Norway – All Things Wow

Norway – All Things Wow

Simon Cowell may well have the X Factor nailed, although Norway seriously wins the Wow Factor. As the sixth largest country in Europe (although technically not in the EU) and the second longest coastline in the world, opportunity for wowing is pretty hot. In this third of our All Things Norway series, we focus our energy on sharing some of the wows we experienced on our seven week tour in 2019.  Come with us as we take you on a sensory journey that will have you reaching for the road-map.

 

Our Interactive Route Map

As we launch into what might be an overwhelming onslaught of oohs and ahhs, we thought we would initiate this blog with our Interactive Route Map. A massive map that shows every little nook and cranny we drove on, the off-the-beaten track routes we followed to avoid the masses and every single wild spot and campsite we stayed on during our seven weeks. Click below for a comprehensive and intimate peak into of every inch of our tour. 

 

I know it seems a bit crazy that in an art gallery as incredible as Norway that we only have 10 Wows. Although when, around every bend, you will have a sharp intake of breath and perhaps even have a leaky eye moment or two, then narrowing it down to 10 feels somehow appropriate. So here they are our best bits:

 

1. Abisko entry to Norway

After nearly five weeks in the sumptuous Sweden, climbing right up through its central spine, we entered into Norway from the Abisko National Park. After Sweden’s forested kingdom, Abisko gave us a gentle introduction to what we were about to experience. Imagine it being like the warm-up routine for a Michael Jackson concert. It’s a tough gig although someone has to do it right? 

After the plentiful border crossings we have navigated since we left England in March 2016, this is by far the most dramatic and stunning drive EVER. With glacial blue waters of the Torneträsk Lake to the magnificent mountains that interlace the valley like a group of giants lining up for a caber tossing competition. If you have the chance to enter Norway at this northern point, we highly  recommend it. 

By taking this route, you also get to experience Narvik’s World War 2 memorials. Just over the border crossing is one of Narvik’s 6 remembrance sites which, if you value enhancing your World War knowledge are worth visiting.  

Check out our gallery by clicking below.

 

2. Northern territory – Tromsø

Whilst we decided against going to Norway’s most northerly point at Nordkapp, a personal situation back in England graced us with the opportunity to explore the area around Tromsø. Troms is an area of mountain beauty and coastal brilliance as fjords weave their way up to Norway’s northern most city. This region is fabulous to explore both during the summer and winter. Summer with its Midnight Sun and the winter with its Northern Lights. Mountains still sprinkled with snow as the everlasting days slowly melts the white crystals. Fjords full of dolphins elegantly gliding in its waters and an outdoor playground that gives you a chance to hike, paraglide and cycle to your heart’s content. 

Tromsø is a wonderful city – and despite being compact and bijou, it’s perfect for learning about the world of Artic exploration over the centuries. 

Taking the back roads rather than the arterial E6, you wind your way around endless peninsula that hug the sides of mountains like a limpet. Places to wild camp, with Norway’s Freedom to Roam policy are  limitless, as you see quiet pull-ins for a peaceful night’s sleep. Views to take your breath away and miles of scenery that leaves you speechless. 

​Check out our gallery by clicking below.

 

3. Senja – Norway’s second largest island

Now this might sound like a secondary position although when you realise that Norway has 50,000 islands, being the second largest is not to be sneezed at. We knew nothing about Senja and had done absolutely no research. So our virginal eyes just drank in the rugged beauty that this jewel in Norway’s crown had to offer. 

Known as Norway in Miniature, Senja is a complete delight that will have you running out of adjectives. With one of Norway’s 18 Most Scenic Routes  threading itself on the western fringes of the island, this alone is good reason to visit. The Route 87 is a stunning way to take in the joys of Senja as you snake around its pathway, taking in Troll museums, staggeringly beautiful views and Viewing Platforms that leave you standing in awe. Our visit coincided with orchid season; I have never seen so many pink, purple and white blossoms lining the roads like daisies. They grow with the freedom gifted to them by this alpine-like air. Authentic fishing villages survive thanks to their community spirit as they cling to the summer’s abundance before the winter’s harsh conditions arrive. And the Ånderdalen National Park offers trekking in abundance as pathways over the mountain give you mountain goat status. Tramping through the snow-covered glaciers, you can loose yourself in an area that is as close to heaven as it is to the sea and you share it with no-one.

If you asked us to choose between the iconic Lofoten Islands and Senja, we would choose the latter with ease. Senja has all the beauty without the crowds and commerciality. Just natural beauty tucked away in a corner of Norway that is unexposed to tourists. And let’s hope it stays that way. For Senja inspirations just check out this gallery. If you’re not wow’d, then I have failed as a photographer. Check out the gallery below and let me know what you think. 

 

4. Andøya and Puffin Island

As we finally headed our way south, we decided to follow another one of Norway’s Most Scenic routes. Andøya is an odd island compared to it siblings. It has a ridge of mountains and then a plateau of flat land that, in comparison could almost be described, dare I say it as boring! Not a word you might expect to use in the same sentence as Norway, although there we go, I said it! Catching the ferry from Grylleford on Senja, we arrived at this slightly desolate island with doubts. The fishing industry at Andenes has an almost imperial feel to it with its factories waiting to welcome you. Stilted Fishermans’ huts define the town that is like the outback. I expected to see tumbleweed blowing down the deserted yet characterful colonial buildings. The Artic Terns, who have made this rich haven their home, nest in the waste ground opposite and you walk by at your peril. At least wear a hat  if you want to photograph these high pitched screechers. 

Although you come to Andøya for two reasons. One is to travel the 30 mile (51km) Scenic Route that takes you from the barren land of the north, around the mountains to the cloudberry landscape of the south. Passing by the Space Centre from where 1,2000 rockets have been launched for scientific purposes, your interested will be piqued to explore this northern facility that has been involved with NASA missions. 

The second reason is for a 158m tall island called Bleiksøya. This conical shaped isle has surfaced the water’s ceiling from deep beneath the sea on the edge of a sea abyss. This deep trench of water, so close to the land, gives rich pickings for fisherman, nature lovers and wildlife. Each working together to protect this region of abundance. As a result Andøya is THE place to come for Safari’s to get up close and personal to 80,000 puffins, sea eagles and a plethora of whales. For a mere 450NOK you can take a rib out with Sea Safari Andenes and get so close to these amazing birds and watch as the eagles swoop for their next meal. It is one of the most memorable moments of our Norway tour. 

Check out our Safari video footage.

 

5. Lofoten Isles

If researching this iconic destination doesn’t have you reaching for your route planning app, then nothing will. The marketing behind Norway’s quintessential archipelago is pitch perfect. Classic photos and dreamy descriptions will without doubt stir the excitement deep in your belly. And although I am pleased we explored the islands, our seven days was, generally speaking, an underwhelming experience. It is beautiful, with its traditional fishermens’ robus, islands connected by architecturally beautiful bridges that defy gravity and an inspiring palate of fjord colours. Although for us, with its relentless crowds (in July – what were we thinking,) and the commercial hue, coloured our experience. Too many people meant no parking for the iconic walks. Too many vehicles made narrow roads busy and difficult to navigate and an infrastructure, that for campers is solely lacking. We absolutely recommend visiting, although time it carefully to optimise your experience. For your FREE copy of our Lofoten Ebook, just click the image below.  

 

6. Engabreen Glacier – west coast

​We tend not to do too much planning when we go to a place as this just feeds our – or should I say my insatiable greed for experiencing every pin I have saved. So it wasn’t until the last moment  that we decided to take a fellow traveller’s recommendation and drive the Scenic Route Fv17 from Bodø south. Hugging the coast this road is beyond beautiful and armed with your Autopass Ferry Discount card taking the ferries that link the fingers of this rugged fjord designed coastline is an adventure all by itself. In fact so beautiful was it, that we had to turn off the road as we felt emotionally drained by the almost incessant beauty. I know, it’s a pretty good problem to have right? Although we were a bit wowed out at this point. Not before though we had visited Norway’s second largest glacier.  Did you know that Norway has around 1,600 glaciers? So second place, like Senja isn’t a bad position to hold. 

