With all the eye candy crowding both sides of Route 16 in North Conway, it’s easy to miss Villa Hygge Scandinavian Boutique Hotel and Spa. Suffice to say, if you’re northbound heading toward Glen, and you’ve just passed Delaney’s Hole in the Wall on the left, you’ve gone too far.
Trust me, you won’t mind turning around.
Villa Hygge is housed in a handsome, but fairly nondescript, wood-and-window structure less than a half-mile from the intersection of Route 16 and River Road. To be perfectly honest, it looks like a perfectly acceptable office building. That’s not meant to damn the Villa Hygge with faint praise — I admire the clean lines, natural wood and copious amounts of glass. But it’s not going to grab your attention. Where this hotel really shines is found inside the front doors.
“Welcome to Scandinavia,” said owner Mari Corbett, her words tinged with a Finnish accent, as she greeted my wife and me with a warm, bright smile.
Mari and her husband, James “Jim” Corbett, both veterans of the biotech industry, opened Villa Hygge just before Thanksgiving last year. Mari, a native of Turku, Finland, had spent the better part of the past two decades constantly globetrotting for her job and decided the time was right for a career shift.
“After deciding I no longer wanted to travel for work, I thought about ways I could introduce the Scandinavian culture to Americans,” she said. “Scandinavians are known to be the happiest people in the world, and base their lifestyle around cultivating happiness, and well-being in general, which is not something you can explain, but must be experienced.
“With this in mind, I wanted to create a space where people can experience and learn about our lifestyle. I’d like Americans to be more aware of how simple changes can increase your health and happiness. Embracing nature, taking time to yourself, and enjoying simple pleasures can have a dramatic impact on one’s outlook on life.”
Mission accomplished. Villa Hygge, a wonderful addition to the North Conway lodging scene, is capable of transporting guests to another place. Coincidentally, Corbett and her husband decided on New Hampshire’s Mount Washington Valley in part because the weather was similar to her homeland.
“We also considered Newport (Rhode Island) and Cape Cod, but ultimately chose North Conway because of the close similarities to the climates and landscapes of Scandinavia,” she said. “The seasonality of the area was also an important factor to us, as we enjoy the variety in outdoor activities with the changing of the seasons.”
When the weather turns raw and cold, you’ll find a warm respite at Villa Hygge. Which is exactly what the name implies. Though “hygge” doesn’t have a precise English translation, it’s a Finnish concept that essentially means taking time “to appreciate the simple pleasures in life and experience the essence of Scandinavian well-being and happiness,” according to the hotel’s website.
“The cornerstone of Villa Hygge is sharing the Scandinavian lifestyle, from design and decor to our sauna and spa culture,” Corbett said. “We wanted our guests to feel transported to an authentic hygge getaway, without leaving the country.
“Both myself and my husband have traveled for work and spent a large amount of time in hotels around the world. We wanted our hotel to be different from what we have experienced and used our past experiences to help create a guest-focused atmosphere that prioritizes both function and comfort.”
Each of the hotel’s 11 suites look quite unique compared to anything you’d expect to find in the United States, or at least anything I’ve found in 40 years as a travel writer. There are no deep, plush carpets or dark wood tones. Instead, the rooms and common areas feel elegant and minimalistic, while still providing all the requisite modern amenities and appliances (so modern, I had trouble figuring out some of them, much to my wife’s entertainment). There’s plenty of natural wood paneling and bleached wood flooring, complemented by jute carpets and wood-block accent tables, light, neutral-colored walls, linens, and contemporary leather furnishings, all highlighted with faux fur throw pieces.
To enhance the sense of space, Corbett, who designed the 11,000-square-foot structure built around a 1920s-era home, made liberal use of sliding doors, both in the rooms and out to the terraces that accompany each suite. The king-size beds are sumptuous, which is always a big plus at the end of the day (or a long drive), whether you spend your waking hours at the spa, shopping or skiing.
If there is one drawback to the rooms, it is the street noise from Route 16. But Corbett wanted people to be near town — within walking distance — and Villa Hygge’s location accomplishes that.
“Europeans appreciate proximity to towns,” Corbett said. “It allows us to walk or bike there, again prompting people to get outside instead of driving. The short distance also allows our guests to appreciate the charm of North Conway, both during the day and the night, as there is no concern about commuting back to our location.”
The tradeoff, of course, is the traffic. Though the couple invested in wall-to-wall soundproofing, their decision to install the aforementioned sliding doors meant sacrificing total silence. The road noise isn’t overwhelming by any means, and if you live in or near the city, you might not hear it at all. But if you’re used to quiet places, it might be an issue. If you have a sound machine or noise-cancelling headphones, you might want to bring them.
Lauri and I, however, did enjoy being close to old North Conway. In addition to the numerous shops that fill the village and the outlet malls farther south, there are several very cool attractions nearby, including the Eastern Slope Inn Playhouse and the North Conway League of N.H. Craftsmen Fine Arts Gallery, and almost too may restaurants and pubs to count. In addition to Delaney’s, which is just a short stroll away, other popular options include the exceptional Barley & Salt Tap House and Kitchen, the Black Cap Grille, and the Muddy Moose Restaurant & Pub, as well as a unexpected selection of ethnic spots (including three favorites: Luchador Tacos,Vito Marcello’s Italian Bistro, and Taste of Thai).
