Hotels with hygge: in conversation with Copenhagen

Don’t worry, this is not another scented-candles-sheepskin-throws ode to hygge-fying your home. The soulful meaning behind the now ubiquitous Danish word, which loosely translates as cosy contentment, has been somewhat lost in an oversaturated market of ‘Scandi-chic’ aspirers. SLH’s resident Dane, Carsten Lima, along with friend, owner of London’s ScandiKitchen, and author of Scandi baking and lifestyle books including Nørth: How To Live Scandinavian, and Maria Oldenbjerg, Director of Nimb Hotel in Copenhagen, get to the heart of how to truly hygge, be hygge, and have hygge.

Carsten Lima – SLH Vice President of Sales for Europe, Middle East & Africa

Hygge is an unspoken moment of togetherness, when you are surrounded by people in an environment where you feel good enhanced by a number of elements (often food). There is nothing tangible about hygge. It is a state of mind and something that lies within you. A decorative item is not the hygge but plays a role in how you feel in the moment. A hotel can come across Hyggeligt when it invites you to stay longer, linger and just ‘be’. When you don’t want to leave because you are having such a hygge-time. But you remove just a few elements and this same place and the moments, you can live there, become un-noteworthy and lose its hygge. You can easily hygge alone and a moment defined as such would be when watching a Danish crime series with a cinnamon bun waiting to be consumed, all to yourself.

Brontë Aurell – ScandiKitchen Owner & Hygge Expert

How to find hygge (who-guh)

Over the past few years, the word hygge has been almost fully adopted into the English language. For centuries in Scandinavia, hygge has been a word dear to all, synonymous with feeling really good and being present.

Hygge is what makes Scandinavians the way we are, to a large extent. The Danes and Norwegians especially have built a huge part of their cultural identity around hygge. It’s in every aspect of our lives, from how we spend our weekend evenings to how we cope with long winters. It’s in how we eat, how we socialise and – very importantly – how we create our living spaces.

Removing a word with such strong cultural connotations and inserting it into a new language will always cause some confusion and a slight loss in translation. Whereas the word to most Scandinavians will mean to “appreciate the moment you’re in, whilst you’re in it”, the appearance of hygge-underpants, hygge-headbands, hygge-handwash and hygge-socks over the past while has been somewhat puzzling to us. Suddenly, we’re labelled as a nation of chilled, woolly sock wearing people almost entirely without lightbulbs in our houses, lit up by candlelight (oh, and we all live in stylish wooden huts on snowy mountains).

Lussebullar (Lucia buns) and Christmas creamed rice puddings from Brontë’s new book, ScandiKitchen Christmas. Photography by Pete Cassidy, styling by Tony Hutchinson and Kathy Kordalis.

The first thing to be aware of when defining hygge is that it is not quite the same as ‘cosy’. The difference is that cosy is a physical definition – the armchair can be cosy; the house can be cosy – but this does not mean that people in the chair are having a hyggelig time or that the house is hyggeligt. This is because hygge is not only a physical description, but rather a state of mind. A space that‘s often shared with others and where some physical elements help emphasise those feelings (a soft light, fireplace, a huge armchair). Think of the word ‘hug’, which also stems back to the Norse word hyggja. A hug is similar in that it can only be a good hug if you create a connection with the person. A hug – like hygge – has warmth, comfort, time and love. This also applies to a space where you are trying to find hygge in it. You can will it to happen – but it will only happen if someone lets it.

When thinking about living spaces, creating a space where people can hygge is really important, both when we are at home but most definitely also when we travel. There’s an instant difference in how we enter a budget room in a hotel (unlikely to be very hyggelig) to how we feel if we walk into a space where someone has made the bed just so, left a chocolate on our pillow and made sure we have fluffy slippers, a welcome drink and ambient lighting.

Let’s say someone goes away on a business trip on their own and picks a particular hotel. How do you create hygge for a business traveller? It needs to be genuine. Hygge is absolutely possible on your own – it needs for that person to relax, to feel they are being treated (food and drink helps). All a hotelier can do is set a scene that they genuinely feel might fit the particular guest. Mood lighting to unwind after a long day in meetings, a complimentary drink set out with a bowl of snacks by the desk. A free movie suggestion to watch, a fluffy bathrobe… a welcome note. All small genuine things that may help someone relax. Set the intent – and it might happen.

No-bake oat and chocolate butter treats and Kransekage from Brontë’s new book, ScandiKitchen Christmas. Photography by Pete Cassidy, styling by Tony Hutchinson and Kathy Kordalis.

This talk of intent to hygge is a little complicated. It is why most producers of said hygge-underpants and hygge-candles fail: hygge is honest and you can’t fake it, no matter how fluffy your socks. It can as easily be found in a tent in a field on a summer’s day sharing a packet of biscuits with your kids as it can in a mountain cottage with the warmest fireplace, your lover and a bottle of 2006 Barolo.

