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No trip to northern Norway in winter is complete without chasing the northern lights. Your best chances of seeing aurora borealis (which are at their peak in the cold longer nights of winter) are with an expert guide, such as Alta’s Trygve Nygard, who tracks weather patterns and knows the optimum conditions to see the skies light up in dazzling displays of colour.
With years of experience, he knows the best locations to find them on any given day. And while you wait for the show to begin, cosy up around a fire and learn about Sámi culture at a traditional Sámi camp.
‘Once we reached Alta, we took a trip to the top of the darkest mountain available to get the best view of the northern lights,’ says Alex. ‘There – in the middle of nowhere – candles lit the way to a wigwam with a roaring fire and a pot of hot chocolate on the go. Snowflakes floated, almost motionless, all around us. Shortly after my second cup of hot chocolate, the first stars began to appear. Then, all of a sudden, it was completely clear – until the entire sky lit up green in a display so spectacular it produced gasps and cries.’
*Please note that sightings of the Northern Lights cannot be guaranteed due to their unpredictable nature, though visiting Norway in the winter months gives you the very best chance of seeing them.
Back in 1999, the pioneering owners of Sorrisniva’s Igloo Hotel started building a set of six igloos to create Norway’s first hotel built entirely of snow and ice. Each winter heralds the hotel’s construction anew, and the 26 igloo rooms and four suites of today’s hotel (made of 250 tons of ice and 7,000 cubic of meters snow) are artistic wonders in their own right. Everything is made by local workers and artisans using the valley’s ice over a period of five weeks.
Once the structures are complete, local expert ice carvers and artists work their magic to create themes that range from Arctic nature and wildlife to Nordic and Viking legends throughout the hotel. The sculptures’ intricate patterns and motifs are illuminated beautifully to create a breathtaking display of ice art for day guests to explore. There’s a cool ice bar to explore local refreshments, too.
Delicacies such as rancho canario (a hearty soup/stew made with meat, chickpeas and pasta) and salty little papas arrugadas (wrinkly potatoes, arguably the island’s most famous dish) are treats you’ll find all over the island. For more localised goodies, head inland. The charming Santa María de Guía is a mecca for buns, biscuits and even cheese made using local flower sap to curdle filtered sheep’s milk. In Tejeda, feast on all things almond-based, including the sweet, sticky bienmesabe – delicious on ice cream!
Visit the Finca Los Castaños coffee plantation, where coffee has been grown since the 19th century and the only place in Europe where the bean continues to be cultivated in the traditional way. The stunning Agaete Valley is reason enough to visit, but so too is the tour that reveals how climate and landscape combine to create the perfect conditions for growing the beans. As you wander through the Arabica trees, passing mangoes, papayas, avocados and citrus groves, you can’t help but feel as if you’ve landed in paradise.
Surrounded by open seas, Sommarøy’s setting is hard to beat: to the north lies a cluster of small islands, while the south offers views down to the Kjølva headland. The mountains of Kvaløya and Storhavet lie to the east and west. Fringed by white beaches and charming coves, it’s an idyllic spot for walking, cycling and beach combing.
Look out for native wildlife such as otters, eagles, seals, cormorants and many other sea birds. Explore the island’s beautiful coastline in a kayak or take a RIB ride to the outer islands to get even closer to the rich marine life.
The island’s 300-odd residents form a bustling fishing community, who are today connected to the mainland by the impressive Sandnessund Bridge. They’ll welcome you with warm hospitality and are always happy to tell you about island life.
This most northerly Norwegian city is magical all year round. Once a pioneering gateway to the Arctic, today it boasts cultural and artistic attractions aplenty. As a university town, you’ll also love the creative vibe and lively café and restaurant scene, serving great coffee and the freshest local produce.
Don’t miss the magnificent Arctic Cathedral (Tromsdalen Church). Catch a midnight sun or northern lights concert or simply marvel at its glass façade, glass mosaics and chandeliers. Find all things Arctic in Polaria and embrace the spirit of Arctic exploration at the Polar Museum. For epic views, hop on the cable car up Mount Storsteinen and enjoy the ride. Or hit the Sherpa Staircase and scale 1,200 stone steps to its summit – the perfect way to work up an appetite for local delicacies such as reindeer steaks, seagulls eggs and grilled stockfish.
‘The further north I travelled, the better the food seemed to get,’ says Alex. ‘Local food makes a lot of sense in the Arctic. The specialities are preserved foods, many of them unusual. We were served everything from local ptarmigan to local Parmesan. The cooking smells that waft your way here are just ravishing.’
Nothing beats boosting across the ocean in a RIB to explore coastal landscapes up close. And there’s plenty to see off the Narvik peninsula that lies at the head of Skjomen fjord in Nordland. The volcanic terrain is dramatic – cameras at the ready for waterfalls cascading down imposing granite mountains, with the peaks of Skjomtind, Reintind and Klubbviktind encircling the fjord. See if you can spot the Mesolithic Skjomen rock carvings that are believed to date back to 5,000BC. They were only discovered in the 1930s.
If you want to see Narvik’s stunning landscapes from alternative vantage points, take your seat on the Ofoten Line railway. Norway’s most northerly train line carves through wild landscapes up to the Swedish Lapland border along the old iron-ore railway line and boasts magnificent views of fjords, jagged mountain peaks and tumbling waterfalls. In Narvik itself, head up Mount Narvikfjellet in the cable car for breathtaking fjordic vistas from the top.
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