Hardanger Basecamp: Back to nature in a yurt

The thought of arriving after dark to a chilly overnight in a yurt isn’t particularly cozy, especially when raining. But if it comes with a campfire and its very own homebrew, things are looking brighter. This is Norway, where nature excels and fuzzy reindeer are ever-present.


And at Hardanger Basecamp in Osa, you get much more than a yurt. Within close distance to the Hardanger tourist route, where a simple drive through means dramatic scenery and thundering waterfalls, the gateway to Hardangervidda – as it’s marketed – promotes a “back to basics, back to nature” way of life. The perfect location for active travelers, the basecamp offers guided hikes and various workshops from April to October such as “edible plants and insects,” “bush craft techniques” and “survival skills.” In addition, all guests get a free “making fire” and “campfire cooking” workshop and cutlery to use.


Our introduction to Hardanger Basecamp took place over a covered crackling campfire, assembled in front of the yurt. Expertly prepared by our host, Robert, a nature lover and mastermind in wilderness survival skills, using pine tree with resin particularly useful in rainy conditions, we warmed up and sipped beer from our host’s personal homebrew reserve. Driven by his passion for bush crafts and Norway’s stirring landscapes, he made it a life mission to educate people how to get closer to nature.


Meticulously built by Robert and his family, a Belgian transplant enraptured by the Norwegian wildlife, the yurts are sturdier, permanent versions of the traditional Mongolian yurts, tailored to suit Norway’s harsh climate. Supported by stakes, with a first layer of felt and then canvas, they are also much homelier, decorated with arctic fox and reindeer furs. Heating is just a push of a button away, and since this year, all yurts are equipped with electricity. It’s like a nature hotel, but better. All you have to worry about is how to most efficiently get to the restroom, complete with showers, some 50 meters away (164 feet).


Out of six yurts total, two operate on a youth hostel model, where you can rent a bed and share with others, perfect for numerous families or groups of friends. Breakfast is also provided as a B&B, as well as towels and housekeeping. Two upmarket, more private yurts are expected for 2017.


Hiking the challenging Hardangervidda mountain plateau is a big draw, as well as fishing, kayaking and more. The nearest town, Ulvik, is also a popular cruise destination, with the longest suspension bridge in Norway. But perhaps the biggest reward here is waking up to stunning views of Osafjord, just steps away from your accommodation. And the second comes over breakfast at the Osa Kaféen. Two words: Belgian crepes.


One of the advantages of a Belgian host is indulging in all you can eat fresh crepes, made by Robert’s son, Christophe. Boasting some ten marmalades to choose from, including creative nature-related flavors such as pine tree and dandelion, you’ll have the chance to burn the sugar high following this power breakfast. Try the Belgian brown sugars also available, equally exceptional. If savory breakfasts are more to your liking, plan ahead or talk to your host.


After breakfast, go explore. Nature enthusiasts, this is Norwegian nirvana, complete with a comfortable yurt.

Dreamy Ometepe & Finca San Juan

Our ferry boat sailed towards Ometepe Island: twin volcanoes that rise out of Lake Nicaragua, sloping down to lush forests and sandy beaches. We always heard about Ometepe during our Central American travels, and it sounded like a mythical place…volcano trekking to sky-high lagoons, wild horses galloping the shores, kids riding to school on ox carts, and community farms growing organic vegetables. We disembarked and drove around the base of Volcano Concepción and reached the lush grounds of Finca San Juan de La Isla, and thought this may be paradise after all.

The “driveway” went on for over a mile through orchards, pastures, and banana plantations, until we reached the historic Spanish-hacienda-turned-hotel. The reception was in the former stables and the original house was now the lobby that flowed out to the open-air restaurant, twinkling with lights.

Walking through the gardens of papaya and frangipani trees, the bellman showed us to our room: a stilted suite with a spacious porch on the lakeshore. Outside looked like a classic log cabin and inside was freshly designed with minimalist décor and a luxurious bathroom.

We got a great night sleep and went down to enjoy the complimentary breakfast. I had the Finca (eggs, gallo pinto, plantains, and homemade cuajada cheese) and I had the French toast with fruit. When we heard most of the ingredients on the menu were grown on their 160-acre farm (with 40,000 fruit trees!), we had to hike the grounds. Wandering between the forest of fruits, we stopped by the horse stables, a bubbling spring, and the farmhands’ house–where we got invited in for a special stew!

