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Any look at holidays to Norway should probably begin with the fjords - Norway's unique and most astonishing attraction. Stretching hundreds of miles into the pristine interior, their still, deep waters are fringed by picture-book settlements and backed by a breathtaking landscape of forests, glaciers and snow-capped peaks.
Particularly popular with British cruise customers, the fjords welcome awe-struck guests from early spring to late autumn, each season revealing a different aspect of their glory – spring’s apple blossom and the freshness of the awakening year, summer’s warm days, which are perhaps the best time to venture inland to view the vast Briksdal Glacier, and autumn’s red and gold, when the plunging waterfalls are at their tumultuous best.
Nestled in the hidden coves and on waterside meadows of the fjords, waiting to welcome visitors on a Norwegian holiday, you'll find some of the country's most charming settlements. Mighty Sognefjord leads to Balestrand, where the Kviknes Hotel has been welcoming visitors (most famously Kaiser Wilhelm II) since the 19th Century, and remote Flam, terminus of the world famous Flamsbana Mountain Railway. Tiny Ulvik lies deep in the heart of Hardangerfjord, and Geirangerfjord is home to several picture-book fjordside villages. And no visit to the region is complete without a day in historic Bergen.
In the south-eastern corner of the country, Norway's capital, Oslo (which stands at the far end of its own little fjord) is small but perfectly formed. The city's compact size makes it easy to wander from sight to sight - from the cobbled courtyards and strong stone walls of Akershus Fortress down the hill to the tiny Stock Exchange building across the Bjorvika from the ultramodern, asymmetric Opera House, then back along Karl Johans Gate past the parliament building and the National Theatre to the Royal Palace.
Almost entirely at the other end of the country, lies another of its most popular destinations - Tromso. A little over 200 miles inside the Arctic Circle, this colourful city is a jumping-off point for tours of Norway's vast northern wilderness. It's a place of warm, welcoming bars and restaurants, and never-ending summer sunlight, dominated by the stunning, strikingly modern Ishavskatedralen (Arctic Cathedral) with its vast, triangular stained-glass window. Even further north, in Alta, Honningsvag at mainland Europe's northernmost tip, and the remote Islands of Svalbard far out into the Arctic Ocean, Norway continues to offer up astonishing sights and experiences and warm welcomes despite the isolation. In fact, wherever your holiday in Norway takes you, you'll find plenty to enjoy in what is easily one of the most beautul countries in the world.
At first glance Norwegian food is straightforward, filling and entirely what you'd expect from a north European nation with a tendency for long, cold winters. But look closer...
Some dishes are certainly simple. Take Lefse, for example. They're just flour and potato flatbreads cooked on a griddle. And yet they're a traditional treat around Christmas and New Year. The national dish, Farikal, is similar. It's a simple casserole of bone-in lamb or mutton and white cabbage, but what lifts it is the quality of the meat (Norwegians are very proud of their lamb) and the golf-ball-size bundle of whole peppercorns that adds a spicy depth to the dish.
Other dishes are more unusual. Pinnekjott is a traditional Christmas Eve dish of air-dried sheep ribs that are soaked and steamed over beechwood, then served with mashed kohlrabi (which despite looking like a turnip is actually a sort of cabbage and tastes like broccoli), while Lutefisk is 'simply' cod that has been soaked with water, then lye, then more water and then finally cooked. It has a soft, jelly-like texture and a suprisingly mild fish flavour. More accessible, perhaps, are gravlax (salmon cured with sugar, salt, brandy and dill), or warm buttered Svele pancakes drizzled with syrup and served with coffee (or - if you're adventurous - with Norwegian brown cheese).
Potatoes accompany almost everything, and meat is widely available, from roast reindeer, venison or even elk to moreish cured spekemat (which could be pork, lamb, beef or reindeer and is often served with scrambled egg). The most common fish dishes involve cod and shrimp, but pickled herring is less frequently offered than you might expect.
If you're looking for a drink, expect to find coffee (drunk strong and black) everywhere. The beer on offer in bars tend to be pils lagers, and to be rather more expensive than you'd like, while wine is more normally drunk with meals. If you've a taste for somethings stronger, look out for linje aquavit, which is essentially a version of the national spirit that has been aged in barrels at sea. The bottle should tell you where that particular batch went, on which ship and how long it spent at sea.