Speaking of location, skiers and riders will love that Ville Hygge is only four minutes, or 1.5 miles, from Cranmore Mountain Resort, and just a short drive from Attitash in Glen, Black Mountain in Jackson, Wildcat in Pinkham Notch, and Shawnee Peak across the border in Maine. Nordic areas include the Mount Washington Valley Ski Touring & Snowshoe Center, Jackson Ski Touring Foundation, and Great Glen Trails (which offers terrific fat biking as well). The hotel provides storage for skis, snowboards and bikes, as well as complimentary shoe spikes and trekking poles year-round.
“We encourage guests to utilize these amenities and enjoy the outdoors, and then to return back for a spa treatment or sauna,” Corbett said. “A typical Scandinavian day.”
Ice-climbing aficionados can even check out the courses and clinics offered by International Mountain Equipment, located in town. And being so close to the hotel means if your significant other isn’t sharing your enthusiasm to hit the slopes, he or she will have plenty of alternatives. And we all love having alternatives.
Not surprisingly, given her heritage, Corbett is a big fan of nordic skiing and participates with local cross-country clubs. She expects to eventually offer discounted deals through the hotel.
“Opening during COVID has put quite a few plans on hold while we navigate through the uncertainties,” Corbett said. “However, we were in discussions with local alpine and nordic ski areas to offer discounts to our guests for tickets and ski packages and are hoping this is something to come together in the future.”
The hotel, though, is much more than just the rooms and the location. Thanks to Corbett’s vision and design, the suites blend seamlessly with Villa Hygge’s spa. It is, she said, more of a symbiotic relationship.
“We saw the need for spa services, but not in the typical American spa sense,” Corbett said. “There is a growing movement toward the wellness side of spa culture, one that focuses on more than just the body, but your mind as well.
“Europeans have been practicing spa culture for centuries, and it shows in the general health and happiness of its people — something I think more Americans could benefit from. In this sense, we hoped to create a space dedicated to a complete wellbeing experience.”
With that goal in mind, the hotel offers an extensive spa menu, ranging from the super-soothing Himalayan salt lounge, invigorating saunas, and body-melting aromatherapy massages. The small, private saunas, designed by Corbett’s architect father, use alternating cold showers and steam heat to sweat out any toxins or tension after a day on the hill. As a bonus, the saunas are complimentary.
Salt therapy (also known as halotherapy), first discovered in ancient salt mines and practiced in Europe for centuries, is an all-natural, non-invasive treatment used to detoxify, relax and treat skin and respiratory problems. Massage offerings range from traditional Swedish massage, designed to relax the entire body by rubbing the muscles in long, gliding strokes in the direction of blood returning to the heart, to couples wellness massage and personalized well massage. Spend a few hours in the spa, and you’ll realize why Scandinavians are among the happiest people on the planet.
But back to reality. The ongoing COVID pandemic has had an impact, limiting the hotel’s ability to be available every day. At press time, Villa Hygge was open Thursday through Monday, with exceptions made for special requests. The reason, Corbett said, is that the couple hasn’t been able to fill staffing needs, primarily because of their across-the-board vaccination policies.
“We hope to open seven days, when we can increase our staff,” she said. “We require employees be fully vaccinated. As a luxury wellness spa hotel, our highest value is guest well-being and safety.”
My wife is a healthcare professional, and she agreed that such a commitment is reassuring for visitors of every age. After all, the primary goal of the hotel is to offer guests the opportunity to relax completely, and that additional peace of mind is an inseparable part of that promise.
“We are in the process of creating wellness retreat packages, with predetermined itineraries including spa treatments, sauna, access to our Himalayan Salt Lounge, and the wellness courses,” Corbett said. “These all-encompassing programs would allow guests to plan their treatments and schedules in advance, creating a complete getaway.
“We are currently collaborating with local healthcare professionals from Discover Health, to host wellness courses. Once we are fully staffed, we will begin scheduling those sessions.”
In addition, the Corbetts are committed to the adage, “you are what you eat,” introducing a number of dining packages, including five-course meals, designed to help introduce guests to the joys of traditional and contemporary Scandinavian cooking.
“Our monthly Scandinavian dining experience has been very popular as guests enjoy traditional Scandinavian fine dining and meet other guests in our communal dining area,” Corbett said. “We also have a hygge coffee session, where guests join us for complimentary coffee to learn more about the hygge lifestyle and Scandinavian design and decor.”
Late-afternoon wine-tasting socials put a new spin on après-ski. While not the raucous party atmosphere that you’re likely to find down the road at the Red Parka Pub (which I happen to love) in Glen, these get-togethers are delightful, featuring a number of European wines.
“Our wine-tasting event has generated a lot of interest, and has been very well-received by our guests,” Corbett said. “It is unlike typical wine tastings, as it has a more educational approach into the science behind food and wine pairing.”
Finally, the hotel is what you might call “semi-pet friendly.” The Corbetts — admitted dog lovers — will keep and care for your canine at their home near Echo Lake, free of charge. But the service is available on a “first come, first serve” basis, meaning a spot isn’t guaranteed.
Overall, the hotel’s formula is working like a charm.
“The reception has been better than we could have expected,” Corbett said. “Guests love the saunas and are eager to learn more about the health benefits. Some of them are even asking for advice in building their own. We have had many repeat guests who have returned multiple times throughout the year.”
Pay the Villa Hygge a visit, and you’ll understand why.
Just don’t drive past it.
Villa Hygge Scandinavian Boutique Hotel
2906 White Mountain Highway (Route 16)
North Conway, NH 03860
Brion O’Connor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.