Well, I’ve landed back into Blighty and let’s just say, London feels a little chillier than the sunny climes of Africa where I was just a day ago! So while I adjust back into London life and get planning lots of stories from our Africa travels, I thought I’d share a mini guide to the town of Geilo in Norway. Perfect if you’re thinking about planning a 2017 skiing holiday and fancy something a bit different.
I first visited Geilo at the end of 2015 and this was the first time I’d skied in my life. Yet, from the get-go, I loved everything about this Scandinavian skiing destination. The combination of its astonishing snowy backdrop, the deliciously hearty Norwegian cuisine and the beautiful, alpine backdrop got this ski-virgin hooked from the start.
Where is Geilo?
You’ll find Geilo (pronouced ‘yay-lo’) in the beauitful Hallingdal Valley, about equi-distance between Oslo and Bergen in Hol. While it’s far, far quieter than ski resorts across the Alps, it’s actually Norway’s second largest ski destination.
You can take a slow but scenic train journey from Oslo, all the way to Geilo. Or you can take a slightly quicker drive by bus or car from either cities. In the winter months, the snow is so thick, the vehicles need studded tyres to reach the town. Whichever way you travel, you’re greeted with spectacular scenery along the way.
Why Should you choose Geilo?
The reason many people choose Geilo is it’s one of the quietest ski destinations where you still have top-class ski instructors, accommodation and a high quality ski experience. Don’t come here if you’re looking for an ultra-modern resort feel with a shiny, high-tech feel. Do come here if you’re looking for breathtaking scenery, personable skiing lessons and a laid-back approach to the teachings of winter sports. You also discover some intriguing traditions and history.
Snow activities in Geilo
Downhill Skiing & Snowboarding
The top snow activity you come to Geilo for is of course, skiing. And with 40 runs covering Geiloheisen and the nearby resort of Vestlia, you will find plenty of terrain to suit your ability. The town also has a total of 17 lifts and four terrain parks and opportunities for more advanced skiers to go ‘off-piste’. There are great facilities for snowboarders too.
I had a beginner’s ski lesson at Geiloheisen’s ‘Barn Løypa’ (baby slope) and within a couple of hours, I was swooshing down the smallest slope (and changing direction, may I add!) with confidence.
Our instructor Niklas had a very relaxed approach and it helped me overcome my fears pretty quickly. This slope is just a few steps away from the super cosy Havsdalskroa restaurant too where you can get steaming pots of goulash (but more on that later).
I didn’t know much about cross-country skiing before I came to Norway but Geilo is a fantastic place to visit if you are keen to give it a try.
Unlike downhill skiing, the slopes for cross-country skiing are pisted for beginners, so it does take some getting used to. (You will also ache a LOT the next day). But once you master the various herringbone and snowplow manoeuvres and lose your fear of falling, cross-country skiing is a fantastic way to take in Geilo’s stunning lakes and scenery.
When you gain some experience, you can join the pros and go off-piste. Cross-country skiing – or ‘langlauf’ as it’s also known – has been around in Norway for centuries. And each year, hundreds gather for the annual ‘Skarverennet’, Norway’s largest cross-country ski race event that covers 55km of terrain.
I hear that skiiers stop for hot chocolate (and even shots of akkavit) along the route. The nearby town of Venabu is also well-known for this winter sport.
If you’re looking to mix things up a bit, snow shoeing is a great activity to do in Geilo and a lovely way to take in the scenery. It will get you really fit too. With tennis racquet-like attachments on your feet, it might feel a bit strange, but it’s a great way to reach corners of this winter wonderland that go beyond the slopes.
Husky Dog Sledding
This was on my bucket list for a long time and you can’t miss the husky dog sledding in Geilo! The popular go-to company is Geilo Husky who have dogs who take part in Alaska’s famous Iditarod event. Picture this: gliding across a frozen lake surrounded by snowy scenery and wilderness. It does take some getting used to (be firm with the brake to start with) but it doesn’t get more fairytale than this.
pic: Fran Fitzsimmons
With the Hallingskarvet and Hardangervidda National Parks on your doorstep, there are loads of guided tours and nature trails where you can explore some of Norway’s finest flora and fauna. In the warmer months, go hiking and walk the Sherpa stairs – made based on Nepalese traditions – up to Skarvsenden for panoramic mountain views. Areas around the Hallingskarvet are home to some unique bird and animal species too, including ptarmigan, elk and Nordfjella reindeers.
There are loads of cycle trails and opportunities to go off-road mountain biking in Geilo and the surrounding national parks, and that pretty much applies for both the sunnier months and the winter months when Geilo is covered in a carpet of snow. When there’s snowfall, you can rent ‘fatbikes’ – bikes that basically have really wide tyres – that are tough enough for cycling over the snow. Check out FatBike Geilo for more info.
