Cross the Arctic Circle to the midnight sun for a break as unforgettable as the days are long.
These mythical straggle-haired creatures said to terrorise the peaks and valleys of Northern Norway, have long informed the folklore of this vast swathe of Scandinavia. Stay at the fjordside Kobbelv Vertshus and you may well be treated to tales of these malevolent critters as you gaze over the tranquil waters, dining on succulent cuts of local reindeer. Cynics maintain that trolls were invented to warn intrepid children of the winter dangers of heading unaccompanied into the lavish mountains. A canoeing excursion onto the nearby lake Sørfjordvannet requires a short hike and the surrender of photographic equipment – just in case.
Not to be confused with the flaxen-haired pop brethren of the late 1990s, Hamsun (first name Knut) was Northern Norway’s most celebrated – and debated – author, paving the way for the likes of Thomas Mann, Franz Kafka and Ernest Hemingway with his pioneering psychological writings. Hamsun won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1920, but subsequently provoked widespread revulsion for his dogged refusal to denounce Nazism. The museum and educational centre built in his memory is suitably controversial: a menacing, black cube of a building juxtaposed with the neat low-rise structures of surrounding Hamarøy.
Tranøy’s coastal sculpture park grew out of an over achieving fundraising drive originally intended to save Harald Bodøgaard’s temporary ‘Stars Fishing in the Sky’ sculpture from relocation. That rusty work now serves as the starting point for all kinds of artsy indulgence, thanks to a rotating roster of open-air exhibits. A hearty post-trail meal at local café Dorotheas (think freshest local salmon and a house speciality cinnamon bun) should satisfy earthlier cravings before boarding the car ferry that crosses the Tysfjorden – the deepest fjord in Northern Norway – as part of the European route E06 highway.
High in Narvik
Situated well above the Arctic Circle, Narvik became the unlikely focus of the world’s attentions in April 1940 when Hitler attacked Denmark and Norway. For eight weeks solid, a bitter battle for this industrial community and its prized reserves of iron ore raged between the invading German forces and allied troops, eventually resulting in Nazi occupation. Nowadays, the majesty of this year-round, ice-free port – a conduit for Swedish trade – is best appreciated via the cable car to Fagernesfjellet, which offers stunning, views and the possibility of venturing further up into the mountains by foot.
Using locally harvested moss as a nutritious garnish for fish from the nearby fjord, and the rhubarb that flourishes at its edges, the traditional kitchen at the Tinja Mountain Lodge, a mountainous drive from Narik, would no doubt be a Michelin star magnet were it not for its relative remoteness. A welcome drink in a traditional tepee comprises sweet coffee around a smoky campfire, swathed in the skins that have cloaked the Samis for generations. The Sami people are Norway’s indigenous, semi-nomadic reindeer herders, whose heritage has recently been recognised as a source of national pride.
Close encounters of the furred kind
The word ‘arctic’ is derived from the Greek word for bear (arktos) and there are plenty of native shaggy bear specimens to be photographed – and fed – within the vast expanses of Bardu’s amazing Polar Zoo. Elsewhere at the zoo, the slinky lynx can be glimpsed through the fences, but Wolf Camp is undeniably the park’s biggest draw. Visitors have a rare opportunity to bond with socialised wolves, close-range, in an environment that’s as near as possible to their natural habitat.
Tromsø, Paris of the north
So nicknamed because of its status as a relatively cosmopolitan, not to mention fashionable, trading post, Tromsø – Northern Norway’s most populous city, with 70,000 inhabitants – is well known as a winter base for glimpsing the Aurora Borealis. In summer months, dinner at harbour restaurant Fisekompaniet offers a guaranteed, spectacular view over the prized wooden buildings of Tromsø’s historic centre and out onto a still snow-capped landscape of the surrounding mountains. Walk the bridge over to the spectacular, modernist Arctic Cathedral, designed by architect Jan Inge Hovig, for a haunting midnight concert in surreal surroundings.
Need to know
Norwegian flies to Oslo from Dubai direct (with some flights via Stockholm) from Dhs2,309 return.
SAS flies to Bodø, Norway from Dhs3,098 return (via Frankfurt and Oslo).