Stay inside a Grieg family masterpiece
Opus XVI Edvard Grieg Heritage Hotel brings 5-star comfort, cuisine, and culture to Bergen
Lori Ann Reinhall
The Norwegian American
Bergen, Norway’s second-largest city, situated on a scenic fjord on the West Coast, has long been a tourist hub, offering a wide variety of hotels. One of the most recent is the Opus XVI Edvard Grieg Heritage Hotel. With easy proximity to the Fish Market, the historic German Wharf, the Mount Fløyen funicular, major museums, and dozens of shops and galleries, it offers both convenience and comfort to visitors from all over the world. Last November, I was lucky enough to stay there on a tour with the Seattle-Bergen String Quartet as guests of its proprietor, Alexander Grieg.
Yes, Alexander Grieg is a relative of the great composer Edvard Grieg. His great-great-grandfather, John Grieg, born in 1840, was the famous musician’s older brother, a heritage that Alexander is proud to share. Throughout his life, the Grieg name has opened doors for him and advanced his career. Creating a Grieg-themed hotel was the fulfillment of dream for him, something deeply emotional, and he is quick to point out the portrait of John Grieg that prominently hangs in the lobby to honor his family legacy.
Operating a hotel of this caliber is no small undertaking, but fortunately Grieg was well prepared to take on the challenge. After graduating from hotel school in 1994, he worked at several hotels in the area before embarking on a successful career in real estate. This experience served him well in preparation for his magnum opus. For many years, he had had his eye on the location where he would eventually open his hotel. Situated in the heart of downtown Bergen, they structure of the building was perfect for his idea to create a luxury boutique hotel for both tourists and Bergen natives in search of a unique experience.
Built in 1876, the building first opened as a bank — undoubtedly both John and Edvard Grieg did business there back in the day. In 1918, a cousin of the two, Schak Bull, was the chief architect for an addition. Most recently, the location was home to a failed restaurant and nightclub, the Banco Rotto.
The façade of the building is much the same as it was in Edvard Grieg’s time, and many elements of the original structure are intact. But a multimillion-dollar renovation had to be undertaken to create the hotel, and a prestigious architect firm from Oslo was brought in to execute the design. Many classic elements were preserved, juxtaposed with modern interiors that lend both excitement and comfort. The result is a masterpiece.
When you enter the hotel through its red-carpet entrance, you are struck by the stately columns that reach up to high ceilings and enormous crystal chandeliers. Expert craftsmen were brought in to marbleize the columns, with stunning results. The chandeliers that extend in into the restaurant areas originate from the nightclub days, imported from Czechoslovakia in 1988.
Yet amid all the grandeur, the atmosphere at the Opus XVI is warm and welcoming. When you arrive, do not be surprised if you are met by one the Grieg family members themselves. Alexander Grieg and his wife, Britt Marie, serve as the managing directors, and they are on site daily to make sure everything is running smoothly. The couple’s son, Erik, works the evening shift at the front desk, and their other two children, Gabriel and Veslemøy, are often at the hotel. The friendliness of the entire staff makes for a very personal experience. And while everyone is proficient in English, it is refreshing and authentic—and in today’s Norway somewhat unusual—when they greet you in their beautiful Norwegian.
I was fortunate enough to sit down for a coffee with Alexander Grieg one morning to talk more about his goals with the hotel. For Grieg, the venture has always been about more than money and is more about a feeling for life: he wants to create a fun and interesting environment for his guests. While he is not a musician himself, he is very familiar with Grieg’s repertory, and it is no coincidence that he chose Opus XVI, Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A-minor, as the name for the hotel; it is considered by many to be the composer’s greatest work. The hotel’s address also happens to be Vågsallmenningen 16, so it seemed natural to call the project “Opus XVI” — and the name stuck.
To develop his hotel concept, Grieg dove into the letters of Edvard Grieg. He also consulted with leading Grieg experts, including Sigurd Sandmo, director of the Grieg Museum, and researcher Erling Dahl Jr. A copy of Dahl’s book Min Grieg (My Grieg) can be found in each guestroom. Dahl was also the curator for the hotel’s Grieg exhibit on the mezzanine. While an excursion to the composer’s home at Troldhaugen about 30 minutes away is always recommended, those who cannot make the trip are provided with a meaningful snapshot of the composer’s life and oeuvre right at the hotel.
