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The Norweigian fjords have forever portrayed Norway as a country of natural beauty, with its magnificent dramatic landscapes surrounded by many deep narrow waterways which meander inland off the North Atlantic Ocean. With such a magnificent coastline which stretches the entirety of the country, there was a need to pick out a specific region which was feasible to explore and enjoy within a week.
The Lofoten Islands, arguably Norway’s most beautiful corner, is an astonishing archipelago which continuously leaves you astounded as you turn each and every corner across the 1227 square kilometres of dramatic mountains and peaks, towns and beaches that are all surrounded by sheltered bays and narrow waterways as well as the open Atlantic Ocean. With such dramatic landscapes, from the flat coastal plane fields and turbulent, surf-swept white sand cove beaches to the sheltered, glistening calm waters of the lakes and deep fjords surrounded by imposing snow-capped mountains, you just feel like you will never have long enough! Along with its contrasting landscapes are also the extreme fluctuations throughout the seasons which see long warm sunny days stretching 24 hours of daylight in the heights of summer to then a move towards the freezing months of heavy snowfall which close in on 24hrs of darkness during the lows of winter.
This combination between the magnificent landscapes and extreme conditions is what makes it one of earths more captivating (in our opinion) destinations, grasping the attention of such a diverse audience, inspiring artists and photographers, exciting mountaineers, alpine skiers, kayakers and adrenaline junkies whilst fascinating nomads who love the great outdoors, adventures and basically a brand new destination which offers a unique experience.
The potential for outdoor activities and adventures, its traditional fishing history, a diluted number of tourists, and of course some great opportunities to see the Northern Lights were all additional draws which made our choice of destination so easy.
“The Greatest Cod Fishery in the World”
Prior to the days of Nomads, outdoor enthusiasts and holidaymakers, although it still is in today’s day and age the Lofoten Islands were primarily small fishing villages and the centre of great cod fisheries. Throughout the winter months (January – April), the cod migrate south to the waters surrounding the islands to spawn and is when the world’s greatest cod harvest takes place. Having visited the islands in March, we were able to witness the harvest in full flow which was pretty spectacular considering the quantities that were unloaded from the boats. Both during and after the season, a percentage of these fish do also create a very unique and distinctive sight throughout the islands which is the hanging of hundreds and thousands of cod on wooden racks which line the foreshore. As the world’s oldest known preservation method, Stockfish is produced, whereby the unsalted fish are dried out by the continuous cold sea breeze, reducing its weight considerably (ideal for transporting) whilst retaining its nutrients. With conditions neither too warm nor too cold and the additional touch of airborne salinity, the cod dangle in the idyllic conditions for the perfect results. The combination of cod quantities and the perfect drying conditions means no other country is able to compete with this successful process and is therefore why the locals are proud in what they do as they say “That is our money that you see hanging there”.
Along with the traditional sights of the stockfish, are also the characteristic traditional Rorbeurs which are the old fishermen’s cottages generally raised above the water on wooden stilts. Conventionally painted in red, the majority of the Rorbeurs set up for visitors have kept the traditional colours, however there are a number painted in yellow.
As the de facto capital of the Lofeten Islands, located in the northernmost island of the archipelago and of great convenience in accessing the Islands, it is a great place to start a road trip if you are looking to fit in as much as possible whilst still restricted to a time frame. With a population of 4500 inhabitants and making it the largest city on the islands, despite its beautiful setting with a spectacular backdrop, its modernisation over the years has made it a little less engaging in comparison to what was to come as we moved down south. In all honesty, like many others, it was our gateway into the Lofoten Islands.
With an area of only 423km², along with a 50km stretch of the E10 which winds its way through the heart of Vestvagoy from the North to South, you would have thought it wouldn’t take much longer than a day to explore this entire island. For those simply after some beautiful scenic rides with the occasional stop along the narrow windy and extremely scenic roads, then a day is most certainly possible, however, there is so much more to it than that!
The Traditional Hattvika Lodge
As the geographical centre of Lofoten, and with so much to do and see in Vestvagoy, there was no doubt that we would stay somewhere on the island but the question was where? This decision is made very easy and simple when you have seen Hattvika lodge.
