GTS to the Arctic Part Two
After driving from London to the Arctic Circle Centre in the 991.2 Targa 4 GTS last issue, in part two we head home via the sheer driving nirvana of Norway’s finest blacktop
The second instalment of our 5,000-mile epic takes in one of the world’s most breathtaking roads
PART TWO: THE WORLD’S GREATEST ROAD
Beautiful, beautiful Norway. It’s hard to do justice to purvey the scale of its majesty: so unending and so genuinely breathtaking is its topography, you’ll not likely have seen such natural splendour before – certainly not through the windscreen of a vehicle. As I mentioned in part one of our epic, 5,000-mile road trip from London to here in the Arctic Circle, there is quite simply a jaw-dropping vista around every corner in this part of the world.
Snapper Rich Pearce and I made the journey up from Britain in little over a week, and our Targa press car was due back at Porsche Centre Reading in just another week’s time. So, after stopping for our obligatory tourist picture at the Arctic Circle Centre, we climb back into the Targa 4 GTS and programme its PCM to guide us due south to the seaside town of Kristiansund some 752 kilometres away. That’s 11 hours of driving, not including stops, so we’d better get a shift on: the days may be long up here, but time is nevertheless still ticking.
Unbelievably, the maximum speed permitted in the whole of Norway – a country measuring some 385 thousand square kilometres – is just 90kph,
or 56mph (one or two ring roads outside the capital of Oslo permit 110kph, however). At face value it’s an absurd cap, yet in reality it’s no great bother. Surrounded by scenery such as this means we’re only too happy to stow the Targa’s roof, put its PDK gearbox into autopilot and coast along, drinking in the grandeur of the craggy yet evergreen terrain.
Almost unbelievably again, our route encompasses the E6 highway for pretty well the entire journey, this being the main artery running right down the middle of this narrow Nordic country. We join it, still enjoying the road largely to ourselves, and let it snake us southwards towards our destination.
Kristiansund itself will never win any awards for tourism, but its significance for automotive thrill seekers should not be underestimated. The nearest major town to the Atlantic Ocean Road and then Trollstigen, it’s the gateway to what can be days of absolute driving nirvana. We reach it midway through the next afternoon (we told you we’d amble!), parking the Targa by the water and heading over to our overnight digs.
We’re out very early the next morning, firing up the Targa’s 9A2 flat six just before 06:30. Annoyingly, it’s raining: after nine days straight of blue skies and bright sunshine – aside from when the clouds blocked our attempt at a midnight sun shot back in Sweden – we begrundingly accept Mother Nature’s need for a little watering of her landscape. The rain certainly doesn’t dampen our excitement, however: we are sure today is going to be one of the best of our entire adventure as we tackle two of the world’s most reputable driving roads.
The Atlantic Ocean Road in particular has been on my bucket list for some time. Buoyed by idyllic pictures of a single ribbon of tarmac hopping over the sea from one tiny island to the other, it’s billed by some as one of the planet’s most picturesque drives as it hugs the point at which Norway gives way to the vast Atlantic ocean. It’ll be a pleasure to drive this, I tell myself, heading south out of Kristiansund’s main island via a tunnel to the start of the Atlantic Ocean Road.
Emerging back into daylight the other side, we realise the rain has ceased, and the clouds above have reduced in their density. Strong rays of early morning sunshine are now bleaching the flat land ahead, casting a spotlight on the magnificent Storseisundet Bridge. There are eight bridges in total in just 8,274 metres of the Atlantic Ocean Road, though in truth there’s not much to it other than that.
Before the sequence of land-hopping bridges, I pull over and bring the Targa to a stop. With no rain I want to stow the Targa’s fabric roof once again to be able to fully enjoy the views and smell the salty sea air. Pulling and holding the roof stowage button in the middle of the 991’s centre console, we watch the Targa’s kinetics remove its rag top in 19 long seconds before rejoining the route and pressing on.
Minutes later we find all eight bridges have been conquered, and the water around us has been replaced by greenery as we head inland. Was that it? It’s a disappointing reality, leaving the experience of the Atlantic Ocean Road far short of Visit Norway’s proclamation as the world’s most beautiful drive. It simply doesn’t last long enough for that title, though the Storseisundet Bridge itself is an absolutely glorious feat of engineering, rising sharply up into the sky like an automotive stairway to heaven
before falling down and round the other side, its slight curve round giving it added definition when admired from afar.
