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.
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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).