A Guide to exploring Slovenia’s Riviera

A Guide to exploring Slovenia’s Riviera

SLOVEnia is a beautiful country with a gentle vibe that draws you into its graceful culture and laid back way of life. Yet when I think about Slovenia, its coastline is the last thing that comes to my mind.  Perhaps understandably as it only accounts for 1% of the county’s landscape. Mountains, winter sports, lakes, and evocative gorge valleys, oh yes without a doubt – coastline no! And yet Slovenia’s Riviera is a very special region that offers a very unique experience for the weary traveller looking for a bit of respite and a seaside fix.

Slovenia is a million miles away from its iconic riviera cousins in Italy and France. It has a very different feel to the cosmopolitan crowd magnets to the west. No sandy beaches, no ostentatious towns with bling as their middle names, no marble style promenades with cruising chicks rollerblading in skimpy thongs.

 

Just like with everything in Slovenia, its Riviera coastline is charming and alluring. Nestled between Croatia to the south and Italy to the north, this Istria region offers a trip to the seaside with a difference. It’s a subtle cultural experience that graces you with softness and authenticity and it will have you returning for more of its tantalising caress.

Less than 30 miles long, the rugged coastline washed by the Adriatic Sea, fuses perfectly with the mountain backdrop where olive groves and vineyards compete for the summer sunshine. Whilst there are fourteen settlements along the coast, there are five main villages that draw you into their distinctive Venetian style. Strewn with marinas, red-roofed buildings and church towers whose bells toll for anyone inclined to listen, you can while away an hour or two and feel the heart beat of the Slovene coast. 

 

Much like many places in the arc of this Adriatic shoreline, salt has been a major player in the region’s wealth, with production dating back to 9th century. And today, you will still find active salt pans using traditional methods of extraction.  And on top of that, the province is a thriving wine producing area and offers some unique tasting olive oil that has a slightly acidic taste to it, although worthy of a little purchase.  

Whilst just skirting around Slovenia’s Riveria is possible, as with most destinations, this place seriously deserves your time and attention.  Take more than a few days to explore, soak up its atmosphere and get off the beaten track. This is just what we did October 2019. Let us take you on a journey that might inspire you to head south and have your own seaside adventure. 

 

Slovenia’s coastal jewel – Piran and Portorož

As a starting point, I feel the need to draw you to the south edge of the Riviera. It is here where sights of Croatia attempt to lure you south. Yet Piran and its more touristy seaside neighbour Portorož (Port of Roses), easily hold your focus. 

On the southern side of the Piran peninsular, Portorož is the archetypal seaside town with its pristine promenades, palm trees and posh hotels. Although turning a blind-eye, we felt ourselves passing by this more touristy end of the Riviera with our sights set firmly on Piran.

What can we say about Piran? Out of every coastal town that we have had the privilege to visit, this has been the prettiest, most charming and least tourist-infected of them all. When you think that Venice is only just across the Adriatic Sea, it’s a wonder that more coach loads have yet to gravitate in this direction.

Piran has a couple of highlights. First is the view of the marina with the backdrop of the monastery and bell tower behind. The Tartini Square (dedicated to the violin virtuoso and composer Guiseppi Tartini) is magnificent and you can twirl 360º and get a different perspective of the town. With its subtle shades and seemingly wonky buildings, this is a great place to begin your Piran journey.

Walking further along, there’s the iconic view as you gaze along the coastline towards the lighthouse and church. A health warning though! The aromas seeping out from the promenade restaurants will tease you and surely have you trying their mariner’s fare. 

Wandering through the cobbled streets, you could loose yourself in the Salt empire of medieval times. Buildings scarred with maritime history and the narrow alleyways telling their own stories from ancient eons. Hidden in their midst you have to visit the Monastery and the Church of St Francis, which dates back to 1301.  Look out here for the 500 year old root of a native Olive Tree called Piran Buga.

The other great view point that will give you a breathtaking perspective of the peninsular is the bell tower. For a mere 2€ you can climb the 400 year old tower with its 140 steps and get a bird’s eye view from 47m up. Just be warned – don’t do it on the hour, unless you have ear plugs!

And finally, take the climb up to the old town walls. Adorning the town’s perimeter, these walls date back to 14th century where they protected the town from Turkish invaders.  With its magnificently restored towers that crane their necks far above the town, you can an even better view from here, across the town and on towards Venice.  The sunsets from here must just be incredible.

Top Tips for Piran

  • You will not be disappointed by a visit to Piran.  Although we suggest you cycle from Izola along the Parenzana Cycle Trail and then walk around the town.  Parking is prohibited inside the town and there are only a few parking areas anywhere close and they are not suitable for motorhomes. There are regular buses operated by Arriva that run every day from Izola every 30 minutes and the journey is just half an hour.
  • Piran Town Walls cost 2€ to climb for the view and are open from 8.00am until dusk.
  • Piran’s Bell Tower is open from April to October from 10.00am and costs 2€.
  • If you come in April you can experience Piran’s Salt Making Festival where they celebrate their salty heritage.
  • Head to Caffe Teater where you can sit and watch the waves whilst languishing in coffee and the most delicious raw cakes. If you have never tried one, then this place is a must.
  • For a fabulous lunch try Pavel’s Restaurant along the southern edge of the peninsular where most of the tourist restaurants are. Their fish platters are amazing to share. Arrive early around 12noon or after 2.00pm for a guaranteed table with coastal views. 
  • Allow at least 3-5 hours to wander as this place has a timeless feel about it. 

 

We have put together a massive gallery of images. Piran is so picturesque it was far too hard to select just a few. So you have them all! Click the image below for a full view of this magnificent place.

 

 

Strunjan and its Nature Reserve

Slovenia’s Riviera is a beautiful blend of rugged coastline and curvaceous uplands that cry out for exploration. Just 10 minutes outside of Izola towards Piran you have the quaint little settlement of Strunjan. Still a Salt-pan region, although more geared for visitors now. With its pebble beaches, cafe and Reserve, you can cycle reasonably easily (if you have electric) to check out this classy Spa seaside town. The Nature Reserve has a plethora of hikes along the cliff tops, with vistas out across the sparking blue Adriatic Sea towards Venice. So get your rucksack, hiking boots and a packed lunch and head out for a day of fresh sea air tramping through the countryside. 

Top Tips for Strunjan

  • If heading to the Riviera in summer, remember temperatures can be very warm. So make sure you have plenty of water.
  • There are marked cycle paths everywhere, although just bear in mind that some of them are not tarmac and can be tricky to navigate, as we found out. These paths need mountain bikes and steely nerves to manage the rough and rocky path.
  • If you cycle to Strunjan on the road, via the Nature Reserve, then it is a windy and steep route down.  Rather than cycle it back up, take the Parenzana Cycle Trail which will take you back to Izola with a lot more comfort. 
  • Secure your bikes in Strunjan and walk up around the coast to the view points. We didn’t do this as we were carrying a couple of injuries, although with fitness, this would have been our route. 
  • Buy an ice cream from the sea-side cafe. They are to die for. €4 for four scoops! Yum.
  • If you can, head here for the sunset, the view of which takes in the Piran peninsula and the iconic Bell Tower.

 

Check out our slightly smaller gallery of three below!

 

Izola –  the marina town 

Slap bang in the middle of this seaside paradise is the delightful village of Izola. Whilst we are not interested in going back to a house at this point in our lives, if we did, Izola is somewhere I could live quite happily. 

An arial view would probably give you your best vision of Izola, taking in the different boat-harbouring alcoves. There must be over 500 vessels harbouring in its calm waters. It has a quiet demeanour compared to its Koper neighbour and yet a gentle buzz of people that is never invasive. We had five days in the Slovene Riviera with our base in Izola overlooking the marina. This curved bay sheltering from the often vicious Bora winds, creates a safe haven for water sport lovers.  With a promenade that is shaped in tune with the crescent bay, you can take a gentle walk, indulge in a 2 mile run (which I dabbled in to stave off the ever expanding waistline) and cycling. The walk into Izola is just five minutes along the marina with echoes of clinking boats that takes me right back to my childhood. 

Within minutes the street cafe bars and restaurants present their offerings. One of which is the traditional Izolanka cake. Well it would have been rude not too. Digging into a friend’s ample portion, we had images of an ancient tale behind this local, multilayered chunky masterpiece. Alas the story of its creation is not so old. It was designed by a village baker in 2011 and named by the schoolchildren. Its creation symbolises the town’s relationship with its environment, melding the taste of the sea, the wind and the sun with its nutty chocolate, orange and vanilla cream combo. Sweet although lovely and worth a nibble. 

Walking around Izola’s inner harbour and small town square, there is a real intimate feel about the place. Venetian buildings tower over you with their slatted wooden shutters whilst vibrant green pine trees line the coastal pathway.  In the maze of narrow cobbled streets, the chances of cats crossing your path is far more likely than people and yet when you emerge back out to the harbour you are reconnected with the marina’s vibe. You can climb the village’s tallest building – its clock tower, for free which gives you an amazing panoramic view of the townscape. Just avoid going up at mid-day as the gonging of the bells will deafen you.

Top Tips for Izola

  • There are plenty of areas to camp up if you re travelling in a motorhome. Some of the areas you pay €10 and that includes services and electricity.
  • We stayed at Argo Parking, which is operated by the app EasyPark, which with transaction fees is €11.50 without services, although this has the best view and location for the village centre. You can pay with cash, although you need coins. It does get very busy though at weekends with locals. You can get services at the car park on the north edge of town for free. See the interactive map for details.
  • For a great meal with lovely service visit Morski Val opposite the small inner harbour and next to the fountain.  
  • Use Izola as your base as it is perfectly situated between the two main towns of the Riviera and offers you the best place for water sports and swimming.  

 

Yet another picturesque village with a gallery full of beautiful images. Check it out by clicking on the image below.

 

Koper Port 

Koper is the main port of the area, which has to compete with Italy’s Trieste just to the north.  So this has a more industrial feel to it and is the fifth largest city in Slovenia. Cruise ships sometimes dock here and you will often see larger freight tankers gliding on the outer limits of the harbour waiting to berth. Subsequently, the old town, we felt was slightly engulfed by the commerciality that has naturally sprung up because of the port traffic. As a result this was our least favourite part of the Riviera, although explore into the heart of the medieval town and there are some treasures to be found. As friends said, who used Koper as their base to explore, ‘It grows on you the more you wander its streets.’

Koper has some seriously old history to its name, going back as far as at least 6th century when Romans fled here from nearby Trieste. Since then, the town has grown from settlement to major trading post with Venice, to today’s modern port offering a significant contribution to Slovenia’s economy.

Seeking beyond Koper’s commercial hub, you can find a lovely marina and pedestrian area which offers a very chic cafe culture and a nicely landscaped park with sculptures and fountains. And in the heart of the historical centre a couple of landmarks will gratify the history seeker. Mostly centred around the Titov trg, Koper’s key points of interest are the 15th century Praetorian Palace, which now houses the local government offices, the Cathedral of the Assumption and its towering campanile. Aside of this, Koper is the starting point of the Parenzana Cycle Trail, which we talk more about below.

