Sun. Oct 2nd, 2022

We all know that Norway is a gorgeous land of mountains and fjords. But there are modern and exciting surprises, too. We asked Harald Hansen, a long-time Norwegian travel expert, to share a sampling of the best of the old — and the new.

Tell me about Norway’s new designated Scenic Roads.

“The Norwegian road authorities picked 18 roads that are specifically scenic, with no huge buses or commercial traffic allowed, all along the coast and across mountains down to southern Norway. To complement nature, they invited architects, designers, and artists. So you have all these fantastic viewpoints, and unique rest stops. One even has a gold toilet.

Along the way, innovative young architects have created unique buildings. Some are right on the ocean, and offer fantastic views — if you’re there by yourself you can really build up your inner self.”

In summer, what do you recommend?

“Alaska and New Zealand also have beautiful fjords, but in Norway, people live right there, and you can enjoy the old farms and the local food. It’s a living society.

You can also take pilgrimage tours, along routes with wooden stave churches that go back to the 11th century. They’re built like upside-down Viking ships.”

What about winter pleasures?

“The coastline of Norway is ice-free, so you can go on winter expeditions on passenger boats like Hurtigruten. People love dog-sledding, reindeer safaris, or going out with guides hunting for the Northern Lights.

Above the Arctic Circle you can stay in unique ice hotels and snow hotels and beautiful lodges.”

For animal lovers, what’s not to miss?

“Along the coast we have humpback whales, white whales, orcas and beluga. On the island of Svalbard, halfway between mainland Norway and the North Pole, there are more polar bears than people. We’re not allowed to search for polar bears because they’re protected, but you’ll see them in the distance.

The Sami people live inland in the winter on the Finnmark plateau, a national park. At the end of April they start migrating with their reindeer to the coast. If you go to Northern Norway can always meet reindeer.”

Give us an idea about the foodie scene.

“So much has happened the past 20 years. The Oslo Opera House, opened in 2008, really put Oslo on the map, and a new museum and a library opened nearby. So the whole waterfront area is now shops and bars, restaurants and art galleries.

Bryggen, the old wharf of Bergen, has become really popular because of new chefs opening restaurants. They catch their own food, so there’s lots of seafood. We call it ‘fjord cuisine.’

And there’s a town called Longyearbyen, the world’s northernmost settlement, which was actually founded by an American, where you have beautiful hotels, restaurants, and one of the best wine cellars in Norway.”

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With scenic roads in mind, I found a special tour which perfectly highlights both the old and the new Norway.

The seven-day Drive the Fjords supercar adventure — available on June 12; August 7; and September 4, 11, 18 — has been created by Off the Map Travel to showcase Norway’s National Tourist Routes in the Fjords. (For the ultimate splurge, a private version of the program is also available.)

You’ll travel through Norwegian fjords and the Sunnmore Alps enjoying 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’ll journey along the Atlantic Road, “the road across the sea,” with its seven bridges and network of tunnels; travel deep into the mountains to the Troll Wall, the largest rock wall in Europe; take a ferry into the Geiranger fjord; journey up a gondola for the views of the North Atlantic; and experience the fjords from the sky in a private helicopter.

The electric supercar achieves 283 miles on a charge, and has a built-in “charging planner” that calculates the optimum route, based on your charge status. Onsite chargers are provided for your vehicle.

This unusual green trip emphasizes slow travel in a fast vehicle. The menu features the region’s best local cuisine, including seafood from local purveyors. All hotel accommodations support the program’s sustainability, from the electric car to eco-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 complete interview, go to your favorite podcast app, or to the link in my bio.)

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