My Top Five Hygge Spots around Charlottesville

As the days get colder and shorter, I’m thinking more and more about the Danish concept of hygge: hard to translate, but basically meaning cozy, comfortable, unpretentious, and lacking in anything unpleasant. Think candles or fireplaces, soft blankets, warm lighting, cherished friends, and good conversation. A safe haven.

I’ve been trying to make my home more hygge–putting away reminders of work and chores, lighting more candles, sporting sweatpants, and so on–but I’ve also vowed to not spend my winter house-bound, in a Netflix-and-popcorn-induced coma.

So, when I want to venture out but still want a strong dose of hygge, this is where I’m going to go:

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Fellini’s – a Charlottesville institution, Fellini’s exudes a casual and unpretentious coziness. On any given evening, you might happen upon some jazz, blues, or maybe even live-band karaoke, performed in an intimate setting to a hodgepodge of  locals. Dimly lit and snug, I’m lucky that this place is just two blocks from home, that I feel no pressure to fancy-up to go inside, and that there’s always a nice bourbon there, ready to warm my spirits. (A close downtown bar runner-up: C&O.)

The Pie Chest  – what’s more hygge than pie and coffee? This newish spot off the Downtown Mall delivers both sweet and savory pies and a world of hot beverages. How about a steaming turkey, cranberry, and brie potpie? Or maybe a slice of bourbon pecan or brown butter pumpkin with a mug of dark roast? I encourage you to take a seat by the big front window on a cold day, sip your coffee, and be happy you’re not one of the unfortunate souls enduring the weather, shivering and pieless.

Travinia – Chain restaurants don’t usually scream cozy charm, but this Italian restaurant manages to feel inviting and non-generic. Maybe it’s the warm lighting and big couches. Maybe it’s the comforting pastas or the Italian nachos. Maybe it’s just a pleasant diversion from the Stonefield parking lot. Or maybe it’s the fact that my boyfriend and I had our first date here in the middle of a snowstorm. Whatever the reason, for me, Travinia gets a surprising number of hygge points.

Outside of Charlottesville and Albemarle, we also have:

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from fourcp.org

Four County Players – Twenty minutes north in Barboursville, the Four County Players have been bringing fun, family-friendly, high-quality theatre to the area for over 40 years. Their converted old schoolhouse features an intimate performance space and a cozy bistro where you can sip some local wine and have a yummy snack. FCP never ceases to be welcoming, charming, and unpretentious. I’ve performed here on and off since 2002 and every time I walk in the building, I see an old friend and feel like I’m at home.

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Veritas – At the base of Afton Mountain, Veritas winery is an area hotspot during all four seasons, but winter is my favorite time to be there. With its big leather couches and massive stone fireplace, there are few places I’d rather spend a chilly day, sipping some red. Don’t miss their spectacular Christmas tree!

While it can be hard to shake off my favorite fuzzy robe and slippers when the temperature starts to resemble my shoe size, it’s also nice to know that hygge can be found outside the predictable comforts of home.

 

And you? Where’s your favorite wintertime cozy spot? Leave a comment and spread some winter joy!

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Why I’m Not Sad about Winter This Year

I typically get a little down every year, right around this time. The days are getting dramatically shorter, the windows are soon to be sealed shut, and my bright summer dresses have been relegated to the back of the closet. To pass the time between November and March, I’d binge-watch and binge-read and count the days until my self-imposed hibernation ends and the warm Virginia weather returns.

What changed? Well, a couple of years ago I learned about the Danish concept of hygge, and this winter, I vow to bring more of it into my life.

Hygge (pronounced – kind of – like HOO-ga) is one of those untranslatable foreign words that suggests a way of thinking that we Americans just don’t quite grasp (but a fun attempt to define it is here). It roughly translates to coziness, contentment, and lack of anything unpleasant. It can be found in quiet conversations with friends, in candles, fireplaces, snuggly robes, a glass of wine, warm blankets, or steaming coffee. A hyggeligt (the adjective form of hygge) environment is your safe haven.

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In Denmark, hygge is practically a survival strategy in the long, cold, and very dark winters. The sun goes down around 4 p.m. and doesn’t rise again until mid-morning. That means that anyone who is employed in the traditional working hours has little opportunity to experience daylight. And this deprivation drags on for months.

This sounds like a recipe for depression, yet Danes are constantly rated among the world’s happiest people. As many have suggested, hygge may play a key role.  And, unlike universal health care, generous parental leave, and subsidized college education, the beauty of hygge is that it’s something we can easily import to States.

Creating Hygge at Home

Want to have a more hyggeligt winter? Want to transform the dark, cold months into something to anticipate and savor rather than something to grimly endure? Here are some tips:

Start with a little self-experimentation. Look around your home and note what spaces and items make you feel content and at peace. What is it about these spaces? And what spaces make you feel tense or unhappy? Those might need some addressing. (Right now, there is a huge stack of books and papers under my coffee table. Every time I see them, I feel a little tense as I’m reminded of the work I’m not doing. Definitely not hygge!)

What does make me feel warm, safe, and snug are these slippers (seriously worth the splurge), these candles (not a splurge at all!), watching reruns of Gilmore Girls, looking through old photos, or reading a good novel with a lot of lights turned on. Even better if I can smell something yummy cooking. (Slow-cooker meals, therefore, are very hygge.) And that pile of books and papers? That has got to go.

Start by checking in with yourself and coming up with your personal definition of hygge. And get your family in on the discussion too! Here are some great tips for working hygge into family life.

Think carefully about the spaces you inhabit. Is your home welcoming? Warm? Cozy? Danes generally don’t go for big, sprawling spaces but instead pay thoughtful attention to details: lighting, books, meaningful possessions. Less clutter. There are no hard-and-fast rules here (but if you want some ideas, just type “hygge” into Pinterest, or check out this piece). Hyggifying your home is possible at any income level and, at most, may require purchasing a new lamp or two. You don’t need to get fancy. In fact…

Hygge is most definitely not fancy. It’s not pretentious or status-conscious. No judgment, no posturing. Cast aside your need for perfection. Don’t put off inviting people over because you still have to replace those broken kitchen tiles or perfect your recipe for coq au vin. Sharmi Albrechtsen, who frequently blogs about Danish happiness, once told me that trying to one-up or impress your friends and family with fancy food and drink is pretty much the opposite of hygge, as it doesn’t foster warm feelings at all. Instead, hygge is modest, comforting, and familiar. This recent trend, then, might just be perfect.

Don’t hibernate. Stay social. Winter can foster a real sense of isolation as we hunker down and close the world out. But Danes stay social in the winter, having small gatherings, going to snug cafes, and getting really, really psyched for Christmas. Christmas is huge in Denmark. It seems as if all of December is spent gearing up – preparing food, decorating, visiting friends. And the big event? With the lighting, music, family, friends, and traditional foods, you might say it’s hygge at its finest.

Want to read more about hygge and related concepts? Here’s a fascinating take on how people can thrive in harsh winters around the Arctic Circle (in Norway, but still). Author and reluctant Denmark transplant Helen Russell explores hygge and Danish happiness in The Year of Living Danishly. And I can’t wait to see what Danish happiness researcher Meik Wiking has to say in the forthcoming Little Book of Hygge.