Just hear those dog sled bells jingling ...
For those who need snow to feel festive, Norway might be just the ticket
�It is the land of the midnight sun and famed for its spectacular landscape and sweeping fjords – but there is a lot more to Norway than just nature.
It offers a wealth of delicious food from char to reindeer and elk as well as a range of unique experiences – dog sledding, eating lunch in a traditional Norwegian tent and Christmas markets rivalling those of Germany to name a few.
The run-up to Christmas is a perfect time to visit Norway and get you into the festive spirit. With wintry scenes, dark nights and hot, comforting food, the Scandinavian country provides a very different kind of break from all those other European offerings.
After a short two-hour 20- minute flight from Gatwick, I landed in Trondheim before heading north to the beautiful old mining town of R�ros.
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Residents of R�ros still live and work in the characteristic wooden 17th and 18th century buildings because of which the town has been designated a Unesco world heritage site.
Arriving after dark – around 2.45pm in northern Norway in December with sun-up not until 9.15am – we took a majestic torch-lit horse and carriage ride around the town, sat snugly under several sheepskin rugs, drinking hot wine and taking in the town’s quaint medieval appearance.
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Temperatures regularly plunge to -20 degrees or colder at night in this part of Norway and rarely get above -5 during the day – and it is only slightly warmer further south.
But with the right jacket, gloves and a hat, the cold is not a problem and only adds to the atmosphere of this unique snow-clad paradise.
After the ride, we headed to Vertshuset for dinner – a restaurant run by Norway’s celebrity chef Mikael Forselius. Norway takes great pride in its cuisine and produces lots of its own fruit and vegetables – despite the adverse weather.
For dinner, we dined on arctic char, a typical fish from the region, reindeer with Norwegian-grown potatoes and a rich mushroom sauce and, for dessert, a cloudberry tart. Cloudberries are amber-coloured berries which grow in the arctic tundra and are loved by Norwegian diners. They have a delicious sharp flavour similar to a raspberry.
The highlight of my trip to Norway was getting to ride – and control – a dog sled across a mountain plateau outside R�ros. Clad in a boiler suit to keep out the bitter cold, first riding in and then manning a sled pulled by six Alaskan huskies across the pure white landscape was a hair-raising experience I will never forget.
Organised by Ketil Reitan – the lead dog musher on the Norwegian team who beat James Cracknell and Ben Fogle to the South Pole – Husky Tours gives you to opportunity to take part in this exciting arctic exercise – learning how to harness the dogs as well as steer the sleigh.
After wearing ourselves out, we entered a lavvu, a traditional tent of the Sami people – the arctic indigenous population of northern Scandinavia – for a mouth-watering elk steak and a bowl of sweet blueberry soup.
With a bit of daylight left, we headed to the Christmas market in R�ros which was full of delightful wooden and knitted trinkets as well as reindeer skins, Norwegian knitwear and unique woollen slippers which you would never see anywhere else.
After a two-hour drive – all Norwegian vehicles have special snow tyres – we were back in Trondheim, a charming, vibrant city of around 170,000 people.
A Christmas concert in the imposing Nidaros cathedral put us all in the festive spirit and we headed to the town’s fast-growing Christmas market. Offering everything from Christmas decorations, clothing, footwear to traditional Norwegian food and drink, there is a chance to buy a gift for everyone in the family – be it a woolly hat, some brown cheese – a delicacy Norwegians eat for breakfast or some Ludtvisk – another delicacy of fermented fish.
A trip to Norway would not be complete without tasting the country’s alcoholic offering – aquavit. As I knocked back a couple of shots – that is how you are supposed to drink it I promise – with the Aquavit Club’s president, I felt my blood run warm and understood why it is such a popular drink in this cold country.
Then it was time for a traditional Christmas buffet at a beautiful restaurant up in the hills outside Trondheim in Lian. When the Norwegians’ coats come off they love to dress smart for special occasions and the Christmas party is no exception.
After a sumptuous dinner of all Norway has to offer – including reindeer, elk, pork belly and sheep ribs as well as the infamous Ludtvisk, which was surprisingly quite tasty if you can get over the smell, we danced with the merry Norwegians and looked forward to Christmas.
The true beauty of Norway is its uniqueness – scenically, culturally and gastronomically – and, although it can be expensive for a tourist, planned well, it is totally worth a visit.
n For more information, visit www.visitnorway.co.uk.