You might feel a bit like you’re driving a zimmerframe to start with, but kicksledding is quite fun and is how many people living in Geilo get around to do their shopping (and has been for many years). It’s quite hard-going on the legs, but it’s quirky way to get around the town when the snow is thick.
FYI – there are so many more things to do in Geilo if you enjoy the Big Outdoors. Other activities include bowling at Dr Holms Hotel, glacier hiking, horse riding, rafting and canyoning. Find a full list of outdoor activities at Visit Norway.
Things to see and do in Geilo
Geilo is a far sleepier destination than the mega ski resorts of the Alps and USA, but you’ll still find a great apes-ski vibe in the hotels and a handful of places to go during the day.
Dining & Places to Eat in Geilo
You will find loads of great places to dine in Geilo but top of the eating-out list is Hallingstuene. It’s perhaps a little pricey, but this cosy lodge-style restaurant is run by the quirky moustached TV chef Frode Aga and his wife who have traditional Norwegian dining down to a Tee (A trip to their wine cellar and oozy chocolate fondant for dessert is a must).
In the main part of the town, do check out Ekte Restaurant & Smakeri, a trendy cafe/restaurant that offers modern Norwegian cuisine, cheeseboards and wine and craft beer tasting. And when you’re by the ski lifts in Havsdalen, dine on delicious ghoulash and sourdough pizzas at Havsdalskroa. You’ll find lots of great places to eat while you’re on the slopes.
Typical Things to Eat
The Norwegian cuisine is very hearty (which is very welcoming when it’s minus 12 outside) and typical dishes in Geilo include sour cream porridge, roasted reindeer with root vegetables and swede, fresh-as-it-gets salmon and not-so-fresh rakfish which is a fermented fish (approach with caution!). You’ll also find all sorts of gorgeous winter berries, cheeses and delicious Scandinavian style breads.
Apres-ski in Geilo
Geilo is quite a sleepy town so don’t expect nightclubs and all-night raves. But do expect great bars and cafes on the slopes and hotels offering cosy bars (complete with roaring fires) and an apres-ski that can get surprisingly lively. We got involved with the Christmas high jinx at the bar in Dr Holms Hotel where you can enjoy brilliant live music.
There are a couple of bars in the town, but people seem to gravitate to the hotels and restaurants in the evening. On the slopes, Havsdalskroa is a great place to ski straight into for a beer and I hear they have an outdoor DJ where you can dance with your ski boots on. The bar at Vestlia Resort also serves up some fabulous cocktails. Find a full list of Geilo’s best hotels and bars here on the Visit Norway website.
Spas in Geilo
Some of Geilo’s hotels have pool, hot tub and spa facilities, but if you are lucky enough to stay at the Vestlia Resort, I highly recommend you book in for a massage at the spa. The spa facilities (hot tub, pool, sauna) at Vestlia are beautiful and the massage therapists here mean business! It’s a great way to wind down after a day on the slopes.
Entertainment & Events
Skarverennet is the big cross-country ski event on Geilo’s calendar in April, but you will also find ski and snowboard competitions, the Norwegian Food Festival, Oktoberfest and various archery and outdoor events going on in Geilo. One of the most talked about – and perhaps most spectacular events – in their calendar though, is The Ice Music Festival. Here, people wrap up in their warmest clothes to watch musicians play from instruments sculpted entirely from ice. How amazing is that? It takes place in February and I would love to go – it’s the only one of its kind in the world.
Where to Stay
If you’re looking for a historic feel, do consider Dr Holms Hotel, the original place where Dr Holms sent respiratory patients in the early 1900s for Geilo’s ‘champagne air’. The hotel is a bit dated in parts and has a very ‘old-world’ feel about it, but many of the public areas had been modernised and large parts of it were being renovated when we visited.
It has bags of charm, the apres-ski vibe is great and it offers a lovely Norwegian experience. For a more modern Scandinavian vibe, I highly recommend the Vestlia Resort – their hotel rooms look cosy and their apartment suites (complete with in-room saunas!) look divine.
Things to know
Norway is an expensive place to travel to, so be warend that your money probably won’t go quite as far as it might in other ski destinations. Wine is particularly expensive here and you will notice the bar and restaurant bills will be steeper than you’re used to at home. It doesn’t make a ski trip to Geilo impossible though. Search around and you will find some excellent ski packages from companies like Headwater Holidays, who include added extras such as your equipment hire. And when it comes to alcohol, pick up some wine at duty free to save a bit more!
I hope you found my Geilo guide useful. If you’ve been to Geilo and have any suggestions on things to see and do, feel free to leave a comment below.