Buyer’s Guide

11/25/2010
A journey to the Lofoten Islands

“A cloudless dawn, after so many overcast days, as we travel to Narvik airport in northern Norway. A scattering of clouds behind the mountains are reflected in ruddy hues in a large lake skirted with ice.

We are on our way back to Italy, and without even realising it, we have dressed a little less warmly than usual; this is a mistake, because outside the bus, the temperature is ten degrees below zero. We suffer the consequences when we come to unload our baggage and stack it onto the trolleys; it is a lengthy operation, due to the amount of technical equipment we have been carrying around for the past 21 days. From distant Bergen in the south, where our journey began.

I am with a television crew from La7, and we are filming a series of episodes for the programme Missione Natura, to be broadcast over the upcoming Christmas holidays. Our aim is to bring the presenter, biologist Vincenzo Venuto, into contact with a series of animals typical of these Nordic lands, and to tell the story of his journey. I'm glad to say we managed it, but it was far from simple.

To start with, during the three weeks, clear days were few and far between, and the sun was practically a mirage. Of course, at this time of year, and at these latitudes, the sun is pretty much a mirage, in as much as the daylight hours go from 9 until 2 if you're lucky, and you never really do see the sun. And every day, this window of daylight grows smaller, until the point where sunrise and sunset, if they are visible at all, coincide. That's no exaggeration: the sun barely makes it over the horizon, peeps out for about a quarter of an hour, then sets again. And from the next day, for a couple of months, it never rises at all.

If you're trying to film, like we were, this race against time and light is a fair challenge in itself, but we managed to overcome it thanks to the remaining light and the extraordinary beauty of these places which, even without full sunlight, offer great enchantment. Our contacts with local researchers, organised months in advance, enabled us to film the lynx, the wolf, the arctic fox, and even the mighty muskox in the Dovrefjell National Park. This animal is so powerful, and so territorial, that we were told it even butts trains that stop within its domain: of course, the muskox always comes off worst when he tries that...

Then there were the Lofoten islands, perhaps the most magical location of all: an endless succession of fjords, bays and inlets, with smoothed granite walls that plummet to the sea, or reflect in the waters of the inner fjords. I've never seen anything like it, in all my many travels... Following the fishermen at sea, we also experienced first hand the richness of these icy waters, where it is no mere coincidence that fishing has been carried out for thousands of years, and continues to drive the local economy today. Cod and herring are the main catch, although the quantities fished are dropping every year.

Our final objective on this journey was to meet the migrating reindeer, guided by their Sami herders. Again, we succeeded, and were rewarded with an ineluctable reindeer-meat snack; it has a very strong flavour, not unlike mutton, I would say. In many ways the situation was similar to another that I have experienced numerous times: that of the hospitality of Sardinian shepherds in their cuile; they actually have many elements in common, apart from the climate and landscape, of course.

And speaking of climate, we really ran the gamut. From the constant rain of Bergen, the "Palermo" of Norway, to the minus 19 °C of the valleys near Bardu, with the reindeer and sleds pulled by huskies. Indeed, what else were we expecting? We were quite fortunate really, because the cold and snow gradually increased as we travelled north, and this will help in the final narrative: a job that awaits the authors, myself and Fabio Toncelli, from tomorrow.

We also included a foray onto continental Europe's largest glacier, the Jostedalsbreen: almost 600 km², and fifty-odd tongues that wend their way down to the fjords and the sea, creating glacial scenes to compete with any of the world's more famous sights.

It was my first time in Norway, and to be honest I didn't expect its places and landscapes to be so beautiful. This is a land to be wandered through slowly, stopping where your instinct tells you; even off-season, or when the weather is not all it could be, this land is worth the journey."

Tullio Bernabei