The North Cape globe at sunset, Norway

The REAL North Cape [don’t be fooled!!]

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

We are sitting in our room, in the Scandic Ishavshotel overlooking Tromsø, nicknamed the Gate to the Arctic. Looking closely at our interactive map of our next steps, we both tick as we are checking out the North Cape area. About two months ago, we set off from Paris, France, to take our time to explore Norway to eventually reach the northernmost point on the European continent. We zoom in more. It seems clear on the map. We add a pin and check the GPS coordinates. Less than a minute of a degree, but still… The North Cape is not the North Cape!

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Top 5 mountain biking adventures in Norway

Text: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

The vast and wild northern landscapes of Norway, with the right to roam freely on uncultivated land as the only rule, set the expectations pretty high for mountain bikers. The reality is not as dreamy, as the very democratic Norwegian vision prompts for trails for all, instead of specifically designed for and designated mountain biking, hiking or cross-country skiing tracks… resulting in no ideal trails for anyone. Still, adventurous riders can have a blast and feel like travelling back to the start of mountain biking, using today’s high-tech bikes! Norwegian mountain biking adventures, past bike parks, have to be deserved. But fear not, if you are ready to do some pushing and carrying during your ride, and if you love being fully immersed in nature while enjoying dramatic sceneries, keep on reading to find out where your extra efforts will be greatly rewarded!

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Reflection of a mountain biker in a calm Norwegian lake

Mountain biking in the tracks of the CIA and reindeer in true wilderness [Norway]

Text: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

Above Snåsa in the heart of Mid-Norway, a winding dirt road takes us to Ismenningen Fjellstuggu at an altitude of about 500 meters. Our host, Skjalg Ledang welcomes us with a warm smile as we arrive. With his wife Grethe, he has recently acquired this former hunting chalet to turn it into a homey accommodation to explore the beautiful surrounding wilderness of the Blåfjella – Skjækerfjella / Låarte – Skæhkere National Parks, close to the Swedish border.

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A reindeer surrounded by fall colours

15 fun & interesting facts from the North!

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Marcella van Alphen & Claire Lessiau

1. The North Cape is not the North Cape!!

There are actually three points claiming to be the northernmost point on the European continent:

  • The touristic North Cape on Magerøya Island where the visitor’s centre stands and where travellers take selfies by the iconic globe landmark and buy 71°10’21” souvenirs.
  • The real northernmost point on the same island, at the tip of a narrow peninsula reached after an 18-kilometer round trip hike.
  • For the purists, the actual northernmost point on the European continent – and not on an island of that continent – that requires a demanding 50-kilometre round-trip trek to be reached: Cape Nordkinn.
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Sperm whale tail by fishing boat, Norway

Whale, whale, whale: safari time!

Text: Marcella van Alphen
Photographs: Marcella van Alphen

Focussed on the horizon, that seems to keep moving uncomfortably, I scout the choppy surface of the Norwegian Sea. Our boat has just left from the small fishing village of Stø, located on the northernmost tip of the Langøya Island of the Vesterålen Archipelago just slightly north of the popular Lofoten. A chilly breeze keeps my senses sharp on this very last day of August and the upcoming winter is already palpable in the air. Dressed warmly for today’s safari, I pick up my binoculars when I spot some activity on the horizon. I cannot yet make out what is going on precisely. Thinking back about my animal tracker course I graduated from in the South African bush, I have learnt to always be on the lookout for signs of other animals, and these fishing seagulls are definitely up to something.  I point out the commotion at sea to our captain who has already been adjusting the course of his small vessel… He takes his binoculars too and a large grin appears on his face: “Killer whales at 12 o’clock!”, he announces with clear excitement in his voice.

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View on Arctic Cathedral from Scandic Ishavshotel at night, Tromso

3 days in Tromsø, the gateway to the Arctic

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Marcella van Alphen

Tromsø, nicknamed the gateway to the Arctic, is the largest urban area in Northern Norway (and the third largest in the world North of the Arctic Circle) where one can tick off probably all the northernmost bucket list items one can think of from the northernmost brewery to the northernmost botanical garden and many more.

