It’s such a big, wide world, and the travel choices are endless. Has your destination wish list got you feeling indecisive?
You’ve landed on the right page. Welcome to the second installment of Start Booking: Where to Go Next, where we dish up a plate of travel inspiration by sharing our top destination pick, one full quarter in advance.
If you’re like us, as soon as frosty winter weather subsides your thoughts turn to the long days, salty air and sandal-wearing weather of summer. Unfortunately, at far too many seaside destinations summer can also bring enthusiasm-reducing crowds, exhausted waitstaff, and lowered service standards.
(That’s precisely why we erred on the side of caution and suggested that you visit one of our favorite Mediterranean destinations – the sparkling Costa Brava region of Spain – in spring. However, if your heart is set on swimming at the beach in the hottest months, check our post on Italy’s best secret.)
To counteract the summer swarms, we try to travel north when the crowds travel south, and vice versa (stay tuned for next week’s article on spring skiing in the Italian Dolomites, in the Alps’ low season). Regular readers have probably already guessed where this is leading: to Norway, and more specifically, to the Geiranger-Trollstigen region that we visited late last summer.
By no means is Norway deserted this time of year; in fact, their entire tourist season is condensed into just a couple of months. Yet the numbers can’t match the beachy resorts down south, and the region of Fjord Norway that we’re describing is definitely “underappreciated.” If you wait until the very end of August or beginning of September, you’ll feel as if the country rolled out the red carpet just for you.
While it’s definitely not a typical seaside destination (too cold to swim, I’m afraid), there is plenty of sailing, water sports, and contemplative sea-gazing to be had. This Nordic paradise is the ideal retreat for independent travelers who like to march to their own drum away from the pounding rhythm of tourist traps:
- Art: Possibly the world’s best public works project, the National Tourist Routes combine the country’s most stunning scenery with large-scale architectural installations that enhance the surroundings, many boasting feats of engineering that seem to defy gravity. The area from Geiranger to Trollstigen is one of the most spectacular, and the drive is an unforgettable window into the extraordinary possibilities available to man collaborating with nature.
- Time travel: Step back in time to when the 20th century was new. Alesund, the city whose airport is nearest the Geiranger-Trollstigen road, is an Art Nouveau masterpiece, built almost entirely within three years, from 1904 – 1907. Viewed from atop the Aksla lookout, the candy-colored buildings lining miniature islands look like something from a dollhouse. Be sure to stop by and see Icaan at the Hotel Brosundet’s bar for some vanilla spruce liquor.
- Adventure: The entire country of Norway is an outdoors sporting mecca: hiking, kayaking, river rafting, paragliding, and skiing are just a few of them. While we were there, a Norwegian bicycling magazine was charting a route along the Geiranger-Trollstigen National Tourist Road, including the eleven hairpin turns down to Geiranger. Be sure to check operator schedules if you’re travelling near the end of the season, as they tend to close up shop quickly.
- Culture: The unique culture here is something that everyone should experience. The people are long-range thinkers and committed stewards of nature with the egalitarian belief that it should be open to everybody. They are culturally sophisticated, with a love of design (usually minimalist): both established and novice architects are commissioned for pubic works projects, artisans produce high-quality products; chefs tease farm-to-table ingredients into new heights of mouthwatering deliciousness; and the summer month are filled with outdoor music and arts festivals.
- Beauty: Above all, Norway is a land of truly majestic, extraordinary, practically unspoiled beauty. The much-adored fjords are just the icing on the cake; wait until you see the interior regions.
However, we have already spent weeks passionately describing Norway’s charms on this site, and encourage you to read all about the Geiranger-Trollstigen region. Our proposed itineraries for trips of varying duration can be found here, and favorite Norway design hotel over here. We even tried to waylay ay hesitations about visiting one of the world’s most expensive countries by providing pocketbook-friendly tips here.
There’s little that remains to be said, which is why we think you should just go ahead and start booking … now!