By Anita Blundell
I've been to Norway on skiing holidays before and been impressed both by the wealth of cross-country trails and the superb organisation of these, so Sjusjøen, one Norwegian destination I hadn't yet been to, seemed the obvious choice when my husband and I looked through the brochure last autumn.
The Rustad Hotel is a family-run place, and owners Erik and Annie Rustad have succeeded in creating a friendly – and also very cosy – atmosphere, especially in the rustically decorated public rooms and lounges which are located in the original part of the hotel and have traditional, typically Norwegian furniture. As for our bedroom, we were lucky enough to be given a corner room which, although it was rather plain décor-wise, got plenty of sunshine, and had two easy chairs in which to unwind with one of the many books from the library or to sit back and admire the lovely views across the frozen lake outside the hotel.
Norway cannot be described as gastronomic, but the food in the hotel restaurant was good – and plentiful! Unusually, each course – dishes such as fish soup and tender reindeer steaks served with a cloudberry sauce – is served on a platter in the centre of your table from which you serve yourself. If you don't like what is on offer, you can ask for an alternative, and if you do like the food and manage to eat it all, seconds are often available. On a couple of busier evenings, we were asked if we would share a table with a couple of other guests, something we didn't mind as it is a good way to meet other people, and since everyone is there to ski, you immediately have at least one thing in common and can compare notes on different trails. Dinners always finish with tea or coffee, with an endless supply of both. Breakfasts (from which you make up your lunch pack) are excellent too, with a buffet comprising ham, cheeses, cereals, fish and the best bread rolls I've ever tasted anywhere – a great start to the day.
As you would expect from a domain that hosted the cross-country ski events for the Lillehammer Winter Olympics in 1994, at Sjusjøen there really are miles and miles of trails. This means that it does attract some very keen skiers, but beginners and novices shouldn't be put off by the domain's Olympic status – as skiing is very much a family activity in Norway, the trails are by no means just for advanced skiers, and indeed there are plenty of easier routes to choose from.
Probably my favourite ski excursion of the week was to Nevelfjell (1,089 metres). The trail itself was very scenic, but what really made it were the views from the summit which, because it was such a pleasant, sunny day, were particularly far-reaching.
With so many trails to choose from, we didn't have to repeat any all week, and on another day we skied down to Lillehammer, entering the town via the Olympic stadium. We left our skis outside (there's no crime in Lillehammer, so it is perfectly safe to do this) and explored a little. The town is certainly well worth a visit – in addition to lots of intriguing small shops, there is also an art gallery, a glass-blowing workshop and an Olympic museum. It is one of those towns where there is seemingly always something going on – during our own stay, the town was packed with skiers from all over Europe (and even from the States) who had come for the annual Birkebeiner cross-country marathon, and on other occasions you may be able to watch ski jump competitions – I'd certainly recommend finding out what is going on so that you can plan your week around any special events you would like to see. And then there's the Olympic bob-sleigh run, which is also open to the public. It's possibly the most expensive way to spend two minutes of your life (one descent costs about £90) but Martin, my husband, assures me it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience (it would have to be at that price, or you'd soon be short of money!) which he'll always remember.