With the city centre located on the Tromsø Island, surrounded by the Norwegian Sea and snowy mountain peaks, the weather can be tricky at times. In this article, activities are sorted out by indoor and outdoor settings in order to easily fill up a three-day stay, with a special section about the Northern Lights that are often the reason to visit.

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Characteristic yellow fishermen rorbuer on turquoise water in Lofoten, Norway

Authentic Lofoten

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

Hamnøya, Lofoten, 1900s

The ice-cold winds howl through the planks. The fishing nets and gear hanging in the adjacent room make the whole cabin humid. The stinking cod liver oil lamp provides a gloomy light. There is no escape from the pungent smell of cods hanging on the wooden racks everywhere outside. Through the window, the small harbour is packed with fishing rowing boats. As least, they are well protected here in this natural harbour close to the Moskstraumen, one of the strongest ocean currents, running between this island of Moskenesøya and the small island of Mosken at the western tip of the Lofoten Archipelago in northern Norway. Looking at the direction the king cod hung from the ceiling is pointing, the weather is not about to better anytime soon. With another eleven fishermen sharing the four-bedded 20-square-meter room, the snoring is non-stop and covers the lapping of the waves against the stilts and the loud squeals of seagulls. Today is going to be another day getting busy building a mock up fishing boat to pass time.

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Jumping Svolværgeita overlooking Svolvaer, Norway

Goat climbing & stockfish tasting in Lofoten!

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

It is only thanks to the fish! Mastering the drying of cod, fished in the winter off the coast of Lofoten, transformed this fish into a sought-after and profitable commodity exported all over the world. Without the nutritious stockfish with no expiration date, the Vikings would not have been able to survive their long journeys to Greenland or America; the Hanseatic merchants would not have established profitable businesses in Bergen; Norway would have missed out on one of its most important sources of revenue; and Lofoten would have never seen its cute and colourful fishermen’s cabins pop along its shores attracting so many today and in which it is so enjoyable to stay.

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Tsucan vistas on the Golden Road at sunrise, Norway

Your 4-day itinerary in Norway’s Tuscany!

Text: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

Barely an hour north of Trondheim, the lovely Inherred region is the ideal place to slow down and follow a food path between local farms and historical landmarks through fields of gold, rolling hills and scenic fjords… Here is your perfect four-day itinerary in Norway’s food basket through Trøndelag starting from Trondheim.

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The colourful wood warehouses on stilts of Bryggen in Trondheim reflecting in the water

The vibes of Trondheim & its must-visits

Text: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

The third city of Norway, and the first significant one in the North, Trondheim remains rather small and easy to discover over a couple of days. The innovative student town showcases different gentrified areas that are enjoyable to stroll, past the must-visit Nidaros Cathedral that attracts thousands of pilgrims, believers and curious travellers every year.

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Stiklestad church, Norway

In the footsteps of Olaf the Bloody, the Saint Viking & eternal King of Norway [around Trondheim]

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

She is walking briskly. Past the old bridge, along the back side of the colourful wooden warehouses on stilts, towards the train station. It is Sunday afternoon, last day of the Norwegian holidays and the train to Oslo will depart soon. She is carrying a sturdy pair of hiking boots, a 40-litre backpack, and wearing a large smile between satisfaction and serenity. Her face is bright red after days spent in the outdoors. Like her, every year, many complete the Saint Olaf pilgrimage to Trondheim, and even more so during the Saint Olaf festival taking place around July 29, the Saint’s day. To get the official stamp, walking 100 kilometres along the millennium-old hiking path is required. However, many cover much more, and often the 640 kilometres (400 miles) between Oslo and Norway’s third city.