The Engabreen, an arm of Svartisen Glacier is pretty spectacular. In part because it is one of the most easily accessible glaciers in Norway and can be seen from the road. And because it is the lowest lying glacier on the European continent with its close proximity to sea-level. Parking up at the Holand Tourist Information office, a short cycle down hill brings you to a ferry that takes you across the Holandfjord to the low lying shores in front of Engabreen. A walk or cycle then gives you the option of looking lovingly at this frozen beauty from a distance, or parking up your bikes and hiking through the boulder debris. This puts you almost in spitting distance of the icy fingers that are ever inching towards to the sea. This is an incredible experience and highly recommended activity. The ferry is just 200NOK per person (£18 return) and an additional 80NOK (£8) for bicycles. 

Check out our gallery below

 

7. Atlantic Ocean Highway and Bud

I mentioned this route more out of necessity than for desire. We have always been great believers in presenting our travels as they are and not sugar coating our experiences. That does no-one any good. 

So here’s the thing! Myles had wanted to visit the Atlantic Ocean Highway since we decided to hit the road in 2016. So anticipation and expectations were high. Although we are sad to report that like a Tour de France cycle race it was over in a flash. Yet again, we found Norway’s marketing to have excelled itself and we were left seriously wanting. 

After paying the only Toll Booth fee in Norway just outside Kristiansund, we followed the Highway signs  like excited children. And we were soon there. The architectural brilliance of the bridge that writhes like a snake was there. Arching in all its magnificence. We stopped off at a couple of viewing points which allowed us to see the Highway from the northern side although it was not  the drive we anticipated. Just one bridge makes up this experience and we felt sorely let down by the 3 mile iconic drive. No thrill, no awestruck state that we were promised 

So our deflated souls floated further south into the nurturing arms of the gorgeous coastal fishing village of Bud. Now this was a wow. 20 minutes drive away we sought solace from this wonderful place that gave us authentic Norwegian life, WW2 memorials and an archipelago vibe. No disappointment here and without doubt the best bit of this underwhelming scenic highway ‘hot spot.’ Well done Bud, you get our vote. Perversely we are incredibly thankful to the Atlantic Highway, as had we not set our course for this point, we would have missed BUD.  

Check out our gallery below.

 

8. Trollstigen Pass and Geiranger fjord

After disappointment hung around us like a bad smell, we hoped that our sixth Scenic Highway route would restore our faith in Norwegian beauty. Surely the Trollstigen Pass would bring us back home to the thrill and love for travel that we have developed. And we are pleased to say that is it a big fat YES. We were surprisingly nervous about doing the trip – and not because of the road itself as after all we have driven Stelvio in our camper! Our nervousness was born out of our disappointment of the Lofoten Isles the Atlantic Ocean Highway. I am always reminded about the role disappointment has in our happiness and yet we had fallen foul of its destructive ways.

The Trollstigen was a joy. And not just because of its driving challenge. It is so much more than just a road – the whole Route 63 is a driving experience that stretches for 56 miles from Andalsnes to Langvatnet. The route takes you up through the Trollstigen switchbacks, across a ferry and then across to Geiranger, one of the most famous and longest fjord in Norway. The whole stretch is an incredible experience with plenty to see and do along the way.   

The Trollstigen was built in 1936 and has 11 switchbacks, carved up through a collection of mountain giants reaching heights of 1600m. With waterfalls and viewing points, this is just one part of the Trollstigen to Geiranger Scenic Route that will take you on a diverse driving experience over the course of 2 hours. Or, if like us you would prefer to savour both experiences with an overnight stay, then why not wild camp at a whole host of areas, sheltered by the shadows of the mountains.

The viewing platforms that overhang the valley are a must to breathe in the full perspective of this road as you see it snake up through the granite giants. Test your nerve as you look out with only fresh air beneath your feet. And then repeat the journey as you head towards Geiranger after the short ferry ride that transports you to part two of your road-trip.  A further 11 switchbacks that take you down to one of the most visited places in Norway – certainly by cruise liners. Your vehicle will complain – not in voice, although in smell. That tell-tale sign of overworked brakes will remind you that a steady pace and a cautious drive will reward you with the best experience. As you see the cruise ships in the harbour, you realise you have arrived at an iconic destination. Resisting a stop to admire the view is futile. Head for the Norsk Fjordsenter where you can climb down alongside the Storefossen and be enveloped in the thundering sound of the crashing waterfall as it makes its rendezvous with the fjord.  Salt meets snow-melt. A truly magnificent combination where Mother Nature’s forces collide in some gentle yet poignant battle. 

The views further up as you climb like a rollercoaster ride are just amazing. More snaking roads that constantly give you sneaky peaks over the fjord way below you. And the upside is that fewer tourists drive this section of the road, so your course is easier than the caravan of coaches on the northern side.  Your final destination will be at the junction with Route 15 at Langvatnet.  You will breathe a sigh, not out of relief that you made it; a sigh of complete satisfaction. A road that is a challenge for sure, although very, very doable. Having driven the Transfagarasan and Transalpin in Romania and Italy’s Stelvio Pass, we have to say that Norway’s Route 63 was much easier and far less challenging. So you have to put this on your Norway Road-trip list. And is definitely on our Wow List.

 

9. Gamle Strynefjellsvegen route 258 

I love looking a maps and searching out the off the beaten track routes. And after a restful night’s sleep and en route to rendezvous with friends, I navigated us on a back road that avoided the main road – as is my want. Little did I realised that this was yet another of Norway’s Most Scenic Routes – the Old Strynefjellsvegen.

Now this road comes with its own challenges as 75% is not tarmac, although we have driven worse major roads in Italy, if we’re honest. There is no driving fast on this road – not just because you can’t, more importantly because you won’t want to. For me this was THE most spectacular road we drove in Norway. It was like being in a completely different Universe. 

Trying to find the right words to describe this land is really tough. Again despite the weather, which was dull and overcast, this road was actually enhanced by the conditions. The grey mountains sombre in their majesty whilst the unbelievably ice-blue waters were set off against the shadows making this road all the more dramatic. It’s the same blue that we saw when we visited the Ice Hotel in Sweden. Almost from another world and a colour that seems almost impossible to create on an artist’s palette.

And then there was the rainbow. Oh wow this was just so magical. I was stunned into silence and that takes a lot. This road, in all its rawness and simplicity was beyond beautiful, for me. It had a ‘The world that time forgot’ feel to it and I half expected to see dinosaurs roaming the glaciers it was that primal. We saw no more than half a dozen vehicles on this road and I would definitely come back here to wild camp – as it was out of this world for sure. 

Check out our gallery below

 

10. Sognefjord Glacier – Jostedalsbreen National Park

Our final wow for this 2019 trip is the drive up to Sognefjord Glacier. The largest of all the ice maidens in Norway.

Although before we talk about that, let me tempt you with the approach road to Sognefjord, which is magnificent in itself. The 724 Route up through the Oldevatnet valley to Briksdalen, with iconic and moody mountain views will take your breath away. Although this no-through road is a little narrow, there are passing places as you navigate the plethora of coaches that bomb up and down this idyllic valley.

And as you hug the edge of the fjord, with its crystal clear waters, the sight ahead is captivating. The sharp lines of the mountain edges pierce the sky whilst it cradles the blue-white glacier which draws you towards it as if on autopilot. 

There’s both a campsite at Briksdalen and plenty of parking areas for day visitors. At 250NOK per night for a camper plus two people (which equates to around £26), you have unbridled access to this giant of all glaciers. There’s a fabulous walk for about 1.5 miles which whilst marginally uphill, can be mastered thanks to the tourist tram. If walking isn’t great for you or you have a disability, then for a mere 230NOK (£20) return or 115NOK one way (£11) the Troll’s Tram takes your weary bones closer to the glacier viewing point so that you too can enjoy its glacial glory. Otherwise the walk is a sensory delight. First up you have the Kleivafossen waterfall, which full of glacial melt thunders over the edge releasing 100 litres of water per second. Can you imagine the sound? It’s so loud you can not talk nor hear your heart beat. And whether it is a rainy day or sunny, it matters not a jot, as you will get wet as the spray from this thunderous beast unleashes its full power to the rocks below. It’s Norway’s version of Niagra Falls and you can stand right in front of it and get a free and pure shower. 

The glacier, some 10 minutes on, is not quite touchable, although certainly is spitting distance. And if you listen clearly, perhaps you can hear the sound as it creaks and groans with its miniscule movement. It’s a magnificent moment that somehow is difficult to capture in words alone and is a place that I could have stayed for hours just sat quietly in the heart of Mother Nature’s storybook and art gallery. This is most definitely a Norway WOW factor and must go on your list to visit.

 

Practical Tips for Norway Exploration

Before we leave you, I feel it is important to share our tips for making Norway a memorable experience, for all the right reasons. With its distance and expense many people are put off venturing to this northern land, although with the right strategy, it is more than doable. 

