“You’re going to have hygge,” my local wine merchant suggested as I added a Cozy Nights candle to my purchase of pinot noir on a recent afternoon. Well, yes, I thought, in a few days. I was headed back to Villa Hygge, a boutique hotel opened during the pandemic in North Conway, N.H., bringing the idea of Scandinavian well-being and happiness to travelers.
The concept has gained popularity in the United States to the point that “hygge” earned a spot in Merriam-Webster in 2021, which defined it as “a cozy quality that makes a person feel content and comfortable.” I encountered the quality on trips to the Nordic region, having lived in Europe before it reached peak Pinterest posting.
The cultural obsession with hygge is understandable, considering Scandinavians regularly rank as the happiest people in the world, and Mari Corbett seems like no exception. Corbett built the hotel in hopes of sharing her Finnish ways with an American audience after moving overseas with her husband, Jim, a Massachusetts native.
“Our friends were very curious about how we live,” explained Corbett, who looks the part with a long, blond ponytail and neckerchief. She has saunas at home and hikes an hour in the mornings. “It’s more than the candles and blankets. It’s a moment of well-being and happiness. You don’t stress about the future or past. You’re basically in the moment.”
Being basically in the moment after months under the same roof as my husband, kids, and dog sounded ideal. But well-being and happiness can be elusive in a health crisis, and news of a COVID case at my son’s sleepaway camp shortened my stay. I left early to grab him before having the complete experience. He was fine, but what can you do as a mom?
I returned to North Conway this October to finish the story. I was more in need of hygge by then, having resumed teaching in Rhode Island and shuttling my kids to soccer fields around New England. Corbett greeted me at the door with her signature smile. She’s a regular presence at the small, upscale property, featuring 11 suites with king beds ($349-$399 a night).
Preserving a former house and forgoing a front desk, the hotel is a study in Scandinavian simplicity with its clean design, large windows, light colors, and wood furniture. After using the keyless system to enter my room — where plush pillows and throws begged to be photographed — I changed into a soft robe and slippers for an evening treatment.
A “Nordic body renewal” emphasizing relaxation over beauty, it was billed as holistic and natural. In other words, there’s no Botox at this spa. That’s perfect for me, and if having carrot lotion massaged into my face is Scandinavian, I’m a convert. From there, I further relaxed in the salt lounge, sinking into a chaise and listening to Swedish music.
My stress evaporated, both the environment and lack of my phone contributing, with my only concern where to eat dinner. Having enjoyed two of the hotel’s tapas — asparagus soup and smoked salmon bites — on my first visit, I took Corbett’s advice to try Thompson House Eatery this time around.
The farm-to-table restaurant is run by Kate and Jeff Fournier, formerly a fixture on the Boston culinary scene. The couple left for New Hampshire after having their sons, another example of chasing well-being and happiness. My meal — monkfish with collard greens, a johnny cake, and tomato butter — brought me both, as I ate alone on the deck.
After a restful sleep and Scandinavian breakfast delivered to my suite, I walked to the private sauna for my final act of hygge. I rotated among the steam, shower, and seating area, reheating and then cooling down. It had the desired effect, putting me in the moment again and making me feel restored.
My mind emptied of its worry reel related to pool testing, play dates, and Halloween costumes, I was attuned to my surroundings. Light filtered through the blinds, which offered views of trees and White Mountain Highway. Just past North Conway’s main drag, the hotel is a short stroll from the village.
That walkability and the changing of seasons remind Corbett of home with its value on time spent outdoors. “You are a 2½-hour drive, and you feel like it’s another country,” she said of the road trip from Boston. “We want to get people feeling better and more happy. To me, this is like where I grew up.”
If you go . . .
Villa Hygge, 2906 White Mountain Highway, North Conway, N.H., 603-730-5606, villahyggehotel.com
The Scandinavian hotel offers a welcome drink and serves a tapas menu. The private sauna at the Nordic spa is a must. Experiences, including wine tastings and outdoor activities, are also worth trying on the path to well-being and happiness. Prepare to have design envy, both in the moment and once you get home.
Megan Lisagor Stoessell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.