Play hide and seek with nature
Varanger, north-east Norway
Biotope is the world's first and only birdwatching architectural firm. The brainchild of architects Tormod Amundsen and Elin Taranger, Biotope was born from their desire to ‘do something different’ in their quest to examine nature, ecology and environmentalism. A pair truly after our own hearts.
In the beginning people thought Amundsen and Taranger were a bit nuts. After all, they were planning on setting up office in Varanger, the furthest north-eastern part of Norway and very much off the beaten track. But two decades on they’ve established 12 striking bird hides here, putting Varanger on the map as one of the foremost destinations for Arctic birdwatching.
For an experience that epitomises Biotope’s work, seek out the Kongsfjord nature room, which perches on the edge of a cliff out on the Veines peninsula. The shed’s harsh metal exterior gives it a foreboding appearance. In contrast, the untreated pine inside exudes the classic Nordic warmth. It’s the perfect place to spot birds of prey like white-tailed eagles and rough-legged buzzards, or to witness the power of an Arctic storm out at sea.
Take a hike
It’s a tradition in Norway to ‘summer’ in the mountains. Many families have their own cabin where they can spend their holidays nestled among nature. The Norwegian Trekking Association (DNT) is an amazing resource for those without their own mountain getaway, like us tourists.
DNT has used old footpaths and thoroughfares to mark out around 22,000 km of official trekking and skiing trails (for winter snow lovers) that traverse the country, so that people can enjoy time in nature while protecting local plant and animal life. This enormous network covers every kind of terrain, from completely flat plains to high altitudes - and has 550 wilderness cabins dotted along the routes. If you want a bit of luxury after a day on your feet, choose a route with a fully staffed lodge where you can feast on fresh, seasonal food that’s included in your stay.
You can buy a year’s membership for DNT for £60, which gives you discounts at the lodges and in many stores throughout Norway.
Celebrate with the Sami
We’ve been lucky enough to spend a lot of time with Sami families in Sweden and Norway. If you love to immerse yourself in traditional cultures, take the opportunity to visit these kind, generous, happy people. The Sami are the indigenous people of the north. And by north we mean ‘way up in the Arctic Circle’ north. There are close to 80,000 Sami spread across Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia, with about half of them living in Norway. The biggest, most accessible towns are Karasjok (home to the Sami Parliament, around 3,000 Sami and over 60,000 reindeer) and Kautokeino, the Sami capital in Norway.
For us, the most exciting time to visit Kautokeino is during the Easter Festival. Nowadays the week-long celebration features an eclectic blend of traditional and modern Sami culture. Experience reindeer racing, art and film exhibitions by Sami creatives, craft making, and food markets. All enjoyed to the sound track of the traditional music of the Sami, joik, performed by artists from every genre. Rap included. The joy of the week is felt in every corner of the town and is visible on every face. It’s a feeling you’ll carry with you long after you depart.
Find hidden treasure
As children, who else dug deep, deep holes in the beach in the hope of uncovering forgotten wonders…or even just a pound coin to buy an extra ice-cream? Geocaching taps into all of those childhood dreams and makes them a reality.
There are more than 82,000 geocaches in Norway. Not sure what a geocache is or why you should care? We’ll explain…
Using the Geocaching app you can become part of the world’s largest treasure hunt, using GPS to find cleverly hidden containers, called geocaches. It’s a brilliant way to explore any new country but especially Norway, because the caches here are in some pretty crazy locations. Some are at the summit of challenging mountain hikes. Some are among the endless pine forests that line many of Norway’s 18 scenic highways. There are even caches far north in the Lofoten Islands. Headed to the city? There’s plenty there too.
The beauty of this game is that it gets you outside into the glorious Norwegian air and experiencing the country like a local.