Megan Abbott

Nowhere Like Norway

Megan Abbott
Nowhere Like Norway

Originally published in Suitcase Magazine, Volume 12

When exploring Norway, the experience begins before you even touch down. As the plane descends towards the runway, the grandeur of its landscape comes rushing in through the window. The terrain curves up and down, and sugar-capped mountains streak the skyline. A carpet of endless pine trees covers the ground, while the wide sky glints against bodies of water; a palette of green and blue. And the scenery is just the beginning. Detached from the rest of Europe in economy, politics and style, Norway is a world of its own. Yet it is a place that continues to quietly influence the rest of the world. It is a modern utopia of sorts, paving the way for a new mode of living both in its ecosystem and autonomy.

One of the most self-sufficient countries in the world, modern Norway is built on oil drawn from the North Sea, while their prosperous copper reserves are put to use in everything from construction to furniture. This independence has been the catalyst in creating a unique and staggeringly thriving country. More than ever, Norwegians are making use of their surroundings, with food being foraged from the endless landscape, and local materials shaping new design. Norway relies on itself, and is flourishing as it does so.

With its exceedingly high quality of living and almost zero unemployment, Norway is a country that can afford to look to the future. Across its capital, sustainable measures can be seen in place, from the eco cars that charge on the street sides and new districts commanded by solar paneled buildings, to locally-sourced menus and eco friendly hotels. “There is something very special happening in Oslo at the moment,” Dominic Gorham, a manager at the famous Thief hotel tells us, “It’s kicking. It is like nowhere else, and people are starting to realise that. Norwegian’s have always been taught to respect their country. Here, there is room for manoeuvre, so there is the time and space to find the best possible options for the environment.” Time and time again during our trip, locals told us that this was the best time to be there. They all agreed that the country was undergoing drastic change, focusing more than ever on environmental conversion and resourcefulness. There was certainly something in the air, which probably explains why we were out day and night, strolling the streets and watersides, drinking in the energy of the all-day sun.

If there is one country on Earth that has influenced the hipster style drenching our favourite cities, it is Norway. If you want to find beards, reclaimed wood, minimalist design and homegrown food in its most native environment, get to Oslo or Bergen. Quality is king here, and it seems it is only getting better. Clothes, buildings, food and fashion are built on a Norwegian respect for fine material and durability. Its stirring, dramatic scenery feeds into a graceful culture of design, both in the cities and the furthest reaches of the countryside. Out of this oozes a collective coolness of its people, personalities that thaw like summer snow as soon as common ground is found.

It doesn’t take long in this Scandinavian kingdom to be enchanted by the exceptional eye for design, pristine streets, and fiercely innovative characteristics that define it. After a week there, we were almost certain that the word ‘wow’ had never been used so heavily in such a short space of time. Every corner of the country is filled with surprise, from landscapes that look like they’ve been pulled from a film set, to cities alive with creativity.

It feels like a gift to come across country that celebrates its natural surroundings with such joy, with even the capital just a stone’s throw from serenity. Being close to nature is an integral part of Norwegian culture. Nowhere in this country does it feel stifling or chaotic. Which, for a place that is plunged into darkness for half of the year, says a lot. It is a stirring, exciting, and inspiring place, but more than anything, it is strikingly unique. And you shouldn’t wait another moment to see it for yourself.


Norway’s capital is erupting. It is one of Europe’s fastest growing cities, with a population rising by 21% in the last decade. As its populace expands, so too does its cultural personality. In its vibrant centre, Oslo’s shifting character can be seen from the offset. A diverse architectural landscape and relatively small size makes this the perfect city to explore on foot. It was the home of Expressionist forerunner Edvard Munch and the radical playwright Henrik Ibsen, and still provides the ideal breeding ground for artistic expression and cultural innovations. It has a thriving gallery scene, a wealth of independent music venues, and a booming culinary world. It is at once liberal and traditional, with modern ideas rolled into old-world Scandinavian style. Don’t let its placid streets fool you, Oslo is an inwardly animated city, and there is entertainment to be found around every corner.

In the summer months, the sky barely darkens, and short nights provide the perfect excuse to explore Oslo’s nocturnal side. Come winter, almost constant darkness draws locals indoors to huddle around beers and friends. All year round, a crisp, clean air fills the city from the surrounding countryside, and the feeling that you are never far from natural beauty can be felt at all times.