Top Tips for Koper

  • Good place for all your shopping needs.
  • A good starting point for the cycle route to Piran.
  • Has coloured fountains that start at 5.00pm.

 

The Parenzana Cycle Trail 

If you want to get around Slovenia’s Riviera, then renting or bringing your own bicycle is a perfect option to explore the coastline. For no better reason than it has a dedicated cycle path running along its entire length. Constructed in 2002, the track takes the route of an old narrow-gauge railway line that was built by the Austrian’s in 1902. It was a vital link for the transporting of salt, wine and olives between Italy, Slovenia and Croatia. The 75 mile (123km) route actually starts in Trieste and goes all the way through to Poreč from which the trail takes its name. 

A reasonably easy track to cycle, the Parenzana hugs the coast at Koper through to Izola and then weaves north of the town through the vineyards and olive groves. Avoiding the nasty steep and busy main road, the cycle route passes through two tunnels en route to Piran and offers toilets and rest areas along the way. It is a perfect way to see the main sights of this beautiful and sedate coastline. 

 

Check out our gallery below.

 

 

Off the beaten track – Vinka Fontana Marezige 

We love to get away from the main tourist spots and forge paths less travelled. Sometimes it gets us into some bother when village streets narrow and the walls seem to move in to tickle our wing mirrors. Still it’s all part of the adventure. At least our experiences can forewarn you if such crazy thoughts of going off piste cross your mind too.

Up in the mountains shielding the coastal towns you enter a world of wine producers and olive oil groves. The shapely and undulating foothills offer great views to the sparkling Adriatic Sea which seem to entice you home. Although these small settlements give you a really authentic look at Slovenia’s Istria region, making sure you stick with these mountain routes. Famous for the Refošk wine, this area is lovely to explore and we stumbled across one of the most unique places we’ve seen for a while. Marezige, a vineyard Mecca just 20 minutes from Koper that has a wine fountain. For a mere €8 you buy a glass, which you take home with you and, together with three tokens, allows you to sample three of four wine taps. With stunning views across to the coast, you can sip your way through a choice of two Refošk reds and two whites. If you have never considered Slovenia as a wine connoisseur, then think again. It may be a young industry although have no doubts about it, Slovenia is an up-and-coming wine producing country that is demanding the world’s attention. 

Top Tips for visiting Marezige

  • Coords are 45.507527 13.799384
  • Avoid taking the mountain road through Korte. There’s a 6m limit and makes Stelvio’s Pass seem pretty wide and straight. 
  • Follow your SatNav that will take you on the main road from Koper.
  • If there are two of you who enjoy a tipple, either share a glass to limit the impact of drinking and driving which has a low tolerance in Slovenia or get a taxi from Koper.
  • In the summer months, take the tourist bus that takes you around the local vineyards.

 

Check out our gallery of images below – just a small handful this time.

 

Final Thoughts on the Slovene Riviera 

If Slovenia is on your list then you will be in for a treat.  Whilst our path through this delicious country has not covered all corners, the parts we  have seen have endeared us to this gentle nation. And to now have added the coastline, all 1% of it, to our route map, gives us a more rounded perspective of their heritage and geography. We can’t recommend Slovenia and its Riviera highly enough and implore you to put it on your Wish List. 

Top Tips for a visit to Slovenia

  • If you want winter sports – then Kransjka Gora is a great place to go. With excellent ski runs, jumps and cross-country activities  this is a great base for snow sports.
  • Kransjka Gora is also amazing outside of winter, with plenty of hiking and cycling opportunities. Don’t miss Lago Superiore, just 20 minutes west towards the Italian Border – it’s a stunning location in the mountains.
  • The Soča Valley is just sensation with its deep gorges and ice-blue waters, it lends itself to hiking, swimming and kayaking.
  • If WW1  is an interest of yours then Bovec is a great base; Ravelnik is the site of an Austro/Hungarian outpost against the Italians and is free to walk around. There are also Fortresses and War Cemetries to pay your respects. 
  • As capital cities go, Ljubljana is a compact and bijou city-break and we loved it. Half-a-day, will have you navigating its main sights with ease.
  • Lake Bled is an iconic must, although whilst here, don’t miss out on Vintgar Gorge and  Lake Bohinj as super additions or alternatives. 
  • If you intend to visit Slovenia for more than five days and want to travel around, whilst we are not motorway lovers, getting around Ljubljana and going south is far easier on the toll roads. So you’ll need a vignette that you can buy from any major garage. 7 days costs €15.
  • The Slovene language is a tough one to get your tongue around, although the basics of Dobry dan (hello), Prosim (please) and Hvala (thank you) will get you a long way to earning their respect.
  • Slovenia’s currency is Euros and although many garages, supermarkets and main shopping centres will take cards, make sure you have enough cash on you for cafés, bars and restaurants. 
  • Many of the car parks, some of which allow you to stay overnight if with your camper, are payable with the app EasyPark.
  • Slovenia does not allow wild camping, so do so at your own risk. 

 

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7 Czechia Beauties outside Prague

7 Czechia Beauties outside Prague

The Czech Republic, severed from its old Slovak half, sits in apparent landlocked contentment, inside the European Union but outside the troubled Euro Zone, set into the new Continental mosaic like one of the small sturdy paving stones, just a few inches square, that form the sidewalks under the visitor’s ambling feet.    Thomas Mallon

 

During our 43 months full-time travel adventures, we’ve been blessed to visit some incredible European countries. Each destination having a space in our hearts; some taking more room than others. Our excitement at the beginning of  2019 however, exceeded anything we’d experienced up to this point. A Summer in Scandinavia – we had been waiting for this since we left UK shores. Our anticipation of visit Denmark, Sweden and Norway was as high as the heavens. And what a dream four months it was. Sights and experiences that surpassed our experiences. The memory book and my camera’s SD card were seriously full.

So how on earth would we beat those experiences? Well we have come to learn with our life on the road that there is no ‘beating’, just unique and individual cultural experiences. Each country is special in its own right. That said, we wanted to continue our travels with the same curiosity as we always have. So en route south for some much needed sun, we decided to check out the Czech Republic or Czechia as it is more commonly known.  This would be new country five for 2019. 

After the imposing scenery that Scandinavia offers in bucket-loads, we entered Czechia with a little trepidation. Although we didn’t need to worry. Within a couple of hours of crossing the Poland/Czech border at Boboszów we felt the country’s charm instantly touch us. It felt easy on the eye after the overwhelming magnificence of Scandinavia’s trio. Gently rolling hills, winding roads through farmland, forest and castles! Hundreds of them; up to 1000 depending on your definition of ‘castle’. Our two weeks here were going to be a very lovely excursion and our fears faded away into a sink of dishwater. Let us share with you our journey through this green and pleasant land, not even scratching the surface of its offerings, although with enough evidence to make us return – except to Česky Krumlov – although more on that in a moment.  Check out our fully interactive map below that lists all our overnight stops and country highlights. 

 

Our 7 Czechia Beauties

1. Czechia’s Castles

Ok, so castles are not everyone’s cup of tea, although there’s no denying their prowess when it comes to design and historical significance. I love to examine the intricacies of their architrave, the phallic extensions of their towers that preside over the lands below and the ghosts that glide through the walls with a story to tell. I enjoy imagining the footprints that have been left behind by the Dukes and soldiers and the war tales that are undoubtedly etched amongst the plaster. 

Of the 1000 odd castles you can see around the Czechia countryside, 12 caught our eye. If we’re honest we did get a bit castled out, although if you’re going to overindulge in these historic beauties, I can’t think of a better place. With history dating back to 12th century, Czechia’s castles offer us legend, intrigue and romance in equal measure. They invite you to shut your eyes and step back into the past seeing maidens with flowing veils and knights clad in armour on horseback, fighting for their maiden’s protection. I’m sure there is plenty of distasteful activity to add to the mix, although every one of these incredible buildings evoke waves of history as you gaze around their amazing construction. 

From the Rock Castle ruins of the Bohemian Paradise such as Vranov, Frydštejn, Kost and Valdstejn to the pristine presence of Boucov and Litomysl. Castles in town centres, like Jičín and peninsula fortresses of Orlik and Zvikov keeping guard over the magnificence of the Vitava river, south of Prague. And two pièce de resistance giants of Česky Krumlov and Hluboká and Vltavou. Czechia has a veritable feast of chateau brilliance and you’ll not go wanting. Here is a selection of images from the 12 castles we visited. And to think there’s hundreds more to satiate our historical appetite. 

 

 

2. Česky ráj – Bohemian Paradise

Czechia is a modern predecessor of the Imperial State of the Kingdom of Bohemia which was established in medieval times. And although the Czech Republic has reinvented itself more than Madonna, Bohemia still has a presence in the country. Whilst the Kingdom status dissolved in 1918, Bohemia is interwoven throughout their culture and is recognised as more than just a modern regional name. So when you come visit the Bohemian Paradise of the north east you are stepping into a historical storybook that has Bohemian culture embedded into its fibres.  

Although the Bohemian Paradise is so much more than medieval history. It’s a 100 metre square area of geological genius. With its sandstone rock pillars that hide themselves amidst the pine and beech forests, you walk amongst 60 million year old giants. Tiny dots compared to these brilliantly crafted pillars, hikers, rock climbers and adventure seekers love the Česky ráj. After four days exploring its rich variety, we fell in love with this place, just a mere 90 minutes from Prague. For a more detailed look at the area, click here.

 

3. Kutná Hora – Old Town

Czechia is blessed with 12 UNESCO sites, one of which is Kutná Hora. A 12th century settlement founded with the country’s first Cistercian church at Sedlec Abbey. In the 13th century, the town’s fortunes took a massive shift when German settlers started to mine for silver. This gave Kutná Hora greater financial and cultural status than even Prague, such was its importance. Since 1995, the old town has been given the UNESCO badge; protecting its Gothic church, Royal Mint palace and Museum. It’s a great place to wander and feel the historical significance of the area. Less than 90 minutes from the centre of Czechia’s capital and just 45 miles (77km) you will be in this fabulous place.  Check out our gallery below. 

 

4. Kutná Hora – UNESCO Cathedral of our Lady and Sedlec Ossuary

Our entry in at number four is worthy of its own listing and not hidden behind Kutná Hora’s mask. Just outside the Old Town hub and close, bizarrely to the commercial centre, you will unearth a UNESCO church and the macabre Chapel of Bones.

The Cathedral of our Lady of the Assumption and St John the Baptist (to quote its full title) has seen its fair share of history in its eight hundred year history. Originally part of the Cistercian monastery, it was the first cathedral-style building in Bohemia and the largest sacred building at the time. However the Hussite army plundered and burnt down the Cathedral in 1421 and it remained in ruins until the 18th century. It was at this point that architect Jan Blažej Santini began investing much needed love into the building combining both Gothic and Baroque styles, giving it a unique design not found anywhere else in Europe. The monastery which was seriously in debt at the time, was transformed into a Tobacco factory, which remains today, albeit more as a museum. Eighty years after the beautifully crafted Cathedral stood as a symbol of prosperity and grandeur, the area fell victim to greed and as a result the monastery was sold and the Cathedral became a flour-store. In 1995 it was ceremonially consecrated and honoured as a UNESCO property. 

