Visit Sørlandet: Winter adventures in the south of Norway
BY LISE LÆRDAL BRYN
With its warmer climate and wealth of sunny activities, the southernmost region of Norway, Sørlandet, is popularly thought of as a summer holiday destination. But the region’s mountainous areas and coast alike have several wintery destinations worth visiting, and Visit Sørlandet is keen to make sure they’re not overshadowed, pointing to both the excellent skiing facilities and the picturesque, white-painted seaside villages that twinkle throughout the darker months.
The first things that come to mind when people think of Norway are often skiing and snow, and the mountainous Sørlandet has no shortage of alpine activities on offer. “What really sets Norway apart from its Nordic neighbours and the Alps is the combination product of alpine and cross-country skiing,” says Mona Konuralp, strategic project manager at Visit Sørlandet. The southern region features some of the best cross-country skiing tracks in the country, with a distinguishing feature of being up high in the mountains.
A winter playground
There are miles upon miles of snow-covered peaks to explore beyond the prepared path. If skiing isn’t your forte but you’d still like to experience the remarkable vistas at the summits, strap on a pair of snowshoes for a day’s snowy hike – or ‘topptur’, as it’s called in Norwegian. And of course, there are the lifts at the ski resorts in Sirdal and Setesdal, with Setesdal’s idyllic Hovden as the crown jewel.
Hovden Ski Resort is not only an excellent ski destination for adults, but it is renowned for its suitability for families with young children – the epitome of a winter playground. The resort features slopes of all difficulty levels, hosts an excellent ski school for all ages and skill levels, and is home to Tusseland, a special alpine park for children. Older skiers and snowboarders can enjoy themselves in the Hovden Terrain Park, which is one of the best and biggest terrain parks in the country, stretching over 1,250 metres and boasting more than 30 elements.
The southern cape of Norway
There is more to the south of Norway in winter than skiing, however, and Visit Sørlandet highlights Lindesnes, the southernmost point of Norway. “You can get close to nature by the sea, too, with beautiful trails around Lindesnes Lighthouse,” says marketing manager Elisabeth Høibo. Konuralp chimes in: “On a stormy day, when everything shivers and shakes, you can have a thrilling experience out there.”
The Sørlandet’s coastal archipelago of shoals and small islands – what in Norwegian is known as ‘skjærgården’ and is often referred to as Norway’s riviera – is generally rife with activities such as paddling, surfing, nature observatories and schools, fishing, and refreshing walks along the sandy beaches. During the winter, you just need to put on a few more layers. In recent years, ice-bathing has also become more and more popular, and taking a dip by the white-painted wooden buildings of the villages all along the coast is like a dream.
These villages also provide a great opportunity for people who want to get away from the hustle and bustle of a more metropolitan environment, with the chance to explore historic old buildings and speciality boutiques. “We’ve noticed a recent travel trend in visiting less populated areas, smaller and more intimate travel destinations,” says Høibo, and this is true of both the coast and the mountains.
You can also find privacy of a woodier variety across the region in the unique tree-top cabins that have soared in popularity in the last couple of years, particularly among international guests – and more cabins are being built every year!
World-class gastronomy at Under and Boen Gård
Not many people know that seafood tastes best in winter, and Sørlandet has plenty of it to offer – most notably in the world’s largest underwater restaurant, Under, where you are served Michelin-star quality food, five and a half metres beneath the sea level. The architecturally striking building that lies half-sunken into the ocean leads to a dining room with a truly unforgettable sea view; you are seated by large glass windows that face directly into the marine life of Skagerrak. The sustainable set menu features local, seasonal produce put together by head chef, Nicolai Ellitsgaard, who aims to showcase the best the region has to offer and push guests beyond their comfort zone.
For a more rustic culinary experience, there is also Boen Gård: a quaint, restored farm dating back to 1520 that is today home to a premier gastronomical restaurant and historic accommodation. The kitchen aims to be as sustainable and self-sufficient as possible, with herbs, fruit and vegetables from their farm gardens and orchards, and their grazing lambs and wild-caught salmon from the river round out the menu.
Sustainability and accessibility
Although most tourists come by car, it’s perfectly possible to fly here, with Kristiansand Kjevik Airport as the main hub for international arrivals. “We absolutely recommend that you rent a car to get around, though,” says Høibo, with particular reference to the winding countryside roads. “An electric car, of course!” she adds with a laugh.
Sustainability and environmental conscientiousness are key to the developent of the region, with Setesdalen and Lindesnes both certified as sustainable travel destinations, and Visit Sørlandet is working to make sure that Kristiansand and Arendal, the region’s two largest cities, follow suit.
Sustainability isn’t just about making sure that the locations themselves are environmentally friendly, but is also about making sure that the people who live there are protected — that it is simply a lovely place to live, and that inhabitants can remain as proud and eager to share their home with visitors as they are today.
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