A spectacular wonderland in Svalbard, Norway

Imagine living in complete darkness for two-and-a-half months each year without ever once catching a glimpse of sunlight. This is the reality of the 2,500-odd souls inhabiting Norway’s Svalbard – or to be more precise, Spitsbergen, the largest and sole permanently populated island of the nine in the archipelago. Located roughly 1,050km from the North Pole, its Arctic location means that during the summer it bathes in the ‘midnight sun’, a geographical phenomenon in which the sun hovers above the horizon continuously for more than 75 days. Conversely, in the depths of winter, ‘polar night’ occurs, where darkness descends on the region for a similar period of time.

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Why, then, do so many people head to this remote, frozen area? The answer lies in its veritable treasure trove of outdoor experiences. Embodying a year-long snowy wonderland aesthetic, Svalbard boasts some of the most incredible scenery, amazing wildlife, majestic mountains, immense glaciers and beautiful fjords in the world. And, of course, it is one of the best places to take in the dazzling spectacle of the Aurora Borealis, otherwise known as the Northern Lights.

Interestingly, despite being under Norwegian sovereignty, the archipelago is governed by the Svalbard Treaty of 1920 and is treated as a separate entity. This means that Norwegians need to travel here with an ID card, and for anyone else, a passport. It’s also customary to remove your shoes when entering most establishments – a tradition that dates back to the settlement’s coal-mining days as a way to prevent coal dust from being tracked into buildings.

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It’s also said that you can’t be born or die in Svalbard, though this is not entirely factual. Local pregnant women will travel to the mainland about three weeks prior to delivery to give birth there, while it is forbidden for a body to be interred in Svalbard soil due to the permafrost. However, longtime inhabitants who have made significant contributions to the community may be granted an exception and have their remains cremated and then buried.

Without further ado, let’s dive into the top sights of this picturesque Norwegian region.

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Polar Base
Most visitors will make Longyearbyen, Spitsbergen’s biggest town and the administrative heart of Svalbard, their base. Tucked in a valley along the shores of the Longyearelva river, it is ringed by stunning snow-capped mountains, glaciers and even frozen waters during the winter. Since the archipelago environs have a bigger population of polar bears than humans, many areas are zoned off with a warning sign, and it’s not uncommon to spot one meandering through the streets. Here, you can find Svalbard Church, the northernmost church in the world, as well as Svalbard Brewery, similarly the world’s northernmost maker of craft beer.

“Areas are zoned off with warning signs, and it’s not uncommon to see polar bears meandering through town”

Exploring Within
Two indoor attractions in Longyearbyen may pique the interest of lovers of the great outdoors. The first is the Svalbard Museum, which lays out the region’s history, geology and wildlife, as well as the highlights of the various settlements that punctuate its acreage. For wannabe adventurers fascinated by the intrepid explorers who have headed even further north from the town, the North Pole Expedition Museum is a must. Visitors can pore through a large collection of newspaper clippings and posters on past expeditions, and brush up on the history of polar exploration.

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Also Read: Krast Country: Guilin, China’s stunning ode to Mother Nature

Abandoned Mine
Just to the north of Longyearbyen lies Pyramiden, a town founded in 1910 by Sweden before being sold to the Soviet Union in 1927 as a mining settlement. It was named for the pyramid-shaped mountain that towers over the area and was home to 1,000 hardy souls during its ’80s heyday. However, the Russian state-owned mining company, Arktikugol, closed all operations in 1998 due to dwindling coal prices and the ever-increasing challenges of extracting the fossil fuel. Today, Pyramiden counts various wildlife – arctic foxes, seabirds and the occasional polar bear, to name but three – as its main residents, and a visit here is like stepping back into the past, since its original buildings and mining infrastructure remain in situ.

“All offer beautiful vistas of frozen stalactites and stalagmites, and you may even stumble upon a frozen dinosaur fossil”

Campfire Lights
A short drive out of Longyearbyen, you’ll find Camp Barentz, located right below the last operating coal mine at the foot of the Breinosa mountain. Here, cosy wooden cabins are available to guests, and the menu features local delicacies such as reindeer stew. Its remote location makes it the perfect place to take in the Northern Lights and learn more about the green veils of light that hover in the skies from expert guides. Wildlife spotting is also handy, with Svalbard reindeer, grouse, foxes and even the occasional polar bear roaming through the site.

