Demarcating the transition from the rural south to the blustery north is the 900-kilometre-long stretch of Norway that extends from Trondheim to the island-studded coast near Narvik. Easily the biggest town hereabouts is Trondheim, Norway’s third city, a charming place of character and vitality, and a definitive cultural hub for the midriff of the country. The city is readily accessible by train, plane and bus from Oslo, but push on north and you begin to feel far removed from the capital and the more intimate, forested south. Distances between settlements grow ever greater, travelling becomes more of a slog, and as Trøndelag gives way to the province of Nordland the scenery becomes ever wilder and more forbidding – “Arthurian”, thought Evelyn Waugh.
North from the modest little industrial town of Mosjøen and nearby Mo-i-Rana, is the Arctic Circle – one of the principal targets for many travellers – at a point where the cruel and barren scenery seems strikingly appropriate. Beyond the Arctic Circle, the mountains of the interior lead down to a fretted, craggy coastline, and even the towns, the largest of which is the port of Bodø, have a feral quality about them. The iron-ore port of Narvik, in the far north of Nordland, has perhaps the wildest setting of them all, and was the scene of some of the fiercest fighting between the Allied and Axis forces in World War II. To the west lies the offshore archipelago that makes up the Vesterålen and Lofoten islands. In the north of the Vesterålen, between Harstad and Andenes, the coastline of this island chain is mauled by massive fjords, whereas to the south, the Lofoten islands are backboned by a mighty and ravishingly beautiful mountain wall – a highlight of any itinerary. Among a handful of idyllic fishing villages in the Lofoten the pick is the tersely named Å, though Henningsvær and Stamsund come a very close second.
As for accommodation, the region has a smattering of strategically located hostels, and all the major towns have at least a couple of hotels, though advance reservations are strongly recommended in the height of the season. In addition, the Lofoten islands offer inexpensive lodgings in scores of atmospheric rorbuer, small huts/cabins once used by fishermen during the fishing season.