Scandic Vulkan:

The gateway to the newly gentrified and ever-so-cool Grunnerlokka area, the Scandic Vulkan is Norway’s first ‘class A’ eco hotel. Along with a geothermal energy system, solar cells and a serious recycling structure, the hotel’s lobby is the perfect spot to relax or get behind your laptop, with a scattering of sofas, a mini library and the odd tray of freshly baked cookies laid out for your picking. Down in the basement there is the hotel’s ‘V’ restaurant, which serves locally sourced food, including a giant and colourful breakfast spread included with the cost of your room.

Whilst in Bergen, check in to the Scandic Ornen, the larger, swankier sister of the Scandic Vulkan. This towering hotel is located within blisterless walking distance of the old quarter, Bergen’s best bars and restaurants, and the brilliant Kunstmuseum. The artfully modern hotel features a gym, a Skybar on the 13th floor, and the critically acclaimed Roast restaurant.

Rub shoulders with the rich and famous at world-renowned hotel The Thief, which opened its doors in 2013 in Oslo’s exclusive Tjuvholmen district. The waterside area has ditched its dodgy past and been dramatically renovated into one of the city’s most decadent regions. At the heart of this lies The Thief, which has attracted everyone from Rihanna and Jay Z to Bill Gates and Bryan Ferry. Somehow though, it steers clear of pretension, despite walls decorated with Andy Warhols and its Oslo room being named Europe’s Best Suite. The luxurious interiors are the work of several leading Scandinavian designers, dressed from top to bottom in sumptuous coppers, browns and golds. The in-house hamam, exceptional restaurant and rooftop cocktail bar overlooking the fjord put you in seriously danger of never leaving the hotel perimeter. Look out for their by-weekly ‘Thief Music Unplugged’ sessions, with some of the most exciting artists around playing you into the night.

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Granit: Treat yourself to a slice of Nordic cool in this ridiculously well stocked homeware shop. It has everything from copper coat hooks, granite teapots, cashmere throws, and enough filament light bulbs to have your house Scandi-fied in no time.

Thorvald Meyers gate 63

Fransk Bazar: Get yourself to this antique shop, brimming with Parisian treasures, and sift through old maps, giant lettering and vintage desks.

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Lush Dive: Who knew a pencil could be cool? Pop in here for the most stylish stationary you could imagine, from Field Notes books to handmade writing equipment. The whole place smells of woodcarving and will have your inner Ibsen clawing his way out in no time.

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Have a wander of Aker Brygge, a vibrant, upmarket shopping and dining area located in a disused shipyard along the water. There, you’ll find Scotch & Soda, Samsoe & Samsoe, and Milla Boutique.

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Acne Archives: This treasure trove of past collection favourites is unmissable for any fans of the Swedish fashion house, whose clean cuts and luxurious materials feel right at home in Oslo.


Vila Paradiso: This Grunerlokka institution was founded by Jan Vardoen, the man responsible for the area’s gentrification over the last decade. Along with several other restaurants, bars, a brewery and the Focacceria bakery next door, Jan opened Vila Paradiso with a commitment to the best possible ingredients. Join the throngs of locals for perfectly crafted, Naples-style pizza dressed with rich tomato sauce, juicy meats, lush herbs and the highest-grade mozzarella imaginable. All of the green wooden walls were built by Jan himself, who dabbles in a bit of boat building on the side, as well as filmmaking and writing. Naturally.

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Kontrast: Let celebrated Head Chef Mikael Svensson take you through a tour of Scandinavian sustenance with his 6-course dinnertime tasting menu comprised of locally foraged, sustainably sourced produce. Each artful dish is saturated with flavour and colour, with everything from the freshly baked bread to the pine forest flowers celebrating the seasons. Along with a bottle of silky Riesling, we were silenced by a feast of oyster cream bonbons, rhubarb-marinated mackerel, Olso fireweeds with homemade crackling, ‘happy’ poached chicken, and a shaved blue cheese bowl with walnuts and whipped maple syrup. All topped off by brown butter ice cream with Norwegian lime and homemade marshmallows. The whole place reeks of Scandinavian elegance, with muted walls, mood lighting and a stainless steel open kitchen; when the chefs are this good, they can afford to be on show.