Located on the small island of Ballstad connected to mainland Vestvagoy, Hattvika Lodge is an unbelievable place to stay as it provides the complete authentic Lofoten experience. With 12 recently renovated traditional Rorbeurs, which were originally fishermen’s cottages built over the water dating back to the 1880s, their setup has been beautifully thought out creating the perfect combination between retaining the old traditional style whilst offering a luxurious modern and comfortable interior.
As a family business, run by an amazing couple who are proud of what they offer (and so they should be), the experience they provide is exceptional which is clearly driven towards perfection, wanting to create a unique and memorable stay like no other. Unlike most others Rorbeur accommodations they did not just provide us with a beautiful traditional fisherman’s cottage but were also enthusiastic in us being able to take away a true feeling for the Lofoten Islands. Welcomed into their warm private restaurant, which is also a beautifully restored fisherman’s cottage from the 1880s, it was so humbling and refreshing how Kristian sat down with us for a couple of hours where we were able to just get to know each other and enjoy a few cups of coffee as the snow pelted down outside. As a local and expert of the area, he was able to give us a great insight into the area with all the must-dos and places to visit, along with some of Lofoten’s fascinating history.
As well as venturing out and doing some exploring alone, Hattvika lodge do also provide the opportunity to go out and enjoy a number of outdoor activities with Kristian who has the knowledge, experience and training to take you on some amazing trips which include fishing, hiking, skiing, SUP and kayaking.
Ballstad is a coastal village inhabited on an island off the east coast of the Lofoten Archipelago. Completely surrounded by water and with the mountains of Nonstinden and Skottinden just over the bridge, it provides the perfect playground for outdoor activities and adventures. As well as a great destination for tourists, it is also a key village for many locals as it is known to being one of the largest fishing villages in Lofoten. Home to many local fishing boats, if you are brave enough to face the choppy waters, there is also the opportunity to go out on a fishing trip in search of that iconic Atlantic Cod.
Having visited during the winter months in order to capture and enjoy the islands snowfall there is also the need to be patient with the frequently changing weather conditions before you can leave the comforts of your warm, cosy cabins to relish the unspoiled, fresh outdoors.
Each and every break in the unforgiving winter conditions in the Lofotens is most certainly your opportunity to see somewhere new as it never really lasts all too long. A clear and crisp early morning wakeup call gave us the opportunity to take on the challenging steep climb of Nonstinden through knee deep snow up to the ridge which was most certainly worth it when rewarded with breath-taking views of the entirety of Ballstad; whether it be in the metaphorical terms due to the million dollar, well in this case million Krone views, or in the literal sense having climbed up a steep 2km uneven narrow track against the cold winds.
For something a little less strenuous there are also the sheltered waters on the west of the island where you are able to enjoy the calm waters in kayaks or on SUP boards when shelter is needed from strong Atlantic winds.
As well as a great destination within itself, it is also not too much of a drive to venture across to the west coast which has some nice beaches such as Uttakliev and Unstad which are renowned as great surf spots. En-route to uttakliev is also the stunning white sand, horse-shoe Haukland Beach which is lined with imposing mountains, and despite being the middle of winter it was still enjoyable to spend some time on it, albeit wearing multiple layers of clothing.
Although the Lofoten Islands are made up of a fair number of different islands extending off the coast, the impressive infrastructure in place connects each and every land mass via tunnels and bridges which makes exploring Lofoten so easy and enjoyable.
From Vestvagoy to Flakstadoy, a great day out and an easy and picturesque half an hours drive from Ballstad to the heart of the neighbouring island. An unforgettable 6km detour off the main E10 will wind you along some soaring mountains past the Storvatnet lake and then along the base of fjord arm to the sheltered prized village of Nusfjord.
As one of the oldest and what was once one of the most important fishing villages in Lofoten, Nusfjord has a settlement which dates back to the late 19th and early 20th century. Unfortunately, due to its restricted size and the increase in fishing on a more industrial scale, the tiny tucked away harbour of Nusfjord lost its importance due the diminishing influx of fish that it was once used to. Despite the loss of trade, the small coastal town received the necessary protection in order to preserve its history and is today described as one of the best preserved fishing villages. What were once fishermen’s cabins used by the locals during its hype of the fishing trade have today been restored into charming fishing huts for visitors and still sit amongst the listed buildings which were essential buildings for the trade. These include boat houses, a cod liver oil factory and a power station. With a lack of modern construction, the way in which the vibrant cabins intertwine with each other as they stand firm above the dark unforgiving cold winter ocean really gives it its unique charm and is great to see how it has retained its history so well.
