Niehku Mountain Villa

Living in a dream

Photo: Erik Nissen Johansen

Text: Håkan Stenlund

There are numerous reasons to why you should experience Niehku Mountain Villa in Riksgränsen, a place which name translates to "dream" in Northern Sámi. Here we give you four of those reasons.

West of the classic mountain hotel in the Kiruna mountain world, and near the Norwegian border, at the old locomotive depot in Riksgränsen, is Niehku Mountain Villa. Niehku that translates into ‘dream’ in Northern Sámi has actually incorporated parts of the depot ruin into its exterior and interior design. The wall of the ruin runs straight through the new hotel, and the effect is amazing. It’s an important part of the local history that’s become an exciting architectural feature in the new building.

Niehku Mountain Villa was designed by Krook & Tjäder and an internationally renowned design firm, Stylt Trampoli, created the exciting, welcoming interior architecture. It’s impossible to miss the careful feeling for design in the result provided by Stylt, and in 2019, Niehku Mountain Villa won the Unesco Prix Versailles for best hotel interior design.

Here are four reasons why you should choose to live the dream for a while.

niehku, mattias fredriksson, 1920 x 1080
Under the glass floor in the restaurant, is the wine cellar.
niehku, mattias fredriksson, 1920 x 1080
Niehku's motto is expertly prepared food for hungry adventurers. Photo: Mattias Fredriksson

1. The hotel

The first impression you get comes from the beams in the ceiling, above a spectacular wall. They are big and hand-hewn and featured throughout the building.

– Our architects designed the building to look like three houses, slightly displaced, which gives the whole an asymmetrical profile. But when they tested the durability on the computer, checking if the beams would hold in a theoretical test, they couldn’t get a result, says Johan “Jossi” Lindblom, co-founder of Niehku Mountain Villa, and laughs.

"An old inspection pit became a wine cellar with a glass ceiling inside the restaurant itself, impossible to miss"

There was no way of calculating it. No hotel had ever been built like this, in this kind of environment. The solution was to install two massive wood beams next to each other. Now it’s strong enough. Then there’s the wall, a ruin from the old locomotive depot. It’s another dominating feature, running straight through the hotel and providing the perfect dividing line between the hotel and the restaurant. An old inspection pit became a wine cellar with a glass ceiling inside the restaurant itself, impossible to miss.

Stylt Trampoli created a lot of the interior design, Krook&Tjäder designed the hotel. The orange moss growing on the stone wall and the stones themselves lend their colour to the design: graphite grey, copper and earthen colours. It’s all very appealing.

Niehku Mountain Villa co-founder Johan "Jossi" Lindblom.

2. The location

In 1902 a railway was built between Kiruna and the ice-free harbour in Narvik. It was the largest industrial investment in Sweden, making sure the ore from Kiruna could reach the world. A locomotive depot was built in Riksgränsen for train service and changes. But trains and tracks soon became standardised, and the depot was no longer needed. It fell into disrepair. The railway was actually opened for use in November 1902, but the inauguration took place in summer 1903 because the Swedish king wasn’t keen on visiting in winter. These days most guests come here during that cold part of the year. The skiing season lasts until midsummer and Sweden’s first skiing school was opened here. Every year it hosts the Scandinavian Big Mountain Championship, and lots of other competitions besides. Basically, this is where a new kind of skiing was born, through a jump made by Kiruna’s Janne Aikio that ended up on the cover of Powder Magazine with the heading: “The Next Big Thing”.

– When we worked here, Patrik (“Strumpan” Strömsten, Niehku co-founder), I and lots of others, we’d go to the depot for a quick bouldering session, or use it as a place to stay out of the wind, enjoy the sun, start a barbecue and drink some beer. Now the wall and the ruin run straight through the hotel. It’s really cool, says Johan “Jossi” Lindblom, mountain guide and part-owner.

The dream of Niehku

Niehku Mountain Villa is a stunning design hotel and a hideaway in Riksgränsen, Swedish Lapland. In an Arctic environment, this design hotel and mountain vista stand out as a pilgrimage for travelers searching for heli-skiing, good food, hikes, and a great time.

mattias fredriksson, skidor, skiing, 1920 x 1080
Bike, Mattias Fredriksson, 1920 x 1080
mattias fredriksson, trail running, 1920 x 1080
Riksgränsen is a fantastic place for skiers as well as bikers and trail runners. Photo: Mattias Fredriksson

3. The skiing

There are more than 60 peaks to choose from for heli-skiing. It’s one gigantic roadless region from Riksgränsen to Abisko, down to Kebnekaise. But there’s also a mountain with ski lifts and excellent areas for ski touring. Of course, there’s even more to it than that. When we check out from Niehku, we find Johan “Jossi” Lindblom on his way out on the snowmobile. Some people from Salomon are going to try ice fishing.

– Some people don’t understand all the opportunities there are here. Some think all we do is heli-skiing. But we want to be a hotel for all those who want to experience the Arctic lifestyle, in summer as well as in winter, he says.

Skiing is Jossi’s first love, of course. But there are other things. In summer he looks forward to both hiking and fishing. Biking and trail running are also exceptional in the area.

"Few places can offer such a grand, accessible Arctic experience. And then there's the light..."

– Johan "Jossi" Lindblom

What is it that makes skiing here unique? Jossi has worked as a mountain guide since 2004 and started working in Riksgränsen no less than 25 years ago. He’s seen most of the world. Last week he was in Russia, in Kamchatka, flying a helicopter.

– Speaking of heli-skiing, which is what we’ll want to promote, there are so many unique things in this environment. There’s skiing for everyone, from families with children to professionals. The area is vast, and there are 60 mountains to choose from.

– Something I think most people tend to forget is the Arctic surroundings and the Arctic light. Few places can offer such a grand, accessible Arctic experience. And then there’s the light… It’s more than just an opportunity to go skiing under the midnight sun; it’s about that special, Arctic light. Skiing on pink powder is something truly amazing.

At Niehku Ragnar Martinsson and his colleagues offer different dishes depending on what meat they have left.
The cuts of meat decide the menu, not the other way around.

4. The food

Ragnar Martinsson, 33, is the head chef and one of the owners of Niehku Mountain Villa.

— This really is a hotel like no other.

In Ragnar’s world it’s often the produce that decides what’s served. Every year Niehku buys a mountain cow and calf from Mathantverket in Vuollerim, for example.

— That usually lasts us the entire year, he says. But we adapt our dishes to what we can cook. Some meat is good for slow cooking, other meat works best on the grill.

— I like the concept ‘whole beast cooking’. Using everything on an animal. Instead of just ordering x kilos of entrecôte because we have a grill, we offer different dishes depending on what meat we have left. The cuts of meat decide the menu, not the other way around.

The snowboarder

Before breaking his back, all Niklas Ekstedt — the host at Swedish TV and acclaimed Michelin star chef with restaurants in London and Stockholm — wanted was to be a pro snowboarder.