Norway's magical highways
It was "so cinematic that I still almost can't believe it was real"
Each week, we spotlight a dream vacation recommended by some of the industry's top travel writers. This week's pick is Norway.
Even measured against a lifetime of other road trips, my recent solo drive through Norway has to be "one of the most surreal and meaningful of any I have ever taken," said Ondine Cohane at The New York Times. Nearly two decades ago, the country decided to transform 18 of its highways into destinations in themselves — wonders of engineering that could carry motorists into beautiful remote landscapes and surround them at each stop with installations by celebrated artists as well as boldly imagined hotels, bridges, observation decks, and other structures by emerging architects. When I look back on my five-day drive along those byways, "the memory turns in my head like a film trailer, so cinematic that I still almost can't believe it was real."
My journey began at Kristiansund, a town near the Norwegian Sea, setting off along a "trippy" highway known as the Atlanterhavsvegen, or Atlantic Ocean Road. An amazing engineering feat that is more roller coaster than road, the 5-mile-long highway loops high over the small islands that hug the coastline before dropping down and skimming the "brooding, steel-gray" waves of the ocean. Here, a pair of young architects from Oslo have constructed an elevated hiking path, called Eldhusoya, that meanders around one of the most picturesque islands. Farther south, I drove up the Trollstigen (Trolls' Path), navigating 11 switchbacks cut into the sheer mountainside. The sharp turns required all my concentration, but I stole glances at the breathtaking surroundings: "trees with brilliant gold, russet-red, and pumpkin-orange leaves, sculptural mountain peaks stretching up into a lonely foreboding sky." At the top of the road, I found a modernist café with a tranquil, Zen-inspired pool; beyond it, a rust-colored observation platform hung from the mountainside, offering a sweeping view of the Romsdal Alps.
As I became more confident in my driving, "the peace and diversity of the countryside became meditational." I passed Hobbit-like cottages, built into mounds of earth with grass-topped roofs. "Dark thick forest alternated with sun-dappled farmland and bare, desolate mountains overlooking quaint lakeside towns." Spectacular installations erupted suddenly in remote corners, far removed from civilization. "They sometimes seemed like a figment of my imagination."