Elevated eco-luxury: How Norway is delivering on sustainable high-end holidays
Norway | August 22, 2023 | Contributor
From remote private islands to electric-car road trips, Norway ticks a lot of boxes for sustainability expert Juliet Kinsman
Friluftsliv – or free-loofts-leev, as it’s pronounced – is the Norwegian concept of open-air living. There are few better destinations for appreciating oxygenating time in the great outdoors, whatever the weather. Thinking back on my multi-stop trip lifts my soul just recalling those pulse raising landscapes – especially when you know adventures here come with a lower carbon footprint.
As a sustainable luxury travel expert, Norway ticks a lot of my boxes for its irresistible, eco-sensitive way of being. A land powered by hydro, where most cars are electric and where gender equality has always been high up the agenda, it’s one of few destinations that feels qualified to offer what we can genuinely label ‘sustainable luxury’.
Concept of sustainability
To me, luxury is space, dramatic scenery, few tourists and delicious organic food and drink from right where you are standing. Add to that untouched nature, authentic cultural encounters, the absence of mass-market anything, a feeling of contentment without over-consumption and a sense of improved wellbeing. Now let’s define the concept of sustainability. It’s similar, right? Throw these concepts together and what comes to mind? Indulge me while I evoke a few scenes that perfectly portray this genre. I’m sitting on a boat in the middle of a fjord with the cleanest air I’ve ever known. It’s so silent, it’s as though I can hear my synapses relaxing out of fight-or-flight mode.
The rugged landscape and clear waters make for a high-definition version of even the dreamiest Apple Mac screensaver. Next I’m on a beach on a remote island in the Arctic Circle where a chef is charcoaling just-caught shellfish right on the sand. Moments earlier a pod of orca whales passed the adrenaline-inducing rib boat ride I took to get here. Or perhaps this genre is best portrayed by me at the wheel of an electric Polestar – zigzagging through car-free roads, stopping to visit waterfalls and to climb a via ferrata to an abandoned power station.
Norway is an interesting case study since it was the discovery of oil here in the 1960s that elevated the country from the poorest fishing-based economy in Europe to a destination that’s one of the most egalitarian and equitable – not to mention expensive. But that’s not necessarily a negative – time in this climate-conscious country feels like unbeatable value when it comes to quality, character and a promising blueprint for wholesome escapes. I enlisted positive-impact DMC Up Norway to plan my trip.
Set up by Torunn Tronsvang, Up Norway has a team of switched-on experts who specialise in personalised insider experiences. They navigate mindful explorers to the greenest getaways, and for us, this included stays at pitch-perfect accommodation suited to our tastes and interests. A stand-out style-with-substance retreat in the Sunnmøre Alps, Storfjord Hotel is where to head for hiking, fishing and skiing from a cut-above hideaway near the island village of Glomset. A spell at 62º Nord’s hero property promises postcard-perfect panoramas, immersive experiences, and hearty local-as-can-be Norwegian cuisine.
62˚ Nord was created by Knut Flakk and his wife, Line, and their portfolio includes Hotel Brosundet, right on the water in a former fishing warehouse, and Hotel Union Øye in Ålesund. Taking a boat or borrowing an electric Porsche to get to one of their sister stays will exemplify everything fans of the finer things could hope for from time in Norway. Pausing for a souvenir from Norway’s oldest knitwear maker, Devold, which Knut’s father acquired in the 1980s was an irresistible final touch.
Up, up and away
Flying is always a stumbling point for true climate-conscious explorers. I was grappling with flygskam (flight shame), but took some comfort when our connections were booked with Widerøe, an airline aiming to launch all-electric flights by 2026. For Norwegians, Widerøe is more like a bus service and their teeny flights of 15 to 30 minutes are normal to get around Scandinavia’s remote mountains and fjords.
A bird’s-eye view of colourful Bergen was a true delight while aboard the airline’s low-emission Dash-8 propellor plane, allowing us to admire the brightly painted wooden houses and the Unescoprotected wharf. From here we drove the Discovery Route by electric car. Starting and ending in Bergen, this Scandi odyssey had us rappelling down waterfalls, off-road biking, hiking and climbing. Gliding in clear waters with salmon one day, relaxing in a floating sauna the next. Up Norway’s bespoke itinerary took us along the historic Hardanger, where we enjoyed time with local hosts, farmers and chefs, allowing us to experience authentic Norwegian culture.
A cider-tasting session at Saft og Siderfabrikk was a rich history lesson to rival the finest vineyard experiences I’ve known. This family-owned farm has been making award-winning world-class cider using traditional methods since the early 1900s. Wandering through their soul-uplifting orchards then tasting their dry, crisp, refined, fruity tipples gave an unbeatable taste of the terroir.
Geotourism is also what defines time spent in Norway. Holmen Loften is a remote rendezvous prime for exclusive-use takeovers – a passion project of Ingunn Rasmussen and family. Looking out the window in the Arctic Circle at 3am, on this wild, rugged archipelago in North Norway, staring at that clear pastel night light, was beautifully bewildering – and unforgettable. Bunking up in a former fishing hut and surrendering to an illuminated insomnia wasn’t all that will stay with me.
We filled our lungs with the purest sea air and devoured the spoils of foraging and fishing from these coordinates with chef Valentine Warner and the passionate team of local-ingredient alchemists in the open kitchen. Across two days, we hit the open seas in rib boats, saw orca whales, and kayaked through icy waters. We were rewarded with hearty interpretations of what’s grown and is grazing on their doorstep, cooked on an open fire outside on this almost impossible-to-reach coastline. Eco-luxury travel, folks often scoff, is a ridiculous concept – how can any international travel be considerate?
It’s true, for anyone worried about climate change, it’s challenging to process how good can come from us high-tailing it around. The truth is, people will always want to see more of the world, and we need that to mitigate short-sightedness. So how great is it when we can help steer each other to hosts and holidays that consider their impact on the world, cultivate a love of nature and share stories that widen our world views? For climate-conscious travellers craving adventures that go deeper and are full of flavour, nourishing Nordic experiences await.
The inside track
Juliet shares three ethical and eco-experiences within
reach of Oslo
Women’s Museum, Villa Rolighed, Kongsvinger
A big trend in sustainable travel is revealing previously
hidden stories, and this initiative tells the tale of women’s roles in
Norwegian history. It’s not just about spotlighting feminist icons, it portrays
unsung ladies in the background who were the quietest, but often most important
The Plus, Magnor
If you’re a sustainable design devotee, a tour of the Vestre
furniture factory in the middle of a forest in Magnor is worth a pilgrimage.
The site includes a 300-acre park with art installations, a playground, picnic
areas and a slide down from its green roof.Theplus.no
Pan Treetop Cabins, Gjesåsen
Deep in the forest, two hours north of Oslo, these
light-touch lodgings beg you to go wild swimming or try sunset yoga. And then,
tucked up in bed in your design-led cabin, listen out for the howl of wolves in
the ancient forest.Panhytter.no