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Pjolterguist: According to Oslo Folk Collective magazine, this is where the city’s best chefs go to eat. Being the chef groupies that we are, we made this our first dinner spot of the week, and were not disappointed. Choose a few dishes to share along with a great bottle of wine, and wait for some of Norway’s most hyped chefs to bring the colourful ‘Nordic-Asian’ food to your table. Expect creations like soft pork and avocado tacos (which we ordered twice), pan fried duck hearts, spicy wontons and crusted asparagus.

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Kolonihagen: This organic café is the perfect place for a sleepy lunch, where you can eat Norwegian smoked salmon on locally baked bread in the wood and copper filled front room. They work with local farms, which provide them with seasonal and fresh produce all year round. A walk across the cobbled courtyard brings you to their evening restaurant, which is set over two floors of an old stable building, with many of the original features still intact. The menu celebrates natural Norwegian ingredients, with fresh fish dishes, pickles, salted meats and a whole lot of foraged herbs.

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BLA: In the warmer months, this independent music venue opens its bankside bar, inviting locals to enjoy beers on a scattering of sofas and benches overlooking the rushing River Akerselva. Sit under the string of lights and enjoy live music sets and the general merriment of Oslo’s art crowd.

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Our inner Don Draper came out all Old Fashions blazing at Fuglen, the bar that was founded in 1963 and celebrates the style of the era in three rooms of pure retro paradise. Grab a coffee and peruse their neighbouring furniture shop, or plant yourself on one of the leathery seats for a whiskey and people-watching marathon. Wood and bamboo mat walls, robust wooden furniture, folk records spinning on a jukebox, and a general air of beige masculinity make this one of Oslo’s coolest bars.

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The 60s/70s style that has invaded Oslo’s bar scene is taken up a notch at Bettola, one of the city’s most affordable cocktail bars on the edge of the edgy Grunnalokka district. Bursting with old-world elegance, from the brown glass chandeliers to the dark leather bar stools, this bar is every retro collectors fantasy. Head there in the evening for live jazz and some of the city’s most affordable tipples.

Trondheimsveien 2, 0560

Bonlio: This Spanish ‘Gastrobar’ is housed in a dusky red wooden house, and is the perfect spot for a nightcap. Glowing from inside out and offering an extensive list of cocktails, spirits and wines, Bonlio bartenders get creative with pots of Hawaiian black salt, clementine zest and powdered copper. Yes, copper. Head here after dinner and sit at the bar to soak up the buzzing atmosphere.

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Just up the road from the local’s favourite beer bar, Crowbar & Bryggeri, lies Torggata Botaniske. It’s hard to pass this glowing bar, which brims with plants and candlelight, without stopping in for a herb-spiked cocktail or two.

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For a caffeine fix, don’t even think about bypassing Tim Wendleboe. Run by the man himself, a legend on the bean scene and multi-award winning barista, this small establishment takes its coffee very seriously. Prop yourself at the bar and ask the knowledgeable staff what they recommend. Your drink comes on a wooden board with a little glass of water, and is not to be rushed. Something we didn’t take into account when we inhaled three of their silky, cool, frothy Cappuccino al Freddos. It came in a martini glass, and is without a doubt the best coffee we’ve ever tasted.

Grüner gate 1, 0552

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Mathallen Food Hall: Spend an afternoon picking your way through the diverse and delicious vendors at Oslo’s indoor food market, which is housed in a former train track factory. Sample fresh fish, Asian tapas, pintxos and pies; our favourites are the creamy, crumbly lemon meringue pies from Hello Good Pie. Pull up a chair at the candle-lit table of Melkerampa cheese shop, and sample the famous Norwegian Brunost, the beguiling brown cheese that tastes like buttery fudge. We circled the food hall like hungry ravens, dropping by the shop several times for another chunk of cheese heaven.

Maridalsveien 17, 0178

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Vulkan: This innovative city development lies in the former industrial area of Oslo, spanning the Akerselva River. Pioneering eco-friendly architecture makes up this culturally rich district, which is home to a hub of cafes, bars, music halls and art spaces. Among them, Hendrix Ibsen serves up craft beer, coffee and second hand vinyls. Follow the Alkerselva River walk, which snakes through Oslo’s eastern and western regions, and the waterway’s surging popularity is pulling together the once divided banks. Almost all of the industrial structures that line the river have been put to new use, including the Dansens Hus dance centre in an old factory, and The Norwegian Centre for Design and Architecture, which is housed in the city’s former electric works. The eastern shore of the river is packed with independent coffee roasteries, vintage shops and bike stores. It’s all very Williamsburg, and we love it.