  1. As you plan for your trip, be clear what time you have available and what is achievable. If you only have a short time for your visit, then stick to the southern and central regions. The distances, both to get to and around Norway are vast and so being realistic is important.
  2. Access to Norway depends a great deal on the time you have. If you have an unlimited length of time, then accessing the northern regions is well worth the travel time, entering at Abisko. If time is limited then a ferry from Denmark makes Norway more accessible. For more information on routes to Norway check out our comprehensive All Things Travel blog here.
  3. Ferries are a major lifeline for Norway and avoiding them is futile. So you will need to consider an Autopass Ferry Discount Card. This will save you up to 50% on your ferries which is not to be sneezed at.
  4. Toll roads are everywhere and the system is quite complicated as each toll road is owned by a different company. There is only one Toll Booth, the rest are payable electronically. So you will need to register with EPC or Autopass who collect the toll fees. Registration is easy, although your notification for payment will take approximately 2 months to come through, so don’t be alarmed.
  5. Think carefully about the time of year you visit. Norway has a short summer season from June to September. Whilst it does offer you long days and the Midnight sun up above the Artic Circle, it is the major tourist season. From the beginning of July for six weeks, the local schools are on holiday so beware of the crowds at tourist hotspots.
  6. Any time from September to May the weather will be unpredictable – and we’re talking snow here. In 2019 the weather closed in early with snow in many areas mid September. So if you are travelling with your camper/RV or a car, it will need to have winter tyres, snow chains or snow socks.
  7. Norway’s summers are an interesting beast. Whilst it has been known to have heatwaves like in 2018, the weather patterns are generally not quite so hot and sunny. It can be cold, murky and inclement although if you get clear days, the scenery is absolutely magnificent. So come with the right mindset – this is not a beach-hot destination.
  8. Norway has a reputation for being expensive. Our experience was a pleasant surprise. Whilst certainly one of the most expensive countries we have been to, it wasn’t as bad as we expected. And there are ways around food expenses – check out our All things Shopping blog here where we share some tip shopping tips to keep your bills low.
  9. If travelling by camper and you want to bring some supplies with you (especially alcohol) be careful about Customs checks on the southern borders and ferry ports from Denmark. They are known to strip search incoming vans. So either ration your drinking to the EU Duty Free limits, take the Sweden route at Svinesundbrua or pay Norway’s extortionate prices. 

 

From its northern territories to the heart of the central glacier giants, Norway will tease you like a tantalising temptress and will leave you wanting more. And more we shall demand, on another spellbinding trip in the next five years. Until then, we leave you with the images and story that makes Norway such a unique European experience, filling you with an expectation of a sensory explosion should you make your way to this magnificent land.

 

Pin it for later…

 

Our two other blogs in the All Things Norway Series

9 Surprises of Slovenia

9 Surprises of Slovenia

Slovenia may be a relatively new country that has emerged from the rubble of the Yugoslavia Federation although as a tourist destination it packs a serious punch. 

In June 1991, Slovenia became the first republic to make the split and become an independent sovereign state. In 2004 it entered Nato and the EU, and from this point, this gentle and endearing country has grown as a serious contender for tourists’ affections. 

Bordered by Italy, Austria, Hungary and Croatia, Slovenia stands out amongst its neigbours. Dominated by the Julian Alps it competes admirably when it comes to winter sports, alpine scenery and dramatic gorges cut by the ice blue waters of the Soča river.  And then there are its iconic views; the unforgettable Lake Bled with its island church, the Postojna Caves with its unique underground train ride and ancient Predjama, the largest cave castle in the world. And that’s before we mention is exquisite wine producing vineyards and charming coastline along the Adriatic Sea. 

And yet it is Slovenia’s hidden gems that makes it so memorable for us and why we felt compelled to write this blog and share our little discoveries.  Follow our visual tour will give you incentive to come visit this subtle powerhouse destination and seek out the magnificence of this gentle giant, soaring its way up through the world tourist ranks. Check  out our Interactive Route Map below to see our routes, POI and overnight stopovers from our last two visits. 

Surprise 1 – Kranjska Gora

I have never thought of Slovenia as a winter sport nation and yet on its northerly fringes you will find their ski-resort Mecca. Kranjska is a charming alpine village at the foot of the Julian Alps that tower above you. With ski-slopes, ski-jumps and toboggan runs this really is a resort that is putting Slovenia on the winter sport’s map. Even during the summer, the resort is used as a training ground for countries around the world. The sporting season aside, Kranjska with its mountain range offers hikers fabulous walks that will stretch the calves and cycle rides along the old railway that takes you across the border into Italy. If a less active set up is more your scene, then you can use Kranjska as a base for exploring Lubljana, Lake Bled, the Vrsic Pass and Bovec, all reachable by bus. 

Travel Tips

  • For more bus information click here.
  • For camping stay at the Aire alongside the ski resort for €15 payable with the Easypark App
  • For a great meal go to Gostilna Viktor Pizzeria.

Check out our Gallery by clicking below.

Surprise 2 – Soca Valley

With its source deep in the throat of the Julian Alps, the Soca river with its ice blue water courses its way creatively through the valley. Carving deep crevices and gorges, the Soca Valley will delight those looking for a secret summer swim or perhaps even provide the thrill of some serious white water rafting in the spring season. The photographer in you will cry in delight as the valley navigates and snakes its way to Gulf of Trieste in Italy’s north east corner. If you toodle just down the valley to Kanal ob Soči, during steamy summer days you will see the young children jumping off the cliff into the inviting river below. It has so many different faces that driving from the Vrsic Pass following the river’s flow will give you such a great experience all on its own.

Travel Tips

  • Travel across the Vrsic Pass, route 206 from Kranjska which picks up the Soča river at Bovec. 
  • Stop off at the Russian Chapel that commemorates those Russian soldiers who died building the Pass.
  • Catch the bus if you don’t want to drive the pass in your car or camper.

Check out our Video and Photo Gallery by clicking below.

Surprise 3 – Bovec

Ljubljana and Lake Bled are obvious choices for a trip to Slovenia. And whilst they are undeniably beautiful they are tourist traps. The off-the-beaten-track alternative is to visit Bovec. This charming mountain village is nestled in the Alps and is the gateway to the Soča Valley. It can shout proudly about its own ski resort although it is its war memorials that are the greatest surprise. At the Tourist Office in the characterful old town, you can pick up a map with all the Great War references in the area. Most notable are the Ravelnik outdoor museum which you can wander around as if the war ended yesterday, almost smelling the gunshots and sweat from the men in the trenches. The War Cemetery is a sobering visit and seeing the Fortress that played an important role in the Austro-Hungarian arm of the war, will fill in your War education jigsaw. 

And if nature is your thing, then a hike to the Slap Virje waterfall will appeal to all your senses or a cycle down to the valley floor where the Soča masters its way through the rocks and pebbles. Bovec is a super place to explore. 

Travel Tips

  • There are a number of basic campsites in Bovec or the Aire at the Ski Resort has full services and facilities and a stunning backdrop. 
  • Visit the Tourist Info for a map of the War Memorials in the area.
  • Book your kayak and rafting experience from the many companies in the town.

Check out our Gallery by clicking below.

Surprise 4 – Bohinj

Lake Bled with its iconic island church and castle are understandable draws when visiting Slovenia, although for a more authentic and more intimate exploration, head 30 minutes into the mountains to Bohinj. Here you will find fewer tourists and earthy campsites that give you full permission to soak up the silence of Mother Nature. This is a true haven and a delight to visit as an alternative to Bled.

Travel Tips

  • We stayed at Camp Bohinj, which is an earthy and rustic site hidden in the forest with lakeside access. 
  • Bring your camera and your kayak.

Surprise 5 – Vintgar Gorge

Tick off Bled for sure although don’t leave without visiting the Vintgar Gorge, just under 2 miles away (3km). A bus shuttle will take you there for 5€ or you can cycle the route if you have a bit of power! Vintgar is a return trip of 3 miles (5km) and for a 10€ entrance fee you will wind your way through the deeply carved gorge on well built and safe boardwalks. The twists and turns of the river finally crescendo over the each in a spectacular waterfall making this a charming walk if you’re in the area.

