Nature’s best in Norway
IF YOU EVER find yourself on a boat in the middle of the Vestfjorden – the body of water off the coast of north Norway, which at some point, visible only to seafaring folk, becomes the Arctic Ocean – do not be alarmed when what looks like the crest of a tsunami seems to rise out of the water. If your destination is the Lofoten Islands, you are in exactly the right place.
From the mainland, Lofoten appears like an enormous, imposing bank of cloud; up close, the islands resemble a wall of barren-looking mountains. But this skinny archipelago, which juts out of the country’s north-west tip, is in fact the most exquisite, tranquil strip of land, which teems with sea eagles, puffins and the odd surfer, and marks the threshold to the Arctic Circle.
It’s worth taking a week at least to visit Lofoten, partly because getting on and off the islands can be something of an expedition. Fly to Bodø on the mainland (easiest via Tromsø or Trondheim), hire a car and drive north on the long, winding ocean road to the sleepy village of Nordskot. From there, you could hop on a boat straight over to Lofoten, or stay a night at Manshausen, a tiny private island in between the two.
Leave your car at Manshausen’s harbour, where you’ll be picked up and taken over to the rocky northern side of the island. There, seven immaculate sea cabins hover over the water. Each one has an entirely glass front, so that from your bed all you can see is sea and sky.
In the evening, meander over to the barn to enjoy a hearty dinner made from ingredients picked or caught on and around the island. Though it’s tempting to head straight back to your cabin, you can’t pass up the opportunity to experience the true Scandinavian trifecta: ice dam, saltwater hot tub and wood-fired sauna. Depending on the time of year, you could find yourself (as we did in early September) sitting in a hot tub while the Northern Lights dance above you.
After a short stay at Manshausen has made you question why you don’t up sticks and move to a remote Norwegian island for ever, retrieve your car and catch the ferry to Svolvaer.
For more than 1,000 years, the Lofoten Islands have been the centre of great cod fisheries, as every year huge numbers of fish migrate south from the Barents Sea and gather around Lofoten to spawn – much to the delight of the orcas and humpbacks that crowd the fjords in the winter.
Though many people choose to wild camp in the summer (thanks to the right to roam law in Norway), a more comfortable option might be a traditional fisherman’s cabin, like the ones at Eliassen Rorbuer, to the west of the archipelago. From there, you can hire bikes, take long hikes to secluded coves, or hop on a sea-kayaking tour or a whalewatching trip (though if you’re lucky, you may well catch sight of a tail from the shore).
It sounds like a dreadful cliché to say it feels like the end of the earth up here. But when you are standing on an empty beach that you have hiked for four hours to reach, in order to catch the sunset, knowing the next body of land that lies ahead contains more polar bears than human beings, it truly does feel that way. Getting here isn’t easy, but it’s even harder to drag yourself away.
A view to remember from the sea cabins at Manshausen 1. MANSHAUSEN From £335 per night for two, September to June. (manshausen.no/en/huts/).
2. ELIASSEN RORBUER From £117 per night for a cabin for two (coolstays.com)