Hotel founder Kjetil Smørås: "We are Bergen"

He is now in the process of building his seventh unique hotel. More than anything else, art and culture loving director Kjetil Smørås wants to create experiences based on the character of the capital of Western Norway.

Hotel founder Kjetil Smørås takes us back to his childhood. On the wall of the dining room in his childhood home hangs a work by Norwegian painter and graphic artist Nikolai Astrup. Kjetil was fascinated by this vibrant painting. It always transported him from his everyday life and into the creative world of the imagination. In the background, his mother would play music, while Kjetil would search for the many hidden figures in the forest in Astrup's work. He could sit like this for hours as a child, dreaming away.

"I've probably developed both sides of my brain by having music and art present throughout my childhood," says Kjetil with a smile.

Striving to provide the best experiences in Bergen

With a concert pianist mother with a keen interest in art, culture played a key role in Kjetil's childhood. As an adult, and as hotel director for almost seven hotels and a number of restaurants in De Bergenske, he has incorporated art into its historic hotels and visitor experiences.

"I live and breathe what we do, which is creating a fantastic stay for our guests, and contributing to a diversity of experiences in Bergen," says Kjetil. He's sitting in a suite at Zander K Hotel, right next door to Grand Hotel Terminus. These are two of De Bergenske's unique hotels, located a stone's throw away from two of Kjetil's favourite places - Kode, one of the Nordic region's largest museums for art, design and music, and the cultural heart of Bergen: the Grieghallen concert hall.

Kjetil has four children at home. As mentioned, art and music are still very much in focus, including in his family life. At work, he is an economist and hotel director. But it all overlaps, since De Bergenske is a big family of hotels, eateries, venues, art, culture, and experiences.

Beautiful and award-winning Frescohallen at Bergen Børs Hotel.

Aesthetic details and high visual quality

"I love what we create, and I think it's nice to be able to provide something that's different from the big hotel chains. Because we are the opposite of them. We are a collection of places that have each their own unique identity. We are committed to maximising the identity of each place, and we stand out by placing an extreme emphasis on aesthetics. High visual quality is key," says Kjetil.

He speaks softly and pauses a beat before continuing:

"We combine all of this with art and culture. For example, we have our own curator who takes care of and develops our own art collection. In a way, we are at the border between culture and business. It makes us happy when we acquire a very nice painting and hang it on the wall, and not least when we manage to create something very special. We get very excited – almost more excited than we do about our financial results."

Guests can experience one of Bergen's most unique features in Frescohallen at Bergen Børs Hotel – a restaurant that has gained international recognition for its historic venue with frescoes by Axel Revold. At the historic Bar Amundsen at Grand Hotel Terminus, you can sample Bergen's largest whisky collection. Or enjoy a delicious meal prepared by some of the world's best sushi chefs, at award-winning Bare by Pak. Common to all of these experiences is that authenticity and Western Norway are in focus.

Bergen's fjords and mountains

"That's my vision, to develop Bergen into an international attraction," says Kjetil.

We should also add that De Bergenske's hotels are located right in the city centre – with views of the harbour, Vågen, mountainsides offering hikes to famous peaks such as Ulriken and Fløyen, and close to all the best shopping, concerts, nightlife, and restaurants.

"We always aim to create experiences of an international standard, which can attract guests from all over the world who are used to the unique experiences in the major cities of Europe. We do this best by staying true to ourselves and creating as strong an identity as possible with our resources."

Kjetil Smørås is concerned with preserving Bergens history and buildings.

We must be ourselves – we must be Bergen

The hotel director elaborates: they are concerned with buying and developing historic properties, not in order to create museums or classic hotels, but to preserve the character and atmosphere inherent in old, historic buildings. At the same time, they wish to create experiences, restaurants, and hotel rooms of a high quality.

"I think our travel habits are changing and we're increasingly looking for something very special. That's exactly what we want to give people. We want to give our visitors genuine and authentic experiences and show off our character – this means that we have to be Bergen, Western Norway, the Nordic countries and not try to imitate anything French or Italian, we must be ourselves," says Kjetil.

"We have a strong Nordic community, and a Nordic language, style and aesthetics that we represent and of which we are proud. This makes our guests happy. They're happy when they see something that's real and authentic."

  • The hotels of De Bergenske are located a short distance from both Fløyen and Ulriken. And it is precisely the nice experiences in Bergen that are important, Kjetil believes.

  • And after a good experience, the accommodation should be just as good. Here from Villa Terminus.

  • Grand Hotel Termins has aesthetically pleasing rooms, and also the historic Bar Amundsen.

Jogging in European cities

And that's when we get into what Kjetil himself wants to experience and where he wants to stay when he's travelling. If he's not heading to Bergen Børs Hotel for jazz or a Michelin-level restaurant experience or strolling from the boutique hotel Villa Terminus towards the Rasmus Meyer's collection and Edvard Munch at Kode, but is heading abroad — what does he google?

He laughs:

"What do I google when I want to travel? Exciting hotels, of course. I always want to learn something new when I'm on a trip, so I keep track of what art exhibitions and concerts are on. Plus, I google eateries. It doesn't have to be Michelin-starred restaurants, but places with strong authenticity."

"And parks. I'm happy if my hotel is close to a park, because I can then go for a jog." 



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