Travel Tips

Surprise 6 – Postojna Caves

My surprise of the caves were two-fold. Firstly as caves go this is one of the most spectacular we have ever seen. For sheer wow, it’s a must visit. With the train that takes you deep into the mountains and then a two mile walk through chambers created by Mother Nature in an artistic masterpiece. Stalagtites dripping from the ceiling and stalagmites rising from the floor with a texture like marble. Van Gough would have, I’m sure, been proud of the artistic talent displayed down here without any single intervention by man nor beast. This is one place that absolutely needs to be experienced and the train itself that carries into the heart of the mountains is an event all of its own. Resembling a Ghost Train at a Fun Fair, you trundle through the mountains by a living gallery of underground sculptures. 

The second surprise of the caves were the crowds. Wow, we were part of a colony of ants, or so it seemed. Despite getting there for the fist train of the day, there were hundreds of people already gathered, jostling for position at the entrance as if they were about to miss the January sales. More and more we realise that the whole ‘shoulder season’ really is diluted these days as on our misty  and murky  October visit, at least 30 coaches were already in the car park lined up  in wait for the return of their charges.

Travel tips

  • Get to the caves for the 1000am train and arrive at the entrance so that you can get as far forward on the train as a possible. This way there is less crowd management required. 
  • Booking tickets on line is not necessary – so don’t worry if it says there are no tickets available. You can purchase at the Ticket Office just before the train entrance. It costs €25.80 per person for just the caves or €35.70 for a combination ticket for the castle’s inclusion.
  • Take layers and warm clothing as it is very cool down in the belly of the caves. Also sturdy shoes are necessary as it is quite damp on the walk ways. There’s little danger of slipping, although decent footwear is appropriate.
  • And whilst you are in the area, why not drive just just over 5 miles (9km) to see the world’s largest cave Castle of Predjama. Not a huge amount of parking available, although if you go early or later in the day it is doable with a camper.

Check out our Video and Gallery by clicking below.

Surprise 7 – Ljubljana

We’re not great city people on the whole, although always visit because all sides of travel need to be explored. And we are so glad, on this occasion that we pushed past our city prejudice. Ljubljana is a clean, compact and charming city that oozes a chill-out command. With its castle views across the northern landscape to its Triple Bridge linking the medieval old town with its new suburbs, we adored this city. We only had a couple of hours here as we were meeting friends although we saw enough to be endeared to the cityscape. From that point on  we vowed to give all cities a chance because they may surprise you.

Travel Tips

  • If you are travelling in a camper, stay outside of the city and travel in by bus. We stayed 20 mins  north of the city at a pub camperstop – Gostilna Pri Kovaču (46.031321 14.604002). There is a bus right outside the pub that takes you into the city. 
  • 3-5 hours is enough to get a good feel for Ljubljana.

Check out our Video and city Gallery by clicking below.

Surprise 8 – Slovene Riviera

We have never given any thought to Slovenia’s coastline. With it giant competition either side, Croatia and Italy often seem to be far more of an attraction. Although what an incredible visit for the week it was. With Slovenia’s major port Koper at one end and Piran on the southern edge, you have a delightful coastline with nooks, crannies and rugged shoreline to play with. Harbours and street cafés, cycle and walking paths and nature reserves, this region is sublime. And Piran and Izola are just incredible medieval towns that has history and iconic Venetian beauty carved into their mortar. Back in from the coastline, the mountains are dominated by vineyards and olive groves and well worth a little diversion. It was such a delight and one place I would happily return for a bit of RnR. For our full post about the area with detailed Trip Guides, click here

Travel tips

  • Out of season is great in the Riviera, although even in October, when the weather is typically gorgeous, locals will all come out for the weekend. So bear this in mind.
  • For camping options, there is nothing at all in Piran. So we recommend staying in Izola which is halfway  between Piran and Koper and then use the cycle path that takes you from north to south effortlessly, to explore. We stayed at a Parking Area run by EasyParking and cost €11.30 per night payable with the app. Or you can pay €10 at the machine as long as you have coins. 

Check out our Gallery by clicking below.

Surprise  9 – Slovenia’s wine

Who would have thought that Slovenia would be a great wine producer. Well the vineyards may be new to the global wine stage, they are definitely worth trying. With fabulous soil and karst landscape it makes for outstanding wineries, which in the south particularly are seriously beginning to compete with established brands with their Italian neighbours. We particularly enjoyed the family run vineyard Saksida in Nova Goricia which has a fabulous selection of wines at reasonable prices.  They also offer a wonderful campsite and 5* restaurant open at weekends.

Also further south in the Slovene Riviera there is a fabulous wine tasting experience at Marezige Vinska Fontana. Up in the hills behind the coast you can, for €8 buy a glass (that you keep) and 3 tokens that allow you to choose from four wine fountains. It is home to the Refošk Wine, well known in this region.

 

Practicalities of visiting Slovenia

  • The diversity of the country is enormous and deserves plenty of time exploring. Be mindful of the season you visit. Early spring and late autumn the weather becomes unpredictable and, in the mountains you will often see plummeting temperatures and snow. This may impact on some of the mountain passes and you may need winter tyres or snow socks at the very least. 
  • The currency of Slovenia is Euro.
  • There is generally very good English spoken in the main resorts, although as with every country a few phrases of Slovene will be appreciated. Try these; Havla – thank you. Dober dan – a formal hello.  Govoriš angleško – do you speak English? Lahko dobim račun, prosim – can I have the bill please? Bye – Adijo 
  • Although travelling around the country without going on the motorways is doable, sometimes it’s just easier to hop on for a quicker journey – especially if your time is short. So you will need a vignette which you can buy at most Petrol Stations. It costs just €15 for 7 days. 
  • Take cash, as whilst credit cards are accepted, many restaurants will only take payment in cash. 
  • Download the app EasyPark so you can easily pay your parking charges for either car or camper. 
  • If you are travelling in your camper, please respect their no wild camping rules. There are plenty of campsites and Aire options and although they may be more basic than western Europe, they make perfectly good bases for exploration. 
  • If you are flying, Lubljana’s Joze Pucnik Airport is your main hub which is accessible from all over Europe, many destinations of which offer cheap fares. It is 16 miles (26km) north west of the capital so transportation will be required. A taxi to the city starts from €20.

 

Final thoughts

Slovenia is an undiscovered marvel and we realise that we haven’t even scratched the surface. Although if you love nature, outdoor life, World War History, wines, coastline and stunning mountain scenery then Slovenia will not disappoint. For a gentle nation with a diverse landscape that packs a powerful punch, Slovenia will delight and surprise in equal measure. 

 

Disclosure policy. We earn a tiny bit of commission from the ads we display. This in no way affects your price or spending experience.

 

Want to Pin for later? 

Other Posts that might interest you

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. 

 

Why not Pin it for later?

 

Other Posts that may be of interest

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.

 

If you like it, Pin it!

 

Other Posts you might like

Sweden Road-trip Guide & Interactive Map

Sweden Road-trip Guide & Interactive Map

 

Sweden, western Europe’s best kept secret that has hidden depths and a diversity to appeal to every visitor.

 

Sweden is such an unknown entity despite its musical foursome and Nobel Peace Prize inventor. It remains in the shadows of its geologically dramatic neighbour, Norway and yet stands firm in its own identity. As we headed off on our Summer in Scandinavia tour 2019, we had high hopes, Bucket Lists and anticipation of what this Nordic country could show us. Would it surprise and delight us as we searched for the ‘road less travelled’ or would people’s warnings of being boring haunt our expectations? Come with us on our road-trip as we create our own Swedish experiences that delve deeply into its culture and its landscape. Perhaps through our eyes you can then make up your own minds about what Sweden has to offer.  For a more detailed look at travelling to Sweden in a camper, then check out our comprehensive Top Tips Guide by clicking here. 

 

Our Sweden Interactive Route-map

As our initial offering, we present a comprehensive interactive map that gives you our specific route, visual treats with our images and co-ordinates of each and every place we called home. Click on the map image below to get access to our unique journey. 

 

Sweden – Did you know?