Ice Palaces
Svalbard’s glaciers – which cover roughly 55 percent of the archipelago – contain endless passages formed by melted waters that create fascinating ice caves for visitors to meander through. Caves change year to year depending on how waters melt, but tour operators deftly lead you through these ancient ice formations while you don a headlamp, crampons and a helmet. Hiking difficulty can vary, from easy walks to challengingly steep climbs, but all offer beautiful vistas of frozen stalactites and stalagmites, and you may even stumble upon a frozen dinosaur fossil if you’re lucky.

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Snow Trails
Given that Svalbard is pretty much a year-long winter wonderland, it’s no surprise that outdoor sports are a must for the active holidaymaker. Whether it’s hiking up the glaciers, skiing down their slopes, showshoeing through the valleys or simply exploring the arctic landscape via snowmobiles, adventurous visitors are left spoilt for choice. However, a unique activity here – and a big draw for animal lovers – is dog-sledding. With your four-legged friends doing all the work, you can sit back and take in the majesty of Svalbard’s frozen vistas regardless of the season, although it’s particularly recommended during the winter, when you can observe the glorious Aurora Borealis overhead.

Also Read: Puerto Perfecto: Puerto Rico’s capital, San Juan


Text: Tenzing Thondup

Tip of the iceberg: There’s more to Scandinavia than the Aurora Borealis


Fancy sledding in the Arctic Circle on reindeer sledges? Or listening to a private concert in a grotto in Iceland? Or maybe snowmobiling through frozen lakes in Sweden?

If you are all geared up for a Scandinavian adventure this winter, look no further! Award-winning luxury travel company, Jacada Travel, has just introduced its Northern European travel experiences, designed to transport you to the fairy-tale land of Frozen with lots of chilling adventures in tow.

And if winter’s not your thing, fret not, because each season in Scandinavia is unique and brings its own set of attractions. While in autumn, the nature blooms to its brightest colours before a barren winter, in spring-summer, there’s a chance of spotting bears that have just come out of hibernation.

To give us a sneak peek into what’s in store in a Scandinavian vacation, Jacada Travel is currently hosting an exhibition ‘In Search of Light’ by British photographer and explorer, George Turner, who has captured the beauty of lesser-known terrains of Norway, Finland, Scotland and Iceland through his lenses.

Exhibition details:
The Haven by Jacada Travel
29/F Wyndham Place, 40-44 Wyndham Street, Central
21 October to 9 December 2017
From 10am to 8pm (7pm on Mondays)
Free for public

Text: Suchetana Mukhopadhyay

Fishin’ Impossible


Gazing out across the still, silent North Sea from the raised timber decking of “Å”, an abruptly-named sea camp of in northern Norway, is quite an experience. It’s hard to believe you’re looking over the same patch of sea that Edgar Allen Poe, that master of the macabre, once described in Descent into the Maelstrom, his tale of shipwrecked horror.

That calm bay – flat as glass, reflecting the purples, reds and golds of the Arctic dawn sky – is a smiling assassin. On the surface, its betrays little of the savagery of its darker moods.

Å is set on the Southern tip of the Lofoten Archipelago, some 100 miles North of Iceland. Even this far above the Arctic Circle, the gulf stream takes the claws out of the weather, making it a breathtakingly lovely place to hike through untouched seams of nature or to kayak along vertical-sided fjords, killer whales watching from the troughs of the waves.

Outside the winter months, the area is rich in things to do and see. As a result, there’s a surprising number of hardy folk seeking a Scandinavianly-organised mini-adventure, all in a place where the history is just as rugged as the geography.

These Magic Islands are home to the world’s northernmost and most haunting surfing beaches. It was here – at Unstad beach – that the makers of E2K, that 1999 cult surf epic, found the perfect backdrop. Since then, it has been home to a growing and thriving surfer community.

