountains and frozen fjords, is a memorable experience. In the winter the journey is made with snowmobile, or more in harmony with nature – by dogsled. There are even ski trips ending at Isfjord Radio. In the summer it’s easier, when the hotel is accessible by sea. A wonderful voyage out on the Isfjord, heading west in the direction of Greenland, takes visitors to one of the world’s most spectacular destinations of its kind; Isfjord Radio.
A love story
Until a few years ago this remote radio station was an important hub for telecommunications between mainland Norway and the settlement at Svalbard. A few buildings surrounded by radio masts and satellite antennae tell the story of its function in the past. Svalbard Radio was manned from 1933, when it was built, until 1979, with the exception of a few years during WWII. It has always been important that people should live comfortably here, and the staff at the radio station rarely only stayed for one season but signed up for longer.
The transition from radio station to hotel is a story about loving care. The buildings Basecamp Explorer Spitsbergen took over in 2008 were run down, but leaving the restoration to a building company was out of the question. The alternative was a huge combined effort where everyone in the company, their families and volunteer enthusiasts pitched in and helped make Isfjord Radio the very special hotel it has become.
The outpost looks robust and maybe not so grand from the outside, but the inside is a different thing entirely. The contrast between the rough exterior and the modern and tasteful interior is a delightful surprise. It has become so comfortable and comforting that at times it can be easy to forget where it is, but a quick dip in the icy sea will soon remind guests that they are at the very edge of the Isfjord, at Cape Line, Svalbard.
Each room has been given a stylish upgrade but also kept traces of the past. Another echo of the days of the radio station is that all guests still gather around the dining table, just like the staff used to do. Today guests are treated to a culinary journey through Arctic delicacies: smoked seal, whale, reindeer sausage and halibut with roe butter. Some of the food served at Isfjord Radio has been caught by the last trappers left on Svalbard. The produce and ingredients are then prepared by Isfjord Radio’s expert kitchen staff to a standard that would satisfy even the most demanding pallet.
Birds and wildlife
The landscape out here by the very edge of Norway and the world offers a wealth of unique experiences. From the hotel guests can study a terrific bird reservation up close, with king eider, Arctic tern, ruddy turnstone, long-tailed duck, purple sandpiper and red phalarope – or barnacle geese, with their characteristically strange sounds. In the winter the Arctic fox and polar bear are regular guests, albeit guest that would be best observed from the hotel window … and Svalbard-reindeer are a common sight all year.
This is the wilderness. No streetlamps illuminating the way, only the stars and a cold moon. Here, in the Arctic silence, you could find your adventure of a lifetime.
Isfjord Radio has been awarded Olavsrosa, Norwegian Cultural Heritage’s seal of quality.