We love finding out about the country we are about to call home. So many interesting facts that create a really solid understanding of a place and its ‘raison d’être’. Here’s 15 things that we discovered from our research, Swedish friends and the locals we met along the way…

 

  1. Sweden has over 97,000 lakes! Yes 97,000. That’s a lot of lakes and they really are so beautiful. They tease you as you drive through the countryside, peaking their brilliant blue through the forest of green.
  2. There are over 350,000 moose and 260,000 reindeer so keep your eyes open. Strangely though, you are more likely to see reindeer especially in Lapland. Moose tend to be a bit more illusive and camouflaged amongst the trees.
  3. Alfred Nobel may be best known for his Nobel Peace Prize, although he made his fortune through the invention and selling of dynamite. 
  4. Sweden is approximately 1000 miles from north to south.
  5. Sweden has 56 days of complete daylight.
  6. Swedes use 54% of renewable energy and actually buy other people’s rubbish to convert. 
  7. Temperatures can average -16º in the north
  8. The nomadic Sami people are one of the world’s oldest cultures and were close to being wiped out by the effects of Chernobyl in 1989.
  9. Sweden used to have a real alcoholic problem and now booze is only available from Government-run stores in an attempt to curb the drinking culture. 
  10. 2/3 of Sweden’s landmass is covered by forest. 90% of properties are made of wood. The iconic red paint comes from a derivative of the important iron ore and copper mines around the country. 
  11. Sweden is home to the world’s first Icehotel, created in 1989.
  12. The Swedish Royal family are the oldest monarchy in the world. 
  13. The Sami’s calendar has 8 seasons each related to a cycle in the herding of reindeer. 
  14. Sweden has 29 National Parks
  15. Cost of living here is not as expensive as you might think. If you think up-market supermarket prices rather than Lidl then you will have the general cost of living here. 

 

Sweden – Our Top 11 Highlights

Trying to limit our favourite highlights and experiences from our 45 days is a tough one. With canals, magnificent coastlines, beaches, forest, archipelago and mountains, how are we meant to choose? Although select I must for the sake of your reading eyes.

 

1 – West coast beaches, for coastal lovers

From the minute you cross from Denmark over the famous Øresund Bridge, which is an experience all of its own, Sweden embraces you. The draw of the beaches are always strong with us. There’s something about the sea that just connects deeply with me. From the star fortress at Landskrona to the Royal Palace at Helsingborg, there are spots all along the coast to enjoy the sea. The views of Denmark and the Konberg Castle of Hamlet fame are so appealing and a great way to start a Swedish adventure. 

Check out our gallery of images below.

 

2 – Göta Canal – for water-sport enthusiasts

Stretching from Gothenburg in the west through two major lakes over to the eastern Baltic shores at Soderköping, Sweden’s Göta Canal is a must-see. It’s one of those ‘off-the-beaten-track’ places that only the Swedes tend to visit. Following the canal along its navigational route, gives you a unique view of Sweden’s countryside as you sweep over it on small lanes passing through authentic Swedish villages. Tempted by canal tow-paths bordered with artwork and pink floral cheerleaders, the Göta canal will delight you with its simplistic elegance. Whether you choose to do all or part by boat, SUP, cycle or camper, this central southern region has it all. For more information on the canal, check out our dedicated blog here.

Check out our gallery of images below.

 

3 – Stockholm, for city-break lovers

Sweden’s capital provides a unique stage for the humble visitor. First it has 14 archipelago that need exploring. Then there’s the old town (Gamla Stan) with its historic buildings, cathedral and Royal Palace. And the modern face of Stockholm with it countless museums, canals, Art Gallery underground stations, grand architecture and parks, all combine to give you a holistic experience. Whilst we’re not great city fans, having created our own ‘Alternative Tour’ of the city, we could certainly see the potential for a good 3 day visit here. Check out our City Tour Guide with a twist here.  

Check out our gallery of images below.

 

4 – The Baltic coast and Höga Kusten for outdoor lovers

In dramatic contrast to the west, Sweden’s east coast has the influence of the Baltic Sea. Thousands of year’s worth of natural history is evident along these shores. And it is here where you will experience Sweden’s most authentic personality. From Iron Ore mines dating back to 17th century at Galtström to atmospheric fishing villages tucked away in coves that still rely on the sea for their livelihood. Characterful red, stilted houses that sit on the water’s edge will transport you back to another era. Fågelsundet is the most incredible example of Sweden’s genuine fishing legacy and it will have you magnetised for hours as you step back in time. 

And as you head ever north in search of Santa perhaps, the Höga Kusten or High Coast is a sight to behold. 10,000 years of history engraved into this land where the forces of nature have collided to create the world’s highest coastline. Archipelago, lakes, forests of pine home to bears and moose give this region a secret beauty that so many by-pass. Stretching out from Härnösand to Örnsköldsvik, you can discover a treasure of untouched land, that is now protected by UNESCO, such is its importance. And it has been voted as Sweden’s best area of outstanding natural beauty. 

At 286m above sea, this coastline is a record breaker and each year it’s still growing; an estimated 8mm per year. With its plunging coastline, deep forests and lakes and dramatic mountains, the High Coast is a must for nature lovers and hikers. The Skulekogan National Park is littered with hikes ranging from boardwalks suitable for wheelchairs to day-long hikes with shelter cabins for the more adventurous. Why not experience the High Coast Trail which is a gruelling 78 mile (129km) trail that takes in the complete stretch of the UNESCO region and takes between 5-7 days. 

Check out our gallery of images below.

 

5 – The Midnight Sun for Bucket List seekers

You can’t come to Sweden in the summer and not head north for a glimpse of the Midnight Sun. It is one of the most incredibly special parts of our trip. Coming from UK, we always have that balance of light and dark. Sometimes one rules over the other more dominantly, although there’s always a yin and yang. Although not so in Scandinavia. Here one is the king for at least 2 months.

Our first initiation was actually in Grenen in the northern most peak of Denmark. And whilst it is too far south to be the traditional midnight sun, the balance of light to dark was most certainly tipped in the favour of the day. As we headed further north, that dominance grew more and more and it enthralled me. Do you ever remember those conundrums at school? If you were plunged into 24 hours or darkness or 24 hours of sunlight, how would it impact on your life? 

I never imagined that I would be living that question. How tricky to manage sleep when it is light all day. The sun never dies; it has a perpetual circle where the light gives life to all its subjects. Midnight and the bees are still collecting pollen, the birds are still singing and animals are going about their normal daily habits. Our sleep patterns were definitely affected, as were our energy levels. Bizarrely although I would wake up regularly wondering what the time was, I rarely felt sleep-deprived. My productivity and creativity went through the roof, energised by this most incredible deLIGHT.  We could travel as far or as long as we wanted without the darkness forcing us to bow to its supremacy. Although the most amazing insight has been, how quickly the body adapts to this phenomena. After a mere two weeks living and breathing the midnight sun, we rarely even thought about it. Our minds learnt, our bodies shifted and soon we were living life like a Midnight Sun local. 

Witnessing the never sinking sun will remain one of my most memorable moments. As we scampered to the top of  Arjeplog’s mountain in Lapland, at 2345, we watched in awe as the sun’s arc kissed the horizon gently and then continued on its passage into the next day. What a humbling experience. In the far north, you can bare witness to this incredible event, depending on the weather until mid-July.  

 

6 – The Arctic Circle 

One of my three Swedish Bucket Lists was to stop at the Arctic Circle. Whilst I’m not a trophy hunter, I’ve never travelled so far north and to reach the Arctic Circle seemed momentous for this home-bird. Plus there’s always something to learn from these landmarks. 

I hadn’t realised that the circle is not a static line – it is forever shifting. Whilst it is approximately on the 66.5ºN axis, it can move up to 48ft every single year. The Arctic Circle is defined by the tilting of the earth away from or towards the sun, which can fluctuate around 2.4º every 40,000 years. This is known as the precession.

How incredible to come face-to-face with this incredible lineage. We arrived on the longest day of the year and it was damp and grey, although to me, the weather mattered not a jot. It was amazing to park up here and feel the energy of the place and its symbolising of universal movement. 

 

7 – Lapland’s Wildlife, for the nature lovers

Someone told me that north of Stockholm, Sweden becomes boring. And whilst we respect everyone’s travel experiences, I was determined to decide for myself. For us, it was anything other than boring. We adore wildlife, nature and forests, and Sweden has them all in bucket loads. Long, straight roads taking you north through the wilderness piques my interest, as hidden behind the wall of trees is a whole existence beyond our comprehension.

Whilst I would love to have seen a bear, they remain an illusive beast for us and so we had to satisfy ourselves with reindeer and the odd female moose. What a privilege they were. On deserted roads we often found ourselves travelling alongside a small family of reindeer as they decided which way to roam. They were so close and so tame. We even saw one on a beach! Well even Ruldoph needs a holiday! 

If you are lucky you may see Sea Eagles, Golden Eagles and Rough-legged Buzzards. We saw the latter although everything else was hanging out with the bears on our trip. One of these days we’ll see one, of that I am sure.  However, the anticipation was enough to have our eyes peeled like oranges.

