Why Norway is more than snow and light shows

That’s not to say that the Norwegians aren’t exceptional in any number of ways. For starters, they are dramatically lofty. I’m a tall woman, but almost everyone we met here – men, women and children – dwarfed my 5ft 10in. They also seem to be disproportionately good-looking, along the lines of Claire Danes and Brad Pitt. And they’re rugged. This is a macho landscape and it breeds outdoorsy folk who spend their childhoods hiking, skiing and kayaking. Inevitably they seem to be almost hewn from living rock.

Like the Gulf States, Norway’s recent wealth flows from its reserves of fossil fuels, and, thanks to rocketing prices because of the war in Ukraine, it’s cashing in. It’s consistently among the top-five wealthiest countries on the planet by gross national income. But unlike the Gulf States, the Norwegian sovereign wealth fund spreads the money around the whole population. It’s a sort of trillionaire’s socialist paradise.

Perhaps because the Norwegians are so used to being rich, they’ve worked out exactly what makes life both stylish and fun. George Orwell said, ‘A smart hotel is a place where 100 people toil like devils in order that 200 may pay through the nose for things they do not really want.’ That might or might not be true in Paris, but it certainly isn’t the case here. Instead, they’ve got a magic formula for tourists, cheerfully giving them exactly what they do really want. This turns out to be spectacularly good, fresh, local food; stylish, big pared-back rooms with lots of open fires; and energetic outdoorsy fun in breathtakingly beautiful landscapes. That old cliché beloved of Nordic noir, of heavy metal, gloom, wintry darkness and suicidally heavy drinking, just doesn’t apply. All the more so now that cold-weather destinations suddenly seem so desirable. If the Côte d’Azur in August sweats in 40C heat, wouldn’t you rather a bracing walk along a heroically dramatic northern seafront, where summer temperatures rarely get above 25C? While the rest of the planet boils, Norway keeps its cool. No wonder Telegraph Travel readers voted it the most beautiful country in Europe this year.

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