It’s a paradise with jagged edges, however, and no less beautiful for that. In high summer, you can go scuba diving at midnight, while being screamed at by eagles and skuas. In the winter, guided off-piste skiing plunges you from the summit to sea level via one of the most dramatic powder-snow runs on the planet.

Back in 1941, its sheltered bays obscured the landing of British Commandos who – with the help of 52 men from the Norwegian Royal Navy – sank 18,000 tonnes of German shipping. They also captured an Enigma code machine with its cypher books, greatly abbreviating WW2.


The thing most people come here for, though, has been the backbone of the archipelago’s economy for the last 1000 years – fishing. These rich waters – from here to the breeding grounds in the Barents Sea -are stuffed with huge cod, halibut, coalfish and the fish further down the food chain that they, in turn, prey upon.

Travel here is not, however, package-hol straightforward. From Oslo, you may have to take a couple of jumps, the planes getting smaller and smaller the farther North you travel. SAS will take you as far as the sparse Northern football town of Bodø – make time here to take in a simple, but hugely enjoyable seafood supper in one of the harbourside restaurants – before then making your way back to Bodø airport and the final skip. Courtesy of Widerøe Airlines, this takes you across to Leknes, the main hub for the islands.

Bodø has just one check-in and a carousel not much longer than a supermarket checkout. At certain times of day, you may have the place to yourself, aside from the occasional visit of a surly staff member. Inevitably, he will check you in, bark instructions as to where you should wait for your plane and then disappear again.

Widerøe pilots, it seems, are made of sterner stuff than your average skybus driver. They all have the taut, lean, but careworn carriage and steely 1000-metre stare that comes from steering a 30-year-old De Havilland twin-prop through brooding, battleship-coloured murk to airports where nobody accepts “the weather” as an excuse for lateness. Outside the very busiest times, once you’ve climbed the steps, you’ll probably find you have all 37 seats to yourself for the 40 minute it will take you to reach Leknes.

Taxis queue for people here, rather than vice-versa. So, minutes after landing, you’ll find yourself burbling around the winding coastal roads – all roads are coastal here, apart from the short roads between the coasts. An hour or so later, you’re on the raised terraces of the camp in the aforementioned abruptly-named fishing village of Å.


The entire camp consists of two rows of ruddy-coloured wooden huts built on stilts over the sea, a short hike from the nearest village. This is actually a straight drag made up of a couple of stores, a smattering of fish and steak restaurants, some knitwear shops and a few bars. The very air of the place is frontierland-macho. Which, of course, it has to be in a place where the winter hits hard. In the fishing season, though, the temperature can be a mild(ish) four degrees, with the weak Arctic sun tempting a smattering of tiny flowers out of the bleak earth.

The landscape around the camp is of the lunar kind. The huts face out across a sheltered bay, while a ladder staircase gives you access to the jetties where six shiny, 23ft aluminium launches bob in readiness.

Most people travel here with groups of friends. If you don’t mind mucking in, though, the atmosphere is very welcoming for solo travellers. Shared food, whisky and the prospect of catching lots of big fish over the following few days brings out the bonhomie in most men. Before the end of the first vodka, you’ll find yourself joined to new multinational friends with hoops of steel.

Accommodation is of the “rough-luxe” type. Those seeking room service and a chocolate on the pillow need not apply. Each cabin has a simple, wooden kitchen and a seating area with a glass-covered map of the fishing grounds on the coffee table. There’s also a bathroom that’s slightly smaller than the average Norwegian man and two bedrooms, each with two wooden bunks.

It’s perfectly judged. You can’t help but smile as you sling your bag onto the top bunk, feeling like one of the Heroes of Telemark. Then, because you don’t know which huge, polar-necked neo-Viking you’ll be sharing your cabin with, you consider moving it to the bottom bunk before the next taxi arrives.

The fishing here is run by Nordic Sea Angling, and you’re in very good hands. You have a choice of either piloting your own boat, or hiring a guide – Nordic Sea Fishing’s giant and genial owner, Jimmy Andersson, or one of his team (who may be half your age, but will have the knowledge of generations on their shoulders) to skipper your boat and help you connect with the fish.