Just across the road you start your path towards one of the those unique travel experiences that feel somehow inappropriate and yet   you are drawn towards it nonetheless – as if free-will no longer exists. The Sedlec Ossuary is a chapel decorated with the bones of 60,000 people. Like its cousin in Evora Portugal, this ossuary has the most incredible decor, which is fascinating and macabre in equal measure. Its history originates, according to legend from 1278.  T,he sprinkling of Holy soil brought back from Jerusalem made the Sedlec cemetery the oldest Holy Field in Central Europe and a popular place to be buried. After a period of famine, war and plague, the cemetery became over-run and in an attempt to reduce the size of the graveyard, 60,000 bones were exhumed and dumped in the Chapel’s cellar.  It is thought that the bones were decoratively placed into six pyramids by a partially blind monk during 16th century.  Then in 18th century the Cathedral’s designer Jan Blažej Santini-Aichel was tasked with reconstructing the chapel, inside and out. Further designs were created following the dissolution of the Cathedral, monastery and chapel in 18th century when the Ossuary was purchased by the Schwarzenberg family. They commissioned carver František Rint to renovate the designs and add further decorative elements, such as their Coat of Arms. 

A visit to the Ossuary is more than an admiration of the placement of bones into a design. It is a symbolic reminder that death will visit us all and that ‘What we are, you will become, and what you are, we once were.’ It’s a strangely moving experience when you grasp the history and presence of each one of these bones and how death visited each of them.  It costs 90czk per person and tickets are available from the ticket office located just across the road from the Cathedral – and not at the Chapel itself. 

 

5. UNESCO beauties

Czechia has twelve UNESCO sites across the county and you could shape your entire visit just around these beauties. We managed to see five, if you exclude the Geopark status of the Bohemian Paradise and Kutná Hora, which I have already mentioned.

With the delightful town of Litomysl with its unique motif exterior and cobbled street town, you can easily while away an afternoon checking out this delightful community. (A note for travellers with campers; parking is not easy here as there’s nowhere dedicated for motorhomes. We were lucky to park in the town although it may require staying in a campsite and travelling in, to fully appreciate the town.) 

Just down the road you will find the hilltop homage to St John Nepomuk. Another building crafted by the architect of his time Jan Blažej Santini-Aichel. My he was a busy boy. The site is currently being renovated by UNESCO so it’s a bit unkempt  and there is little parking up at the church. Although it is still worth a quick visit if you are passing through. With its five sided star-shape and its resident pair of peregrine falcons, the source of this church is a bit of a mystery. After a bit of research I found that Jan was commissioned to build it in 1719, following the discovery of preserved tissue of Saint John that had been found in his tomb. I’m sure when work is complete touring the renovated interior will be more information and interesting. 

Holašovice is a delightful village that is certainly off-the-beaten-track. It has history going back to the 13th century and in the five years between 1520-25 all bar two of the population were killed by the plague. A repopulation of the village began with settlers from Austria and Bavaria. After World War 2 the Germans were displaced, leaving the village to fall into disrepair. It was only in 1990 that it was restored back to its full glory and is protected by UNESCO given that it is the best example of the South Bohemian Baroque Folk architecture in the area. Many of the buildings are dated between 1840 and early 1900s, whilst the Chapel was built in 1755. The village is only small, housing just 120 buildings and 140 people, although its typical South Boheniam features make it a very lovely visit for an hour.

The most southerly UNESCO we visited is the much talked about Česky Krumlov. Aside of Prague, it is said to be the most visited place in Czechia and for good reason. Everyone insists a visit here will make your travels to the Czech Republic complete. These are indeed very compelling words and without doubt the setting of this fairytale town is to die for. The Allsorts mixture of houses, colours and textures make this visually appealing. The vistas from the magnificent castle across the town’s roof-tops and ox-bow river give it real camera click-ability and Instagram desirability.

Although there is a black side to Česky Krumlov that I believe needs sharing and which put a huge dampener on our visit. So strongly we felt about this shadow that we are actually not recommending a visit here, despite it being on our Czechia highlight review. We have added so that we can reveal the dark truth about this UNESCO supported destination. Captive Bears! That is the darkness that I talk about. 

We were shocked and disgusted to see two female bears being held like zoo animals in the ‘Bear Moat’. Tour Guides proudly say that these bears are cared for by a bear-keeper who feeds them three times a day and that are part of a family heritage practice that has been in place for hundreds of years. Signs on the railings invite you not to feed the animals, instead to contribute money for ‘a varied diet and delicacies’. Suggesting that this is not funded by the Castle management currently.  I was so unsettled by this sight that the rest of the town passed by in a bit of an angry fog. On further investigation I found that the bears are part of a couple of Festivals to celebrate their Birthdays and Christmas Eve, in the name of education! 

This abhorrent practice has led me to campaign for their release to a Sanctuary that can give them the respect and care they deserve. With letters written to UNESCO’s Ethics Committee, Libearty Bear Sanctuary in Romania, Four-paws and the Born-Free Foundation, I wait to see what will happen. I have written to the Castle Manager although I understand that this practice is deemed legal and so little can be done other than to change the law. If, like me you value animal welfare, then please feel free to add your signature to the petition to change this law and put an end to animals being used as tourist attractions. So our verdict of Česky Krumlov, pretty although with too many Insta-posers, clouds of tourists and animal welfare issues that make it far too unpalatable, for us! 

 

6. National Park Šumava – Bohemian Forest

In the south west corner, hugging the border with Germany’s Bavaria, you stumble across the peaceful haven of the Bohemian Forest. A UNESCO biosphere reserve since 1990, also known as the Šumava National Park, is a heavenly place for hikers and cyclists. The mountain range here has the most extensive covering of forest in central Europe with huge pines that look like ballerinas. With deserted roads that weave amongst the cheerleading trees, alongside lush green pastures and through remote villages, you feel like you have the place to yourself.  The odd ski resort offers a plethora of winter sport activities and forest tracks take you into the heart of the Park with miles and miles of walking opportunities to please outdoor lovers. The Park also supports a healthy population of lynx.  If you want peace and tranquility away from Czechia’s hotspots, then this has your name written all over it.  

 

7. České Budějovice – home of Budeweiser

Who would have known that Czechia is the greatest beer consumers in the world, per capita? And why not, they are prolific beer producers, brewing up a feast with some very famous names. They even have a claim to fame for having the oldest beer in the world – Černá Hora, first brewed in the 13th century. So you could be forgiven for wanting to head to Czechia to sample one of these fine brews. And what better destination than České Budějovice in South Bohemia?

Whilst its commercial exterior is much like any other town in Europe, when you navigate into its centre it reveals its nectar. Not only will every bar in town sell you the original Budweiser (until the Americans stole the label) the town square is one of the largest in Europe. So you kill two impressive travel experiences in one shot. The Old Town is lovely, with its colourful houses, towering church  spires and cobbled streets – and for a couple of hours why not soak up the atmosphere of this beer making king. 

 

Practicalities

Czechia is an up and coming European country that has been on the fringes of the European stage. Although with travel options opening up to so many more people around the world, it is starting to see an increase in tourism. In 2018 alone, 21 million people arrived into the Czech Republic, with almost 2 million from Germany alone. So come soon if you don’t want to be consumed by crowds. Here are some practicalities that you need to consider if travelling to Czechia. 

  1. Understandably with their germanic neighbours, you’ll find more people speaking German than English. Whilst in large cities and towns, many people will speak English, out in the country less so. So come armed with a few phrases that will help and Google Translate as it’s a tough language to get your tongue around. Dobry den (formal hello), Dêkuju (pronounced jequi, thank you) and Prosím (please).
  2. If you have a pre-paid credit card, check that Czech Krone is available. On our Caxton card, we were unable to load Krone so had to withdraw enough money to last us for our two week tour and suck up the commission from our credit card.
  3. Cost of living is cheap in Czechia and remember it is a cash-society, so make sure you have plenty of coins and notes as you enter the country. Car parks for example are all cash, so be prepared.
  4. For those travelling in campers, access from Austria, Germany, Poland and Slovakia makes exploring this budding country easy. Although in our experience, facilities for motorhomes is still in its infancy. There are very few Aire style stopovers and we found no Service Areas for filling up and emptying. So during our two weeks, we speckled our wild camping stopovers with a couple of campsites to empty and fill up.
  5. Wild camping in Czechia is allowed as long as the rules of respect are applied.
  6. Diesel and LPG is cheap around the country. You find prices closer to Prague are slightly more expensive although expect between 30.50 – 32.00czk (£1.05 –  £1.07). For LPG you will pay, on average 13.50czk (0.46p per litre).
  7. Road quality is pretty good although some off-piste country roads can be more narrow. Although generally we found the roads fairly quiet unless it is an arterial road to Prague.
  8. To travel on some roads and motorways in Czechia, you will need a vignette. These are available at most garages and you can buy as a 10 day, 1 month or 1 year. For our 10 day vignette, we paid 328czk (£11.34). Whilst we don’t often  travel on motorways, we generally always buy vignettes as there are some roads that suddenly become tolls and having the right vignette takes away any stress, given the small cost. 

 

Final thoughts

Czechia is becoming an increasingly popular destination, although as we found out in just a short two-week tour, there is so much more to explore than the capital Prague. Outdoor and nature lovers, thrill seekers and history buffs will all adore what the Czech Republic has to offer. Just off the beaten track, you will find a country that will charm, enchant and delight you and leave you wanting more. Aside of the animal welfare issue we found in Česky Krumlov, we were impressed with what Czechia had to offer and would, without doubt, return to explore some more. 

 

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8 Top Spots in Czechia’s Bohemian Paradise

8 Top Spots in Czechia’s Bohemian Paradise

Who could resist the desire to visit a place called Bohemian Paradise? It conjures up images of a 1960’s retreat with white sand beaches and crystal blue waters. Well this Paradise may be far from that fantasy, although it has a richness all of its very own. If you love outdoors, being active and exploring romantic castles full of legend and folk history, then this is a place for you. ‘Where is it?’ I hear you cry!

Head to the Czech Republic’s capital Prague and keep going north east for a mere 90 minutes and you will arrive at the gates of Paradise. Whilst I know Prague is a massive draw for so many travellers with its UNESCO badge, I implore you extend your stay and reach out beyond the city limits. Let me draw you into an area of Czechia that oozes its own historical marvels and offers you a geological master-class that stands firmly amongst other European giants. As a visitor, be amongst a small handful of people who venture to the Bohemian Paradise and be rewarded by a region of geological and mineralogical brilliance.  Come with us as we  explore the legends, castles and hikes that will have you grabbing for your GPS for directions. 

 

Just 90 minutes from Prague, heading north east you arrive at a green patch on the map. Green is always a magnet for us and soon becomes a centrepiece for our explorations. When I started to research the region called Čzesky ráj it brought back amazing memories of Slovakia’s Raj region. 

This whole area together with Poland’s Stolowe south west region have clearly been under the same geographical influences from earth’s tectonic plates. Whilst I won’t attempt to indulge either of us in a geology lesson, the resulting effects of earth’s movement has crafted an incredible piece of art.  Let us take you on a journey through this wonderful UNESCO Geopark that covers 110sq miles (184km) and was the very first protected nature reserve in Czechia in 1955. 

