Norway lures with fishing, hiking and Vikings

Travel Weekly senior editor Andrew Compart visited northern Norway, taking in scenery and adventure. His report follows:

ean and Michael Adams of Plymouth, Mass., dining at a "fjordside" restaurant at Stamsund in the Lofoten Islands, said they didn't come to Norway for a typical vacation.

"Obviously, what intrigued us was the adventure," said Michael Adams, as he and his wife finished their meal, which included fish soup and a salmon-and-blowfish special. "To [sell Northern Norway], you've got to market [adventure] -- and the food."

Minneapolis-based tour operator Borton Overseas did a good job of promoting the location, Adams said, adding he hoped to get in some kayaking, horseback riding and fishing.

With thousands of miles of coast, Norway has abundant angling options, and ocean fishing doesn't require a license. Other activities here include canoeing, mountain hiking (there are cabin-to-cabin hiking networks in Bodo), biking (Norway has a national program), glacier climbing, scuba diving, and whale- and bird-watching.

While hotels are available, renovated and refurbished former fishermen's chalets have become a popular option. And tourists can visit Vikings (well, sort of) at a chieftain's hall.

Norway, know-how

At Borton Overseas, general manager Robert Swan said his business sells Scandinavia by marketing a variety of tours. The company advertises in Scandinavian tourist offices and gets the word out via the Sons of Norway and other similar heritage organizations.

In fact, 50% of the U.S. travelers to Norway have some Scandinavian background, according to tourism officials. Swan said it also helps that all of Borton's Scandinavian specialists lived in Norway at some point and know about its "nooks and crannies and unusual and special areas."

On my visit, I -- like the Adamses -- sampled culture, nature and adventure in northern Norway, a region of rolling hills, plateaus, mountain peaks and fishing villages.

With the area's location above the Arctic Circle, visitors also will experience sunlit nights from mid-April through mid-August -- with a midnight sun from about late May to mid-July, depending on location.

The harbor of the village of Sund in Norway's Lofoten Islands.Small, picturesque harbors feature wooden houses in vivid colors, the boats and homes reflecting off the water with mountains as a backdrop.

There's a lot of open space. Bodo, the second-largest town in northern Norway, is home to only 40,000 or so people, and those you do happen to encounter are friendly.

Another common sight is racks of fish hung out to dry, sometimes hundreds at a time. In the Lofoten Islands, 35 million pounds of cod are hung out from March or April to mid- to late June, preserving them and reducing their weight by 80%.

Operator Destination Bodo took us on a late-night fishing trip on the Faxsen, a 70-foot, pine boat built in 1916. At the end of our trip -- which costs about $172 per hour for up to 23 people -- Capt. Idar Henriksen turned our catch into a tasty soup.

On another short trip from Bodo, we climbed the Svartisen glacier -- the second-largest in Norway, at about 80 miles long. Just getting to the glacier from its cafe and tourist center is about a two-mile hike.

Special climbing gear is provided, but visitors already should be wearing hiking boots, gloves, hat and layered clothing. Led by our guide, we dug metal spikes into the glacier, using an ice pick for balance and leverage when necessary, as we slowly made our way up.

The cost of this trek is about $46 per person for four hours, with a $460 and four-person minimum per group. An outdoor, post-climb meal (reindeer meat, in our case) costs about $17 a person, and there is another $17 charge for use of the outdoor hot tub.

Both Destination Bodo and Svartisen Glacier and Guiding operate the icy excursions.

We also visited the Viking chieftain's hall and museum at Borg with operator Destination Lofoten. The Lofotr museum is a reconstruction interpreted from the archaeological finding nearby. At 270 feet long and 30 feet high, the original would have been the largest known Viking Age building.

The tour demonstrates and reveals Viking daily life, culture and history. For an added charge, clients can eat a traditional Viking feast in the ceremonial room. It must be arranged at least two days in advance with a minimum of 12 people. Another extra-cost option: mealtime entertainment by a Viking choir.

Heading north

It can take some doing to reach northern Norway. Travelers usually must stop first in the capital of Oslo, from where there are 90-minute flights to Bodo.

From Bodo, flights are available to points farther north, but boats are a more scenic option. Our group took a Norwegian Coastal Voyage steamer from Bodo to Stamsund. Ground transportation also is possible to some points.

However, the sheer remoteness of northern Norway may be part of its charm.

Swan said demand seems to have increased for what is perceived -- correctly, he believes -- to be the region's peaceful, natural setting.

For more on northern Norway, contact the Norwegian Tourist Board at (212) 885-9700 or on line at www.visitnorway.com. The Nordland County Web site, at www.nordlandreiseliv.no -- click on the U.K. flag for English -- is full of information and contacts for the region.

Book It: Operators and Sites in Norway

Destination Bodo
Phone: (011) 47-7 554-8000
Web:www.bodoe.com

Svartisen Glacier
Phone: (011) 47-9 186-8564
Web:www.svartisen.no

Destination Lofoten
Phone: (011) 47-7-606-9800
Web:www.lofoten-tourist.no

Viking museum
Phone: (011) 47-7-608-4900
Web:www.lofotr.no

Backroads
Phone: (800) 462-2848
Web:www.backroads.com

Borton Overseas
Phone: (800) 843-0602
Web:www.bortonoverseas.com

Crossing Lattitudes
Phone: (800) 572-8747
Web:www.crossinglatitudes.com

Destination Wilderness
Phone: (800) 423-8868
Web:www.wildernesstrips.com

Nelson's Scandinavia
Phone: (800) 542-1689
Web:www.nelsonsscandinavia.com

The Nordic Company
Phone: (888) 806-7226
Web:www.nordicco.com

ScanTours
Phone: (800) 223-7226
Web:www.scantours.com

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