How Norway’s Wealthiest Man Upgraded One of Scandinavia’s Top Luxury Hotels
Long considered of the most prestigious hotels in Scandinavia, the Britannia Hotel in Trondheim, Norway, recently reclaimed its place as one of Europe’s premier accommodations after a three-year, multimillion-dollar renovation.
The original hotel began as a converted farmhouse in 1870, and in 1897 it was turned into the palatial structure that stands today. Throughout the last century and then some, the Britannia has served as a temporary home to visiting luminaries such as Queen Elizabeth II—as well as Jay-Z and Beyoncé.
Billionaire Odd Reitan, also Norway’s wealthiest man, spearheaded the Britannia’s revitalization. The glamour of the hotel in its previous incarnation captured Reitan’s fantasies when he was just 14 years old, and he dreamed of one day owning the majestic building. Once in his possession, the hotel closed in July 2016 for its transformation and reopened in April 2019.
Reitan, 68, had a vision for Britannia that was more than just a luxury getaway. He wanted to make it “a living room for Trondheim,” as Wil Lee-Wright, creative director for the hotel, puts it. Reitan’s egalitarian philosophy is felt as you walk through the various areas of the hotel; both city residents and hotel guests gather at tables at the various restaurants for a bite, or sit solo with a newspaper and contently read in the hotel lobby.
That foyer, laden in Italian marble, is the first hint at the experience that lies ahead. Approximately $150 million was put into the renovation, and the hotel straddles the line of opulent yet refined. Carrara marble bathrooms in all of the rooms and suites echo the enveloping glamour felt when you first enter Britannia. But high-tech details—such as an in-wall digital screen—control other elements throughout the suite, from electronic window shades to adjusting the temperature. Less visually obvious—but still sensorially pleasing—are the Hästens beds, a Swedish brand renowned for its use of natural materials.
Although it’s tempting to hide away in the suites, the social atmosphere—the core of Reitan’s vision and cultivated by the hotel’s dining and drinking establishments—is even more alluring. Palmehaven, long known as a gathering spot for city residents, hosts a highly elaborate breakfast spread as well as afternoon tea in the skylighted, plant-filled space. Brasserie Britannia simultaneously feels transportive yet has the vibe of a locals’ place; it’s modeled after the brasseries of Paris and Lyon, with a good dose of New York’s iconic Balthazar bistro sprinkled in, explains Lee-Wright. Glancing around, you’ll notice that at least one order of mussels and frites seems to sit on every table.
Alternatively, the cavernous Jonathan Grill is The Britannia’s take on a steakhouse. Some tables are outfitted with smoke-free Japanese table grills—purportedly the first in Norway—for a robata-style experience. Not just limited to beef, options for the fire include lamb, seafood, and reindeer (a local specialty).
While the aforementioned restaurants pull elements from international dining traditions, Speilsalen, Britannia’s signature restaurant, is distinctly Norwegian. Reitan tapped Christopher Davidsen—a world champion chef and Bocuse d’Or silver medalist in 2017—to command the kitchen (and hopefully elevate Speilsalen to Michelin-starred status). The tasting menu at this jewel box of a restaurant—mirrors and crystal figure prominently in the decor—is a parade of complex bites. Unlike some tasting menus, where technique trumps taste, the focus is on truly delectable dishes; the fantastically named “Kindling flames at Arctic beaches,” is actually a pair of plump, sweet cylinders of king crab legs adorned with barley and juniper.
The interplay of local versus global is also seen at the different drinking establishments at Britannia. Viticulture is nearly nonexistent in Norway, but wine appreciation in the country runs deep. At the wine bar Vinbaren, the 10,000-bottle cellar is on full display. Drinkers can wander among the glass-walled rooms and admire the impressive collection. Thomas Andersen, Vinbaren’s wine director, not only curates selections from around the world, he also collects verticals of certain prized producers. The bar, with 200 by-the-glass offerings, turns into a jazz lounge on Thursday nights. And every Friday, Andersen opens a rare bottle, such as the Henriot Cuve 38 Champagne, and pours by the glass for patrons.
While museums may be one way to learn about Norway’s history, a more enjoyable experience can be found in the glass at Britannia Bar. Head bartender Øyvind Lindgjerdet spent months researching Norway’s history—even enlisting the help of three historians—to create spirited stories and correlating cocktails. The menu reads like a novella, and each of the six original libations highlights a key moment in Norway’s past. The drinks themselves, such as the Garden cocktail—a concoction of aquavit, fortified wine, marigold flower, bitters, sugar, and lime—exhibit balance and nuance. Somehow each sip comes quicker and quicker until there’s nothing left except the custom-shaped ice cubes, commissioned by Lindgjerdet, rattling around.
Fitness and well-being are given almost as much consideration as Britannia’s culinary pursuits. Along with a variety of cardio and weight equipment in the fitness center, a personal trainer leads daily group classes, such as Tabata, yoga, and Pilates. The sauna, located in Britannia’s spa, is open to all guests. But a full menu of spa services, such as facials and massages, is just as inclusive; kids and teens can choose from treatments geared especially for their needs.
In addition to championing Trondheim and Norwegian culture, Britannia wants to create its own legacy through proprietary offerings. In partnership with Champagne house Ayala, the two created a special cuvée, which is offered only at the hotel. Unlike other house brands, which simply add a custom label to a bottle, Britannia’s sales manager worked with Ayala’s chef de caves Caroline Latrive to create the ideal blend.
Beer gets the same treatment. Local brewer E.C. Dahl, which has been providing the Britannia with beer since its opening in 1870, created the PA Clausen Ale, served on tap at the Bistro. Beyond the gastronomic creations, the Britannia partnered with famous perfumer Francis Kurkdjian—who is responsible for creating scents for fashion houses such as Dior, Jean Paul Gaultier, and Armani—for their in-room bath products.
While Britannia’s glamour—newly polished after the intensive renovation—draws in visitors, it’s the hotel’s conviviality that makes it one of the most sought-after reservations in Europe today.
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