Thanks to its rich geological canvas that dates back 60 million years, you can imagine the stories that can be told by this highly volcanic region. And it’s not just the treasure chest of gemstones found deep beneath this volcanic land that are precious. The gently rolling hills covered in pine and oak forests, luscious green fields harvested by farmers and natural Rock Towns that house ancient tales from underneath the sea. 

As you explore the inner sanctum of these ‘Towns’, your neck craned in an awkward upward position, your mind will reel as you try to comprehend the magnificence of this natural design. Pine needles carpet the floor as you tramp through these sandstone giants accompanied by the faint odour of fungi that lingers in the air during the early doors of autumn.  If this imagery doesn’t inspire you to reach for your map, then perhaps this short tour guide of our route and Top 8 Highlights will satiate your appetite. 

Our Tour Around Česky ráj

1. Jičín

In the south east of the region we found the 13th century town of Jičín. With its Municipal Reserve preservation award, Jičín has an incredible old town that is worth exploring. Like so many places the outskirts do nothing for its appeal, although once into the medieval heart, Jičín will surely impress. Its rectangle Old Town Square, which is oddly oversized for the town’s proportions, you can twirl 360º each side offering a fairytale perspective. Colourful facias create a sense of individual character as Gothic and Renaissance features build the central hub of this town. 

The most unique thing for me was the castle of Veliš, with its striking mustard yellow garb that is integrated into the town’s structure. Subtle yet poignant poised amidst the locals. No lofty status for these Lords. Archways shelter arcades beneath the castle walls, whilst the mosaic cobbled streets have ancient merchant tales etched into their crevices. The clock tower – Valdice Gate is a dominant landmark that demands your attention, offering passage through to the newer part of town and Jičín’s fairytale dragon.  Jičín not only collects historical moments, it is home to the folk stories of Remcajs and his family who was a kind bandit. People flock here to soak up the fairytale romance that oozes from this most beautiful town and it is a fabulous start to your Bohemian Paradise experience. 

Check out our Jičín Gallery below

2. Prachovské Skály – Rock Town

Using Jičín as our Bohemian gateway, the next port of call was Prachov’s Rock Town. Only four miles from the town, Prachov is one of the most popular destinations for rock climbers and hikers. The road winds up into a forested haven, with pine trees taller than buildings looking as if they are trying to compete with the stone giants hidden in their midst. And that’s one thing to say about the Čzesky ráj – you really do have to get in it to experience it. Driving along its roads just doesn’t reveal its plethora of beauty.

For a mere 200czk, which is £6.20 you can park up here for 24hrs, allowing you to sleep over if you have a camper/motorhome. (50.46882, 15.28501). There’s a small entrance fee (80czk, £2.50 per person) to get into the Rock Town itself allowing you to follow one of the many hiking tours in this area of the Park. The hikes have different levels of challenge, although they each require a scaling of steep steps into the upper echelons of the forest. So it does require a certain level of fitness and ability. Unfortunately a majority of the Park is not disabled friendly, sad to say. 

We chose the Red path which had some challenges initially, although soon levelled out. And then we took the Green route back – and boy this was a real stretch and had us resembling some sort of ancient mountain goat puffing out of his rear end. Although wow what a trek, proffering some incredible views across the area and within the Rock Town itself. The best way I can describe the view is to liken it to when you visit a church. You marvel at the artistry, the construction and how it symbolises something that is way beyond your comprehension. This is how I felt looking at the vista in front of us. The view of Myles against the sandstone giants gave me a sense of scale, perspective and I have to say, reverence. This was one of our highlights from our four day tour. 

Check out our Gallery below

3. Trosky Castle and Kozakov View Point

One of the most iconic views in this UNESCO Geopark is the Trosky Castle. The two towers, sat atop two volcanic vents are visible from a large majority of the region and are classed as one of the most visited sites in Czechia. In the late 14th century, the basalt rock chimneys were seen as a defence opportunity and the construction of the twins begun. The castle courtyard situated in the crevice connects the towers lovingly named Baba (The Crone) and Panna (The Maiden). You can learn more about these towers and their role in the Bohemian history by clicking here

Not more than 30 minutes drive away, we took a short diversion to the east of the region to scale the loft heights of Kozákov – Čseky ráj’s highest point at 744m. On a clear day the views must be amazing, although sadly our view was shaded with grey skies and low cloud. This hill is also the remanent of a volcano and is said to be the source of many precious gems, including jasper and garnet. 

Turnov is the place to get your precious gem gifts, although beware if buying outside of Bohemian Paradise. Any stones that are larger than 02-0.8cm in diameter are not genuine Bohemian stones. Instead they are more likely to be a cheaper replica called rhodolite. Also make sure you ask for a Certificate of Authentication. 

Check out our Gallery below

4. Reigrove Stezce – Reiger Trail, Semily

Diversity when travelling is all-important to us and the Bohemian Paradise satisfies even this need. From Rock Towns to castles and gorges with river walks – now that sounds like our cuppa tea. So we were drawn north east of the region past Semily where I wanted to find the Jizera river gorge that snakes its way around from Semily to Malá Skála and then south until it meets the Elbe just north east of Prague.  

This 100 year old Trail is definitely off the beaten track and is just lovely. A path that hugs the gorge, climbs up into the forest and then back down to the water’s edge is gorgeous. And as autumn’s grip becomes obvious the smells, the sights and sounds makes this such a lovely hike. You can take the route all the way from Semily to Spálov. 

Check out our Gallery below

5. Frydštejn and Vranov Castle Hike

As you wind your way to the north boundaries of the region, Malá Skála is your next port of call. This is a charming town that, with its river frontage offers super kayaking opportunities. Plus high above the river is the Frydstejn to Malá Skála ridge, a hike that transports you back in time. We started at Frydštejn Castle, where we stopped overnight and then hiked the 5km sandstone ridge towards Vranov Castle. The 14th Century ruins form one of the area’s traditional rock castles and whilst a shadow of its former self many historical mysteries are held in its stoney walls. You can enter the castle between 10.00-1700 and it costs 50czk per person.

Continuing your hike, it takes you along the ridge sheltered by pine trees. With a path strewn with tree roots and sandstone boulders it makes for a challenging path. Although with monuments and viewpoints along the way, it’s worth persevering. The goal is the precipice at the end of the ridge that overlooks the Jizera valley and the valley below. And entry to the Vranov Castle (Pantheon) is well worth the 50czk which is open from 10.00 to 1800.

Vranov is an iconic rock castle that is actually best viewed from below. Although when you enter the stone gate, it’s like walking through Narnia’s Wardrobe. A portal that takes you into a world of fantasy, legend and 15th century history where famous names from times past are celebrated. The castle is in two distinct parts; the chapel which is a well preserved building and forms the iconic  image and the sandstone remains that presents 12 points of interest. You can scale the steps to each of the sights, although be warned that these are incredibly steep and can not be accessed by young children or anyone with any disabilities or injuries. The  final section to the wooden cross, from which you can see Frydstejn Castle requires you to rock climb up vertical steps in order  to reach the top. It’s a fine example that really requires a good hour to explore. For the best view, walk from the castle back towards the town and turn right. Walk about 200m and look behind you, where the full perspective of this magnificent rock castle is apparent. 

Check out our Gallery below

6. Valdstejn Castle – Romance is in the air

Weaving up through the pine forests from the Jizera river valley, you head towards another outstanding looking castle. Valdstejn lies in the throbbing heart of the Malá Skála rock town, and the uphill climb through the forest brings you beneath its dominant shadow.  Walking through the arches to the upper level, you are immediately transported back to the 13th century. The cobbled walkway offers a regal passage into the soul of the castle, which is thought to be the oldest in the Bohemian Paradise. The sounds of horses and men from battle walk with you in spirit as you cross the castle’s threshold. A tour around the grounds will introduce you to the tempestuous history that has seen this palace go from grandeur to ashes, to a phoenix rising.  

There is something incredibly romantic about this castle. From the walk to it from the car park through rust coloured forests paths, past stones that must tell a million tales to the roots of trees that seem to vainly  hold the earth together. You can visit the castle as a self-guided tour for 70czk each or a guided tour for 90czk per person. You are free to visit between April and October – for their  opening hours, please check here.

Here’s our Gallery

7. Hrubá Skála

Within walking distance from Valdstejn, depending on your energy, you can extend your trip deeper into the history books. With the forest inviting you in on a geological journey through time, you can easily stroll around this amazing nature reserve. Unlike its Prachov cousin further south, this is a more tame affair in terms of the walking.

Gentle and less demanding, Hrubá Skála gives you a more moderate and tender experience. With regular outlooks, you can look across the tree tops and gaze in awe at the rock columns that stand before you. In all their elegance, withstanding millions of years, they demand you to enquire about the bigger picture of life beyond our every-day tribulations.  It is here that you will find the most famous of rock collections, aptly named The Band. 

Check out our Gallery below

8. Kost Castle

For this final Bohemian Paradise highlight, it might be worth you casting your mind back to Hannibal Lecter and his cannibalistic tendencies. As it is at this southerly most castle of the ráj that Hannibal Rising was filmed. And there’s something about its grey facade and haunting and impenetrable walls that creates a sense of approval for their choice of venue. 

Unlike its castle siblings in the area, 14th century Kost is not built on a hill, rather it has been constructed on a spit between two brooks. It is one of the best preserved castles in the area and it offers you four different tours which you can find out more about here

Check out our Gallery below

Practicalities

So Paradise by name and paradise in nature. With diversity as its middle name, this Bohemian beauty will thrill you around every corner. At only 60 miles (around 100km) from Prague, it is a journey that can be done in 90 minutes and means that this natural wonderland is easy to reach with an extended city break visit.  With its easy to drive roads, water sports, heavenly hikes and the best biking opportunities, the Bohemian Paradise will satisfy everyone. 

The towns dotted around the region offer hotels and Air BnBs and there are campsites offering a chance to still the motion of your wheels and enjoy the Geopark on foot or by bike. For more camping opportunities, check here.

Don’t forget that if you decide to drive in Czechia, then you will need to buy a vignette for the country’s toll roads. Whilst it is possible to avoid the tolls, we always purchase one just in case we end up on one inadvertently – in spite of a good SatNav! The price for 10 days is just €12.50 (£11.34) and if you are driving in or around Prague then it is almost impossible to avoid the toll roads. For more information on the tolls and toll route map, check here.

Final Thoughts

Czechia is a beautiful place to visit with its plethora of castles, the walls of which tell tales of knights and medieval maidens defending the honour of their lands. With its magnificent UNESCO sites and rolling hills, you won’t be disappointed by your visit here. For more information on Czechia and its exploration possibilities why not keep an eye open for our up and coming posts or check the Visit Czechia website.

 

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Norway – All Things Shopping

Norway – All Things Shopping

Norway – It’s so expensive!

So many people tell us that they are worried about travelling to Norway because of the prices; of food, tolls, ferries, alcohol – the list goes on. And then there’s the journey to consider and the miles you need to travel to get there and getting around this vast country. In our All Things Norway blog trilogy, we hope to allay some of those fears and share how we managed to tour Norway for 7 weeks effortlessly, finding ways to manage our budget, shop savvy and not blow the bank! 

