A SWEDISH LAPLAND STORY

Niehku Mountain Villa

Living in a dream

Photo: Erik Nissen Johansen

Text: Håkan Stenlund

Niehku means dream in Northern Sámi. In Riksgränsen two friends have built a hotel. One of them used to run the piste machine and is now a mountain guide. The other one used to run moguls and has become Sweden's most famous sommelier. These days they run a hotel together. Living the dream.

West of the classic mountain hotel 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.

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Under the glass floor in the restaurant, is the wine cellar.
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Patrik "Strumpan" Strömsten has been awarded Sommelier of the Year, twice.
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The 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 Patrik “Strumpan” Strömsten, one of the two people who manage Niehku Mountain Villa, and laughs.

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.

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Johan "Jossi" Lindblom and Patrik "Strumpan" Strömsten. Photo: Lars Thulin

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, Strumpan, 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.

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Riksgränsen is a fantastic place for as well as bikers, as trail runners, as skiers. 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 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.

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. There are few places that 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.

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4. The food

Patrik “Strumpan” Strömsten is the only one in Sweden who’s been awarded Sommelier of the Year twice.

– All it means, really, is that it opens up a few doors in the world of wines, he says.

But that’s putting it mildly. It means that he’s interested in wine and also that he’s very knowledgeable. He offers us a light Sangiovese Grosso by Giuseppi Sesti in Montalcino as we’re sat in the lobby bar, a wine he refers to as Grangiovese. Patrik also has signore Sesti’s Rosso di Montalcino and, of course, his magnificent Brunello. All made using the original Montalcino grape, Sangiovese, but completely different in taste and behaviour.

– Sesti is a true traditionalist and his Brunello, aged four years in old oak barrels, is a character wine that I’m happy to be able to offer here.

Strumpan used to run Meteorologen in Riksgränsen but now he’s opened his own thing and what happened was that basically all the staff from the kitchen at Meteorologen moved to Niehku. Something that guarantees class. Apart from the maître d’ Ragnar Martinsson who worked at Meteorologen for three years, Joel Aronsson from Krakas Krog on Gotland also joined the team.

– Even if the food experience here is excellent, of course, our motto isn’t “fine dining”. We just provide expertly prepared food for hungry adventurers. Be they skiers, fly fishermen, hikers or bikers.

Learn more and book

Niehku Mountain Villa in Riksgränsen opened during spring-winter in 2018. Niehku Mountain Villa combines fantastic experiences with the highest standards of comfort when it comes to accommodation, gastronomy and spending time together. Want to learn more? Visit niehku.com.