Happy Thursday Hidden Gem Travel community! How was your week? With summer’s arrival and the approaching end of the school year, everyone’s running in many directions – life is has become much closer to normal finally. As mentioned last week, summer travel is likely to be less-than-normal as tourism goes through the growing pains of the reopening process. Be sure to pack your patience 😊
There was good news out of Europe this week with more countries reopening to vaccinated US travelers (Spain!), and an EU digital COVID certificate that will allow EU citizens to upload vaccination records, negative tests, and related health information to streamline the travel process. The digital certificate for travel to the 27 EU countries is expected to be available to US citizens in the near future (fingers crossed).
Speaking of the EU, I’ve been dreaming of a summer vacation for next year that will deliver less traveled pathways in Europe. One of my all-time favorite travel experiences was cruising the fjords of Norway so heading back to northern Europe appeals to me. As such, exploring the Lofoten Islands in northern Norway has made the off-the-beaten-track section of my Wanderlist.
If you’re looking for a unique vacation (or honeymoon) to avoid the crowds and heat next summer, read on to learn about Norway’s stunning yet charming Lofoten Islands. Crai Bower’s personal experience (courtesy of Virtuoso network and Hidden Gem Travel partner 50 Degrees North) is described in addition to a few hidden gem tips which will give you a picture of what your own trip could be like! Read on for the scoop…
Why the Lofoten Archipelago?
I went exploring the Lofoten archipelago, solidly within the Arctic Circle in Norway’s Nordland County, where human settlements date back 5,500 years. The area is home to a mosaic of verdant mountains, outdoor art, fishing villages, and deep history. In fact, just 37 years ago, archaeologists unearthed the world’s largest Viking chieftain house about a 30-minute drive from where I was standing.
To get there, I flew from Oslo to Bodø, then boarded a ferry for the six-hour crossing to Moskenes, near the archipelago’s southeast end. Tour operator 50 Degrees North organized my self-driving itinerary and arranged a meeting with Havard Lund, a jazz clarinetist and unofficial Nordland ambassador known throughout Norway’s artistic community for his musical collaborations and colorful insights.
Happiness Due North
This far north, despite winters devoid of sunlight, residents maintain some of the world’s highest happiness quotients. Case in point: the Bathing Angels, a group of women who swim in the Norwegian Sea every month of the year except July, when “everybody swims” in midsummer’s balmy 45- to 60-degree water, as one of the Angels told me. Something special has been going on in Lofoten for more than five millennia.
Lofoten greatly appeals to people who love outdoor sports including walkers, hikers, cyclists, climbers, kayakers, surfers, fisherman, and skiers in winter. The dramatic scenery creates a backdrop that’s awe-spiring no matter your activity level. It’s also a draw for lovers of art, ancient history, and Scandinavian culture.
💎 Hidden Gem Tip: While in Norway, consider a variety of modes of travel for the full experience – road, sea, and rail.
Coastal Villages & Viking
I stopped in Stamsund, a town at the base of Mount Steinetinden. It’s lined, like many coastal towns in Lofoten, with fire-red quayside cottages once occupied by cod fishermen and now mostly available to let.
At the Lofotr Vikingmuseum in Borg, bands of light darted across a tethered Viking ship that floated in a body of water across the way. The Chieftain’s House, where the museum resides, is a replica of the one unearthed here during the excavation in the 1980s. The interactive exhibits transport visitors back 1,000 years, with cooking, sewing, and craft demonstrations by historically appareled actors among actual artifacts (sorry, Brunhilde, Viking helmets do not have horns) and other opportunities to embrace the Viking-age lifestyle.
Old Norse staples such as fish soup, mutton broth, leg of lamb, and hearth-baked bread are served in the Chieftain’s House for lunch or during Viking feasts in the evenings when actors perform traditional songs and share Nordland fables.
Don’t Miss Henningsvær
A trip to the Lofoten Islands isn’t complete without time spend in Henningsvær, a fishing village strewn across several islets that doubles as an outdoor recreation hub and artists’ hamlet. The town is charmingly picturesque to the delight of those who love photography.
The food and art scene is vibrant in Henningsvær where you’ll find some unique art galleries, including an old caviar factory that was converted to an art studio. Bring your appetite to explore the many restaurants and cafes. Café hopping is a thing! Kafé Lysstøperiet, a patisserie, was brimming with cinnamon buns; meringues; a forest of coconut-lathered bouchons; and berry, dark chocolate, and lemon tarts. A gaggle of fresh-faced hiking guides was receiving an orientation around its community table.
💎 Hidden Gem Tip: If you’re a beach lover, you’ll be enchanted by Henningsvær’s beach coves with dreamy aquamarine-colored water! Take a beach-side horseback ride for unique coastal views.
How To Get to the Lofoten Islands
As your travel advisor, I work with my curated list of vetted travel suppliers to create the ideal trip for you. Below are three examples of Nordic journeys for 2022:
50 Degrees North’s seven-day journey lays out a self-driving tour across Norway’s Lofoten Islands, just north of the Arctic Circle. Take the 90-minute flight from Oslo to Bodø, then connect to Leknes in the center of Lofoten or catch a ferry to Stamsund. The weather during spring and fall can quickly turn chilly and wet; summer remains cool under the midnight sun.
Lindblad Expeditions sails through the Lofoten Islands on its 17-day Norway, Iceland, and Greenland itinerary. The cruise, in coordination with the World Wildlife Fund, travels from Reykjavik to Tromsø on 126-passenger National Geographic Endurance. The ice-cutter-class vessel has all outside-facing cabins and an onboard spa.
Winter more to your liking? The northern lights reliably sparkle in Norway’s Arctic Circle. G Adventures takes travelers round-trip from Tromsø on a seven-day winter tour that features dogsledding, a visit to a reindeer farm, and an introduction to the indigenous Sami culture. Guests also explore a historic fishing village in the Lofoten archipelago.
Wishing you and your family continued good health,