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Norway State of Mind: A Passion for Adventures in Nature

Nyvågar Rorbuhotell in Norway on adventure group tour
Nyvågar Rorbuhotell in Norway. A view from from the boardwalk.

Ask a Norwegian if they want to go outside to play and the answer will be an enthusiastic "yes." As I traveled through northern Norway on a recent expedition above the Arctic Circle, I discovered that Norwegians share a love of the great outdoors. They even have a name for it, but it's more than just a word, it's a state of mind, an ethos, a credo that's ingrained in the fabric of their psyche—friluftsliv (free-loofts-leave). Translated, it means spending time outdoors, immersed in the wilderness, experiencing nature as much as you can. It's a part of their cultural canon, and I wanted to be a part of it too.

It should come as no surprise then that Norway prides itself on outdoor adventures. Throughout our Arctic expedition from Tromsø south through the Lofoten Islands, I couldn't help but notice that every one of our guides and instructors reveled in being outside. Each one had fond memories of growing up outdoors, whether it was spending time with friends and family or merely stepping out into their backyards. Their love of nature was infectious and no matter the weather—rain or shine, winter darkness or midnight sun they embraced their beloved Mother Nature. You can't help but sense that Norwegians know a thing or two about living.

As I became aware of this friluftsliv, I wanted to know more. Norway is a vast wilderness full of adventure, and traveling with friends and family certainly makes the most sense when visiting these remote regions above the Arctic Circle. In fact, traveling in small groups certainly offered other benefits as well. Not only were we the perfect size for our epic outings, but we were also friends and colleagues who shared these moments together as we created memories. And, we welcomed newcomers as well. So, it's in the spirit of friluftsliv that our small group of travelers embarked on a mission to discover this natural state of mind unique to Norway.

We arrived in Tromsø, 200 miles above the Arctic Circle, just before lunch and spent the afternoon touring the sights. We saw the spectacular A-framed Arctic Cathedral; Polaria, a glacier museum and aquarium; and the Polar Museum to learn about Arctic expeditions and the perilous conditions that faced courageous Norwegians in the late 19th century. Our fearless group leader then led us on a chase after the midnight sun. We boarded the Fjellheisen cable car and flew like an eagle high above the city, and when we reached the top, the most stunning scene unfolded—surely a sign of things to come. Suddenly, the clouds parted, and streams of golden sunlight set ablaze the Alpine peaks in the distance. It was then that I understood friluftsliv, and our group of travelers were equally awe-struck. Looking back to my first visit to Norway, I had many similar experiences when I toured fjords along the southwestern coast, but I didn't have a name for it—until now.

A view of Tromso Sound from atop Storsteinen
A view of Tromsø Sound from atop Storsteinen.

Sea Safari in Senja

Our Arctic expedition continued south and after a scenic ferry crossing of the North Sea inlet, we arrived on Senja, Norway's second largest island, to embark on a Bergsfjord sea safari. Our rugged, handsome sea captains of our fjord-going vessel, Lasse and Luis, piloted our adventures through the fjord and even introduced us to a few new friends.

Flocks of Cormorants waved to us from their lofty perches upon the craggy cliffs; with a little coaxing from our captains, eagles swooped down to scoop up their lunch. Ahead in the distance, seals lumbered along rocky outcrops before sliding into the sea. As we cruised past sun-kissed waters and turquoise coral reefs, I had to remind myself that we were not in the Caribbean. Throughout our voyage, I think everyone on board appreciated friluftsliv and we reveled in every minute of it.

Senja morning Cormorants
Senja morning Cormorants.

To the Lofoten Islands

Continuing south from Senja, we were on our way to one of Norway's most stunning regions, the Lofoten Islands. The Lofoten Islands are a staggeringly picturesque 70-mile-long archipelago approximately 60 miles above the Arctic Circle. They consist of seven main islands stretching from Austvågøy in the north to wee Røst in the south, with five in between, including Gimsøy, Vestvagøy, Flakstadøy, Moskenesøy, and Værøy. Our expedition had its sights set on the first three in this island chain and our mission, to seek out new friluftsliv.

Rib Safari slowing down to take in the scenery
Rib Safari slowing down to take in the scenery.

Kayaking in Svolvær, Austvågøy

In Svolvær, we met up with XX-Lofoten for what was to become my first kayaking adventure. However, all I could think about was tipping into the cold fjord. I was relieved to find out that not only would we be outfitted with rubber suits and booties to keep us dry if such a fate were to befall us, but that I would have my personal co-pilot, Miriam, who assured me that all would be fine. As it turned out, she was right, and she was an superb companion having done most of the paddling while I captured the splendor of Norway in photos. Immersed in nature, I thought about friluftsliv as our small group of kayakers plied the crystalline ripples of the sea. Against the mountain backdrops, ribbons of vibrant red fishermen's cabins lined water's edge creating some of the most dramatic panoramas I've ever enjoyed.