With an area of only 186km², along with only a 23km stretch of the E10 which hugs the eastern coastline of the island and very few other alternative roads to venture across the island you can literally get from one end to the other in under an hour. However, rich in Lofoten’s gems, you will most certainly need days rather than hours as the journey south really does keep you excited and in suspense as you approach every corner. With virtually some form of impressive charm beyond each and every bend, you can expect to be pulling over to the side of the road fairly frequently to relish and admire some unique surroundings.
Highly mountainous and majorly inaccessible by vehicle, the island is a paradise for mountaineers who look to take on the vast peaks which rise from the lakes and fjords meandering across the island. With not all of us being avid mountaineers, there are also a number of worthy trails which takes you off the east coast and gives you a feel for the nature of the vastly desolate island.
Despite the majority of the island being uninhabited and with the mere population of just over 1200 scattered across 7 small villages along the east coast, some of these settlements are however real gems with so much history, tradition and character, and are today part of what makes the Lofoten Islands so special. Moskenesoy, in our opinion is the Island which really is special with some phenomenal scenery alongside villages which has best retained its history and traditions.
Located on the east coast of Moskenesoy is the small fishing village of Hamnoy which is supposedly the oldest and arguably the most picturesque fishing village in the Lofoten Islands.
Like many other of the original fishing villages across the islands, Eliassen Rorbeur today inhabits 35 of the original traditional fisherman’s cabins on Hamnoy which have been converted into beautiful accommodation for visitors. At the entrance to the Fiord of Reinefjord, Eliassen Rorbeur is relatively sheltered and surrounded by some of the most jaw dropping scenery imaginable and it was for this reason, along with its beautiful accommodation and central location on the Island of Hamnoy, that we made them our base for a few days. Fortunately for Eliassen Rorbeur, the setup of the rorbeurs along the water’s edge, in the forefront of a stunning backdrop, makes it one of the most photographed spots throughout the Lofoten Islands, and deservedly so.
Fully equipped with its own living and dining areas, the warm wooden interior provides a real traditional and comfortable experience which was lovely and cosy when wanting to get away from the cold and wet weather. Each built with their own private decked patios in front of the rorbeurs, it enables guests to really admire and appreciate the magnificent surroundings or provide the perfect platform to endure those long clear chilly nights in hope to catch the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights).
On the opposing side of the Reinefjord entrance is the slightly larger fishing village of Reine. Despite being a quiet village, the manner in which the traditional rorbeurs have been retained along the fjord’s shoreline, really gives it its charm and character and in our opinion is probably the most scenic village throughout the islands (if we had to choose).
A number of the best hikes are also within touching distance from Reine, including the renowned Hike Reinebringen which gives you unprecedented panoramic views of the entire Reinefjord and surrounding villages. Unfortunately for us, travelling during the winter months and chancing the weather when it came to the slightly more challenging hikes, a few days of sporadic heavy snow fall, strong winds and poor visibility, meant we were unable to take on the 450m steep scramble of Reinebringen to the peak. Despite being unable to get a birds eye view of the Fiord, there are however a number of great vantage points which offer some stunning views along the vast granite peaks shooting out of Reinefjord which are greatly enhanced by the densely scattered red and yellow cabins which line the shores in and around Reine.
Less than 10 kilometres south of Reine is the end of the road and the final stop of Å (pronounced "Oh"), which is fittingly the last letter in the Norwegian alphabet. As a preserved fishing village which was once a significant fishing port, it provides an insight into the everyday life of these villages and the Lofoten fisheries over the centuries and is today somewhat of a living museum. Across the village you will find the popular sight of the red fishermen cabins and cod-drying racks as well as the Norwegian Fishing Village Museum which exhibits it’s 19th century boathouses, store houses, bakery and oldest cod liver oil factory in Europe.
The southernmost point of Å, beyond the town is a footpath which will guide you across the craggy headland and onto the cliff edge which looks over the violent Maelstroms, one of the world’s strongest tidal currents. Known locally as Moskstraumen, the daunting whirlpools which crash perilously against the rock faces are formed between the islands of Moskenesoy and Vaeroy which are an impressive phenomenon worth seeing when at its most intense. It is also from this point that you are able to enjoy views of the Islands of Vaeroy which sit isolated and exposed at the end of the Lofoten Archipelago, 20km off the cape of Moskenesoy.