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Author Marcella van Alphen coming out of a crevasse on the Fonna Glacier

Cracks under pressure: The Blue Ice Hike

Text & photographs by Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

The winding glacier road leaves the peaceful village of Jondal, bordering one of Western Norway’s most picturesque fjords, the Hardanger Fjord. Passing bucolic hamlets and farms, in only 19 kilometres, this narrow route elevates us from the waters of the fjord at sea level to an ice world at an altitude of 1,199 meters. A magic place where adventures await the ones who are ready to beat the cold and are curious to explore what lies beyond the end of the road…

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Portrait of a lynx

Face-to-face with Norway’s predators [Polar Park, Tromsø]

Text: Marcella van Alphen
Photograhs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

She is well camouflaged. The light brown colour of her fur dotted with some darker small spots hardly shows when she runs through the forest. I catch a glimpse as she moves out of the thickets. She stops and looks at me with her fluffy fur, white throat, elegant long legs, short tail and characteristic cat ear tufts. The lynx is one of the very special animals living in the wilderness of Norway. Very shy and rarely seen, it is in the Polar Park near Tromsø that we can observe her and learn about her.

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Lom Stave Church against a blue sky

The 6 must-visit Stave Churches of Norway

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

A trip to Norway is not complete without visiting Norway’s unique contribution to the world architecture. Thanks to some excellent open-air museums or reconstructions, it is possible to see them in Oslo, Bergen or Trondheim. However, travelling through rural Norway to visit some of the finest remaining stave churches is an unforgettable experience! To decode stave churches and learn some fun facts, check this article out!

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Lofts at the Kviteseid open-air museum, Norway

Meeting romantic Norway deep in Telemark

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Marcella van Alphen & Claire Lessiau

Many travellers skip the Telemark region, shooting for more arctic landscapes while visiting Norway. However, it is mostly this southern region that helped shape the country’s national identity: slow down a little bit and explore Telemark, the romantic idea that most Norwegians have of their own country…

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View from Floyen, Bergen

Bergen in 11 fun facts

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Marcella van Alphen & Claire Lessiau

1. On average, it rains 265 days a year in Bergen, making it the wettest place in Europe!

Estimates vary. Keep in mind that with about 3,000 millimetres of rain a year and so many wet days, chances are you may want to have a few nice museums in mind to visit! Perfect, as Bergen is full of them from the excellent KODE 3 art museum to the Fisheries or the Hanseatic Museum. For inspiration, check this article out!

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Woman looking at a globe carved out of ice in the ice tunnel, Norway

Touching Permafrost, Ice Tunnel & Norse Mythology

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

The Juvasshytta at 1,840 meters of altitude is the base for exploring more than Galdhøpiggen, the roof of Scandinavia. The man-made ice tunnel, entirely dug by hand with ice axes allows you to discover the ins and outs of this world of ice and the fragile climate balance. Explore the mythological well of knowledge hidden in the Ice Tunnel in Jotunheimen National Park, learn about the delicate flora and fauna of the tundra and touch climate change yourself!

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Colourful warehouses of Bryggen with boats in the foreground, Bergen

72 hours in Bergen

Text: Marcella van Alphen & Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Marcella van Alphen & Claire Lessiau

Once past the cruise tourists who tend to stick to the UNESCO World Heritage Bryggen and to the funicular that takes them up Fløyen, Bergen is a charming city with many hidden gems waiting to be discovered. This harbour town has retained its cosmopolitan character and the second city of Norway after its capital Oslo, is very welcoming. This student town is vibrant, surrounded by beautiful mountains and spread around the water: an easy access point to the North Sea that has made Bergen what it is today.

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Photographer Marcella van Alphen walking through the snow in summer with blue skies

On the roof of Northern Europe [Galdhøpiggen]

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Marcella van Alphen & Claire Lessiau

Jotunheimen, the land of the giants. It does feel like seating amongst millennium-old towering giants looking at all these 2,000-meter-high peaks surrounding our small tent pitched in the soft tundra on our way up Galdhøpiggen, Northern Europe’s highest mountain in the heart of Jotunheimen National Park. No less than 250 of these mountains are located in Norway’s most popular national park where the country’s greatest concentration of high peaks is found. From a distance, the summits look like a world in monochrome with the rugged dark stones partially covered in snow, cut by majestic white waterfalls. In this surprisingly arid polar climate, it is the melting of the glacier that provides water to the surrounding communities. Farmers have even dug 250 kilometres of open channels to irrigate their lands. Only the bells of a few sheep roaming these slopes during the summer break the humming of the water cascading in the distance.