Svolvær Kayaking with XXLofoten
Svolvær kayaking with XXLofoten group trips.

A French kiss with a wolf at the Polar Park Arctic Wilderness Centre

Little did I know when we arrived in the Arctic Circle that I would be French kissing a wolf in the world's northernmost animal park, Polar Park Arctic Wildlife Centre. Covering 275 acres of sprawling Norwegian wilderness, the park is home to both predators as well as their prey—bears, lynx, foxes, deer—among others, all living within fenced-in enclosures reminiscent of Jurassic Park, which are among the world's largest regarding the ratio of animal-to-enclosure habitats. But it was inside the wolf lair where our canine encounters would transpire. Via a wooden tunnel from the perimeter fence to the front door, we made our way into Wolf Lodge, a brand new mountain dwelling that's perfect for any small group of travelers wishing to bunk up for a few nights and howl with the wolves. Natural pine finishes throughout the interiors add to the rustic charm. Floor-to-ceiling windows reveal the wilderness beyond the panes. Take a seat, grab some wine, and they will come.

A polar park lynx
A polar park lynx.

A polar park wolf
A polar park wolf.

Wolf Lodge interior
Wolf Lodge interior.

Undoubtedly, this was one of the most thrilling and moving experiences of my life. After a short wolf briefing about proper protocol for encounters in the wild, we left the confines of the lodge and ventured into their lair. One by one, the wolves approached ever so cautiously. They greeted us with a kiss. There I was looking into the amber eyes of a wolf when one gentle kiss suddenly melted my fears. With a gentle rub of her tummy we were kindred spirits from different worlds sharing a fleeting moment of friendship. Once again, I thought about the spirit of friluftsliv as we connected with nature and its inhabitants.

An Adrenaline Surge through Trollfjord

Clearly, friluftsliv knows no speed limit let alone bounds. We met up with our friends from RIB-Lofoten for a heart-pounding, adrenaline-pumping race upon the crested waves of Trollfjord. Our group of intrepid explorers climbed aboard the Atlantica, a machine designed to convey its cargo, and we raced on a high-speed sprint through the fjord. As we barreled along our course, spindrifts in our wake, the combined blur of landscape and thrill of the chase sent my spirits soaring. We all cheered "faster"!

Our Arctic Adventures Conclude

Our Arctic adventures were coming to end. I have learned how to embrace friluftsliv with fellow explorers along with new friends we met along the way. Wherever the roads or fjords may lead you, whether you accompany friends and family or travel alone, keeping a Norway state of mind to the forefront is clearly the way to make the most of the journey. I've connected with something special, a souvenir that cost me nothing, a love for Norway and the great outdoors—friluftsliv!

Jeff was a special guest of Visit Norway USA and Northern Norway on a life-changing expedition to the Arctic wilderness. Of course, opinions expressed are entirely his own.

Northern Norway Small Group Travel Resources

Exploring northern Norway in our small group certainly had its benefits when it came to just about everything we needed for our expedition. From the logistics of transportation and accommodations to the action-packed thrills of the adventure, splitting the costs between six was a lot easier on the wallet. Whether friends like our group or multi-generational families, small group travel is the most efficient and cost-effective way to make the most of traveling through remote regions like the Lofoten Islands. Below is a list of resources to help you find out more about these adventures and nearby accommodations.

Arctic Circle Adventures:

From "Rough Luxe" to De Luxe accommodations:

  • Kalle Rorbuer
    Known for their "rough luxe" accommodations, Kalle rorbuer (fishermen's cabins) are perfect for groups traveling together in search of friluftsliv in the great outdoors!
  • Hamn I Senja
    Exquisite apartment-style accommodations. Each floor features a shared common area including kitchen, dining, living and screened-in porch plus two bedrooms, each with its private bath.
  • Nyvågar Rorbuhotell
    Quaint and cozy rustic cabins line the bay. Each cabin comes with a full kitchen, living and dining area on the ground floor, with two dormer-style bedrooms upstairs. 

Senja morning Cormorants Jeff Titelius is a travel writer and publisher of EuroTravelogue.com—chronicles of wondrous journeys throughout Europe. As Jeff says, “"Wherever the roads or rivers may lead, I seek out cultural connections with places and people." In addition to his own website, Jeff has appeared here on TransitionsAbroad.com, Insight Guides, NRK-Norwegian TV interview, Viking River Cruises brochures, ItalianTalks.com, and he was a guest journalist on NRK-Norwegian TV’s series, “Sommeråpent.”—among others. Follow Jeff on Twitter @jefftitelius or @eurotravelogue as well as Facebook.com/EuroTravelogue.

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