Check out our gallery below.

 

8 –  Jokkmokk, gateway to Laponia and the Sami

Sweden is full of culture – and it seems that in every pine needle from the endless forest treasures, there will be an ancient legacy held in its pores. The further north you venture, the more you will learn about Sweden’s Sami, who have been recognised by UN as indigenous people, granting them permission to maintain their identity, practices and semi-nomadic lifestyles.

If you really want to understand Sweden, then look deep into the soul of the Sampi – which is Sami territory. Nestled in the heart of the Arctic Circle, Sami communities support their ancient heritage dating back thousands of years. Their partnership with the earth is key to their culture and there is no better a place to learn about their lives than in this region.

Having passed the heady heights of the Arctic Circle, 4 miles up the road is the small town of Jokkmokk. In summer it has a deserted feel about it, almost as if tumbleweed would look at home here. And yet when you venture into its avenues you uncover a colonial feel. As the epicentre for Sami culture, Jokkmokk is a must-visit destination if you want to learn about this important part of Sweden’s tapestry. The Ajtte Museum is your first port of call and for a mere 90SEK (£7.60) you can easily while away a couple of hours learning about Sami’s nomadic life in the wilds of Laponia.  Then a saunter down to the incredibly helpful Tourist Info centre and Sami craft shop will arm you with plenty of Sami knowledge.  

In February this humble town takes on a whole new guise as it erupts with its 400 year old Winter Market. On the first Thursday in February, the market begins, and the Sami come from miles around to sell their handicraft. Visited by tens of thousands of people from around the world, the market is unique, in part because of the harsh winter conditions through which the Sami seem to live effortlessly. 

Not far from Jokkmokk, you can further expand your Sami understanding by entering into the heart of Laponia. This is a fabulous landscape famed for its partnership between man, history and nature. This region vibrates with Sami culture, geological significance and intense natural beauty. Hence is another of Sweden’s World Heritage sites thanks to its symbiotic relationships. With nine Sami communities, rocks dating back 2,000 million years and an often inhospitable landscape, you can begin to appreciate the geological importance of this off-the-beaten track region.  Deep lakes, high mountains, gushing rivers and thriving forests all combine to offer a natural wonder to all who enter through its gates. Why not take the road from Porjus and start your Laponia adventure, seeing the road before you melt into the arms of the snow-covered mountains. Check out the Naturum Centre, where their passionate staff will share their knowledge of the area and the nomadic Sami people. 

Check out our gallery below.

 

9 –  Icehotel, Jukkasjärvi – for thrill seekers

I don’t know about you, although being cold is not really my idea of fun. Although when we headed to Swedish Lapland’s northern most reaches of Jukkasjärvi, there was one big, cold Bucket List tick to be had for me. The Icehotel is an incredible and world-renowned establishment that fuses art and nature together under one snowy roofline. The first hotel of its kind was founded in 1989 and since that time 29 winter Icehotel Art Galleries have been uniquely created and duly melted thanks to Mother Nature. With the extraordinary talents of artists from around the globe, the Icehotel has become a winter institution for those looking to experience the Northern Lights, winter sports and sleep in rooms made of ice.

And now, sleeping in your own personal art gallery, can be a year-round activity thanks to the newly created 365 Icehotel. This is a permanent construction made possible by solar panels energised by the 24hrs daylight. Enjoy a tour around these uniquely created suites and partake in a little drink from the Icebar with glasses carved out of ice and dressed in Arctic capes that ward off the chill. For an intimate look at our Icehotel experience – camped up in their campingplats, we hasten to add, check our blog and video here.

Beyond the hotel, Jukkasjärvi can stand proudly as having its own landmark for visitors which makes a visit here doubly worthwhile. Check out the Sami church with its incredible carvings and the Museum and restaurant that have recreated Sami life underneath the canvas. Try a Coffee Cheese – that will blow your mind. 

Check out our gallery below.

 

10 – Abisko National Park, for nature and hiking lovers

Just when you think your Swedish adventures are about to come to an end, you arrive in Abisko. With your vehicle laden with supplies before the expensive heights of Norway, you make your way along the E10. Now this is no normal road. This is the piéce de resistance of border crossing routes. With the landscape taking a dramatic turn from the grey outlook of Kiruna, you will find your mouth quiet literally wide open. I defy you not to gasp in awe at this incredible panorama. Granite boulders strewn like giants’ tiddlywinks, crystal blue waters and ice-white waterfalls cascading from the still snow-capped mountains. This is the world of the Abisko National Park. 

Armed with your hiking gear, this is the starting point of the world’s most famous hiking trail – Kungsleden. Created back in 20th century the King’s Trail is over 240 miles (400km) and is as demanding as it is long. It crosses peaks and valleys, passes through mountain villages where reindeer husbandry is evident and meanders around lakes, tarns and rivers. And it all starts (or ends depending on how you see it) in Abisko. You can do parts of the walk from here and the Stora Sjöfallets National Park, where the trail also passes. Or choose to do the whole thing using the cabins along the way to rest and sleep. We chose just to do a small section at Abisko following the path of the canyon and it was absolutely stunning. 

Abisko implores you to stay for more than a day, with its full range of walking trails suitable for everyone. With a cable car going up to the mountain, surely from here the Midnight Sun and Northern Lights are a guarantee. It is known to be one of the best parts of Sweden to see the lights and with it microclimate, offers the sun worshipers great chance to see the never sleeping sun. 

This was a real highlight to our 34 days in Sweden and has our memories dripping with evocative images of ice-blue canyon waters, classical u-shaped valleys and towering mountains. And as Norway beckoned, we were eased into the geological masterpiece that we would soon be calling home. 

Check out our gallery below.

 

11 –  Göta Coastline – Bohuslän Region

Just north of Gothenburg and stretching up to the Norwegian border is an area of outstanding natural beauty. And this a strong acclaim giving the incredible sights that we have seen in Sweden. 

After Part 1 of our Swedish adventures, we seriously fell in love with this central Nordic land, and after 7 weeks in Norway how would our return fare? Would Norway’s geological masterpiece tempt us away from our Swedish love affair or would its soft, gentle caress draw us back into its embrace?

Sweden surpassed every expectation, even on our return. Sidling down the west coast, past the Kosterhavnet National Park and through into the king of all archipelago, we were greeted with the same diverse welcome as 12 weeks earlier. Ah Sweden, what a joy. A coastline that splinters into over 8000 tiny island fragments, each with their own fisherman’s hut; a  call to find the wild isolation of island life if you dare. Add to this potion, ancient burial grounds in the shape of ships, Bronze Age UNESCO rock carvings and inlets that shelter authentic harbours and I defy you not to be intoxicated.

This region humbly offers history, natural beauty, water sport, culture –  and if you want it, even a dose of celebrity. From the maze of archipelago that dot this coastline, creating a safe haven for ospreys, if you love the wild outdoors then this region is for you. Hire a kayak, hike the coast, swim in the many safe harbours or cycle the relatively flat land in search of tranquility and draw-dropping scenery. 

Soft pink granite warms your heart as the sunlight catches its curvaceous facias and you find yourself compelled to take routes away from the arterial E6.  FREE ferries carry you from one peninsula to another with the speed and efficiency that you expect from Sweden. And your camera just delights in the iconic scenes in front of you. This is one coastline you must discover as it is Sweden at its best. 

Check out our gallery below.

 

Practicalities

 

Getting there

Arriving into Sweden is easy, despite its northerly position. Flights to Stockholm, as a major international hub, are a breeze. In fact there are no less than four different airports to choose from;

  • Stockholm Arlanda Airport (ARN)
  • Bromma Airport (BMA)
  • Västerås Airport (VST) 
  • Skavsta Airport (NYO)

There is the train from Denmark across the Øresund Bridge which takes you straight into Malmo, Gothenburg or Stockholm.

Ferries are plentiful offering you travel from:

  • Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania
  • Poland
  • Denmark
  • Germany
  • Russia
  • Norway and Finland

If you are coming by road then it does depend which direction you are coming from and indeed from which country. There are three main country routes into Sweden;

  • Via Finland you can cross the border at Haparanda on the E8.
  • Via Norway; from the north the E10 entry into Abisko is an outstanding route or on E6 in the south, crossing at Seläter.
  • Via Denmark crossing the Storebælt and Øresund Bridge (which are chargeable.) 

 

If you are travelling with your camper, then why not check out this comprehensive blog offering you our Top Tips for Touring Sweden in a Camper?