It’s a disappointing start to the day before breakfast has even been consumed, though we put that right by stopping in the beautiful city of Molde on the Rommsdal peninsula for some food.
Our next destination surely will not disappoint. Headed south east from Molde – via a couple of ferry hops over gigantic fjords – lies the magnificent Trollstigen in the Romsdal valley.
Translated as the ‘Trolls’ Path’, it opened in 1939 to provide a key transport link through the mountains between the villages of Valldal and Åndalsnes.
Legend has it that trolls patrol the road to scare travellers moving along it, never straying from the long shadows caused by the steep surrounding mountains to avoid direct sunlight, which would otherwise turn them to stone.
Trollstigen is part of a national tourist route offering a brilliant, high-altitude drive lasting some 100 kilometres to the picturesque Gerainger Fjord, but you’ll need to time your visit right to experience it: due to treacherous conditions caused by Norway’s harsh winters the road is only open between late April and October.
Trollstigen itself is less than five per cent of that, but it’s the most spectacular. A masterpiece of a serpentine road chiselled into the mountainside, there are 11 hairpins in total, elevating you quickly to its maximum altitude of 858 metres above sea level. However, with only small stone blocks at the edge of the narrow roads winding up the steep mountainside, trolls are very likely going to be the least of our worries.
Alas, when we arrive at the base of Trollstigen by mid-afternoon, heavy traffic on the narrow road is at a standstill. Killing the Targa’s engine and hopping out, our eyes follow the trail of sitting traffic to approximately halfway up the mountainside, the distance between us meaning even tourist coaches look like little blocks of Lego stationed high above us. Then, we spot it: an air ambulance has landed on the road, and the rumour is a motorcyclist has had an off.
Authorities at our base level say the road will reopen in around an hour, but even then traffic is going to be chronic – it’s peak tourist season with coaches aplenty, and sections of the mountain road aren’t much wider than the width of a modern car. It’s not the environment to drink in the world’s best road in a Porsche 911 Targa, so we head off in the direction we came, and elect to return later.
When we say later, we mean much, much later.
It’s now 10pm, the choking traffic aligning Trollstigen some eight hours earlier having long gone. It’s still light of course, yet the roads are entirely deserted, as are the car parks and even the viewing platform at the top. The realisation of our isolation fills us with giddy excitement: we’ve the keys to the manor, and it seems nobody else is home.
The road to Trollstigen follows the Romsdal valley floor right to its end, where the towering mountain trio of Kongen (The King), Dronningen (The Queen) and Trollveggen (The Troll Wall) appear to block any further passage. It’s here where the road proceeds to elevate quickly, using all three mountain sides and those 11 hairpins to navigate a path up and over these most extreme of natural obstacles.
With the roof on the Targa already stowed, I slap the PDK lever left to engage manual and flick the car’s Mode wheel round to Sport Plus to sharpen the car’s throttle, gearbox and suspension settings in preparation for maximum attack. Trollstigen, here we go!
The Tarmac beneath our Pirelli P Zero tyres is snooker-table smooth as we fly into the first corner, a medium left-hander with a subtle gradient, which then darts up and round to a sharp, steep righthander hairpin. A little left-foot braking scrubs some of the Targa’s velocity as I point the wheels for the apex, the nose obeying orders and diving wilfully for the corner. While it’s nowhere near as direct as a GT3 or RS, I’m impressed by the positivity of the GTS’S turn-in – especially for such a heavy car. Holding the revs in second gear through the corner, we’re in the peak power band at 3,000rpm, and a squirt of my right foot sees the Targa surge energetically up the mountainside as we begin to really climb in altitude. A flick of the right-side PDK paddle snatches third, and with virtually no delay the rev needle begins another assault on the redline as it winds around the tacho to 7,000rpm.
