Updated: May 8, 2021
Very near to where our hytte was located, in the idyllic rural community of Bolkesjø - a small village with a few scattered farm houses along the main road and a large lake - there was this beautiful historic hotel. Bolkesjø Turistthotell was opened in 1881 on the very spot where a weather station had been run since 1624. In 1893 a new hotel building in Dragon style was completed, designed by Herman Backer, who had previously designed the Frognerseteren in the Oslo area.
Yet another hotel was opened in 1896, the Grand Bolkesjø Hotel. This burned down in 1940, but resurfaced under the name Uppigard Bolkesjø. The property has been family owned since 1960. The oldest buildings were replaced with new buildings in 1966, and the original Dragon building sadly was demolished in 1978, just around the time we would be at our hytte. I say sadly, because I so remember the sheer beauty of the building and always found - and still do - they should have restored it. We were frequent visitors of the hotel because of their wonderful tennis court - and I even think that we were the only ones ever using it ;-)
The following year, another new building was completed, so that finally, in 1983, both hotels at Bolkesjø were run together as Bolkesjøhotellene. It was Telemark's largest hotel until it went bankrupt in 2008. The hotel was operated until 2011.
A sidestep to Dragestil (Dragon Style)
Dragestil is a style of design in architecture that originated in Norway and was mainly used between 1880 and 1910. It is a variant of the National Romantic style and an expression of Romantic nationalism. The most important sources of inspiration for the Dragestil were the Viking and medieval art and architecture of Scandinavia. It had its roots in the preservation of the stave churches and the recent excavated historic relics. Also it often featured Norse motifs, such as serpents and dragons; hence its popularity.
Characteristic Dragestil features
Typical features of Dragestil are the exposed timber walls and beams, often tarred on the exterior with varnished interiors - and the decoration in the form of dragon heads, the often steep roofs and big caves.
Back to the hotels and the mass tourism
The weather station and the Bolkesjø hotels were located along the - at the time - only year-round accessable road to Rjukan in the neighboring municipality of Tinn, if one came from the east until 1992, when Tinnsjøveien on the west side of Tinnsjøen between Gransherad and Mæl opened. The first tourists stopped on the way to Gaustatoppen and Rjukanfossen in Tinn. Later, industrialization in Notodden and Vestfjorddalen led to increased traffic at the hotels. After World War II, mass tourism arose and Bolkesjø became a winter sports resort.
The last guests
At the time, the hotel was Telemark's largest hotel and Norway's largest conference centre. Unfortunately, it was after the main airport at Gardermoen opened in 1998 that the number of tourists and thus the hotel business and the use of the conference facilities started to decline. With the main airport on the other side of Oslo, companies and organizations stopped using the hotel. The last overnight guests were some blues musicians.
Bankruptcy & transit shelter
In 2014, the owners of the Bolkesjø hotels filed for bankruptcy. Initiated by UDI (Norwegian Directorate of Immigration) in 2015, the hotel was used as a transit shelter for refugees; a temporary home for asylum seekers in need of emergency accommodation. In December 2015, the owners of Bolkesjø Hotel signed an agreement with UDI to renovate the hotel. UDI wanted to have the hotel converted into a full blown asylum centre for up to 600 refugees. Somehow, this never happened. The shelter never opened as the flow of refugees declined drastically after 2016. At that point UDI stopped all the work at the hotel, after which it was secured and locked.
Before the dramatic drop in refugees took place, families living in Bolkesjø in the Notodden municipality were troubled and even considered moving if Norway's largest asylum centre were to be established in their small village comprising 40 houses and 100 inhabitants. They would be outnumbered six times. The reactions were as expected. And the opinions were strong and even further reinforced by the high conflict level in the asylum centre in December 2016. The Mayor of the Notodden Municipality, Jørn Christensen, fully understood the reactions of the locals. He agreed that the ratio aspect would cause the complete village to be disrupted in many ways.
Beside Bolkesjø, the village of Notodden also was effected. As a result of the development of the industrial area just outside Notodden, combined with the arrival of the asylum centre, the Notodden city centre lost its regional buzz and transferred into a ghost town with buildings and shops boarded up, groups of asylum seekers the only living souls, gathered in the city square, drinking and smoking through the day, until they were picked up again by their transportation. And who could blame them, having been dropped in the middle of nowhere, in a setting and a culture that could not have been more different than their own, without any meaningful activities and guidance.
Never the same again
When I saw them last, in 2017, the hotel buildings were neglected and near deserted. The only form of life were the rehab facilities for drug - and gaming addicts. Real estate prices in the entire area of Bolkesjø and Notodden had dropped dramatically, leaving both villages forced to reinvent themselves. Futures are hard to predict, but let's hope it turns out bright for all parties concerned.
Telemark Avisa: www.ta.no