RISØR, spreading round the head of a gentle promontory about 45km from Kragerø, is a good-looking town, its genial array of old and white timber houses winkling back from its wide and deep harbour. The town rustles up a string of summer festivals, from bluegrass in July to chamber music in June, and is something of a centre for arts and crafts, but it’s the general flavour of the place that appeals rather than anything specific.
Risør started out as a small fishing village, but the Dutch fleet began dropping by for timber in the 1570s and the port boomed until, by the 1880s, one hundred sailing vessels – and one thousand seamen – called the place home. A fire destroyed the bulk of the town in 1861 but it was quickly rebuilt, and most of the wooden houses that survive date from this period. Risør’s marine economy collapsed in the 1920s and today it looks like a rather conservative small town, but – surprise, surprise – in 2007 its citizens elected Knut Henning Thygesen, a member of the Red Party, a fusion of the Workers’ Communist Party (AKP) and the Red Electoral Alliance (RV), as their mayor.