Approaching the right-hand hairpin my left foot presses much firmer onto the brake pedal, hauling down the Targa’s speed. The left PDK paddle on the Targa’s steering wheel is now called into action, a quick double pull on it bringing us down into first for the tight bend. Accelerating hard out of the turn, it’s here where those twin turbochargers now homed in the 911 prove their worth: in no time at all we go from what would be a gentle jog round the hairpin into a velocity which feels not unlike that of a plane on its sprint towards take-off. Flicking up through the gears, the Targa’s momentum is unrelenting, it pulling strongly right to its redline at seven grand.
We zoom over a stone bridge past the thunderous Stigfossen waterfall to our left, some spittle landing on our windscreen as we go. I clear it with the wipers to maintain a clear vision of the road ahead, which gets narrower as we ascend onto the third mountain face at the end of this magnificent Romsdal valley. Pushing up a straight, I sneak a glance across the valley to our right – wow! We’re already so high up, the road on the valley floor where we started just minutes ago now a mere sliver among the rocky grandeur of the rest of the canyon. Its scale is truly breathtaking. Allaying the vertigo, I turn my attention back to the road, which kinks left and then right before a left-hand hairpin.
It goes without saying that due to the daytime traffic regularly stifling Trollstigen – Norway’s tourism board says a vehicle passes the Trollstigveien Plateau every ten seconds – if you want to really drive this magnificent piece of architecture rather than merely experience it at walking pace, you need to visit first thing in the morning or last thing at night. You will then realise that, more than providing a trail across this treacherous segment of mountains, Trollstigen is an awe-inspiring driver’s road, offering plenty of engagement and excitement, but also demanding concentration and conviction to get the most from it. Appreciating this as we zip through the remaining hairpins and up the last of the ten per cent inclines, I realise how lucky we are to be able to experience Trollsitgen in a way few others will get the pleasure of doing.
Less than a minute later we are at the top and, shaking a little from the intensity of the buzz, I can’t help myself from stopping the car and taking a look back down the valley from the viewing platform jutting off the mountain. Designed by Reiulf Ramstad architects, the structure blends wonderfully into the natural environment and offers a view unbeatable without the aid of a helicopter.
The landscape leaves me speechless. The valley is just so vast: its steep mountains cave down dramatically to the floor below, the entire valley now shrouded in shade as its westerly summit shields the late-night summer sun. Nevertheless, there’s a rich vibrancy of greens from the trees and plants growing all the way up the grey cliff faces, punctuated by the bright white of flowing waterfalls relieving the mountains of melted ice at their peak. In the middle of all that you can see the slivering blacktop of the road swinging this way and that, snaking majestically up the valley to the viewing point beneath my very feet.
I could stand here forever and admire every detail this view has to offer, but the excitement of another drive usurps this inquisitive feast. Pushing hard once again, the Targa’s chassis moves around under more pronounced weight transfer on the way back down, but there’s never any danger of the car losing grip. Its excellent, active AWD system with Porsche Torque Vectoring sees to that, supported by chunkier wheels and wider tyres in this Gts-spec set-up.
And so we spend the next hour going up and back down Trollstigen, hustling the Targa through every corner and attacking every straight, enjoying every single yard of asphalt this brilliant road has to offer. Totally bereft of any other human life, tonight the Trolls’ Path is our playground. On the last sprint down, the Targa’s burbling flat six echoing fiercely out of the valley on overrun, I realise this is the best road I’ve ever had the privilege of driving in a Porsche 911. There is simply nothing in the world with a majesty and intensity like it.
We catch the last ferry across the fjord to
Geiranger and arrive at our hotel with only minutes left of the day. Tired and weary, we grab some sleep, arising later the next morning to the realisation our epic Arctic adventure is nearly at an end. It’s time to go home.
Leaving the towering mountains behind us, over the next few days we head south to Oslo then catch a ferry back to Denmark before driving back to Calais and entering the tunnel back to Britain. Arriving on the outskirts of London soon after, our journey is complete. Pulling in to Porsche Centre Reading, I feel a little emotional: the Targa is still covered with the chalk of Norway’s stunning landscape, a physical reminder of the extremities of our latest adventure. Without it, I’d have to pinch myself: did we really just drive to the Arctic Circle, and back, in two weeks? The chalk will wash away, but I’ll never forget that wonderful serpentine road in the heart of beautiful, beautiful Norway.
BELOW admiring the view over the stunning gerainger fjord