Our first in the series All Things Norway, we focused on the travel elements of getting to and moving around Norway with ease using their ferries, tolls and motorway network. In this second blog we provide you with a guide on all things shopping; offering practical advice on Stocking Up strategies, Top tips on How to shop Savvy and offer you a downloadable PDF document of all the food we bought whilst we were in Norway so you have a clear idea on our costs… and much much more. For simplicity, we have built a Table of Contents so you can skip around the blog at your leisure and all links are highlighted in red.  So let’s get into the nitty gritty. 

Currency

The first few things to say about your shopping experience in Norway is to be prepared for a cashless society.  In fact Scandinavia as a whole prefer payment by cards than cash. So we don’t recommend you bring much with you. Obviously it depends on the length of time you are here, although we had £100 worth of Norwegian Krone (NOK) and rarely had the need to dip into our stash.

The only time we required some loose change was for washing machines and a couple of Marina style Aires where you place your money in an honesty box. Otherwise we used our card everywhere, even for the smallest amount. 

We used a free to download app from xe.com to do our Norway Krone conversion, although we got used to doing the sums in our head once we had the formula. Obviously the rate may differ when you go, although we worked on the basis of moving the decimal place one point to the left and shaving a bit off.  Not very sophisticated although it gave us a good enough picture.

Shopping for Food

Of course, for most of us, thinking about this Norwegian beauty, food is high on the agenda, as reports come back about the extortionate cost of living.  And it is undoubtedly more costly, although not quite as bad as we thought. We were glad to have done some stocking up, although it wasn’t quite as necessary as we feared. Here’s our Shopping for Food experiences – with no holds barred. 

Stocking up before you arrive

Everyone does it. Everyone recommends you do it! We’ve read reports from others about how they carried huge amounts of tins and stock items to make sure they didn’t go hungry. And of course, without the benefit of hindsight  – we too did the same. 

Whilst back in UK for our MOT I felt like a woman possessed; writing lists of what to buy and what I could cook without having to go near a Norwegian supermarket. It must have looked as if I was planning an expedition to the North Pole. Every time I visited Tescos (other supermarkets are available) I would stock up on just a few more things. And if we’re honest our shopping frenzy began when we left Spain in March as we grabbed the all essential boxes of wine and bottles of Soberano. 

With a box, no wait – it was more like a crate of goodies in the garage, our cupboards bulging and the freezer rammed, and I really do mean rammed, we can honestly look back and giggle at our shopping exploits.  And perish the thought that we should touch that precious frozen treasure before we reached Norway. Bless him, Myles didn’t even have room for ice!  I even decided to master bread baking; coming prepared with yeast, bread flour and a great home-made recipe. What was I thinking! I even remember saying on the last packet of divine Cheesy Doodles from Sweden, ‘That’s it, no more snacks until we leave Norway.’  Our Norwegian philosophy was, we’ll dry out and loose weight because our eating and drinking habits would surely have to change!  

There seemed to be a never ending ‘just one last shop’ as we passed Intermarché in France, Lidl in Germany and even Rema 1000 in Kiruna, northern Sweden. I’m sure if someone was looking down us they must have thought us mad! Although in our defence – the prices man! Surely they were going to break us.

Well I am pleased to say that we neither lost weight nor dried out because it wasn’t anywhere near as costly as we thought it would be. Our End of the World stock piling was not necessary.  Norway can be mastered, enjoyed and survived without the need to buy up supermarket shelves of supplies. I say this out of experience and the examination of all the food we had left over. There’s at least five main meals I had planned for, that are, as we sit in Czechia, still lurking in my cupboards. And whilst we can use these items up another time as they’re not perishable, my Stocking Up Strategy was way off course!

So here are my Top 20 essentials to buy before you leave home either because they are hard to get or because they are expensive. Of course the caveat here is that these are food items that we used a lot in our cooking so they may not appeal to your tastes and of course it also depends how long you are visiting for. For recipes for cooking whilst on the road check out our free to download Camping Cuisine Cookbook.  Our larder items listed in here are the basis for my pre-Norway stock-piling!

 

Top 20 List of Pre-Norway Food Essentials

  1. Your favourite herbs – just because of the  translation. 
  2. Salad cream – difficult to find this.
  3. Wine, beer and Sprits.
  4. Meats if you are a meat lover – we brought lamb mince as this is notoriously hard to get throughout Europe. We also brought chicken livers for pâté and risotto, and chicken breasts as they are VERY expensive in Norway. Also we piled up on bacon and sausages.
  5. Pistachios (they’re hard to get in Norway).
  6. Honey and sugar – this they are a lot more expensive.
  7. Butter – definitely cheaper at home.
  8. Coffee and tea bags.
  9. Cartons of legumes & pulses (they are light and easy to store) and bulk out meals nicely.
  10. Tomato/Brown sauce and Mayonnaise.
  11. Dried sachets of coconut milk (easier to store)
  12. Tubes of pureed condiments such as ginger, lemongrass, chilli
  13. Tuna/pilchards/sardines – make great lunches.
  14. Emergency, long-life milk.
  15. Condiments such as Balsamic Vinegar, Olive Oil, Soy Sauce, Sweet Chilli Sauce and Hoi Sin.
  16. Tins of vegetables as emergencies because fresh veg are more expensive.
  17. Flour/Cornflour.
  18. Risotto rice/Basmati.
  19. English Mustard/Worcester sauce/Bovril/Marmite – definitely couldn’t find Bovril anywhere!
  20. Cheese. Hard cheese is particularly difficult to get, although you can buy grated packets.

 

The bottom line is though, don’t panic – you don’t need to bring as much as you think. Norway’s supermarkets are without doubt more expensive, although think Waitrose rather than Lidl prices. We were pleasantly surprised about how shopping in Norway did not break the bank and we had loads of supplies left over. So don’t weight down your van with unnecessaries. To give you more confidence, read on as I give you a summary of our shopping list sharing all the things we actually bought whilst we were there, so you can see for yourself.

Supermarkets in Norway

So after my obsessive stock piling behaviour, our first flirtation with Norway’s supermarkets was in a small village on Norway’s second largest island, Senja. We came out armed with 6 items £30 lighter, still in shock at the experience we’d just had. Blimey that was a sting in our pocket. So glad I stocked up! 

And yet, of course prices are always going to be more expensive in off-the-beaten-track places. It’s no different in UK or, come to think of it, the rest of Europe. So this was pretty much a one-off experience – thank goodness – until Myles bought beer. I’ll tell you about that cock up in a bit.  

Another Norway surprise was the range of items that you could buy from their supermarkets. Norway’s shops have an outstanding range of foods, unlike many of its European cousins. Chinese, Indian, Mexican – you name it, they had it. So this is why we recommend not bringing too much with you.  

Here’s a list of the shops we found most often and our experiences when shopping here. Bear in mind there is no Lidl or Aldi here.

Rema 1000 – is classed as a discount store, although we found it much more expensive in comparison to others. They have a Discount Scheme which you can apply for via an app. You then show a code from your phone when you shop there. The man on the kiosk did, however, scan a card for me so that the discount could apply. And after finding EuroSpar, we didn’t ever return to Rema. 

EuroSpar – Totally my favourite shop.  My favourite because it had plenty of discounts, every week and a brand called First Price – more on that in a moment. This was bar far our most cost-effective shopping experience. 

Kiwi – we had been told that this was the best and cheapest supermarket to visit, although testing the theory out, we have to say that it was no cheaper, in our opinion than Eurospar.

Joker – this is a small convenience store that you would visit if you were desperate for something and miles away from a big town. Which can often happen as you are travelling through Norway’s fjords. We didn’t go in one, so can’t comment on their prices.

BunnPris – this was a medium priced store as is Coop Prix.

 

Shopping Savvy

On a day to day basis Norway’s shops have everything you need. Whilst Norway is a Waitrose-type of shopping experience, there are deals to be had. I became really good at hunting out good prices and saving some serious pennies. These are my Top 10 Tips.

 

Top Top 10 Tips for being a Savvy Shopping

  1. EuroSpar is our top supermarket recommendation for all round value for money and super discounts. 
  1. Look out for the phrase TILBUD, which means offers. We found lots of offers on meat. So we were able to buy chicken mince and thighs for £2.99. Also vegetables were often on special deals. We bought cauliflower and broccoli for £1 during the entire length of our stay. 
  1. When you see meat discounts, bulk buy and freeze if you are able to. Although this does come with a warning. In Sweden mostly, although we also had the problem in Norway, chicken does seem to go off very quickly, even when frozen and well within date. So be mindful of this. 
  1. Always look for the FIRST PRICE brand. EuroSpar was excellent at stocking these although many of the Coop and Kiwi stores had them too.  First Price is the equivalent of Tescos Value and offer food at low prices and have loads of £1 deals. I managed to buy chocolate (which is also generally expensive) on a special deal of £1. 
  1. Fish was surprisingly good value, relatively speaking. I bought Mackerel fillets for £1 every time I shopped. I added mayonnaise or creme fraiche with horseradish for a really quick smoked mackerel pate.  Also a tub of prawns, if they are your thing, were no more expensive than the UK at £4.99, so they were a bit of a treat.
  1. Bread is expensive and white particularly difficult to buy for some reason. Although if you shop early, First Price did a whole, uncut white loaf for 80p. You then use the automated slicing machine and hey presto you have yourself some white bread. 
  1. Cornflakes are only £1 if you get the First Price brand. Milk isn’t overly expensive, so breakfasts are covered. Make sure you buy MELK – it comes in a pink carton – be careful you don’t end up with fermented yoghurt instead.  
  1. Vegetables and fruit are definitely more expensive, although when there’s a fruit or veg in season, they offer it at a special price. So I was regularly able to get a punnet of nectarines for £2.99, cauliflower and broccoli for £1. So that pleased the nutritionalist in me. Otherwise when vegetables were scarce, then I used my selection of tinned veg. Not as good of course although my philosophy is ‘Better than…’ Also after arriving in Norway, we were finally able to start eating our frozen supplies which made room to buy frozen peas. 
  1. If you, like me, need a herbal remedy or organic shop then, although not cheap, you can find Health Food Shops in the Shopping Malls in larger towns. 
  1. If you choose to shop in Rema 1000, then download their app for discounts when in store.

The Motoroamers’ Food Shopping Prices

We took the opportunity to record our shopping lists and expenses so you can see a real time summary of certain foods that we purchased during our 7 weeks and how much each item cost us. We have created this as a PDF document that you can download as your personal copy. Click the button below. 

 

 

Going Out

You can  safely assume that given the general cost of living in Norway that eating out brings the same price tag.  And it is true for us across Scandinavia as a whole, that whilst we may well have been able to shop savvy, going out for meals meant there was no avoiding the cost. And as a result we didn’t do it often. In fact during the whole four months we had four ‘out’ moments. A couple were just simple lunches, a round of beers in Tromsø and a very super Fish and Chip meal from Kristiansund for £24.

