My Review Of The First Hotel – Solborg in Mandal
As a frequent business traveller I’m accustomed to staying in big chain, mid-range hotels. So it was quite a change to arrive for the first time at the First Hotel – Solborg.
This is one of only two hotels in the southern most Norwegian town of Mandal. The other hotel struggles to survive and has gone bankrupt a couple of times in the last couple of years. The fact the First Hotel survives means they are doing something right.
I arrived late one winter’s evening after just over an hour’s drive from Kristiansand airport. On first appearance it was clear that this was not going to be like a Marriott or Hilton mid-range hotel to which I am used to.
It was cold and icy outside with snow on the ground yet the reception was very warm. I immediately struck an accord with the receptionist and could hardly stop him talking! Such a cool guy that we often had a natter as we came across each other during the week of my stay.
It was late January and low season for what is a small touristy town. So much so that the restaurant was closed on the evening. I didn’t welcome this news much as I was keen to eat after a day of travelling. Fear not as our trusted receptionist was on the case and volunteered to ring around local fast food establishments to fill me up. I ended up with a pizza which whilst unhealthy did the job for the night.
The lift (elevator) to my floor reflected the age and style of the hotel. Far from modern yet clean, well maintained and efficient. On entering my room I was greeted with a corridor style walkway.
A rather cool dividing door doubled up as a door to shut into the bedroom section or a swing to close door to the bathroom. The entrance way provided space for hanging coats and a wardrobe.
The room was only a single room (everything is pricey in Norway) yet more than adequate for my needs. It was also more than adequately warm which reflects great insulation.
I suppose that typically I would have been less than impressed with the overall styling and ageing of the decoration but somehow I immediately warmed to it. The place had character and a true charm which you rarely find in soulless hotels. This place was like a throw back to the 1950s or 1960s. It may have been all the rage then yet somehow it had Nordic charm and a feeling of welcome.
From coastal theme pictures to wallpaper with drawings of boats in the design or steamboats it just all felt right.
My bedroom had an old style TV, that is a bulky one but with mainly Scandinavian tv channels I felt little need to explore the local offerings.
Complimentary wifi is always a must for me and was able to provide hours of catch up opportunity for Flights And Frustration and general e-mail.
There was even a little balcony with a plastic chair. The view of the local housing and tree line was far from unpleasant; such a shame temperatures were little above freezing to take away it’s appeal.
The bath room was effectively a wet room. All the basics were there with complimentary toiletries, the obligatory save our planet message and a shower I like. Yes, it was a walk in shower cubicle area with a shower curtain! None of this modern day shower guard rubbish.
The hotel had a decent size swimming pool and sauna in the basement. Being low season this was often empty and I was eager to enjoy a whole pool and sauna to myself. My hopes were dashed when I realised that in a rare moment of madness I hadn’t packed any swimming trunks! This is very rare for me, what was I thinking?
Okay, so we’ve established that the restaurant didn’t open at night in low season. It was open for complimentary breakfast though. A combination of cereals, cold meats and cheese, plus for those fancying hot stuff scrambled egg, beans and bacon.
In keeping with the whole hotel this was nothing special yet more than adequate for my needs.
For frequent travellers such as myself there was an added bonus. The First Hotel Group (which operates this hotel in Mandal) being based around Scandinavia operates a frequent guest scheme. However they also reward GHA Discovery members to which I’m a member. Win-win in my book.
For a hotel lacking fancy décor, a fully accommodating restaurant or a double bed in my room I seemed unperturbed. I really enjoyed the interaction with one of the receptionist’s at the First Hotel- Solborg who instantly made me feel welcome. I absorbed the charming character and clean yet dated styling. The two minute stroll into the town centre for food and exercise was most welcome in what is a truly charming although sleepy place to visit. Overall the hotel may only score a 6 or 7 out of 10 for many, yet somehow I felt welcome, comfortable and at home. I could ask for little more.