 

Things to remember

A couple of tips worth remembering whilst you are in this delicious country.

  • Sweden has its own currency – Swedish Krone  –  SEK. We used XE.com to get a handle on the exchange rates.
  • Sweden is generally a cash-less society, so don’t load up with too much of the paper stuff. Just your pre-loaded cards will do fine. Even for small amounts, cards are generally used. 
  • Shopping in Sweden is more expensive than some of its European cousins further south, although in comparison to say UK, is on a par in many ways. Prices particularly in the cities will be significantly higher as a general rule.
  • Swedes are great linguists and many will speak excellent English, although coming armed with a few Swedish phrases will be appreciated. 

 


 

Our Conclusions

Sweden has been a fabulous experience. Three Bucket List ticks and a host of fabulous memories to add to our Travel Journal. Warmth, generosity, community spirit and an enchanting land await you. Sweden stands firmly in our affections for all that it has given us and is another country we can add to our Must Return To list. We hope that this inspires you to put Sweden on your travel agenda and explore it wealth of natural, historical and cultural offerings.

 

 

If you enjoyed this please pin it! 

 

Other posts you might like…

Denmark Highlights & Interactive Map

Denmark Highlights & Interactive Map

Denmark is not a destination – it’s a lifestyle.  Pintrip.eu

Let’s be honest for a moment about Denmark… Why would you want to put it on your European itinerary? Surely there are more exciting destinations to visit, like the Swiss Alps! Or more dramatic locations like Norway! Yet perhaps for you a trip to Denmark is about heading to Legoland with the kids or may be just a city-break to Copenhagen. Perhaps you see it just as a transitory country to pass through en route to Sweden or the Norwegian fjords! 

Although before you read any further, let me be clear! Come to Denmark! Explore! Stay awhile! Denmark may well be an unassuming country on the European stage, although a visit here is a must. I feel so passionate about persuading you to come here that our 7 Reasons to visit Delicious Denmark’ must be enough to whet your appetite.  If not, then perhaps this more in-depth look at our road-trip may seal it for you. We share with you our Interactive Map that gives you our route, POI and overnight stopovers. Now surely there are no excuses – come you must.  Join us as we cover all corners of this Danish journey and invite you along our 900 mile exploration. Come on in!

 

Interactive Map

 

As with any road-trip, it is never a complete journey as there are so many roads, miles and corners that you can’t possibly cover. Although we hope that following our path will give you an insight to some of the off-the-beaten track places and some of the more tourist ones that you could build into your trip. And whatever your passions, there is something for everyone. The sporty types, the historians, the nature lovers and everyone in between. 

 

Our Regional Highlights

Denmark has five main regions that are neatly organised into; South, North, Central, Zealand & Copenhagen/Bornholm.  Whilst we decided against Copenhagen, we did visit each of the other four regions and we have split our highlights into those nicely organised categories. So sit back, fasten your seatbelts and let’s get that engine roaring!

 

1.  South Denmark

Rømø Island

Crossing into Denmark on the south-west fringes gave us our first opportunity for an off-the-beaten-track destination. For sure Ribe – Denmark’s oldest town, is a major draw as you cross the border. Although turning left across the five mile causeway to Rømø was perfect for us. Rømø is famous for three things; Being part of the UNESCO Wadden Sea National Park, home to the smallest school and Lakolk beach – one you can drive onto! Whilst the drive can result in a bit of ‘stuckage’ for larger vehicles, generally driving on this compact beach is a real experience. Just having some time to chill out whilst parked up on golden sands is pretty unique and surreal. Definitely one to put on your list. 

We stayed at any beautifully manicured Aire alongside a lake with the best showers we’ve ever experienced. 

 

Ribe

About 45 minutes further north, you reach Ribe. Now this will undoubtedly be on everyone’s must visit list. And who can blame them. Think classical old town, cobbled streets, coloured facias, iconic steepled cathedral and a soul that is 1100 years old. Just imagine how many ghostly footsteps you’ll be walking in. Yet for something different, if you time it right, (unlike us sadly) at 8.00pm you can have a 45 minute walking tour with the Night Watchmen, whose role it is to keep the peace. These days it’s more of a tourist attraction although worth doing for a stroll around the old streets. Tours depart from the Restaurant Weis Stue in the Market Place during summer months. 

We stayed in the main car park for the town, which has allocated motorhome spaces. Although used by college kids until 3.00pm.

 

Billund

Surely on every child’s list must be a visit to Legoland in Billund. Home to the world’s most famous brand, Billund has a theme park to satisfy every child curiosity – both young and old. Although if muscling your way through summer crowds at the park isn’t your cuppa, instead venture into the town centre where you will find Lego House. The outside terraces of this lego building are free to explore and with its six different roofs to enjoy, what’s not to like? If you want to expand your experiences to something a bit more interactive, then you can enter the bowels of the house, although this will set you back £27pp for ages 3+. Babies up to 2 can go in for free.

 

Fåborg

Part of Denmark’s south region is strangely the island of Funen or Fyn as it is often referred to. Funen is one of Denmark’s 400 islands that forms its archipelago and is home to castles, quaint thatched villages and coastal delights. The islands take on a slightly different feel to the Jutland peninsula with a more curvaceous shape to them. Middelfart is the gateway to the island (famous mostly for being one of only 3 places in Denmark where you can get LPG. And for those campers amongst us, this is like liquid gold in DK!) Thereafter it is worth taking the coastal road that winds you through towns like Assens and Fåborg. With its atmospheric port to the boutique style high street with charming shops, it’s worth an hour’s mooch. The Ymerbrøden statue is one of those pieces of artwork that just needs to be seen. Whilst the main square offering is a bronze replica, exploring its symbolism will have you staring in wonder. Just think man suckling from a cow! Yes not an every day occurrence. The rest of the town is gorgeous with its yellow painted church and medieval cobbled streets.

 

Astrup

As you pass Astrup, your breath will be taken away by the Stofmollen. An 1863 windmill that today is home to an incredible emporium of fabric. Every colour imaginable is stored in this charming mill. Whatever you imagine goes with sewing, this place has it all. It’s pretty unique and definitely worth a little stop for coffee. Or if chocolate is more your thing, then drop into Konnerup Chocolatier just five minutes up the road. Handcrafted chocolate to satiate every sweet-toothed lovely out there. Why not grab a coffee, indulge in a bit of Hygge and some sweet treats.

 

Egeskov Castle

And finally in this southern region, a castle to end all castles; Egeskov. Ranked as one of Europe’s Top 50 most beautiful places to visit, Denmark’s Egeskov is a dream – an expensive dream although worth  it.  With a £23pp price tag, you want to make a day of it, although with the gardens, classic car museum and the castle itself, there’s plenty to do for you and the kids. Not our usual attraction although every now and again it’s good to indulge. 

You are allowed to stay in the car park overnight. 

Check our Southern Region gallery below.

 

2.  Central Denmark

Denmark’s Lake District

Our first view of Denmark as we headed from Ribe to Billund was flat and agricultural. Whilst the endless fields of rape seed certainly broke up the view of green, the Lake District was a welcome sight. With a gently undulating landscape, forest and mirror lakes, this is a region unique to Denmark. This area holds the country’s longest river – Gudenå at over 90 miles long, the highest point – Møllehøj at the heady heights of 171m, Denmark’s largest lake – Mossø to name just a few of its best bits. For its outdoor pursuits and water heritage this area alone is worth visiting. 

 

Himmelbjerget

Just 15 minutes drive from Silkeborg, a short diversion to see Sky Mountain (Himmelbjerget) is worth doing. It is Denmark’s second highest point and the views from the tower across the countryside is lovely. Himmelbjerget is particularly famous for being the seat of many political discussions and strategic decisions over the course of history. You can take a boat from Silkeborg to Himmelbjerget if you don’t fancy the drive and 10DK parking fee.

 

Silkeborg

Whilst as a town there is not much to hold your attention, there are a couple of highlights that make Silkeborg a worthy stop for an hour. The first is its Hjejlen the world’s oldest coal-fired paddle boat. Then there’s one of only two sluice locks in Denmark and finally, its piece de resistance is Mr Tollundman. The preserved body of a 30 year old man, murdered and buried in the peat soil close to Silkeborg dating back to 400BC. That alone is worth the 60DK entrance fee.

We stayed overnight at a parking area in the forest and alongside the river, with toilet facilities. 

