How are you?
Relaxation is a state of mind that means different things to different people. For many, it means the release of physical and emotional tension. For others it's an opportunity to restore balance within a challenging lifestyle.
But however it's defined, relaxation is something we are all striving to achieve from time to time in our increasingly hectic lives. Stepping off the treadmill and doing nothing for a day or two is a fantasy that many people harbour.
Finding the right environment to make this dream a reality, though, can often be a challenge. The perfect place to relax in should be calm, warm, and still – with none of the distractions, irritations or worries of the modern world that so often impinge upon our lives.
We found such a place at Mii Gullo Spa, part of Sweden's oldest mountain hotel, Fjällnäs, which was established in 1882 and is situated in the far west of the country, close to the Norwegian border.
Seeking out the perfect environment for relaxation can be a challenge, but Penny Bunting finds it at Sweden's oldest mountain hotel
This spa is a little different to others we have visited. Mii Gullo is so at one with its natural surroundings that it becomes almost part of the landscape. This connection to the natural world brings a whole new element to relaxation, and becomes evident as soon as you enter the spa. With floor to ceiling windows, this gorgeous space offers stunning lake and mountain views. Lighted candles and soft, ambient music create an enveloping, tranquil atmosphere.
Refreshments are always close at hand, with a range of herbal teas and jugs of iced water infused with fresh oranges, mint or lingonberries. Trays of fresh fruit and bowls of dried fruit and nuts prevent any hunger pangs from distracting guests from their meditation.
Sinking into one of the comfortable chairs – all of which face out towards the lake – is the first thing many visitors do. Sitting here is mesmerising. The ever-changing view – clouds drifting across a blue sky, raindrops rippling the lake, trees swaying gently in the breeze – becomes a focus for peaceful contemplation, and is deeply relaxing.
The sauna (there are separate saunas for men and women) also has panoramic windows, offering more wonderful views of sky, mountains, forest and lake.
But it's in the outdoor infinity hot tub where you will feel totally immersed in nature. This semi-circular pool, heated to the perfect temperature to soothe aching muscles, overlooks the lake and has spectacular views to the hills beyond – making you feel as though you are part of the scenery and not just a mere onlooker.
Because of the infinity aspect of the hot tub, you can imagine yourself to be lounging in the lake itself. A jump into the clear waters of the actual lake – there's a convenient platform and steps right alongside the hot tub to make it easy – will bring you back to reality, as the water is very cold, even in summer.
“You should visit in winter,” a fellow guest tells us. He lives nearby and is a regular visitor to Mii Gullo Spa in all seasons. “The lake is frozen over – but they break the ice so that you can still swim!”
This care and respect for the environment is evident throughout the hotel, with all buildings efficiently insulated and heated sustainably using a ground source heat system. Renewable resources are used whenever possible, and environmental pollutants are avoided. Local products and materials are used, as are local craftsmen – supporting the local economy while keeping carbon emissions from transport to the resort to a minimum.
Local produce is used extensively in the kitchen too – and the food at Fjällnäs is superb. Breakfast is simple but plentiful: cold meats (including reindeer), cheeses, freshly baked bread and homemade jams are accompanied by limitless freshly-brewed coffee and a large selection of quality, loose-leaf teas.
Guests are invited to collect a paper bag and make up a packed lunch from the breakfast table – an innovative way to prevent food waste, and fantastic for those heading out on a hike.
Dinner feels like a celebration: three courses of imaginative and beautifully-presented food offering an exquisite combination of flavours. Each dish makes excellent use of fresh, seasonal ingredients – many produced locally – including fish, meat, fruit and vegetables as well as herbs grown in the hotel garden. Vegetarians are catered for very well, with no less attention to detail in terms of ingredients or presentation.
If you feel like being active, there are countless hiking trails to explore in the nearby hills and mountains, with routes encompassing woodlands, mountain plateaus and dramatic waterfalls. There are also cycle routes direct from the hotel (and cross-country skiing in winter) – or you can take a rowing boat out onto the lake for a spot of fishing.
For the less energetic, there are gentle paths through the grounds, with several spots for sitting and contemplating by the lakeside. There is an abundance of wild flowers here, and butterflies and birds flit about. This easy access to nature, along with the pure mountain air, will leave you with a wonderful sense of wellbeing.
Above left: candlelit breakfast; right top: delicious combinations of flavours at dinner; bottom: a selection of teas
Above left: Mii Gullo Spa is at one with nature; right: take a boat out on the lake
The overall atmosphere of Fjällnäs is unique and very special. It's an exclusive sanctuary that never feels pretentious. Despite the relaxed and informal ambience, being a guest here leaves you feeling privileged and nurtured.
Mii gullo? means “How are you?” in Sami. This question, although not always verbalized, permeates throughout Fjällnäs – resulting in attention to detail and outstanding service that ensures each guest's answer will be: “Very well indeed, thank you!”
Above: wild flowers in abundance
Above: cheerfully-painted wooden buildings; tranquil guest rooms with Swedish furnishings
Green Adventures November 2016
At Fjällnäs, they say there are eight seasons – this is reflected in the hotel's colourful, circular logo. From the depths of Pakkastalvi (Frosty Winter in Sami) to Keskiyönauringo Aika (Eternal Sun) to Sadonkorjuunaik (Harvest), each season has its own distinct atmosphere and beauty.
The sense of relaxation at Fjällnäs extends well beyond the spa. The public rooms exude calm and cosiness, from the snug lounge where you can sit and read a book, to the candlelit dining room.
Candles are lit here – even in summer – for all meals, including breakfast. Along with the sumptuous furs and throws on the dining room seats and wooden panelling, this creates a warm and welcoming ambience.
We stayed in a family room, housed in a separate building with a wooden exterior painted cheerful yellow. The room was spacious and beautifully furnished in calming, neutral tones with charming Swedish soft furnishings. There was a separate sleeping area with bunk beds for the children, as well as a comfortable seating space.
To reduce environmental impact, there are refillable toiletries bottles in the bathrooms, containing toiletries by eco cosmetic group C/O GERD – these are also used in Mii Gullo Spa. Made from Swedish ingredients, the cloudberry shampoo, blueberry conditioner and lingonberry body lotion all smell heavenly.