Most vacationers plan winter escapes to avoid inclement weather. Travelers from around the world pack their swimsuits and head to tropical climates with sunny, white-sand beaches. For your next winter retreat, try the opposite. It involves snow-covered mountains cutting the shore, plunging into an icy ocean with awesome light floating in a dark sky peppered with billions of stars, and intense cold. In fact, the dead of winter is an exciting time to travel to the extreme north of Norway.
From Oslo, the capital of Norway, it's a two-hour flight to Tromso. Rent a car at the airport and head southwest on the E8 along the coast in your fully winterized automobile and then on the E6 to Senja, Norway's second largest island, a 2.5- to 3.5-hour drive. Often referred to as "Norway in miniature," Senja is an incredible place for experiencing the country's natural beauty. The Hamn i Senja hotel is a great base for exploring the island, and the welcoming and knowledgeable staff can provide travel advice and tips. Some room options offer views of the small harbor, as well as a kitchen and lounge. Acclimate yourself to the temperature in the sauna and finish, if you dare, with a (very) brief bath in the Norwegian Sea, a chilling 37°F.
Each day, you can choose from activities including hiking among the fjords and frozen lakes under a crepuscular sky during the four hours of shy daylight and night walks beneath the famed Northern Lights — you can also watch these from the warmth of Hamn i Senja's lighthouse with 360-degree panoramic views. You may also opt for a ski day at Voss Fjellandsby Ski Centre or the Lyngsalpene (or Lyngen Alps), or a deep sea fishing excursion so you can cook your own catch of the day. If you're lucky, you may even spot some whales.
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Photo courtesy of Trond Abrahamsen.