Enter and you may be surprised to discover, right here at the very edge of human habitability, a luxurious quiet and comfort.
Funken is an unassuming building on a slight hill above Longyearbyen, Svalbard. While the people who greet you as you arrive could not be more welcoming, this is a private place, unostentatious in all its eagerness to pamper you.
Formerly the administrative building that housed mining company administrators or functionaries, Funken is now the most northern boutique hotel in the world, and each part of it tells a story. Hotel Manager Luiz and his staff are happy to share them with you, taking their cues from the building and its views.
Combine your stay with true fine dining in the most unlikely location. Huset – literally translated to The House – is a down to earth name given to a restaurant that is out of this world.
Enter, take off your shoes, slip on some woolly slippers. A tradition that remains from the days when the streets of Longyearbyen were dusty with coal, is for everyone to remove their shoes as you enter a building.
As you are welcomed to Funken, you will be encouraged to change into woolly slippers. Notice how there is a shift in atmosphere, that something quite profound happens when people from all over the world, with different languages and cultures, different experiences, and habits, meet in the most northern cocktail bar in the world, in the same quiet and comfortable footwear. Bar Manager Sergi will whip up as beautiful and delicious cocktails as you will find anywhere – classics or signature arctic versions – but enjoying them in woolly slippers adds a side of mellow that can only be savoured here.
You will discover other hints of Svalbard’s industrial past. Granted, there is one remaining mine open, shortly to be closed, but the skeletons of the operations of a bygone era add something that is quite unique to the natural environments. The relics are protected and remain standing as a testament to human perseverance, ingenuity, and downright stubbornness. Allow yourself to be amazed by these derelict structures of wood and metal, wizened by wind and weather. Some are crouching like prehistoric animals on the horizon, others framing the view in strange and eery ways like something out of Game of Thrones, or a sci fi.
You will also notice scale like structures, much like you would expect from a dinosaur’s back, on the mountain ridges, mirroring the repetitive folds and dents of the natural environments, adding somehow to this sense of being in a place that is outside of history.
The Funktionærmessen restaurant is a perfect place to unwind, debrief and share the stories of your day. Should you get too caught up in the telling or listening, you may get a gentle reminder to eat the king crab ravioli in lobster bisque while its hot. The people who work in the restaurant are that attentive and eager for you to enjoy the experience to the fullest, and you’ll be grateful.
The wine selection is international, just like the selection of people you will meet in the hotel and out and about Longyearbyen. You will also find one of the richest champagne cellars in Scandinavia. If you’d like to visit it, you’ll be guided along a corridor that previously doubled as a shooting range. You would not guess it – today it is pristine, very Scandi in its clean unadorned industrial feel. You can enjoy your champagne right there in the cellar, and the sommelier may point out a little hatch in the wall that served as the only distribution outlet for alcohol to the miners back in the day – typically beer or vodka. The miners would come up to window and get their quota of this highly regulated luxury item.
You can stay indoors and take in the views of the fjord from Funken’s restaurant or venture out. While the outside is harsh and unforgiving, everyone and everything inside the hotel is there to provide comfort.
The shifting colours of the landscape around it are mirrored by the buildings of Longyearbyen. To make sure the paint not only protected wooden structures from the harshness of the surrounding environment, but also contributed to its beauty, the mining company contracted a colour designer. 50 years on, her vision still governs all the colour choices, which has resulted in the peculiar aesthetic so characteristic of Longyearbyen.
No one is native to Svalbard. This is the last civilization before the North Pole, an outpost for people united by love for nature and a sense of adventure. Nature itself will not make allowances or accommodate you. That is why a place like Funken, designed to pamper and spoil you rotten, is such an unexpected luxurious contrast to the environment that surrounds it.