Each afternoon at San Juan presented us with tons of things to do: horseback riding, kayaking, mountain biking, swimming, or a guided hike up the active Concepción or the lagoon-topped Maderas volcano.

The hotel helped arrange a motorbike so we could cover the most ground and adventure in a short stay. We headed toward Maderas, the smaller of the two volcanoes (still an impressive 4,573 feet tall) and enjoyed local life along the slopes. We stopped at the historic coffee plantation of Finca Magdalena, had picnic on the beach with the horses, and joined the fanfare at a Balgue soccer game.

From Finca Magadalena, we followed one of the hiking trails to an ancient petroglyph in the forest. Ometepe has a rich pre-Columbian history with over 73 different sites scattered around the island.

For our final night at San Juan de la Isla, we took a private cooking class with their head chef Ernesto. He wanted to show us classic Nicaraguan cuisine with an Indio Viejo soup. This recipe is said to date back to pre-Columbian times and made with ingredients, like the achiote plant, that are native to the region. We had a blast chopping, chatting, and sampling our way through the class and ultimately eating a delicious meal together.

When the owners of San Juan de La Isla, saw this historic finca, they weren’t hoteliers or farmers at the time, but dreamers with a vision for a lodge to match Ometepe’s mystical reputation.

La Pinte du Vieux Manoir

La Pinte du Vieux Manoir, set in Switzerland’s gorgeous Lake District, is as fabulous as it sounds. The elegance that permeates every corner of the property is matched only by the gracious hospitality of each member of the staff. Further afield, you find a quaint village that seems bent on charming all newcomers at every turn. But the real winner, if it’s possible to pick, is the property’s spectacular restaurant. These and many other factors culminate into the epitome of grace and charm that is Le Pinte de Vieux Manoir.


La Pinte du Vieux Manoir’s property sits lakeside on substantial grounds that include many accommodation options. From the the Lake House, the Railway House and the Glass Diamond, there’s an option for everyone. We stayed in the Lake House and were delighted from start to finish. Perfect for a couple or a group looking to get away, the lake house’s décor exemplifies understated elegance. The bright airy rooms are as comfortable as they are chic, and the view of the lake from the large windows will make your jaw drop and your mind still. The house is situated a minute walk from the restaurant and this allows convenience without sacrificing privacy. You’ll feel a million miles away, yet only need a short walk to get to dinner or the village. But before you leave, have La Pinte de Vieux Manoir set up a relaxing massage to be had in your room. You can thank me later.


The village is a moment away, and from there you can sightsee and stroll to your heart’s content. Not surprisingly, we chose to do a bit of all. The town’s ancient city wall holds gorgeous views of the lake and surrounding hills. Take a ferry across the lakes to enjoy seeing the town and surrounding vineyards from the water. And while out, it would be a travesty to not go to the neighboring vineyards to taste Switzerland’s best kept secret. Planted by the Romans, these grapes yield delicious Pinot Noir and white wines. Since Switzerland vineyards rarely export, this is a treat that you simply must take advantage of. La Pinte du Vieux Manoir can set up any of these activities, and they have exceptional relationships with the vineyards since their restaurant serves local wines. Which reminds me, don’t stay at the vineyards too long. You don’t want to miss a single meal at La Pinte du Vieux Manoir restaurant.


Specializing in seasonal dishes with a modern twist, this restaurant is one of the best in the world. Head chef Rudolf Reetz creates classic French dishes with his own unique interpretations. Miraculously, in his modifications he doesn’t sacrifice a molecule of flavor, even to go so far as improving these age-old recipes. It is spectacular to experience. The menu is constantly changing, not only with the season, but because many locals come to the restaurant multiple times each week and Reetz likes to keep them surprised. The meals use fresh herbs from the garden, and they make as much of the food as possible themselves. If you’re able to glance away from your plate, you can soak in the restaurant’s peaceful ambiance and gorgeous views. You’ll likely be saddened when dinner is over, but don’t despair. Reetz hand delivers a charming breakfast basket to your door in the morning! The basket is full of deliciousness, and it promises that your day at La Pinte du Vieux Manoir will be as fabulous as the last.


La Pinte du Vieux Manoir exudes elegance and comfort with ease and class that must be experienced in your lifetime. Whether it’s enjoying the stunning lake views, marveling over Reetz’s latest culinary achievement, or simply strolling the grounds to soak up every corner, you’ll adore every moment spent in this special place. You will leave refreshed and better able to take on the world, and dying come back for more.