Norway’s Telemark Canal has experienced an identity crisis in recent years. Once a thriving tourist destination, its popularity has drastically declined in the last decade. When the canal was completed in 1892, it was dubbed the “eighth wonder of the world” (not the first or last man-made structure to receive this distinction). It took 500 men five years to complete the 65-mile long canal, which includes 18 locks to accommodate the 236-foot elevation change as it travels inland.
The decline in tourism over the years hurt local villages, so a massive project was begun to highlight points along the canal. The project, The Tales of a Waterway, includes art installations, creative lighting displays, and new architectural landmarks. One of the first parts of the project to be completed was the Soria Moria Sauna, and it’s already drawing tourists to Dalen.
Dalen is the final stop of the waterway and it is where the Telemark meets Lake Bandak. It’s a serene, impossibly beautiful spot surrounded by sharply jutting mountains, a forest of evergreens and lake water that is crystal clear. It’s an ideal spot for a sauna that draws its inspiration from Norway’s fairy tales.
With such a picture-perfect spot, you would expect a one-of-a-kind cabin to be built instead of a sauna. But Norway has a strong social culture built around the sauna. Families will often spend afternoons together and the people learn from a young age that time in the sauna is a chance to cleanse mind, body, and soul. So when architectural firm Feste Landskap / Arkitektur was tasked with creating the attraction for the Dalen location, a sauna was the obvious choice.
The Soria Moria Sauna, which took its name from Norway’s most famous fairy tale, sits in the waters of Lake Bandak. Accessed by an angular dock that is meant to mimic the mountain peaks, the structure features the sauna, a changing room, a covered seating area, and a large deck for sunbathing.
Outside, heritage and myth merge in the unique cladding on the building. Traditional wood shingles cover the exterior and are interspersed with golden shingles. These glimmering little squares are meant to invoke the idea of the mythical Soria Moria Castle. The sauna also showcases a unique roof line, sloping down toward the center of the building, forming a V-shape. This is meant to be another interpretation of the steep mountains that surround the lake.
Inside, Soria Moria Sauna offers plenty of spots to sit quietly or socialize with others. There are stadium bleacher style wooden benches where families can relax together and in one area there is a small bench that looks out onto the lake thanks to the large corner window. A covered seating area outside lets folks transition from the heat of the sauna into the fresh air before moving onto the deck for a dip into the lake.
Accessed via a winding, wooded path (a metaphor for the path one takes to reach the Soria Moria Castle), the sauna is in a secluded spot that is meant to be an Eden for anyone brave enough to take the journey.
If you happen to be in Dalen, Norway and would like your own chance to rest out the sauna, you can rent the whole building here.
Not to be outdone, the Swedes also have their own architectural wonder in the form of the sauna – only this one is a giant, golden egg.