Escape to Norway
Norway has everything the alps does—towering mountains, five-star restaurants, loads of culture. You also get fjords, glaciers, epic whitewater, and a few thousand polar bears.
Make Base Camp
Skip the capital city of Oslo and fly straight to Bergen (pop. 265,000), which serves as the gateway to the fjordlands from its spot on a series of peninsulas that jut into the North Sea. Stay at the ultramodern Clarion Collection Havnekontoret ($275), on the ancient Bryggen wharf, where locals hawk fresh scallops and king crab beside wooden skiffs. Then take the rail car from downtown to the top of 1,050-foot Mount Floyen ($7). From there it’s a four-plus-hour hike through tussock to the summit of Mount Ulriken, where the cliffside restaurant Sky:Skraperen has mouth-watering scallops and stellar views of the Hardangerfjord and Boknafjords.
In a country dedicated to adventure, the city of Voss (pop. 14,000) still stands out. It’s less than two hours by train from Bergen, yet it sits in a pristine valley on Vangsvatnet lake. During the last week of June, thousands of people flock to the annual Extreme Sports Festival, an adrenaline junkie’s dream with everything from Class V kayak competitions to BASE jumping from 2,000-foot lakeside cliffs. Saner folks have plenty of options. Join Voss Rafting Center’s daily trips down the Class IV Stranda ($190), or fly-fish for fierce browns in highland lakes (guide from $416). Then stay and eat at the Swiss-style Fleischer’s Hotel (from $225). The trout filet is good. The lamb’s even better.
The 11-island archipelago of Svalbard is a 2,400-person outpost halfway between the Norwegian mainland and the North Pole. Which means it’s as out there as you can get (flights from Oslo, $395). It’s also home to seven national parks and thousands of polar bears, walruses, seals, and puffins. Check in at Mary-Ann’s Polarrigg ($171), where you can watch the northern lights from the sun room, then sea-kayak with right whales ($163), hike from sea level to 1,000 feet, and watch glaciers crumble into the North Sea ($188). Best of all, you can do everything and still make your dinner reservation at one of Norway’s top restaurants, the Huset, where there’s a polar bear skin on the wall and reindeer steaks on the menu ($140 for six courses).