Otherwise we decided that to eat out, on what would be likely London prices, was beyond our budget. We enjoy cooking our own food, so going out didn’t really feel necessary. If you do enter into restaurants, check your prices before you go using an app like xe.com, avoid cities where prices are always inflated or simply keep it to a lunch. This way you avoid breaking the bank and getting stung with high prices. 

 

Norway’s Alcohol 

Let’s get down to the nuts and bolts. Norway’s booze is outrageously expensive. And whilst supermarkets will stock low percent beers – spirits and strong beers above 4.75% can only be purchased in separate Government run stores called Vinmonopolet.  You can buy these low percentage supermarket beers until 8pm on weekdays and 6pm on Saturday.

And let me tell you, we talk from experience. I made the mistake of letting Myles come in shopping with me, because he wanted some beers. To quote Julia Roberts from the film Pretty Woman “Big mistake. Big. Huge.”

Unlike me, who takes time to look at prices and buy good value, Myles was just focused on ‘I want beer!’ And he got it – for the princely sum of £60! Perhaps that doesn’t sound too bad – although when I then add that this was only for 16 cans of sub-standard strength larger, then you’ll understand my shock.  Needless to say, he never came shopping with me again! 

Alcohol is heavily taxed and is part of Norway’s attempt to curb a drinking culture and alcoholism, although according to locals, it’s not working. A contentious subject obviously. 

So if you like a drink, then you need to bring supplies with you.  Although as a word of caution, if you sail into Norway in your motorhome from Denmark, then we hear it on good authority that Customs are hot on searching.  It has been described to me as ‘strip-searching’ motorhomes, looking for excessive stores of booze that exceed the Duty Free allowance. So be warned.  

We entered in the north of the country where there were no border checks. Although I suspect with a large majority of visitors entering into Kristiansand, Bergen, Larvik and Stavanger, they concentrate their efforts here. 

Buying Diesel/LPG 

As we mentioned in the first of our All Things Norway series, there is a definite strategy when it comes to diesel buying. Interestingly we found the cost cheaper than in Sweden, which really surprised us.

Our Top Tips for Diesel buying are:

  • Shop on a Sunday when prices are much cheaper.
  • Buy when you see diesel cheap (anything below 14.00NOK), as within an hour it can rise in price.
  • Don’t be alarmed if you see a greater price on your credit card bill than your receipt. This is a holding amount taken by most stations in Scandinavia, which once the amount is no longer pending, a refund of the remaining amount is given to you. 
  • Most stations are self-service
  • LPG is not sold in garages. They are at separate units in industrial areas of large towns. Use mylpg.eu to check locations.
  • Buy LPG before you need it as although there are frequent stations, the miles to travel to them are often deceptively long. 

Entrance Frees and Attractions 

So much of what makes Norway unique is the ‘outdoors’ and is therefore free. So going into museums, unless this is, of course your thing, isn’t totally necessary to your cultural experience. I recognise that I offer this statement as non-museum fans although we have been known to nip into the odd one along the way if it is value for money. 

Although one of the great things about Norway is that most of the car parks were free. So visiting the sights, for example on the Trollstiegen Pass and Geiranger were all free. Visiting the outdoor WW2 museum at Bud on the west coast, free. Driving the 18 Scenic roads, free bar one – The Atlantic Coastal Way has a toll fee payable.  

That said there are some activities that are worthy of your pennies, depending on what you love. For me I love wildlife so I did indulge in one Sea Safari, which was a real highlight for me. Here’s a list of other things we did. 

  • Sea Safaris to see Puffins, Whales and Sea Eagles is a popular trip from many spots around the northern coast particularly. We had a Rib trip for an evening of puffin watching on the island of Andoya. It is the biggest colony of puffins in the whole of Europe and it was worth every single penny of our 495NOK per person. It was a bucket list for me so up there in terms of value. For more information, you can click here.
  • Svartisen Glacier Hikes. Along the Scenic Route Fv17 is Norway’s second largest glacier, Svartisan. An arm of this magnificent glacier is Engabreen and of Norway’s 2,500 glaciers, is one of the most accessible. It can also be seen from the road and is one of the best examples of a glacier almost reaching the sea in northern Europe.  There are a couple of hiking options all of which requires a short ferry boat across Holandsfjorden. This cost us 200NOK per person return for the 15 minute journey. You can hire bicycles for 80NOK for 3 hours or take your own on the ferry for no additional cost. You can access the glacier from end of May to end of September.  
  • Hiking Norway’s largest glacier Jostedal  – You can hike up close to the glacier directly from the campsite, which costs 250NOK per night. Alternatively you can take the tourist train up the mountain, which costs 115NOK one way and 230NOK return per adult.

So as you can see by their absence, entrance fees do not need to be a major spending concern because so much of your Norwegian experience will be enjoying the outdoors and this is totally free to man and beast.

 

Campsites and Services 

With Norway’s Freedom to Roam policy camping in the most magnificent of places is just so easy. Waking to the sound of the fjord lapping against the shore and pods of dolphins gently gliding through the water. It’s quite a magical experience. 

Although not everyone likes wild camping, as they prefer the security and facilities that campsites offer. We didn’t use many campsites in our 7 weeks, in fact just three. Partly to do washing and meet up with some friends. Although in terms of costs, we travelled in July and August and given it was high season, we spent an average of 250NOK per night excluding electricity,  which we didn’t think was too bad. Our campsite in Tromsø was 400NOK including electricity, so a bit more like the prices of other UK and  European sites at this time of year, although we stayed out of necessity rather than choice.

We didn’t find that many campsites along our journey so I think some planning and plotting might be appropriate. Especially on the Lofoten Islands we found ‘sites’ really needed to be put in inverted commas. They tended to be parcels of land that some entrepreneur had decided to open up to campervans and tents and charge 250NOK for the privilege with portaloo facilities.  If you would like more information on the Lofoten Islands for free, click here. 

 

DIY Emergencies 

Whilst we hope it doesn’t happen, life on the road can mean technical issues. So rest assured if you have the need for anything for your vehicle, then help is at hand with BILTEMA. This is a fabulous DIY shop that sells everything that you can imagine. Everything household, vehicle and bicycle – you name it, they will have it! Oh except Bicycle Rack covers. Ours is still hanging on by a thread. 

 

Total Costs 

So to be complete, it feels important to share our total spend during our 7 weeks in Norway. So combining all our expenses here are our figures, based on an exchange rate of £1 = 11.34NOK.

Spending Price in £ Comments
 Food £620 This doesn’t include items from my ‘stock piling’, purchased during regular weekly shops. Gestimate an additional £200.
Diesel £518 This is based on covering approximately 3,000 miles from our entry at Abisko to our exit at Seläter.
LPG  £82  
Ferries £409 Based on 8 ferries taken, 6 of which were discounted by 50% with our Autopass Discount Card.
Tolls £88 We have yet to receive any bills from EPC, so this is based on my own notes
Campsites and laundry £140 5 nights at £26
Activities/Entertainment £94.00 Puffin Safari, car parks and entrance fees
Eating Out/Beers £35.00 Fish and Chips and Beers in Tromso

Total Spend      £1,984

 

Conclusions 

So ladies and gents – there we have it. All things Shopping. We hope that this transparent review of the money we spent and, more importantly, how we managed to shop savvy will help you manage your trip to Norway

We were pleasantly surprised by Norway’s cost of living and whilst it was definitely one of the more expensive countries we’ve visited, in retrospect I think France, Switzerland and Italy are nipping at Norway’s heels. We wouldn’t hesitate returning knowing how manageable spending can be.

If this blog raises any unanswered questions on the spending front, then do get in touch. For example all things ferries, tolls and routes are presented in our All things Travel blog, which you can read here.  Our next blog in the series is focused on our highlights, our route map and things to see whilst travelling this extraordinary country.

 

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Norway – All things Travel

Norway – All things Travel

Norway – the geological genius that mesmerises

you around every corner

I can imagine that Norway has always been on your list and stories of the awe-inspiring scenery has you reaching for your map. And then the enormity of this Nordic northern land hits you firmly between the eyes, as you see its scope on the atlas in front of you.  Now questions tumble through your mind about the journey to reach this iconic destination and how to get around this land of deep fjords and 3D mountains. Uncertainty and doubt may cloud your enthusiasm as the shadow of fear creeps across your excitement. What if there was a place where you could get all the knowledge you needed to feel informed and confident about your adventures north?

Look no further – this series of blogs aims to demystify the plethora of information ‘out there’ in Google-land about getting to and moving around Norway. So sit back and feel the relaxation wash over you as you find your confidence for your impending trip. Our passion is helping you make that Norway trip a reality.

In this blog, we focus on All things Travel.  We start with all the things you need to do before you leave home. Then factoring in things to do en route to Norway. And finally how to enjoy navigating around Norway using its ferry system, the road network, tunnels and tolls and overnight parking. For ease of planning, we have included relevant and helpful links in the text, which are highlighted in red and underlined. If you click on these, they will take you straight to that link in a new page where you can save it as part of your research. 

As this is such a mega blog with a stack of information, we have popped a Table of Contents below so you can jump around the post with ease. We hope this might help you navigate through the information.  So if you’re ready – here we go.

 

Part 1 – Before leaving home! Your checklist

  • Assess the time you have available for your trip
  • Plan your entry into Norway accordingly 
  • Register for your Autopass Ferry Discount Card
  • Sort out your EPC registration – Euro Parking Collection
  • Think about your Currency and Prepaid Cash Cards
  • What to do if your vehicle is over 3.5T

 

Assess the time you have available for your trip 

We support the notion that you must, ‘Travel when you can, as far as you can and for as long as you can’. Not everyone has the luxury, as we do of being full-time – we acknowledge that. Although having had 7 weeks touring Norway, we have come to respect its vastness. Whilst it may seem like a great idea to pop to Norway for a couple of weeks, if you are coming from the UK, then it is worth just doing a reality check.

You need to allow between four-five days to get to Norway, with your starting point at Calais; and that’s driving at least four hours per day, without any sightseeing. 

Norway is long and thin. Whilst there is the E6, which is the main arterial route that goes from Trelleborg in the south of Sweden all the way to Kirkenes on the Russian border in the north, it’s a whopping 1,950 miles (3,140km). And it takes 40-50 hours to drive. That will give you a sense of Norway’s enormity. And when you deviate off piste to where, let’s face it all the best scenery hides, then you need to build in fjords, mountain passes, windy roads and ferries. There is no going anywhere fast in Norway because why do Norway fast when there is so much beauty to breath in? 

We do implore you to be wise with your time and plan realistically for your trip. Take into account travel time to and from Norway. And then look sensibly and what you can achieve with the remaining time you have. Don’t overstretch yourselves and, if necessary stay south. Travelling is tiring and say that from experience. Whilst four hours on the road may sound achievable, when translated into travelling in Norway, you can expect 4 hours to be more like 6. Add the concentration factor required for mountain driving and it makes for a completely different travel strategy. 

We say this, not out of any sense of fear. We just want to help you plan realistically so that you get the best out of your Scandinavian experience.

 

 

Plan your entry into Norway accordingly 

We will, for the purposes of this blog, assume that you are travelling to Norway in your camper or motorhome. From this point we can now look at the main entry points into Norway. This will allow you to judge the best route given the available time.