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Musk Oxen in Dovrefjell Sunndalsfjella National Park, Norway

Musk ox safari in the Norwegian mountains

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Marcella van Alphen

No, it is not related to the bison even though it looks an awful lot like it from where I stand in the middle of the Norwegian alpine tundra! Actually, it is more related to sheep and goats. The prehistoric-looking musk ox lives in the arctic regions of the world, and the only musk ox population in Norway roams the mountain slopes of Dovrefjell-Sunndalsfjella National Park where I am hiking with my passionate guide Jo Even Kolstad on a musk ox safari.

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Writer Marcella van Alphen crossing a suspension bridge above powerful white waters

The white gold that shaped today’s Norway [Odda/Trolltunga]

Text & photographs by Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

The steep green mountain slopes of Western Norway are covered with white veins. Immensely powerful waterfalls plummet into the crystal-clear or emerald-green waters of the fjords where occasionally a whale passes by… Standing on top of Lilletopp, Tyssedal, overlooking the Hardanger Fjord, I am facing two very different sides of Norway: to the right, it looks like a lost and wild place on Earth dominated by nature, to the left another impression sticks… In the midst of this natural beauty attracting hikers from all over to conquer the famous Tongue of the Troll, or Trolltunga, lays the heart of where the industrial revolution of Norway started and the cradle of the country’s hydropower capabilities…

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Small island with wooden houses seen from the water. Bleikoya, Oslo, Norway.

48 hours in Oslo

Article updated on October 21, 2021
Text: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

Day 1

The off the beaten path Akerselva River

Past the ultramodern Bar Code architectural project, and a few streets in the vibrant Grønland district, reach the Akerselva River to walk its banks and explore the industrial past of Oslo. This stream used to provide power to the factories of the capital long before Oslo became one of the wealthiest cities on the planet: back then blue collars struggled to make a living to feed their families and child labour was common. Today, this bucolic path is a local’s favourite with a few bars, restaurants, art schools, and alternative galleries popping along it, and the famous Mathallen food market (you may want to grab a bite and buy a few things for this evening’s pick nick). This scenic path along the Akerselva River is also a great run if you feel sporty.

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Sunset through the boat railing, Oslo, Norway.

The vibes of Oslo, Norway

Article updated on October 21, 2021
Text: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

The almost thousand-year old capital of Norway has known an incredible expansion for the past dozens of years making it one of the most expensive cities of the world and is really worth a visit. Follow us throughout Oslo discovering its various neighbourhoods.

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Screaming for Munch in Oslo

Article updated on October 21, 2021
Text: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

In 2012, Edvard Munch’s 1895 pastel, “The Scream” sold for a record price of just under $120 million at Sotheby’s auction house in New York City. This was then the most expensive piece of art ever sold at an auction, sealing Munch’s reputation as one of the most influential painters. What makes Munch’s paintings so engaging?

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A night at the opera in Oslo

Article updated on October 21, 2120
Text: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

Inaugurated only in 2008, the Oslo Opera House has already become the landmark of the Norwegian capital. Its architecture intrigues. Like an iceberg floating in the Oslo fjord, locals and tourists alike climb it to reach its roof via soft inclines or explore its warm and modern foyer. Far from the elite image of most opera houses, the Oslo Opera House is an open space decisively. It has revolutionized its area, a former shipyard cut off from the rest of the city by an ugly highway that was forced underground, and made it a favourite promenade attracting recommendable neighbours like the new Munch Museum or the bar code urbanization project. The building fascinates, and the temptation of exploring its ins and outs only grows bigger as one approaches it.

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Bleack and white, ski jump seen from above without snow.

In the tracks of Norway’s bravest explorers in Oslo

Article updated on October 10, 2021
Text: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

Norway is a rather small country per number of inhabitants, and some of them have led some of the craziest explorations admired from all over the world! They are celebrated in Oslo in some excellent museums where original artefacts that crossed oceans or reached the poles are exhibited. Know where to go to follow the tracks of some of world’s greatest explorers!

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