Start your tour of Vulkan at Maridalsveien 13 E, 0178

The staggering Oslo Opera House is worth committing an afternoon to. Finalised by Norwegian architects Snohetta in 2008, the space plays host to a rich calendar of international and native performers. The building is a vision in marble and glass, as much a work of art as a cultural institution, built in sharp angles and sloping into the city bay. Visit on a clear day to walk up the sloping edges of ice-white marble to the roof, where you can look out over the city skyline.

Once you’ve marvelled at the Munchs, Goyas and Cezannes at the stunning Nasjonalgalleriet, head over to the star of Norway’s contemporary art scene, the Astrup Fearnley Museet. The privately-owned gallery was established in 1993 and houses a permanent collection of impressive works, from Gilbert & George and Damien Hirst to Sam Taylor-Wood and Jeff Koons.

Astrup Fearnley Museum:

Strandpromenaden 2, 0252

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By far the best way to take in Norway’s sweeping landscape is to take a train from Olso to Bergen, which is often named as the World’s most beautiful trains ride. The rails cut through endless miles of majestic countryside. The 8 hour trip is an endless display of natural beautiful, and with its theatrical scenery from sky-high pine forest hills, snowy mountains and flower studded farmland to glittering waterfalls and coloured timber house that line the lakes, you won’t want to rest your eyes for a moment. The route takes you through all 4 seasons. For 60 miles of the journey, you soar above tree line, and another leg of the trip takes you through miles of snow heaped hills. If there is a more scenic train journey on earth, we’d like to see it.


While the adage ‘It’s always raining in Bergen’ may be pretty much bang on, it is no reason not to spend a good few days exploring Norway’s surprising ‘second city’. In many ways, it feels a lot like a small town. Embedded in the Seven Mountains, its web of timber houses, cobbled roads and patches of greenery make strolling Bergen’s streets feel like an adventure into a Norway of old. Don’t be fooled by its quaint veneer, though. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find that a youthful mentality drives the city. It is the graffiti capital of Europe, and home to some of Banksy’s most beloved works. It also gave rise to The Bergen Wave of the late 2000s, a heavy stream of internationally acclaimed bands hailing from the city. Bergenites love their hometown, and are always ready to point you in the direction of a busy bar or brand new exhibition. Of which there are many. On top of that, they will always insist that this is the place to be above Oslo. But we’ll let you decide that for yourself. Grab an umbrella and explore a city of fantastic food, art, music and nightlife, all wrapped up in one picture-perfect bundle.


Norwegians are a very well dressed bunch. Bergen’s streets are littered with high-end fashion stores that celebrate the clean, monochromatic style that typifies the country’s stylish citizens. Head first to whitewashed Pepper for amped-up Sports Lux and selected pieces from Acne, Addidas, and Comme des Garcons. Next door you’ll find Acne Studios, with its cashmere scarves, silk dresses and robust knitwear.

Christies gate 9, 5015 Bergen

Head to Second Love in on the beautiful Skostredet (Shoe Street) for lovingly picked vintage pieces from high-end brands. Think muted colours, silk trousers and preloved trench coats.

Østre Skostredet 2

Retro offers yet more reasons to break the bank in Bergen, with minimalist men and women’s clothing in sumptuous materials from Filippa K, Carven, Nike and Alexander Wang, to name but a few.

Olav Kyrres gate 7, 5014

Designer T Michael describes Bergen as ‘Safe, wholesome and evolving’, which is probably why he chose it as the home for his internationally acclaimed menswear store. Michael’s wood-clad shop and studio is also the home of his sustainable raincoat line, Norwegian Rain, which are made using recycled materials and high-tech fabrics. Suddenly the constant rain looks a lot more appealing. Head to T Michael for a chat with the most dapper chap in Bergen, and find peruse his creations amongst a collection of eclectic objects.

