The Lofoten Islands - Norway's Paradise?
The Lofoten Islands, an archipelago of five islands off the coast of Norway above the Arctic Circle, may be the perfect destination for those seeking either a physical challenge or a relaxing escape in an area of extraordinary beauty.
The Lofoten Islands have a harsh, rugged countenance, with steep jagged hills jutting out of the crystal clear sea. But the harshness is limited to its appearance. The Gulf Stream provides a warming influence, resulting in temperatures much more moderate than one would expect north of the Arctic Circle. The average high and low temperatures in January are 34 and 28 (+1 and -2 celsius) respectively. For over 1000 years, the life of the Lofoten people has centered on fishing, and particularly the huge number of cod that spawn off the coast every winter. The same moderate temperatures allow the fish caught to be air dried on racks so the fish are preserved naturally, and can then be exported.
The racks for drying fish are still present all over the islands, as are the usually dark red wooden rorbuer fishermen’s cabins used to house the men that came from all over Scandinavia during the fishing season. Those cabins now are used to house tourists. Add to that the Midnight Sun (the sun never sets between the end of May and the middle of July), the Northern Lights, and surprisingly white sand beaches, and you have a northern version of paradise.
It is only in the past fifteen years that bridges and tunnels have been built to make it easier to get to, and around, Lofoten. Previously, access other than by air was only by boat – now Highway E10 goes from Narvik on the mainland all the way to A, at the westernmost edge of the islands. Bridges and tunnels connect the islands and make driving easier. There are many more options for flights now as well. However, with that easier access, and the increasing awareness of Lofoten’s special attributes, tourists are starting to arrive in increasing numbers.
Most of the people visiting appear to be there to hike, bike, camp, fish, or kayak. Tour buses aren’t that common on the roads; camper vans and bicyclists loaded down with gear are more prevalent. Those getting on the bus in Narvik generally have backpacks, not roller bags. Still, the Islands are available to those that simply want to enjoy the scenery. The pace is slower; the quiet immense (except for the seagulls); the air is clean and the water amazingly clear. Reine, pictured above, was recently on a list of the 25 Most Beautiful Small Towns in Europe. Nusfjord is one of the oldest and best preserved villages in Norway, with rorbuer cabins, a historical village and opportunities for fishing and other water activities. Stamsund, one of the stops for the Hurtigruten cruises, is equally beautiful. Many more towns and villages are easily explored, though you do need to be prepared to share the narrow roads with bikers, hikers, camper vans, tractors, buses, and sheep.
As with many tourist destinations today, there is concern about the impact of tourists on the environment and the lives of the residents. Lofoten has recently adopted a Code of Conduct , directed primarily to its visitors enjoying the outdoors. Additional steps will likely need to be taken to address infrastructure concerns like insufficient parking in tourist areas, since it is unlikely that the tourists will stop coming.
Lofoten is closer and easier than you might think. For unsurpassed beauty, and an experience you will never forget, put it on your list.
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