There are four main entry points;

Via ferry from Denmark to south Norway or Sweden
– Via ferry from northern Germany to Denmark/Sweden
Via road, crossing Denmark’s Øresund Bridge into Sweden, entering Norway just north of Strömstad
– (And for completeness we need to mention the route through the north of Finland and Sweden)

 

Denmark options

1. Hirtshals is the most popular route for easy and direct access into Norway. Served by 10 daily sailings to a range of destinations that include Bergen, Kristiansand, Stavanger, Langesund & Larvik. The ferry durations range from 2.5hrs for Kristiansand to 16hrs to Bergen. Prices will obviously depend upon the season you travel and the length of your vehicle. For more information check here.

The advantage of the Hirtshals route is that it gives you direct access to southern Norway and the option of entering at one port and returning from another to give you a circular route. You also have the opportunity of seeing Denmark, which is well worth exploring, if you can build in the time. For more information on Denmark check our blog here.

2. There are other routes to Sweden you could consider, which include Frederickshavn to Gothenburg, Grenaa to Varberg or Helsingør to Helsingborg. The latter is the quickest way to cross the water, taking just 20 minutes. For information on this route check here.

 

Germany option

Again assuming we’re focusing on a UK starting point; then you could sail from Travemund to Malmö or Trelleborg in Sweden. Or from Rostock to either Trelleborg or Gedser in Denmark. The latter means you avoid one of the two Danish bridges (Storbælt). Although you will still need to cross the Øresund Bridge to get into Sweden. Rostock offers up to 18 daily sailings with durations from 1.45hrs – Gedser to 6hrs – Trelleborg.   For more information check here.

 

Øresund Bridge route

If ferries aren’t your thing and you would prefer to drive and take in the sights of Sweden’s west coast, then crossing the Øresund Bridge is your option. From mainland Denmark, you travel to Odense via Middelfart. I mention this partly because I just like saying the word, (with a childish titter) and also because it has one of Denmark’s only LPG stations. (55.492748 9.759738). It’s like gold-dust, so get some! 

Considerations when taking this route is that there are two bridges to cross. The Storebælt and the Øresund, both of which are chargeable. The Storebælt is a beautiful 11 mile (18km) structure that is payable at a Toll Booth. You can pay by cash, Euros, Krone or credit card. Prices are based on the length and height of your vehicle. Based on 2019 prices for a camper/motorhome over 6m long and max 3.5T it will cost €52; €85 if you are under 10m and over 3.5T. Make sure you take your registration paperwork in case of any dispute about charges based on your length. (Remember you must include any trailers or bicycle racks in your total length).  

 The Øresund Bridge is a magnificent piece of engineering and it was on Myles’ Wish List after seeing it from a plane many years ago. It’s a road and rail route to Sweden and is just under 10 miles (16km) long including the  tunnel. It’s quite a sight. This is another toll bridge and if you plan on returning from your Norway trip this way, then it is worth buying a Bropas. It’s an annual pass that costs around £37 to register, although it will save you 50% on each of your crossings. Given the fee to cross is €124 (summer price – out of season is slightly cheaper) then if you come back this way, the Bropas is worth having. If you are unsure about your route home, then we would recommend simply paying the one-way fee although if you do it ON-LINE at least one hour before you cross, this will save you 10%. Here’s the link. The purchase is valid for up to 30 days should your plans change. 

Once in Sweden then it is very easy to pick up the E6 from Malmö and blast up to the Norway border just north of Strömstad. This will take you a minimum of 5 hours from tip to toe. So if you can, we would highly recommend taking the scenic route and extend your stay by 2-3 days. Experiencing the beautiful west coast of Sweden is a must in our book. The Bohulsän region is incredible with archipelago stretching from Gothenburg to the Kosterhavnet National Park on the  Norwegian border. We adored our time here and the ferries are FREE. Wild camping in Sweden is so easy and although there are some restrictions in this National Park area, we found places to stop without any issues. 

 

 

Register for your Autopass Ferry Discount Card  

This is a critical action point to tick off your list before you leave home. This is a new scheme for 2019, so this is brand new information that will save you HUGE pennies on your Nordic budget. And I mean HUGE – up to 50% discount.

Norway’s lifeline is its ferries. Without them life would become very congested and difficult. So using the ferry system will  be very much part of your Norway travel strategy. So here are some important steps that we highly recommend to getting registered with your Discount Card. 

The essence of this card is that you;

  1. Log on to the Autopass website and register with your home address and vehicle licence plate. Autopass then send you a confirmation email within a couple of days giving you an IBAN and Swift number. This is for you to send a deposit amount to your account to pay for the ferries.

     

  2. Then you arrange an international transfer of 3,500NOK (£325.00) to your Autopass account. We did this through our online banking with Barclays. There will be a small cost to do this based on your bank’s International Transfer arrangement.  Within 3-4 working days you are then able to access your Autopass account and see your deposit funds. They will take 27NOK for the printing and sending of the plastic card.

     

  3. Once funds have been received they then send your card to your home address within 7-10 days. This little golden nugget then needs to be shown when you arrive at the ferry ports in Norway. The ticket man swipes your card and payment is taken like a credit card. No cash is needed. It’s as simple as that. You can check your accounts for the bills that appear within a week or so of your first ferry.

     

  4. At the end of your trip, you simply log into your account and terminate the card and all money remaining is refunded back to your nominated bank account within 30 days. This is the bit we are still waiting for.

 

It’s worth mentioning that we did come across one problem where our card wasn’t recognised and we had to pay by credit card. We advised Autopass of this and they asked for a photo of the receipt and they agreed to refund us the 50% discount we should have received. We were very impressed with this system and the savings were well worth the effort.

Sort out your EPC Toll Account – Euro Parking Collection 

Another cost to plan for, before you leave home, is Norway’s tolls. Roads, some tunnels and a few bridges have automated tolls and whilst they’re not expensive you are required to pay them as a visiting foreign vehicle.  

Every toll, bar one is operated by Vehicle License Recognition. So cameras pick up your licence and EPC, on behalf of Norway’s road system, will invoice you through information registered with the DVLA. Whilst registration with EPC isn’t obligatory, it’s worth doing so that you can access your accounts and manage the bills. You can also assign a credit card to your account so that automatic payment is taken. Otherwise invoices will be sent to either your home address or you can nominate an email address to get them sent directly to you.

A word of caution. It takes forever for the bills to come through. As I write this, we have not yet received any invoices, eight weeks after first crossing into Norway. We travelled through Norway from 1st July to 23rd August and believe our first toll was on 3rd July. So our suggestion is to write down the tolls you pass through – the costs are clearly indicated on the road signs, so that you can check the bills when they eventually come through.

You can find out more and arrange registration with EPC by clicking this link Euro Parking Collection. It’s worth doing so that your passage through Norway is automated and simple. 

The only toll that you pay at a Toll Booth is on entering the Atlantic Highway Route 64 at Kristiansund on the west coast.  

 

Think about your Currency and Pre-paid Cash Card

Norway, and in fact Denmark and Sweden all have their own currency. Whilst there are some places that accept Euros, these are generally few and far between – and only in very touristy areas. So make sure you arm yourselves with some NOK – Norwegian Krone. Whilst most of Scandinavia is a cash-less society, there are times when having a bit of cash is appropriate. For example some Marina Aires have an honesty-box payment system where you pop your money into an envelope and some campsite washing machines require coin operation. Everything else is card!

The amount of cash you take really depends on your length of stay and what your preferred style of overnight stops is. If you prefer wild camping then you’ll need no more than an equivalent of £20 of Krone per month, that will give you around 220NOK (@8/2019).

If you would rather stay on Marina Aires then you may need significantly more. The few Aires we stayed on were between 150-200NOK per night so that will give you a feel for what you might need to take with you.  For all other payments we used our pre-paid cash card from Caxton – others are of course available. 

A point to make with regards to paying for Diesel at Petrol Stations with your pre-paid cash card.  For every fill up we had a deposit amount taken from our account and your statement will show up as PENDING.  This is a security deposit and is returned to your account as soon as payment has been received by the supplier.  So don’t be anxious if you see a larger amount appearing on your statement than your receipt shows. It will be refunded within 5 working days, often it is a lot quicker than this.

What to do if your vehicle is over 3.5T

Norway’s Roads and Ferries are all about length. Charges are made based on length categories. So generally speaking  you would see <6m, 6.1-7.00m, 7.01-8.00m, 8.01-9m and >10m.  So given the size of your vehicle you may need to think about an electronic TAG device.

Given our vehicle is 3.5T we have no direct experience to share with you. Other than talking to friends who have just travelled to Norway with their 9m truck plus motorbike trailer. So at the very least we wanted to pass on this information to you. We hope it helps. 

Norway’s motorway sensors for the tolls system are all about the size of your vehicle.  This means that you need some form of electronic device if you are over 3.5T to ensure that you receive the M1 category for motorhomes which are being used for leisure vehicles and not business

A Tag system is the best option and there are a number of companies who supply this physical device. Our friends chose EasyGo+ Brobizz  as it can be used in both Scandinavia and Austria. You make your application online from their website, sending them a copy of your V5 and your emissions category, if this is not listed on your V5. They then set up a contract for you and a Tag device is sent to you within 10 days of your application. The beauty of this system is that you can use this device for your tolls (for which you also get a discount), ferries and across the bridges in Denmark. So it does have some advantages and of course is a necessity if your vehicle is over 3.5T. Our friends said it was very efficient, with bills coming through within 48hrs of their crossing through a toll. 

 

 

Part 2 – We’re on the Road to Norway

Make it about the journey

The best bit about travelling is that it is as much about the journey as the destination. It might sound a bit of a cliché, although it’s so true. We all fall foul of the, ‘get there quick and then we can rest’ approach. Although as we have already said, travelling through Norway’s vastness is tiring. So en route why not check out Bruges or Ghent in Belgium. Or perhaps Zeeland or Giethoorn in The Netherlands appeals as you break up your journey.

Either way, as Norway beckons, you have to navigate the river Elbe in northern Germany. One option is to go around Hamburg’s autobahns. This is our idea of hell. So after a bit of research I found an alternative route across the river at Wischhafen. There are 3 Aires not more than 5 minutes from the ferry and with regular sailing times, getting on quickly is never a problem. The journey takes 30 minutes and costs in the region of £20 (based on 7.5m plus two adults.) It puts you in at Glückstadt, which is just 2.5hrs to the Danish border. There’s also a Lidl nearby for stocking up on supplies and plenty of cheap Petrol Stations and LPG filling opportunities. It’s worth filling up with both before you cross into Scandinavia. Check out our Wischhafen Ferry video here. It was a great find.

 

Stocking up – a word of caution

Norway is notorious for its high cost of living especially the alcohol. So advice is to always fill up before you cross the border. Although a word of caution. Depending upon where you cross into Norway, there are credible reports from both locals and travellers that Customs Officers are a bit frisky with searching vans for excess supplies. Especially, we hear, off the Hirtshals’ ferries. So be mindful of this.

One  report was that the vans were being strip-searched at their arrival in Norway. The country is not part of the EU, so they have Duty Free limits. So this might influence your route into Norway based on your love for booze.  We crossed in the north of the country where there were no Customs checks so had no issues. Also as we crossed back from Norway into Sweden south of Oslo on the E6, we didn’t see any hard-border checks there either. So it does appear only to be off the Denmark ferry routes. 

