When I think of Europe’s cold north I think of the Everyman’s Right, a clause in the law of Norway, Sweden and Finland that allows anyone to roam through the land freely, to forage for wild food, to walk in any forest. It sums up how Scandinavians approach the great outdoors – as a natural and intrinsic part of life to be respected and enjoyed by all.
The Scandi good life is having a bit of a moment, isn’t it? But as much as I love Scandi interiors, Norse myths and cinnamon rolls, it’s the wild and wonderful landscapes of the north that I’m captivated by, from Norway’s cold fjords (who knew you could surf them?) and Iceland’s dark volcanic peaks to the cold snow-clad forests in the Arctic Circle or Denmark’s huge archipelago of dreamy islands. Whether you head north in the long warm days of midsummer or voyage to see the icy cold beauty of Scandinavia in winter, it’s a magical, mesmerising place that will get under your skin like no other culture and landscape on earth.
Oh and in case you’re wondering, ‘Scandinavian’ and ‘Nordic’ are often used interchangeably but the former refers to Sweden, Norway and Denmark, whilst the latter also includes Finland, Iceland and Greenland.
Go North: Five Nordic adventures
ROAD TRIP ACROSS ICELAND’S WILD WEST
Iceland is a bizarrely beautiful island that is completely its own, home to black sand beaches, hidden hot springs, glittering glaciers and, um, fermented shark for tea. Most travellers (and their numbers are rising each year) stay close to Reykjavik – head to Iceland’s wild, remote west instead for empty landscapes and cultural immersion. Artisan Travel’s epic self-drive road trip across Snaefellsnes and the West of Iceland is the perfect taste of Iceland’s wild side. The Snaefellsnes peninsula is often referred to as ‘pocket Iceland’, as it offers everything from spectacular mountains to friendly fishing villages and a mythical glacier to hike across. Artisan Travel’s trip is perfect for independent souls – they’ll book boutique hotels for you and send you off with an itinerary and your own 4×4 car to explore for eight adventurous days, from £1,665 per person.
Image by Jonathan Pie.
ESCAPE TO A LOG CABIN IN FINLAND
Do as the Finnish locals do and swap the busy city for a peaceful log cabin by a lake. There are more than 187,000 freshwater lakes to choose from in Finland’s wild, forested wildernesses, and a handful are available to rent via Finland Cottage Rentals, from £298 per week. In summer you’ll have almost endless daylight in which to explore the woodlands (look for blueberries and chanterelle mushrooms growing wild on the forest floor), or in winter pick a cabin with a traditional wood-burning sauna – Finns recommend alternating between steaming in the sauna and swimming in an icy lake or rolling in the snow to stimulate the senses.
STAY WITH THE SAMI IN SWEDISH LAPLAND
The Sami people have made their home in Lapland, the frozen northern tip of Norway, Sweden and Finland, for thousands of years, so it’s not surprising that they know a thing or two about living in extreme cold. Traditionally they’ve thrived through reindeer husbandry, but now they also allow visitors to experience their way of life. Stay with them in Sapmi, their homeland north of the Arctic Circle, and you can race reindeer, fish through holes in iced-over lakes and spend the night in traditional tipi tents. At the Sami camp of Nutti Sami Siida in Swedish Lapland you stay in tents in summer or wooden lodges in winter and explore the wild forests and tundra surrounding it by foot, snowshow, cross country skis or wrapped up warm in a sled pulled by reindeer. Stay from £129 per person per night.
Image via Sweden.se
SURF NORWAY’S COLD COAST
The gloriously clear and cold waters of Norway’s fjords might not be the first destination that springs to the minds of keen surfers, but the glassy green water of its coastline has to be one of the most gorgeous places you can ride a wave in the world. At LaPoint’s surf camp in Hoddevik you’re surrounded by viking settlements and tall mountains as you catch rolling waves along a wide sandy beach. The Surf Camp is the perfect place to chill out after your session, with bikes to hire and BBQs for the long summer evenings.
GO ISLAND HOPPING IN DENMARK
Denmark always seem to get the least amount of column space as an adventurous Scandi destination, and is perhaps known best for chilled-out Copenhagen city breaks. But seafaring Denmark is also land of more then 4,700 miles of coast line, dotted with over 400 magical islands to explore. They all have their own unique landscape and story – the tough bit is choosing which of them to visit. There’s Læsø, ‘the island of seaweed homes’ where the living roofs of cottages are made with seaweed dried into tassels, and where you can take salt baths or go seal watching. Or Samsø, ‘the eco-island’ – wind and solar powered, it’s a zero-emission island and is home to a fascinating energy academy. Or head to gentle Ærø for organic farms and sandy beaches. Lots of the islands are the perfect size for exploring by bike, and Visit Denmark has a great guide to how to hop between the islands.