Most appropriately, the centerpiece of the lobby is a baby grand piano, and afternoon concerts are held there on weekdays. Antiques and paintings from other Grieg relatives have also found new homes in the hotel. Original artwork by local artists is on display in gallery areas, carefully curated and rotated periodically. Colorful scenes from Hardanger and other places from Grieg’s life created by artist Tove Arntzen Andrew can be found in the upstairs corridors to create a subdued and tasteful look.
Once inside your room, your experience of comfort and luxury reaches a new level. The Opus XVI offers 65 rooms in six categories, from classic petite to signature suites that cost up to NOK 14,000 per night (about $1,600), each a unique variation on a theme. The chocolate brown tones of the modern décor are sophisticated yet deliciously warm, and every attention to detail has been paid, from the art panels above the beds to fully stocked minibars. I was particularly impressed by the lighting — ambient, task, and accent — which exceeded all norms for a hotel, even in the 5-star category. The bathroom with its elegant tile and fixtures also exceeded the normal luxury standard, especially for a European hotel. Most importantly, I can also say that the Opus XVI offered the most comfortable hotel beds I have ever slept in for a truly dreamy experience.
But perhaps the highlight of any stay at the Opus XVI comes each morning with what was, for me, after 45 years of traveling in Europe, the best breakfast buffet I have ever enjoyed. There are selections of fresh fruit, artisan breads and pastries, traditional Norwegian meat, cheese, salmon, herring, and seafood. Guests also have the option to order from an à la carte menu with various egg dishes, including a classic English breakfast. The offerings will appeal to any traveler, Norwegian or international.
The Opus XVI is already celebrated for its cuisine, and its restaurants and bars are popular destinations for Bergen’s locals. In addition to the restaurant, there is a bar and café. Head chef Colin Lee hails from Great Britain, bringing years of international experience to the kitchen. The Saturday afternoon tea is a popular offering, and late afternoon cocktails and appetizers are popular with Bergen’s professionals during the weekdays. Lee has been working in Norway for many years and offers traditional Norwegian cuisine with a creative, modern twist, making use of the freshest local products available. In Bergen tradition, the restaurant specializes in fish and seafood. The hotel is also set up for weddings, banquets, and conferences with a full catering menu. When our group was invited to lunch by Lord Mayor Marte Mjøs Persen, it was no coincidence that she chose the Opus XVI: it is simply one of the best places to host a meeting or reception in Bergen.
To broaden his own horizons and keep up with his competition, Alexander Grieg continues to do a good deal of traveling himself. He especially loves Scotland, the original homeland of the Grieg clan before they settled in Norway in the early 19th century. With Opus XVI, he wanted to bring the warmth and friendliness of “special Scottish hospitality” to Bergen, and from my own experience, he and his family have succeeded. The Opus XVI has earned a well-deserved “Exceptional” rating on Hotels.com and ranks at the top on other travel websites. With rooms starting around $150 during off-season, it is still affordable — and worth every penny.
Perhaps Carrol Juven, a Norwegian-American travel expert who has been in Norway 174 times, provides the best recommendation. He confirms, “We are extremely proud and most pleased to have all our groups at the Opus XVI Edvard Grieg Heritage Hotel in Bergen. The food, decorations, services, and management are most accommodating. Its location is absolutely perfection in downtown Bergen with easy access to the beautiful sights of the city.”
Finally, I, too, give my own 5-star rating to the Opus XVI. With its fantastic blending of traditional and modern, it is an oasis of elegance, comfort, and culture. For Edvard Grieg aficionados, it is an absolute must, and the same goes for any tourist looking for a unique experience in Bergen. If you already know Grieg, you will feel at home, and if you don’t, you will by the time you leave. You will thoroughly enjoy your stay there and look forward to returning again and again.
For more information or to book a reservation at the Opus XVI, visit www.opusxvi.no or find them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/hotel.opusxvi. To learn more about travel and tourism in Bergen, see www.visitbergen.com.
This article originally appeared in the January 25, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.