Lakenshrekk is a Norwegian word I got well accustomed to on a recent trip to the fjords of Western Norway, an otherworldly landscape where the sun never sets in the summer. The word literally translates to “fear of the sheets” and is usually a tongue-in-cheek reference to a party animal or late night bar hopper who just can’t seem to go to sleep. But in my case, it was the region’s all-encompassing natural beauty that kept me awake until the wee hours of the morning. Midnight looked like midday and I wasn’t going to waste any time in my bed.
Especially since I was traveling along some of Norway’s new National Tourist Routes, an astounding nationwide initiative (scheduled for completion in 2020) to promote tourism in the West Coast by renovating 18 of the most beautiful fjord routes. Picture winding rural roads throughout the country’s most far flung, remote corners, punctuated with striking, modern architectural installations and structures—whether it’s a cantilevered bridge spanning tiny coastal islets, innovative visitors’ centers and rest areas, dizzying viewpoints or bold landscape design hotels. Each of these new architectural works and routes delivers a truly dynamic connection to the road
Atlantic Highway This coastal route, leading travelers right along the ocean’s edge and spanning a series of small islets via eight bridges, including the stunning Storseisundet Bridge, whose dramatic curve was inspired by the same shape as the raging waves that pummel the shores every fall, is the perfect road trip for maritime mavens. The 8-kilometer stretch is packed with exciting contrasts, from the autumn’s raging sea storms to tranquil roadside fishing spots near the calm Hustadvika Bay. Spend the night at the Haholmen Fishing Village, an 18th century trading post and fishing village turned destination hotel located on a 10-acre island just a few minutes from the highway. Guests can organize a fishing trip from the centuries-old harbor, sail on a Viking ship, take a stand-up paddleboarding lesson with local tour operator, Norsk Gasehud (“Norway Goosebumps”) or learn more about the island’s famed adventurer and seaman Ragnar Thorseth and his worldwide voyages aboard his own legendary Viking ship, the Saga Sigler.
Geiranger – Trollstigen Route
Literally translating to “the troll’s ladder”, this cinematic mountain road, whose 11 hairpin turns look like some sort of sprawling serpent from overhead, is one of Norway’s most popular (and most photographed) national tourist routes. Halfway to the summit, the six-kilometer road passes by the Stigfossen Waterfall, where locals say you can see the profile of a troll if you look straight in the rushing waters—but only if you’re in love. Either way, save yourself for Trollstigen’s peak, which features one of the most impressive architectural additions to the National Route initiative. The stunning peak’s pathway and suspended lookout, jutting dramatically into the thin air over the Isterdalen Valley, might take a strong stomach, but it’s worth it for the panoramic views.
And despite the peak’s sprawling natural beauty, the angular, modern design of the cafe, boutique and viewpoint is equally photogenic. Stay overnight at the Juvet Landscape Hotel, an exceptional design hotel (just a short drive from the Trollstigen viewpoint), where minimalist, modern design is inextricably linked to the wilderness just outside each of the eight room’s stark floor to ceiling windows.
Or keep driving to the Geiranger Fjord, a UNESCO World Heritage Site accessible via a large, leisurely ferry from Hellesylt to Geiranger itself, a lovely town framed at the edge of the gigantic glacial fjord, which is small in size, but swells with character on the weekends, when cruise ships arrive with visitors who fill up the four-star Union Hotel, shop at chic outpost boutiques like Moods of Norway or soak up the scenery from national route viewpoints like Eagles Road and Flydalsjuvet. Get away from the crowds at local restaurants like the Westeraas Farm, where guests can dine on organic, farm-raised cuisine, hike past the farm’s sheep and llamas (yes, llamas) to other scenic overlooks or stay overnight at rustic cabins with fjord views.
Sognefjellsvegen Mountain Route
This majestic mountain route, known to locals as Land of the Giants, is a record-breaking National Tourist Route. It’s the highest mountain pass in Northern Europe, winding throughout the region’s dramatic snow-capped peaks, ice blue glacier lakes and jagged, slate grey slopes, and delivering visitors to the Sognefjord, the second longest fjord in the world, the Jostedalsbreen Glacier, Norway’s largest glacier, or Galdhopiggen, Norway’s highest mountain. It’s a uniquely Nordic winter wonderland popular with skiiers (cross country and alpine), glacial hikers and river rafters. Past the glacial peaks, the route leads down into a tranquil fjord (no cruise ships or international hotels here) that is full of local history. Visit the oldest stave church in Norway, the Urnes Stave Church built in 1130, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that people can still tour and even get married inside. Or take the ferry across the Lusterfjord to the Walaker Hotel, the oldest hotel in Norway.
In addition to the fjord’s stunning natural landscape, which can be admired all day here in the Land of the Neverending Sun, there are two nearby urban destinations, Alesund and Bergen, just beyond the rugged fjord landscape, that have more than enough to keep visitors up to all hours with a slightly different case of lakenshrekk.
Ramona Flume is a Gogobot travel correspondent and freelance writer, whose work has appeared in several print and online publications, including Budget Travel and the UK Guardian. When she’s not on the road, she writes about the unique creative community of her home: Austin, Texas.