Skostredet 9A, 5017


For what we think is a damn near perfect lunch, get yourself to Colonialen. Located in Bergen’s peach-coloured Litteraturhuset. The neighbourhood favourite is one of 6 branches, but we think this one is the best. Warmly decorated with white brick walls, red ceilings, heaps of natural light and a giant glass-fronted wine cellar, Colonialen’s café buzzes with artists and young professionals alike at lunchtime. Celebrating classical Nordic eating, the lunch menu is packed with local ingredients. Share a bowl of garlic, charred lemon and parsley mussels with crusty home made bread, and enjoy mains like sharing boards bursting with prosciutto, pecorino and local cheese, or warm mackerel salad with pickles, radish and lemon. All fish comes straight from Torget Fish Market, of course…

Østre Skostredet 5, 5017

Lysverket is the self-professed ‘game changer’ of the Bergen restaurant scene. It was opened in 2013 inside Kode Gallery by Fredrik Saroea, the lead singer of ‘new rave’ band Datarock. The restaurant/bar/nightclub is decorated in the unmistakably Nordic style of sinuous wood and dark grey walls, with jars of pastel flowers and soft sheepskin rugs decorating the surfaces. Leave your whole evening free for this one. Head chef Christopher Haatuft (gold-toothed, tattooed ex-punk culinary genius) arranges a weekly menu of eight mind-blowing dishes created using the finest possible Norwegian produce. Hand-dived scallops, southern forest herbs, island oysters, juicy langoustines and hot liquorice were just some of the things served up on our visit, along with 8 glasses of wine hand selected by Lysverket’s in-house wine fanatic John Miller, who reigns from Napa Valley in California. Fredrik’s and Christopher’s palpable energy makes this is unique and unmissable dining experience. We spent 4 hours here, stunned by every mouthful, and nursed hangovers the next day that were more than worth it.

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Dine on sushi made using the freshest catches from the fish market at slinky Japanese spot Nama. You’ll notice an abundance of copper in Norway’s interiors, with restaurants and bars in particular making use of the country’s prosperous copper mines.

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Constant rain means one thing and one thing only; afternoon delight. For international beers, whiskeys and a good glass of red, head to Folk & Rovere. Locals love this corner spot, and at weekends file in to dance along with the live DJ.

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Ujevnt: Another night, another wood-clad drinking den. Head to this wildly popular hipster hangout for Norwegian beers, great music and prime beard watching.

Christies gate 7, 5015


Bergen Kunsthall: This is one of Norway’s most important showgrounds for contemporary art. Check their calendar exhibitions by international and Scandinavian artists who are making waves in the scene.

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Before feasting on Fjord to fork creations at Lysverket, head inside Kode Gallery for an extensive collection of works by Picasso, Klee, Astrup and, you guessed it, Edvard Munch. That guy just gets around.

Rasmus Meyers allé 9, 5015

Follow the water beside Bergen’s oldest buildings on Bryggen, which were built in 1702 and is on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. Meander through the narrow, dark alleyways, and stop for a beer at the nearby UNA Microbrewery.

When the rain holds off, locals love a stroll up to Mount Floyen. From there, the whole of Bergen and its glorious natural surroundings can be viewed at once. Grab a coffee from the award-winning Kaffemisjonen on the scenic street Korskirkeallmenningen.


There are few words that can describe the natural beauty of Norway’s Fjord regions. Day and night, summer and winter, the dramatic landscape provides unimaginably beauty that unfolds over and over again in front of the eyes. Renting a car gives you the freedom to stop at any point to take in the views camera in-hand. Pick up a car from Avis, which is located over the road from the hotel in Bergen. Scenic visions greet you at every turn on the hour-long journey to Norheimsund, where ice-white mountains reflect in the glassy, open waters, farm lands brim with flowering fruit trees, and a break in the view feels like a stolen moment. Arriving in the small town, the relentless beauty continues. The mountains seem to touch the sky, while the calm waters of Hardangerfjord (the third largest in the world) stretch on for miles in the distance, watched over by majestic glaciers.


Avis: Bergen Lufthavn Flesland

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Wake up to views of the surrounding glaciers and calm waters at Thon Hotel Sandven. The original hotel was built in 1857, with many of the original features still intact. It has recently been given a contemporary once over, with a new wing featuring crisp, airy apartments with fully-equipped kitchens and living areas. Each apartment comes with a spacious balcony looking out over the waters, while the included breakfast will have you filling your plate with unnecessarily large amounts of fresh fruit, homebaked bread and cured fish.