 

 

Part 3 – Travelling around Norway

Velkommen til Norge

So after all those months of  planning, you have finally arrived at your dream destination.  Norway yeah! Here are a few essentials about getting around Norway safely.

  • The road system, tunnels and bridges
  • Filling up with Diesel and LPG
  • The ferries
  • Camping overnight
  • Travelling with dogs

 

The Road System, Tunnels and Bridges

Norway’s roads are pretty good and I say this having driven through Bulgaria, UK and Italy. Whilst they are not the standard of southern Sweden or Spain, they are of a reasonable quality. The key thing to remember about Norway’s roads is that there is always some sort of repairs happening. Given that the conditions are so bad from November to March, they  use the summer months to repair and strengthen their roads. So be prepared for long stretches of road-works and delays. We got caught up on a road where they were shoring up the side of a mountain and they required 2 hour periods to do their work. So watch your SatNav and the road signs. We also experienced 40 miles of intermittent road resurfacing on the arterial E6, which made it a horrible journey south and we had to pay for the privilege of it too. 

Otherwise the main roads we found decent enough. If, like us you enjoy getting off the beaten track then the road quality does become markedly differently and they tend to be more narrow. Passable, although narrow. So driving with caution and slowly are the name of the game. This is why you don’t get anywhere quickly in Norway.  

One thing we came to value perversely, on all roads in Scandinavia, are the rumble strips you get on the white lines in the middle and at the right-hand edge. We all have momentary lapses in concentration and a slight wander left or right  happens to us all, let’s face it. Especially with all these magnificent views. Although you are soon corrected and accidents by wandering vehicles are prevented by these rumble strips. A sensory warning to adjust your road position! They send vibrations right up your bottom!

A word on Norway’s motorways! They’re not really motorways as we know them. The main E roads, such as E6 are just single lane roads for much of the time. There are occasions when they are two or three lanes, especially around cities, although never for long.  

There are oodles of tunnels and bridges linking this geological masterpiece together. Tunnel lengths vary from just a few metres to our longest one, which was 8 miles! Friends travelled through the Gudvanden tunnel on the E16, in west Norway (60.888023 6.863913) and in August 2019 reported that the road surface was broken up for about 2.5 miles in the middle of the 7 mile length. So this might be one to check out prior to travelling.

In the north we found the tunnels were less… what shall we say… refined as their southern comrades. The walls were not coated and smooth, they were quite literally a hole through the mountain sides. So a little courage and a bit of praying that nothing was coming the other way, was needed at times. Certainly the longer tunnels in the south were of a much better quality we found, with good lighting and plenty of information about your position in the tunnel. If you are in the north around Tromso, enjoy the delights of having a roundabout in a tunnel. Yes you heard right – a roundabout. What a bizarre experience that was.   

The bridges in Norway are a piece of art in themselves. With arches, curves and suspensions you will ‘wow’ just over the bridges. They are an experience and always a positive one, in our opinion. The only issue I can think of is the weather conditions. If there is a nifty wind then you may need to proceed with caution although generally you are informed of the windspeed if there is an issue on a particular bridge.  

The speed limits in Norway are clearly marked although as a rule, in built up areas it is 30mph (50km) and on the main roads between 40-50mph (70-80km). Some sections of the E6 you could do 55mph (90km) although not very often. There are cameras so do keep to the speeds. 

In terms of the season you visit, just be mindful of the risk of snow. Whilst from May to September there is low to no risk, the further north you go the more unpredictable the weather. So if you intend to come early spring or in autumn, as a precaution pack snow-tyres or at the very least snow-socks. They could be vital in getting you out of a freaky weather system.

For all up to date information on driving in Norway, check out this website. 

 

Filling up with Petrol and LPG

Norway has plenty of Petrol Stations even throughout the fjords. Although our advice is always fill up when you can so that if suddenly resources become scarce you don’t have a problem. Interestingly LPG stations are less frequent although sufficient we found, for our needs. Travelling to Norway in the summer means generally no heating will be required so our two 11kg tanks lasted us 4-5 weeks, roughly. If you come during the autumn then you may need to be more mindful of where your LPG stations are, given that the weather is more unpredictable and snow can come early to this Nordic northland. We use the App LPG.eu and Maps.me to check where the nearest stations are. 

LPG stations are not housed within Petrol Stations. They are separate entities, usually found in Industrial zones on the outskirts of towns. 

We were interested to watch the prices of diesel over our 7 weeks. The first observation was that the price of diesel is actually cheaper in Norway than Sweden. We averaged between 13.39 and 16.05NOK (£1.22 –  £1.46). All stations were self-service and a majority of them payable at the pump rather than in a kiosk. 

One thing to remind you about is that in Denmark, Norway and Sweden a deposit is taken from your card of roughly 800 Krone, irrespective of what you spend. This is then refunded to your card within 2-5 working days. So don’t be shocked at the amounts on your statement. We suggest keeping hold of your receipts until the held amount is refunded in case of dispute. Although we always had ours refunded. 

The second observation is that the price can change within an hour – so if you see it cheap buy it – even if you don’t have an empty tank. And that change could be up to 1NOK so it makes a difference to your pocket. 

And finally, Sunday was always a cheap petrol day – we’re not sure if this was just coincidence although we often saw prices change come Monday morning. So worth watching out for. There doesn’t seem to be any one petrol station cheaper than another, so just go for the cheap prices when you see them, is our advice. 

 

Navigating the Ferries

As we have already discussed, the ferries in Norway are a necessary part of their lifestyle and very much part of their culture.  Hopefully by now you will have been persuaded to get a Ferry Discount Card. This section is more about the practicalities of ferry travel once you are here. There are a few pointers we have to ease your journey.

 

  • The 8 ferries we experienced on the west coast, mid-coast and the Troms region in the north were very efficient, and frequent. You never seem to be waiting long, especially once you are south of Bodø where their schedules are incredibly regular. I guess because the ferries are shipping cargo lorries as well as leisure vehicles, you can see why their frequency is important.

     

  • For 5 out of our 8 ferries, we were able to use our Discount Card. Our last ferry, for some reason wouldn’t accept our card, so we have informed Autopass of this malfunction and they will be issuing us with a refund.

     

  • There is a lane queuing system for each ferry and depending upon your position in the queue you will either get on the current ferry or automatically be first on the next scheduled sailing.

     

  • In terms of payment, generally a ticket collector would come to you whilst you are waiting in the queue and take your card. On the odd occasion you would pay the ticket collector on board the ferry.

     

  • Embarkation and disembarkation were swift, painless and given most ferry’s capacity was about 50 vehicles you  could generally assess whether you would make it on. There are toilets and some refreshment facilities depending on the length of the journey and you are allowed to get out of your vehicle, including your pets.

     

  • You are required to turn off your gas for each journey.

     

  • For the Troms ferries in the north, they have their own system and the Ferry Discount Card does not apply. We suggest that you download the Troms Mobillett App which entitles you to a 25% saving on all ferries in the region. It is also a facility you can use for taking the bus whilst visiting Tromsø. So it is a good resource to have.  One HUGE tip though. DO NOT buy your ticket through the app UNTIL you know you are on board. There is a time limit to your ticket purchase and it is important to only press the BUY button once you are securely parked on the boat. Otherwise your payment will run out before the ferry arrives.  For the Troms’ ferries you need to present your ticket onboard at the ticket desk inside the boat. You simply show your confirmation from the app and that’s it!

  • And last and by no means least, the ferry to Senja from Brensholmen is the smallest ferry we travelled on with only room for 21 vehicles. So we strongly recommend that you check the schedule. This was our first ferry and we were lucky that we happened to be vehicle 11. We had no idea how large the ferry capacity was and there were only a couple of ferries a day. So you could end up waiting a long time if you get your timing wrong.

     

 

Overnight Stops

With all this travelling, you will want somewhere to rest your heads.  And one thing that Norway does incredibly well is wild camping. We had some amazing spots alongside fjords with dolphins. It’s what wild camping dreams are made of.

Although if you prefer campsites then there are enough of those to go around too, although you may need to plot your journey a little more carefully on a day to day basis. I say this only because they are not on every street corner and so you may find yourself driving a long way to get to a site that is either booked or a longer journey than you had intended. Although in the three campsites that we stayed at during our 7 weeks in Norway, they were not fully booked, which did  surprise me. They were busy although not a Spain-type of busy. That said, I would still do a bit more planning if campsites are your preference so you can judge your driving time right. For campsites, check out Search for Sites or Park 4 Night

For wild camping lovers, we used Park4Night much of the time and we also found our own spots along the way too. Honestly finding places to park up is not difficult. You can often be guided by the trail of other motorhomes. You find yourself commenting ‘Oh well done, nice spot’. Or if you are tired and grumpy, ‘Oh damn that would have been perfect!’ Either way a place to call home is never a hardship in Norway. With their Allemannsretten – Every man’s right to roamyou can pretty much park overnight anywhere. As long as it is 150m away from any house and not on private land. You are generally allowed to stay for one night, although there are some mountain places where you can certainly stay longer.

The obvious next question is what about services? Well there are plenty of options we found. Some garages have free services, there are regular places in towns that offer facilities too and of course there are campsite options if you wanted. The only place we really struggled was on the Lofoten Islands. Otherwise even on Senja in the north, getting your van serviced was a complete breeze. We never worried about getting water or emptying our black waste.  We do have the luxury of two cassettes, which does make a difference, although still we didn’t find any issues. Norway (and Sweden) seriously know how to cater for the motorhome community.  In fact as you drive around the country, you will see how many houses have a motorhome in their driveways. They are into motorhoming in a big way and with winters as harsh as theirs, you can understand why.

Check out our gallery below sharing just some of our wild camping spots and campsites.

Travelling with dogs

Even though we don’t have a dog, I think it’s important to mention the regulations that you will need to consider for Norway. The following official website from the Norwegian Food Safety Authority gives you all the information you need to make sure your pooch (and cats or ferrets) can travel with you. In essence their checklist states four obligatory requirements. For more information if this is relevant for you, click the above link. 

 

  1. The animal must be ID-marked

  2. The animal must have a valid anti-rabies vaccination

  3. The animal must have received an anti-echinococcus treatment (dogs only)

  4. The animal must have a pet passport

Conclusion

So Norway – a dream destination for nature lovers, motorhome travellers, hikers and photographers. It has so much to offer and is well worth the planning, preparation and journey to get there. We are pleased with the research we did, plans we put  in place and the whole experience of Norway. So much so, that it contributes to Scandinavia being a serious highlight of our nomadic journey since March 2016. Whilst it took us a while to get here, it has really been worth the wait.

We hope that with these links, guidelines and pointers that you too will put Norway – and indeed the whole of Scandinavia on your list. This is just one in a series of blogs and free resources that we will be sharing with you to inspire you to travel to Norway and make your journey easy, cost effective and memorable.

We invite you to come back here for updates and visit our FB page for more information. There will be a free eBook coming soon and if you sign up to our monthly newsletter you will be sure not to miss a thing.

 

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