I am not a heat seeker when it comes to holidays, which is just as well because the only way I was going to feel warm on my February trip to northern Norway was by wearing a good few thermal layers, writes Marisa Cashill.
That said, northern Norway during winter is a magical place full of glittery snow-capped mountains and extraordinary night skies. I was not lucky enough to experience the Aurora Borealis during my short time there but this is not usually the case.
Both regions of Bodo and Harstad that I visited have spectacular viewing opportunities when there is a clear sky.
Bodo was my first destination and is unique in that its airport is situated within the town centre, so we only had a five-minute bus journey to our hotel. I barely had time to check in and put on my base layers before our group were whisked away on our first trip with Polar Tours.
We were en route to the Arctic Circle when we called at a reindeer farm owned by a Sami family. The Sami are an indigenous people of Norway and interestingly have over 1000 words for snow, which is not surprising as we were surrounded by the white stuff.
We had watched an information video about the tribe on the bus journey, but it didn’t prepare me for how amazing their way of life was and how stunning their native costumes were. We had time to hand-feed their reindeer herd before being shown into the family tepee, which was a warming welcome next to their open log fire. We were fed homemade food and listened to the family sing and they talked to us about their culture. They were extremely good hosts and it was an amazing experience I will never forget.
No time for our tea to settle before being whisked off to cross the polar circle. We trudged through the snow with a blizzard in the air and darkness all around, towards the visitor centre, which would have been perfect to view the Northern Lights had the sky not been a blanket of white.
Our second day saw more adventure. Following a Norwegian waffle breakfast with brown cheese and sour cream I put on a full body suit and goggles for a high speed RIB boat ride on the strongest tidal current in the world - the Saltstraumen. This experience beats any ride at Alton Towers.
A short bus ride and ferry from Bodo took us to Kjerringøy. This is a beautiful island and former trading post with great history. They have a museum which was a former mansion house and fully preserved to give us a great insight into life on the island during its glory days in the 18th century.
Ulf Mikalsen is a traditional boat builder on the island who specialises in Nordland boats. I toured his boat shed and watched him work; a true craftsman, and hopefully not a dying breed, especially in Norway which has 63,000 miles of coastline, the second largest in the world.
We flew on a propeller plane to Harstad with more snow and beautiful scenery. We stayed in another Thon Hotel with stunning views of Harstad harbour, and ate more breakfast waffles.
We were taken to the Sollia Ski Slope for snow fun, experiencing high speed sledding and snow mobiles. However, my ultimate experience of the
evening was dogsledding with Destination Harstad. I adored these Siberian Huskies, they were really sociable and friendly, but soon got restless and needed a run. We went two by two into the sledges and watched from behind as they appeared to fly in pure synchronisation around the track. Perfectly agile and born to work on the snow - a purely amazing experience that everybody should tick off their bucket list.
A day at sea seemed befitting for this trip, so I boarded another RIB boat that was fast becoming the new way to travel. The breathtaking wildlife offered one experience I will never forget after we transferred to a fishing vessel in the middle of a fjord. A sea eagle majestically swooped to pluck a fish from the calm water - all this happening only a few feet away from me. I was regretful that my camera wasn’t working properly that day but I captured what I could.
Sea eagles are very common off the shores of Harstad as they nest in the mountains and feed from the masses of fish in Vågsfjorden, so sightings are very common and I would highly recommend booking a boat ride to do this. The fishing boat that we were on, Harald, which celebrates its 125th birthday this year, attracted the sea birds because of the many fish they were catching. B&B Touring provided this experience and I’m sure they are unrivalled with their hospitality.
My final day led me to the sea once more, this time in a kayak. I have never tried my hand at this before but our group were fully guided by Tequila Sports, and I was as calm as the water itself. The magnificent views from the fjord were a great distraction. We paddled to an island where the tour guide was preparing a barbecue lunch - in the snow - on a beach. Life certainly doesn’t get better than that I thought, until they served us with ‘the world’s best cake’ Kvaefjordkake, Norway’s national cake which originated in a village outside Harstad.
My amazing break was over all too quickly but I experienced so much. From quirky bars and thrill seeking challenges, to the unparalleled scenery and hospitality. Ignore the cold and layer up to make northern Norway your next winter holiday.
* Marisa Cashill was a guest of Innovation Norway and stayed at the Thon Hotel in both Bodo and Harstad.
Flights cost from £140 per person on SAS.
Tour operator packages from the UK at www.nordicexperience.co.uk