We all know that Norway is a beautiful country of mountains and fjords. But there are also modern and exciting surprises. We asked Harald Hansen, a longtime Norwegian travel expert, to share a sampling of the best of old and new.
Tell me about Norway’s new designated scenic routes.
“The Norwegian road authorities have chosen 18 particularly scenic routes, with no buses or commercial traffic allowed, all along the coast and through the mountains to southern Norway. To complement nature, they invited architects, designers and artists. So you have all these fantastic viewpoints and unique stops. One of them even has a gold toilet.
Along the way, innovative young architects have created unique buildings. Some are right by the ocean and have fantastic views – if you’re alone there, you can really expand your inner self.
In summer, what do you recommend?
“Alaska and New Zealand also have beautiful fjords, but in Norway people live there, and you can enjoy old farms and local food. It’s a living society.
You can also take pilgrimage routes, along roads with stave churches that date back to the 11th century. They are built like upside-down Viking ships.
And the pleasures of winter?
“The Norwegian coastline is ice-free, so you can do winter expeditions on passenger ships like Hurtigruten. People enjoy dog sledding, reindeer safaris or going out with guides in search of the Northern Lights.
Above the Arctic Circle you can stay in unique ice hotels and snow hotels and beautiful lodges.
For animal lovers, what not to miss?
“Along the coast we have humpback whales, white whales, orcas and belugas. On the island of Svalbard, halfway between mainland Norway and the North Pole, there are more polar bears than people. We are not allowed to look for polar bears as they are protected, but you will see them in the distance.
The Sami people live inland in winter on the Finnmark Plateau, a national park. At the end of April, they begin to migrate with their reindeer towards the coast. If you go to northern Norway, you can always meet reindeer.
Give us an idea of the food scene.
“So much has happened in the past 20 years. The Oslo Opera House, which opened in 2008, has really put Oslo on the map, and a new museum and library have opened nearby. So the whole area waterfront is now made up of shops and bars, restaurants and art galleries.
Bryggen, the old wharf of Bergen, has become very popular thanks to the opening of restaurants by new chefs. They catch their own food, so there’s a lot of seafood. We call it ‘fjord cuisine’.
And there is a town called Longyearbyen, the northernmost settlement in the world, which was actually founded by an American, where you have nice hotels, restaurants and one of the best wine cellars in Norway.
With scenic drives in mind, I found a special tour that showcases both old and new Norway perfectly.
The seven-day Drive the Fjords supercar adventure – available June 12; August 7; and September 4, 11 and 18 — was created by Off the Map Travel to showcase Norway’s national tourist routes in the fjords. (For the ultimate craziness, a private version of the program is also available.)
You will travel through the Norwegian Fjords and the Sunnmore Alps enjoying the open roads behind the wheel of an electric Porsche Taycan Cross Turismo. The route is pre-programmed; you do the driving.
Highlights: A night in the art nouveau town of Alesund, with a boat ride in the fjords, and a night in a traditional Sami tent in the pine forests. You will travel along the Atlantic Road, “the road through the sea”, with its seven bridges and its network of tunnels; travel deep into the mountains to the Troll Wall, Europe’s largest rock face; take a ferry to Geiranger Fjord; ride a gondola for views of the North Atlantic; and see the fjords from the sky in a private helicopter.
The electric supercar reaches 283 miles on one charge and has a built-in “charge planner” that calculates the optimal route, based on your state of charge. On-site chargers are provided for your vehicle.
This unusual green trip favors slow travel in a fast vehicle. The menu offers the best local cuisine in the region, including seafood from local suppliers. All hotel accommodations support the sustainability of the program, from the electric car to the eco-friendly toiletries.
(Harald Hansen’s comments were edited and excerpted from episode #9 of my award-winning travel podcast, Places I Remember with Lea Lane. For the full interview, go to your favorite podcast app or the link in my organic.)