Kaien 28, 5600 Norheimsund


Stand beneath the rushing Steinsdalsfossen Waterfall, one of the oldest in the region and cascades down the farmland hills of the Kvam region.

Spend a day exploring the Jondal municipality, which spans along the Hardanger Fjord. It is unlike anywhere else on Earth. In almost any month of the year, you can spend the morning skiing or hiking the mighty slopes of Fonna Glacier Ski Resort, while afternoons can be spent bathing in the waters of the fjord. The trip between the two takes around half an hour, snaking through forests thick with pine trees and roads hugged by sharp walls of snow. There are few points in this region where breathtaking views are not on the cards. When the clouds part, the entire place turns into a canvas of blue, green and white. Whether skiing, walking, swimming or just sitting on a deck with a beer, Jondal is a trip for the senses, and will engrave itself in your memory.

From just outside the hotel, catch a short ferry to the small fishing village of Herand. There, you can rent a bicycle from Sykkel i Hardanger, which can be delivered to you at any Hardanger starting point.


Stop in for delicious wood-fired pizza fresh from the ovens of Restaurant Meiriet in Herand. With its stone floors and white wooden ceilings, this delightful ex-dairy bustles in warmer seasons with visitors filling up on locally-sourced toppings like caper berries and forest onions, while the red wine and ham are collected from our very own Vila Paradiso in Oslo.

Rv55, Jondal


If there is one country that makes us want to pull on a pair of unisex hiking boots and take to the great outdoors, it is Norway. Choose from a handful of some of the world’s most scenic footpaths, 3 of which begin right here. The Kulturisti Route leads you through flower-filled woods, hills and archaeological findings, and is an easy one-hour route. Easy for everyone but us, that is.

Make a pair of ice picks your new best friends and touch the sky on a guided glacier walk, beginning in Jondal.

By far the most stunning hike is to Trolltunga, a cliff face that hovers 700 metres above the glassy Lake Ringedalsvatnet. A single spike of cliff juts out over the water, and if vertigo isn’t an issue for you, you can dangle your legs off the side and look out over the endless horizon.

Kabuso is an impressive art gallery and chamber music space in the centre of Oystese village, on the edge of the fjord waters. Kabuso puts on around 6 major exhibitions and 45 concerts a year, the most recent being a retrospective of Edvard Munch’s printwork. Next door is the small Ingebrigt Vik Museum, which showcases the exquisite works of one of Norway’s most celebrated sculptors.


We spent a dreamy day exploring the Hardanger area with Cecilie Ailen Johansen, who runs an organic farm in the mountains. There, she cultivates everything from free-range chickens and ducks to sweet cherries and lime mint. For three years, she has housed volunteers from Norway’s WWOOF programme. The project offers opportunities for those interested in turning to the outdoors to farm, study ecology or just enjoy the Norwegian nature. Her farm overlooks sweeping views of the deep fjord and towering mountains. We kept expecting someone to come tearing through the green screen paper. Across the fjord lives Cecilie’s best friend and fellow forager Hege. Together, the two put on ‘happenings’ around the area, including a charity trance festival on Hege’s land, as well as woodcraft and foraging courses. “Some people today think that food is grown in a store,” Cecilie says, “We want to educate them here.” “We want to share what we have,” Hege agrees, “There is so much to learn from being in nature. We want people to come here and find a talent they didn’t know they had.” We scaled her almost vertical land, which she named ‘a garden of the senses’. We plucked wild flowers and herbs for the evening’s dinner, which we had back at Cecilie’s farm using all of her own meats, vegetables and fruits. There were two ‘WOOFers’ in residence, a young German couple at work on the chicken shed. As well as running a cosy B&B from her farmhouse, Cecilie also owns a shop in the nearby village of Oystese, Den Grone Trad (The Green Thread), where she sells her produce. “We have the right to know where things come from.” She tells us, “I want to make everything transparent in here.” Cecilie and Hege’s lifestyles are telling. The more time we spent in Norway, the more apparent it became that it is a country intent on relying on its own surroundings. And what surroundings they are.