In both cases, you’ll be very well provided for. For unguided trips, the best fishing grounds are pre-plotted into the satnavs. All fishing and safety equipment is provided and the boats come fully fuelled.

There’s also a third option. Here you and your chums can take your own boat, but follow the guide boat to the best spots. Whether you follow them or fish with them, the young guides are worth every penny. Fresh-faced they may be, but they have seawater in their veins. They have travelled these waters for years and have a fistful of cod and halibut records between them to boot. If anyone can put you over the fish of a lifetime, they can.

When the first morning breaks – after man-sized sausage butties, and a visit to the quartermaster’s hut to be fitted into your matching red waterproof suits – you’ll be bounding across the ocean in one of a squadron of powerful aluminium motor launches. You can’t help but feel impossibly cool as you watch the engine shooting the wake out behind you, while the other boats fan-out on either side.

As for the fishing – if you’re looking to catch the fish of your life, Jimmy and his team will use their Scandinavian fish-whisperer instincts sense and their technology to help make your dream come true. Do as Jimmy tells you and you will catch big fish. And plenty of them.

In my case, Jimmy handed me a rod with a shocking pink rubber fish on the end of a line that was only slightly smaller than a fish I would be happy to catch back home. He lowered it into the water and mimed raising and lowering it as the method for attracting coalfish, a tumescently streamlined member of the cod family.

Seconds later, the rod tip touched the ocean and I found myself engaged in a wrestling match with the biggest fish I had ever hooked. Jimmy coaxed me through it. Heave the rod up, lower and wind. Keep winching, because if you stop, it’ll dive for the bottom and you have to start all over again. Half an hour later, I was releasing a 25lb coalfish back to its friends deep below, complete with the kind of smile you find on a teen boy walking home after becoming a man for the first time.


While you could spend the rest of the week doing this, but a day really takes it out of you. After hauling in thirty fish of a lifetime, you feel like you’ve been in a bar brawl.

Thankfully, well aware of this, Jimmy cleverly changes the game. The next day, you might fish for cod – brawny, beefy-lipped bruisers that fight like gypsies and swagger nonchalantly off as soon as the hook is removed.

Another day, you might hunt halibut. Fewer and further between, but even more rewarding. When you hook one, it feels something like pushing a car off a multi-storey car park and trying to reel it in. Tellingly, catching a 30-stone, two metre halibut is not at all uncommon.

When you’re too whacked to take on another big fish, they’ll take you for a gentler day of plaice fishing in a sheltered bay. They’ll still be the biggest plaice you’ve ever caught mind.

By the end of the week, you’ll be more tired than you’ve ever been, but very satisfied. Jimmy’s guides will help you fillet your fish into a hamper-sized polystyrene box and heave it into the camp’s walk-in freezer (the Norwegian government allows you to take 25kg of fish home with you).

When you get it home, the fish will still be the best you have ever tasted. Perhaps it’s because the fish we eat in most countries aren’t as big. Or maybe not as fresh. The cod and halibut you catch by rod and line in the North Sea, though, have a snow-white fillet steak texture.

Inevitably, you’ll shed a tear when you lift the last portion from the freezer, mentally pledging to yourself that you’ll be back in one of Nordic Sea Fishing’s camps as soon as you possibly can.

Nordic Sea Angling (www.nordic-sea-angling.se) runs deep sea fishing trips from four destinations in Norway – Havøysund, Nappstraumen and  Å – and from one warm water base in Panama.


From a towering height of some 60 metres, as you gaze down the in-run of the Holmenkollen ski jump in Oslo, one particular thought proves almost inescapable – ski jumpers are definitely more than a little bit mad. Perhaps it is the fascination of this sport – one that can, and does, do serious damage to many participants – that attracts more than a million visitors to the hill each year. Regardless of the reason, it is Norway’s most popular tourist destination, and after all, there are few other cities that offer such a precipitous – and vertigo inducing – attraction, while also letting you ascend to the top to take in the view.

There’s a curious thing about Oslo – as you find your way around, you’ll end up wondering quite why you haven’t been there before. It could be that it’s the cost. You’ll soon discover that the ski jump slope isn’t the only steep aspect of the Norwegian capital. Its regular appearance in league tables of the world’s most expensive cities is perhaps enough to deter many visitors. That, however, would be a shame as Oslo is quite rightly earning plaudits as an up-and-coming travel spot.


