Planned as a sanatorium
Vatnahalsen Hotel was originally built as a sanatorium by doctor Håkon Philip Fretheim (1853-1924) and Sjur B. Heimdal (1863-1950). A small building in the dragon style, which was a fashion at that time, was set up in 1896. The sanatorium was never realised, and some years later Sjur B. Heimdal left the company. Håkon Philip Fretheim ran the hotel with a hired manager.
Vatnahalsen Hotel became right away very popular because of the Bergen Railway. The people who were engaged in the administration of the company used the hotel quite a lot. The construction road up the Flåm valley was also used by travellers. When the railway tracks were laid up to Myrdal, it became a fashion among the wealthy citizens of Bergen to go by train to Myrdal, have a dinner at Vatnahalsen Hotel and then return back home.
The first hotel with electricity
When the Bergen Railway opened in the autumn of 1909, the number of accommodations increased. After the reconstruction in 1909 the hotel`s capacity rose to 115 beds. The hotel received electricity from the hydro-electric powerstation by Kjosfossen, a plant that was built because of the railway construction. It was probably the first hotel in the Sogn and Fjordane county that got electricity. In 1911 the hotel also got a state telephone exchange.
In 1912 the hotel and the property was sold to Edvard Holte. He invested much in winter tourism and ran the hotel successfully for five years. In 1917 the hotel was sold again, this time to a stock company, A/S Vatnahalsen. The company was brought to an end in 1927, and Else and Torstein Brun Fretheim bought the hotel. In 1929 it was sold at a forced sale to Marthe Fretheim, the owner of Fretheim Hotel, and the lawyer Kristian Tønneberg, and they established the stock company A/S Vatnahalsen. Two years later, Astrid Fretheim, Marthe`s niece, bought Mr. Tønnebergs part. When Marthe died in 1933, her brother, Ole Fretheim, took over her part.
During the winter of 1935/1936 the hotel was again reconstructed and renovated. The hotel had 126 rooms, among them were 35 rooms with cold and hot water. The hotel could accomadate 140 guests, and in the dining-hall 170 people could be seated. During this renovation the exterior was changed, and the Swiss style was removed.
In the 1930ies the traffic in the Easter Holiday grew, and Vatnahalsen got a reputation as a good resort. In the guestbooks from the 1930ies we can see that Swedes, Danes and Englishmen found their way up into the mountains in the summer as well as in the winter. But this traffic came to an end when the war broke out. The German soldiers occupied the hotel during the war. On the 23rd of June the hotel burnt down. We have reason to believe that, having a party, celebrating some victory, the soldiers were careless about the fire. There were munitions in the basement, and consequently the fire grew big. Other people could see the smoke at a long distance.
In 1953 the reconstruction work started and on the 10th of June 1954 the hotel was opened anew. The hotel was managed by Guttorm Fretheim until 1960. He started the sale of a round-trip tour on the Bergen Railway, with bus from Voss via Stalheim to Gudvangen, by boat on the Nærøy- and Aurlandsfjord and finally from Flåm to Myrdal. This tour is today known as Norway in a Nutshell and is the most popular round-trip in Norway.
In 1965 restaurant owner Guttorm Fretheim, director at Dalane mountain lodge, Ludvig Wærness, estate agent Hans Johannesen and manager Kåre Brunborg, Voss got the ownership of the hotel. The hosts were Magnhild and Kåre Hopsland. Agin the touris traffic increased, and in 1970 a new building and a conference room were added. From 1970 Arne Kjell Kahrs was the director of the hotel, and he and his family ran the hotel until about 1979. One year earlier the hotel got its own skilift. This was very popular and very much used by the hotel guests and the people down at Flåm.
The Aksnes family
In November 1983 Kjell Arne and Rigmor Aksnes became the hosts, and they, after a bankruptcy, got the opportunity to buy the hotel. They came from Bergen and settled here with their children. As owners and hosts they have invested a lot in giving the guests various options and in securing the running of the hotel all year round. In 1990, after a vote in the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation P2-programme, Vatnahalsen Hotel was declared the company with the best service in Norway.
The Rallar road
During several decades the winter has been the most important season. In the autumn many guests came to the seminars and conferences, and in the winter many skiers arrived. In the summer season most of the guests came on day trips, mostly from cruise-ships in Flåm. From the mid-1980ies a new trend developed in the area, biking on the old road along the Bergen Railway. Gradually, the road got the name the Rallar road (Rallarvegen). The traffic increased from only 200 bikers in 1989 to 20 000 in 1997.
A safe shelter
As the summer traffic increased there was a reduction in number of guests in the winter. The skiers sought for the larger alpine ski centres with bigger challenges. As the traffic decreased the ski-lift, set up in 1978, came to a standstill. Anyway, there was still some activity at the hotel. In winters with heavy snowfall, bringing the trains to a halt, passengers as well as rail-road workers found shelter from the snow and wind in the hotel. Many sandwiches were prepared by the hotel staff early in the morning as well as late at night.
A new generation
In 1998, Jannet Aksnes, the daughter of Kjell Arne and Rigmor, took over the management of the hotel. She ran the hotel together with Jorunn Stokseth until 2001, when Jannet`s parents took over again. In 2005, Jannet came back and acted as managing director of the hotel until 2018. The summer time is still the main season, and many cyclists come in the period July–September. In the busiest part of the season there are some 11 people working from early in the morning till late at night to make the visitors feel at home.
From time to time it has been difficult to run the hotel. But although the hotel has been threatened by a closing of the railway line, by difficulties regarding transportation of goods and litter and by high electricity tariffs, we have entered the 115th year of management. The motto is: “What doesn`t kill you, makes you stronger”.