The Danes are really good at creating intent to hygge without noticing, Danes will talk about it all day long. “Do you want to hygge later?” we may ask. “Didn’t we have a really hyggelig time yesterday? We must do it again.” “Don’t you feel that café on Vesterbrogade is really hyggelig? “ – and magazines will have headlines such as “summer hygge” and “Weekend hygge”. It sounds contrived, but it is not – because hygge is shared and hygge needs to be genuine, so we continuously seek to confirm others also feel what we feel. It’s as if the more we talk about it, the more we feel it.

Some describe hygge as some sort of mindfulness, a new ‘it’ thing that will help change your life and teach you how to be a better person. You won’t find any Scandinavians overcomplicating the feeling like that. Hygge isn’t mindfulness, hygge is just you, in a calm, inviting space with no phone to distract you. Allowing yourself time to be you, to treat yourself or to connect with those around you. Spending time with nice people, good food or a glass of wine. When a hotel can create a space where the individual people feel genuinely relaxed and lose track of time, then hygge can be found. It’s not more complicated than that.

Maria Oldenbjerg – Director of Nimb Hotel, Copenhagen

“A relaxing moment in front of the fireplace with a cup of hot cocoa and peace and quiet – a wonderful atmosphere and a mental timeout where I can just recharge, either alone or in good company, that’s hygge!”

Hygge is a situation or feeling of cosiness, intimacy and comfort. In Danish, it’s an adjective and noun but also a verb – you can hygge! Most often, hygge is associated with relaxed get-togethers, but you can also hygge alone. At Nimb Hotel, hygge is an important ingredient all year round. We are an exclusive boutique hotel like none other in the world and yet we are also an intimate, homely, and stylish place. Many guests use the term hygge when describing a stay with us.

Nimb Hotel is made up of 38 uniquely decorated rooms and suites, all offering great attention to detail, personal experiences and exquisite quality. We have asked ourselves what we would do if Nimb were a private home. We would make sure it was as welcoming as possible to show we care, while also seeking to surprise our guests with hygge ingredients that give them a feeling of extra comfort.

14 of the Nimb’s rooms and suites feature a cosy fireplace.

We introduce our guests to the very essence of hygge by either lighting the fireplace in their room or ensuring they enjoy a luxuriating hot footbath in their warmly-lit room while listening to soothing music. We also surprise our guests with hand-picked personal gifts and delicious packed picnics to be enjoyed on boat trips. Hygge is also about leaving hand-written greetings so our guests can appreciate just how much we have looked forward to their stay.

Christmas is always special at Nimb Hotel with views over the magnificent seasonal decorations in Tivoli Gardens. We offer plenty of opportunities for guests to enjoy a sense of hygge. A Christmas tree can be provided in the room complete with tinsel and trimmings so the whole family can decorate their tree together.

Every Sunday in Advent, guests receive a gift. Above, you can see the gift given on the first Sunday of Advent – a Danish gingerbread heart decorated with the guests’ own names. The heart symbolises love and friendship and we present them in the hope that our guests will enjoy these sweet treats during a particularly wonderful time. Indeed, we Danes often associate hygge with eating and drinking.

Hygge for me is something that is wonderful; something you always look forward to. Sharing a wonderful time together is something you can do anywhere – in the right company and with the right ingredients.

I enjoy spending time with my family, friends and all my talented colleagues at Nimb Hotel. I am very committed to making the best of any situation, and if I can add a little hygge, then that’s my top priority. I love when my daughter says: “Mum, shouldn’t we two just hygge together?” or when a colleague says: “I had such a hygge-time on duty at the hotel yesterday because the company was good and everyone was in a good mood…” or when our guests leave the hotel and say: “Wow, what a wonderful hygge-time we have had.” I generally just love when people are positive. I believe we are masters of our own fortunes and are often rewarded with the experiences we set out to achieve.

Actually, hygge is indefinable and perhaps more to do with a Danish way of life and mindset. We Danes know what it is, but have a hard time explaining it. But if you first sense what hygge is, you are no longer in doubt. We look forward to seeing you at Nimb so we can hygge together.

How to hygge with SLH…

Storfjord Hotel, Norway…Bake traditional Norwegian Christmas cookies at this slow life hideaway on a wooded, fjord fringed hilltop in Alpine Norway, or sip on Storfjordbrygg – the hotel’s own locally brewed ale exclusively served at Storfjord – beside the roaring fireplace.

Kokkedal Castle, Denmark…Get together in the original vaults and candle-lit tables of the castle cellar, which has hosted guests from near and far for Danish feasts since 1746. Take a moment to press pause in the hotel spa, a small haven of wellbeing and relaxation beneath the main edifice of the castle.

Ett Hem, Sweden…Gather around the rustic table in the Ett Hem kitchen for a freshly prepared breakfast of seasonal ingredients, before sitting down in the conservatory overlooking the gardens with a good book from the Arts and Crafts townhouse’s well-stocked library. End the day with a night cap in the living room, or over coffee and some board games.

Arctic Bath, Swedish Lapland…Cosy up in one of the floating cabins just south of the Arctic Circle, with some freshly baked bread and local craft beer from Piteå and Luleå. Socialise in the sauna and take in the scent of the essential oils and rhythmic music of the Sauna Gus ritual, or get to know the locals around the fire in the lávvu (tent house) of a Sámi reindeer herder, listening to stories and joik (traditional singing), and bonding with the animals.