In any event, is it right to judge the quality of any holiday solely on how much it costs? While “how far will my money go?” is a primary consideration for many travellers, it remains the case that New York, London, Sydney and Hong Kong are among the most expensive places on Earth to visit. They are, however, all hugely popular destinations, largely because, outlay aside, they offer truly priceless experiences. Can Oslo justifiably claim to be in the same travel league? The answer may surprise you. It’s definitely a location that has come in from the cold.

Let’s get back to the top of that ski jump though. As you gaze across at the Oslo Fjord from your elevated vantage point, it’s all too possible to take in “the blue and the green and the city in between.” It’s a truly stunning sight and one that neatly illustrates the changes taking place across the city.

Traditionally, Oslo was very much a low-rise conurbation, with only a handful of buildings more than 100 metres tall. Recently, a boom in commercial, retail and residential development has led to a wave of construction that has dramatically rejigged the skyline.

Fortunately, the emphasis has been on the aesthetic, with a number of developments – notably the Barcode project in Bjorvika and Aker Brygge (a former shipyard) – leading the way in reviving the city’s waterfronts. The jewel in the crown – and reason enough to visit Oslo in its own right – is the spectacular Opera House in the Bjorvika development area.

Opened in 2008, its gleaming angled exterior emerges from the fjord like a giant iceberg. You don’t just look at this 21st century wonder, however, you can actually walk over its roof and take in yet more panoramic vistas, as well as the floating She Lies sculpture, fetchingly anchored to a platform in the fjord. Inside, the hall is no less aesthetically pleasing, a testament to its sweeping marble and oak interiors, ingenious lighting and built-in art installations.

In essence, the whole point of the building is to attract people whether they’re going to an opera or ballet performance or not. On that front, it is a triumph, bringing in nearly as many visitors as the ski jump each year. A particular recommendation is the back stage tour, a chance to marvel at the sheer scale of the whole enterprise.


If it was its Opera House that helped put Sydney on the world map, this triumph of contemporary design promises to do something similar for Oslo. If you’re not in the mood for an aria or two, then simply go there for lunch, and then work it off afterwards with a nice overhead stroll.

Another building well worth seeking out for its undoubted wow factor is the Astrup Fearnley Museum set at the end of Aker Brygge. The museum is made up of three pavilions, all residing under a distinctive sail-shaped glass roof. Don’t just stand outside and stare, though. Inside you’ll find a significant collection of modern and contemporary art, together with a series of rotating exhibitions from international artists.

An iconic image wholly synonymous with the city is, of course, The Scream. Possibly inspired by a tourist discovering the price of a glass of beer, you can see the work in two of the city’s galleries – the National Gallery and the dedicated Munch Museum. In total, Edward Munch created four versions of his masterpiece in both paint and pastels. Look closely and you will be able to discern subtle variations in the backgrounds and the vividness of hues in the different versions. Three of the originals are still in Oslo, while the fourth was sold privately in 2012 for US$120 million. Munch is about more than just The Scream, however, and in particular, check out his Madonna, Sun, The Day After and The Dance of Life.

The best bargain (and there are some) for the price-conscious visitor has to be the Oslo Pass. This not only provides entry to virtually every museum and sight in the city, it also includes free public transport. At 355 Krone (US$40) for one day (or 620 Krone (US$70) for three days, it’s a veritable steal.  It also comes with a useful app – Visit Oslo – and one that many other cities will soon be copying.

Although Oslo is compact enough, you’ll still need to use a bus or a boat to access the museum complex at Bygdoy, while the train is the best way of reaching Holmenkollen. Tram use is also included in the pass and it’s an easy system to get your head around.


Overall, you’re going to need a whole day to explore the peninsula of Bygdoy, not least because it’s home to at least six galleries. Here, the country’s seafaring prowess is very much to the fore, beginning with the Viking Ship Museum, home to three recovered burial boats from around the tenth century. If you close your eyes, you can almost see Kirk Douglas running across the outspread oars.

