Up by the Arctic Circle, in the country of Norway, exists a magical place…a place like no other place on earth. It’s almost like Heaven on Earth. And the interesting thing is…… It is only 550 miles north of Hell!
If you want to get to Heaven….you just might have to take a ferry to get there. Ferries leave from Bodo on the mainland and arrive at Svolvaer in the Lofoten Island Archipelago. It is possible to get there without a ferry, but the drive is a much longer one.
First, we had to literally drive through Hell to get there. You will too, if you are driving from anywhere in the south of the country. Hell is a little town near Trondheim, which I posted about a few months ago. If you haven’t read that post yet, here is the link that will take you to Hell…..https://wordpress.com/post/geographicaljourneys.com/1829
Cruising on the ferry toward the Lofoten Islands above the Arctic Circle in the land of the Midnight Sun was already a treat. Disembarking at the islands was like waiting outside of the Pearly Gates of Heaven. We were giddy with the anticipation of getting inside. The archipelago boasts not only world class nature tourism, but the place is one of the most visually stunning spots I have seen on the planet…That is saying a lot, considering all of the amazing places I’ve had the privilege of visiting.
The archipelago consists of 7 main islands and many smaller ones that are spread out over an area of more than 1,300 sq. Km. According to Statistics Norway, it is home to over 26,000 permanent residents. The main industry has always been the fishing industry, although tourism has a large impact on the economy. Fishermen’s cabins, or “Rorbuer” in Norse, dot the landscape by the water’s edge. In fact, that name means “A perch beside the water”, in the Norse language. You will likely see cod drying on racks. The local saying is “In Cod We Trust!” Since most Catholics eat fish on Fridays, the Lutheran Norse export much of the catch to the Catholics of Italy, Portugal, and Spain and live off the profits. The rest is consumed locally.
Most buildings in the small towns are painted one of three colors: Ketchup, Mustard or Mayonnaise. I’m not sure if that is a function of code regulations or the love of those condiments, but you will see those colors in the buildings in most Norwegian towns, with an occasional gray building in the mix.
The picturesque town of Reine one of my favorite places, near the southwest end of the archipelago, on the island of Moskenesoya. Driving down the winding road from Svolvaer, one discovers new landscape features around every bend. The roads are in good shape for being located in such a high latitude region. Vertical rugged granite cliffs soar straight upward from the sea. The U-shaped valleys reveal glacial scouring from the last ice age, and melting ice sheets drowned out the valley bottoms, making rugged fjords. The steep continental slope off of the Lofoten Islands guides the warm, salty, Norwegian Atlantic current, a remnant of the Gulf Stream and North Atlantic Drift Current, toward the Arctic Ocean. Although located above the Arctic Circle, this phenomenon makes the climate a little more temperate than other climates at this latitude. That makes the climate a bit rainy, but the day we were in the town of Reine (sounds like Rainy), the sky was clear and the sun was shining brightly.
A friendly local person gave us some tips on some of the best places to hike in the region. They suggested the hike up to Reinebringen, a steep scramble up the side of cliffs south of town to gain an overlook of the fjord and the town below. When we did the hike in 2004, we saw only one other person. Nowadays, I hear the trail is overused and is suffering some erosion. Parking may also be a problem. You can leave your car in town and walk the 1.8 Km south following the E-10 road. The trail begins on the other side of the Ramsvik Tunnel. During the high summer season, it is preferable to avoid the midday crowds. Check the weather ahead of time, as it could be a treacherous hike if the conditions are wet. But if it is a sunny day, the difficult, but short hike of about 3 hours is worth it.
There are multitudes of other, less used places to explore all through the Lofoten archipelago. Even close to Reine, one can take a short ferry over to the charming little village of Vindstad and hike over a low saddle to a remote beach. Ferries may run a couple of times per day in the summer, so you could do that hike as a day trip from Reine. Check ferry schedules ahead of time, as it would be a long, cold swim back to town. Better yet, see if there is a Rorbuer to rent there!
The pristine clean environment, the rugged mountains, and the multitude of beaches, inlets and bays which are accessible by well maintained, paved, yet winding roads are all the workings to make Lofoten a world class nature tourism destination. When I was there over a decade and a half ago, it was mainly just a newly discovered summer destination. Presently, there is a lot more year-round tourism. It is no longer a secret. Abundant outdoor activities include hiking, climbing, mountain biking, sailing and kayaking in the warmer months. During the winter, people flock there to see the Northern Lights and go skiing. They also wear dry suits and go cold-water kite surfing during the colder months, something that was unheard of when we were there.
Landscape painters also make pilgrimages to the Lofoten Archipelago to paint some of the finest scenery in the world. The picture below is a painting that I have on my home office that a couple of friends bought for me at an art gallery here in Bend, Oregon.
Since 1991, Lofoten has hosted an international arts festival. However, in the March 2019 issue of Arctic Magazine, a story titled “It’s all about the scenery-Tourists Perceptions of Cultural Ecosystem Services in the Lofoten Islands, Norway“, authors Kaltenbjorn and Linnell outline the increasing pressures of over tourism to the area. There have been growing tensions between hosts and visitors in recent years. This is a phenomenon that is happening all over the world, including my hometown of Bend. However, knowing this ahead of time is not meant to deter you from going there, but should help you to be more respectful of the locals and their culture and environment when you DO go there.
It is not enough to say that I have an attachment to a place in the world called Lofoten. It’s that it is such a stunningly beautiful place, that I feel like it has attached itself to me. Even though it has been almost 17 years since I went there, I’m looking up at the picture of Reinefjorden in my office as I am typing this story now. Instantly, I am transported back to an unseasonably warm, sunny day in August of 2004. I close my eyes, at which time I can hear the cry of arctic terns flying overhead as I detect the faint smell of cod drying in the salty air of the Norwegian sea. My mouth turns slightly up and there is a smile on my face. I’m still experiencing a little bit of heaven on earth. Looking back, it definitely was worth driving through Hell to get there too….
I hope you find a similar sentiment whenever you get there…
For more information regarding trip planning, and finding a bunch of other special places within the Lofoten Archipelago, here are a couple of websites https://www.visitnorway.com https://lofoten.info/lofoten