 

Viborg

North west of Silkeborg is the quaint cathedral town of Viborg. Alive with its luscious gardens, cobbled streets and magnificent cathedral, this University town has a lovely energy. Although compact you will still need a couple of hours to enjoy all its aspects. From the Bibelhaven and Latinerhaven gardens, to the lake, the elegant shopping street and weekly market, there’s plenty to enjoy here. A beer in the Nytorv Square is a must, if for no other reason than to sup a Danish beer and watch the world go by. 

Free parking in the University is allowed for motorhomes for 24hrs.

 

Denmark’s Fjords

Whilst perhaps not on the scale of New Zealand’s fjords or its neighbouring Norway, Denmark has plenty of them. And if you want a bit of off the beaten track exploring, walking or camping, then go no further. This Central Region of Denmark has a plethora of fjords to choose from where the sea is master of all. Except perhaps the wind, which seems to have a dominant role in Denmark’s economy because there is so much of it. Try exploring Ulbjerg Strand and Nymølle Strand where you and the wind can be alone with your thoughts. 

We stayed at Ulbjerg Strand and Nymølle Strand for two nights. Alone and in the most stunning areas alongside the fjord.

Check our Central Region gallery below.

 

3.  Northern Denmark

Cold Hawaii and Thy National Park

The north western coast of Denmark is a landscape shaped entirely by nature. With North Sea winds whipping up tempestuous seas, this is stark yet beautiful scenery. Classed as Denmark’s last wilderness, you will experience a unique coastal perspective that takes you through ancient sand dunes that are constantly shifting and reshaping, forests that do their best to protect the land and lakes. And with more hours of sunshine than anywhere else in the country and thanks to the wind – there’s waves. Lots of them! Waves that attract surfers! Lots of them! Kitmølle or Cold Hawaii as it is endearingly known, is a curvy bay where fishing is still the ancient art. They ably retain their grasp over the surfing camps that have more recently emerged, attracting those wishing to master the waves. 

 

Hanstholm Bunker Museum

During the German occupation of Denmark during World War 2 German armies made their presence known along this coastline. Evidence of their coastal defences against the Allies are everywhere in this northern region. Huge concrete bunkers that look like something from an alien planet, occupy strategic positions poised for attacked. The outdoor bunker museums, like the one at Hanstholm, are free to explore; the museum houses have a nominal entrance fee if you want to learn more. 

 

Lys og Glas – Tranum

For one of those unique artisan crafts that allow you a peak into a country’s culture, then take a little diversion to Tranum. Here you will find an old candle factory that has since been turned into a Guest House and Ceramic Workshop. This is a feast of colourful loveliness and if you adore hand-made crafts, then this is a gorgeous off-the-beaten-track visit.

 

Rubjerg Knude Fyr

In 1900, the lighthouse at Rubjerg Knude was built and since that time the sand and sea have taken their toll on this magnificent building. A hundred years ago it was 200m inland and now it teeters on the edge of the five mile sand dune awaiting its inevitable fate. A fate that will have the sea reclaiming its hold. It is one of those places that needs to be seen much like the Dune du Pilat in France. Whilst this may be second to the French giant, these dunes are incredible and with their natural shaped artistry, treading this fragile yet tenacious land is quite an experience. And do it soon as they predict within the next couple of years, this lighthouse will disappear forever. Be one of those people who can say ‘I went there before it fell.’

 

Grenen Point

Grenen Point is Denmark’s most northerly point and it is far more than just a spit of sand. This area has a very special quality that, like so many places around the world, has to be experienced rather than described. Although I’ll do my best to craft a visual description. The visitors aside, imagine a place where two seas converge, each one searching for supremacy. The angry sea gods fight as if on a front line, each side wearing different battle colours. Undeterred by their wrath, sea life continue their daily routines as they dive bomb the sea’s surface looking for their next meal. And the winds that punish the lands whip up the sands like you’re in a desert sandstorm. There’s a eery silence here that blends with the noise of nature that just needs quiet reflection and of course the odd selfie. The 30 minute walk from the car park is an easy saunter along the coast where gannets and seals can be spotted. Or you can take the tractor taxi if you  need to for a mere 30DK (about £3.50). 

We stayed at the Grenen Point car park for free.

 

Voergaard Castle

As you head on the E45 south, a small diversion will break up your journey. Voergaard is a 15th century castle surrounded by a moat that oozes opulence. Although not open until 11.00am for Guided Tours, you can wander around the moat alone, for free listening to the serenade of the cuckoos. Whilst Denmark boasts 177 castles, this one is rarely on the tourist list and so you can share this with just your thoughts and plunge yourself into Danish history. 

 

Hobro and Mariager

We love going to places that others may by-pass for the bright lights of a cityscape. Given that built up areas are not really for us, we tend to search out the quieter places and are always rewarded with a treasure. And this is so true of Hobro and Mariager. Situated on Denmark’s longest fjord, they each hold a space in the country’s history book. Hobro with its Viking settlement and museums and Mariager – known as the City of Roses is Denmark’s smallest merchant town. Legend has it that this humble fishing village is named after Maria who tragically drowned herself after two rivalling knights died in a duel fighting for her hand in marriage. Mariager also has a Cittaslow title, showing the depth of its historical soul. Also if you’re here, the Salt Mine is apparently worth experiencing. 

We stayed at the Marina for the night that had free services for a 150DK payment.

Check our Northern Region gallery below.

 

4.  Zealand

One of Denmark’s most important and largest of its 400 islands, Zealand is accessed by the Storebælt Bridge at Nyborg. Like the Øresund Bridge to Sweden, this is a magnificent structure that will set you back 370DK/£43 if in a vehicle over 6m.  Zealand is classified into north and south. In the north you have the important town of Roskilde and of course the infamous Shakespeare setting for Hamlet at Kronborg castle. In the quieter south you have a multitude of islands to explore before you hit the inevitable city lights of Copenhagen.

 

Island of Enø

We loved our little saunter over to the island of Enø, which was more by luck than judgement. With its Kroen Canal and draw bridge, this is a fisherman’s haven. With fishmongers everywhere, artisan bakeries and coastal paths strewn with nesting swallows in the cliffs, Enø will delight. It’s only 3 miles long, which is easily hiked or cycled and is known for its musical festivals. 

We stayed at two spots overnight. One night was at the Marina with full services for 165DK (£19.50) and the other was a wild spot at the furthest end of the Island, which you will see on the interactive map. 

 

UNESCO Stevns Klint

Stevns Klint is a geological and historical delight. Its church, that balances on the cliff edge toppled into the sea in 1928 and has since been rebuilt. With a steep descent to the bouldered beach beneath that is not sadly disabled friendly, although if you can reach it, you will see millions of years history embedded in the chalk cliffs. It is classed as one of the best exposed Cretaceous-Tertiary boundaries in the world. That means fossils to you and me. The colour of the water, best seen from the cliff-top walk is just amazing when the sun’s out. Also to top it all, Stevns has a Cold War/Nato history, given that it was Denmark’s first line of defence in the protection of Copenhagen. So plenty to experience here.

It is possible to stay in the large car park overnight for 40DK – just under £5 payable with credit card, DK or Euro coins.

 

Denmark to Sweden – Øresund Bridge

Bridges are pretty important to a Dane’s life as whether crossing from the archipelago or hopping across to Sweden, they provide a cultural and practical lifeline. We have always loved these incredible structures; there’s something spiritual about them; from the design, build and the symbolism of leaving and arriving. So we were excited about heading south around Copenhagen, avoiding the Low Emission Zone and across over to Sweden on the Øresund Bridge. As you leave Zealand you drive through a two and a half mile tunnel and then emerge into the bright light revealing the technically brilliant architecture. Øresund is five miles long and is a great feat of engineering. It’s not cheap though. If you go on line you can save money although for any vehicle between 6-10m, it will cost 704DK (£83.00). You can get a reduction on this if you buy an annual Bropas for €43 entitling you to a 50% reduction. This is only cost effective if you intend to return back over the bridge. 

Check out our Zealand gallery by clicking the image below.

 

Closing Thoughts

Denmark with its coastline, forests, history and archipelago is a must. Be willing to look at Denmark with new eyes. Eyes that see its potential, its limitless beauty and its understated depth. You’ll not be disappointed. Give Denmark a chance and linger longer. We did and we’ll be back. For an even more detailed perspective of your trip to Denmark, keep your eyes open for our soon to be launched free eBook. 

 

 

Want to save for later? Why not pin it?

 

Other posts you may be interested in…