By contrast, the emphasis of the Fram Museum is on polar exploration. Within its walls, it intricately details the exploits of various Norwegian expeditions to both the North and South Poles.

Wackiest of all, is the Kon-Tiki Museum, a riotous celebration of the exploits of Thor Heyerdahl, the legendary maritime adventurer. Back in 1947, Thor and his crew set off from Peru aiming to cross the Pacific Ocean in a balsa wood raft, all part of a plan to prove his theories about inter-continental migration.

At the time, few expected to see them again. The voyage, however, proved a success, and in the name of science, Thor dreamt up further daring – some would say hare-brained – schemes, including sailing across the Atlantic in a reed boat. It’s the sort of inspired mad genius and Norwegian derring-do that becomes a little more understandable if you stand on top of that ski jump slope…


Back in the centre of the city, you’re going to get an awful lot more use out of that Oslo Pass. Alfred Nobel ensured that Oslo was put on the world map over a century ago, forever enshrined as the home of The Nobel Peace Prize. The Nobel Peace Centre celebrates the recipients of every Prize since 1901, though it’s fair to say, with the gift of hindsight, that some of the names might raise eyebrows today.

In reputational terms, on much safer ground is Henrik Ibsen, the renowned playwright (Hedda Gabler, A Doll’s House), known as “The father of realism.” Ibsen lived in the city for the last 15 years of his life, 11 of which were spent in an apartment, opposite the Royal Palace, now home to a museum dedicated to him. A guided tour of his preserved living quarters is recommended, not least to hear the story of his last words. On hearing his nurse inform a visitor that he was a lot better, he piped up: “On the contrary.” Realistic to the last.

Another of Oslo’s famous sons with his own museum is sculptor Gustav Vigeland, but for those visitors who have had their fill of exhibits, an introduction to his work can be found in the adjoining Frogner Park. A 46-foot high monolith of 121 human figures is a particular high point.

Overall, Norway took some time to emerge in the form we recognise today. For more than 400 years, it was united with Denmark. In 1814, Napoleon intervened and ceded Norway to the King of Sweden. Full independence arrived only as recently as 1905, with even that challenged by the 1940-1945 Nazi occupation.

It’s not just its sovereignty that has chopped and changed. While originally called Oslo, King Christian renamed the town Christiana after a 1624 fire necessitated extensive rebuilding. From 1877 the name was Kristiana, before it was changed back to Oslo in 1925.  Are you keeping up?


You can discover much of this history courtesy, once more, of the Oslo Pass. The medieval Akershus Castle, the Norwegian Resistance Museum, Oslo Cathedral and the City Hall are all included within its remit and are all well worth a visit. Stortinget, the Norwegian Parliament, also offers one-hour tours on most Saturdays of the year. It’s free, but you can’t book in advance and numbers are limited to just 30.

As you might expect from a country that owes much of its wealth to its vibrant fishing trade, you will be getting plenty of Omega 3 down you as part of your Norwegian diet. In fact, Restaurant Fjord is somewhat reminiscent of the old Monty Python spam sketch in that it offers cod, cod, cod and cod on its sampler menu, ableit only in the cod season. How do they manage that? Tartare of cod, cod tongue (they have them and they’re big), fried cod roe and baked cod all form part of its repertoire. Other high-end restaurants in the city, however, offer more varied and more expansive menus.  In particular, check out Hos Thea, Gamle Raadhus, Feinschmecker, Lofoten and Solsiden.

It’s natural to associate Oslo with winter – especially all those snow sports – but it’s equally beguiling in the summer, a time when you can hang out at the Aker Brygge, dining alfresco or taking a glass of wine or two. Or, perhaps, you’d prefer to take a boat trip or to pack a picnic and head to the park?

If you go in the summer, though, you will, of course, miss out on the winter weather that so defines the Norwegians. Go anytime that suits you is probably the best answer, but pay particular attention to just which clothes you pack.

Joking aside, is it really that expensive to visit Oslo? Well, it’s not cheap, but if, however, you’re looking for somewhere new, different, on the up -– and you’re used to paying London and New York prices – then the clear advice is: take the jump.