Lofoten Islands, Where Trekking is a Craft

By Laurent Lefèvre

Photos by Nicolas Jérôme, Charlotte de Charette de La Contrie, Laurent Lefèvre

About 200 kilometers (approx. 125 miles) north of the Arctic Circle, a magnificent landscape appears. These are Alpine peaks surrounded by what seems like the Caribbean Sea. Daughters of a brutal union between mountains and the ocean, the Norwegian Lofoten Islands are made up of seven principal islands. Considered by many as the world’s most beautiful, the Archipelago offers outdoor enthusiasts a great variety of sceneries and outdoor experiences* like mountain biking in Vestvågøya, kayaking in Henningsvær, Arctic surf at Unstad (check first the surf report), rock climbing around Henningsvaer or up Svolværgeita. Known for the northern lights and the midnight sun, the Islands (1,227 km² for 24,500 inhabitants) have developed a culture and history, dating back from the Viking Age (793–1066 AD), nourished by the sea and its perils. For centuries, the Archipelago has been the epicenter of great cod fisheries (see part 2).

The Craft of Hiking

Throughout Norway, hiking is an art: friluftsliv** (“an outdoors lifestyle”), the craft of connecting to nature. For the weekend from Bodø or for vacations from all over the world, local and foreign hikers come to the Lofoten Islands to get back to that precise state of mind, to reconnect to the natural elements — earth, mountains, water, air, and sun in spring or summer, on lucky hours of the day.

From Nesland to the village of Nusfjord, a UNESCO World Heritage Site where 18 people live all year round, the coastal path winds through the cliff. Waymarked at certain points, it is crossed by many cascades rushing downhill. Fresh air, water flows from under your trekking shoes to as far as your eyes can see, the views on the fjord changing color at every minute are indeed a good antidote to the stress of big city life. While trekking, the first ray of sun can suddenly create a rainbow stretching between two cliffs; it enlarges the horizon and makes a new peak appear, with reflections on the wet rock that blind you. When the strange fountain of light coming from nowhere seems to regroup on the open water extent behind the horizon line, you feel immersed in the landscape like on a Bill Viola’s 3-D video.

Dating in Norwegia Includes Hiking and Borrowing Outdoor Equipment From a Library

First coined by the playwright Henrik Ibsen, the word friluftsliv is an amalgamation of the Norwegian names for free, air, and life. This has translated into the public’s right to enter onto land so long as to not cause any damage. The idea that the freedom to roam, to hike on Sunday with your family or friends, to camp, or to admire northern lights from your tent (the must-do for locals) is a fundamental right and actually superior to the private property rights, seems appealing. 

Enshrined since 1957 in the law (friluftsloven), outdoor recreation is an essential part of the national identity. Norwegians like to have a partner who loves outdoor activities, and to go for a hike on a first date is not unheard of. A tip to date a local: dress casual (even in the photos of your dating profile) and be ready for spending some time in the wild with them. There are also some friluftsliv kindergartens and you can even borrow outdoor equipment from libraries.

Kvalvika, with no hikers, on a sunny day.

Naming The Beach After a Whale’s Vertebrae

Isolated on the northern side of the Moskenesøy island and surrounded by steep mountains that rise more than 600 m, Kvalvika is only reachable by foot, but can be crowded with hikers in summer, even for authorized free camping. Formed with two words of the Norwegian dialect speaking in the Archipelago (kval***, the whale and vika, the bay), Kvalvika, literally the bay of the whale, was named after vertebrae of a whale that was found there; the rorquals of the Lofoten usually stay in the fjord.

As if guarded by the dark gneiss cliff with its thin layer of greenery, the large swath of immaculate white sand facing the turquoise waters of the Norwegian Sea is deserted on this cloudy 7th of September, reinforcing the feeling of being at the edge of the world, at the beginning of its creation. On the way back, the 180-degree views of the fjords seal the impression of peace, as fresh and salt water coexist distinguished only by brown seaweed that carries along with the current.

On the 10th of September, a stop at an unmanned cabin on the Kartstaven hike.

Welcome To Your Cabin!

All over Norway, every hiker can rest for a few nights in one of the 550 unmanned or staffed cabins maintained by volunteers of the Norwegian Trekking Association (Den norske turistforening, DNT). The DNT has currently more than 300,000 members all over the country, nearly 20 times larger in proportion than in France. Each member has a key, which can open the self-service and no-service cabins. Alone or with a group of hikers, it’s easy to organize your own treks at your own pace on the Lofoten Islands. 

“With a very mild climate for this latitude all year round, the most beautiful season is autumn, with the red colored berries of cornus suecica (dwarf cornel or bunchberry),” recommends Éric Babikian, a guide from Terres d’aventure, a French tour operator specialized in trekking. “On the Lofoten, the contrasts due to the light are striking, especially because of the appearance-disappearance of clouds, and it all changes all the time. We often have the feeling of being on the peaks of the Alps with a long-distance view of the South Seas, with white sand, emerald waters, but no coconut trees!.”

The perfect spot for a photo of the lone hiker.

Lofoten Guide 2017.

* Explore Lofoten, by Kristin Folsland Olsen 

** How Norwegian friluftsliv brings out the best in people, a TEDx Talks, by Lorelou Dejardins, a French woman living in Norway.

*** Hval in Norwegian.

About the Writer:
Laurent Lefèvre is a French journalist who writes about culture, art, and travel. He lives in Paris.

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