The Call of the North

Nicolas Valente

The northern European countries are talked about often. These neighboring people with their flamboyant past, united by their Viking roots, attract a lot of travelers. The medieval era still resonates and pervades the northern culture with the spirit of freedom, a progressive will, universal tolerance and a sustainable environmental vision. Let yourself be enchanted by what these countries have to offer: landscapes, cultures, gastronomy, discover a Nordic way of living that is uniquely different from our own.

 

Finland: Wedged between Sweden and Russia and despite conflicts and annexations, Finland has been able to forge its own identity, focusing on quality of life and health. Did you know that there are more saunas than cars? Public or private, the saunas are living spaces where friends and family gather. The Finns are connected to their wild environment with the lakes and the boreal forests that cover more than half the country, as well as the tundra and the coastal landscape of the Baltic Sea.

The capital: Helsinki is a typical northern city whose modern architecture forms a unique example of interweaving three periods – the Swedish, Russian and Finnish – into a fascinating entity. Wide avenues, imposing pastel colored buildings, a privileged access to the Baltic Sea and large green spaces await you.

Travel Tip: Get on a ferry to Tallinn. Two hours later you are in the Estonian capital with its paved medieval streets and high ramparts.

For music lovers: Listen to the music of Mirel Wagner, Alma, Lake Jons.

 

Norway: With the most spectacular landscapes of all the Scandinavian countries, Norway gets its famous tourist reputation from the mountains and the fjords that shape its west coast between Stavanger and Trondheim. Protected by the warm currents of the Gulf Stream, these massive panoramas are embellished with as many lakes and waterfalls as there are pagan legends making the region magically poetic. Norwegians are simple, discreet and honest people, showing great respect for the environment.

The capital: Oslo vibrates with cultural richness and history. The renovation of numerous districts has given it a rebirth, especially in Tjuvholmen, a neighbourhood that has a vast choice of beautiful walks along the water.

Travel Tip: The most impressive landscapes are located in the Lofoten archipelago, and if you plan on visiting in summer make sure you reserve your room six to nine months in advance.

For music lovers: Listen to the music of Moddi, Josefin Winther, Thea Hjelmeland.

 

Denmark: It might be the smallest Scandinavian country in size, but Denmark is the oldest kingdom in the world and a highly cultural destination. The royal dynasty has left an impressive legacy: there are four royal residences in the center of Copenhagen and more than sixty castles all over the country! It is also a paradise for cyclists; you can ride your bike through the countryside with its thousands of kilometers of bike paths nestled in Denmark’s soft rolling and invigorating nature. If you travel with your family, bring your children to the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde and the Legoland theme park.

The capital: Copenhagen, a city of design and tradition, will charm you with its prestigious monuments, its bourgeois districts, the lively Tivoli Park and the old port of Nyhavn, where the colorful houses once owned by fishermen, now home to bars and restaurants, line the waterfront with their terraces.

Travel tip: In only a few decades the Scandinavian style (fashion and furniture) has earned a worldwide reputation. A visit to the Museum of Design is therefore an absolute must.

For music lovers: Listen to the music of EXEC (Troels Abrahamsen, Kwamie Liv, Broken Twin.

 

Sweden: The Swedish Kingdom wanted to achieve the ideal welfare society through progressive reforms, made possible thanks to the support of the different classes of society. Sweden’s biggest export products are its culture and modernity:  its design, music, art and literature are admired all over the world. It is here, where you realize what the Scandinavian way of life truly means. The Swedes take their leisure time and well-being very seriously, striving to balance their work and private life.

The capital: Stockholm, city of architecture and contrasts, is accentuated by picturesque paved alleys lined by tall and warmly colored facades. It is full of exceptional museums, with themes as varied as photography, rural life, music of the 1980’s and the great era of naval warfare.

Travel tip: Every day in the middle of the afternoon, take the time and sit down in a café for the fika break. This is a very important moment in the life of the Swedish people, they use it to socialize, relax and indulge their taste buds (try the kanelbullar!). And don’t miss the Vasa museum, the most visited museum in Scandinavia.

For music lovers: Listen to the music of Bror Gunnar Jansson, Adna, Amason.

 

Iceland: Isolated in the middle of the ocean, Iceland is made up of magma from the bowels of the Earth. Volcanos, glaciers, lava fields, cliffs and waterfalls will impress you like nothing else. Once colonized by Irish monks, Iceland became a haven for the Vikings who left many traces. Despite a life that is not always easy, Icelanders are resourceful and dreamt up many elf stories to add a bit of poetry to their daily lives!

The capital: Reykjavik, the northernmost capital of the world, is home to more than half of Iceland’s population. It is a veritable window into the Icelandic culture and it has all the makings to delight the fans of art, nightlife, music and gastronomy alike.

Travel Tip: When you are in Reykjavik, pay attention to the incredible murals. For all the hikers and photographers, you should rent a 4×4 and drive to Kerlingarfjöll, Landmannalaugar and Lakagígar. And in the north of the island the Siglufjördur Herring Museum is an absolute must-see.

For music lovers: Listen to the music of Gangly, FM Belfast, Myrra Rós.

 

By Nicolas Valente, specialist for the Polar Regions and Nordic countries, Uniktour

*The author would like to thank Christel Durand from the FIKA(S) festival (Immersive Festival of Scandinavian Kultur and Art) for her music suggestions.

For the complete festival program visit www.fikasfest.com.

 

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