The Off the Map Travel team recently returned from a trip to one of our favourite destinations North of the Arctic Circle – Tromso in Northern Norway. Also known as the Gateway to The Arctic, and the Paris of the North! With four eager new members of the team, this was the perfect way to learn about all the amazing activities and accommodation on offer, as well as meet with some exciting new suppliers!
Along with witnessing an amazing display of aurora on our first night, dog sledding through the pristine wilderness and exploring the islands on a RIB boat – one thing we could not stop talking about was the incredible food that we were lucky enough to enjoy. From local specialties, to gourmet creations we were completely spoiled for choice and were certainly well fueled for our Arctic adventure!
On arrival into Tromso we drove through the cities twinkling lights, across the bridge and through the island of Kvaloya towards the beautiful Malangen Peninsula. This is the perfect place to combine with a few nights in the city as its wilderness location means that you get the best of both worlds! We were greeted with stunning views across the fjords, lit up by the northern lights, as well as heavenly scents coming from the restaurant…
What followed was a magnificent three course dinner of authentic northern Norwegian flavours with a French flair. The starter appeared as a piece of art – a crushed potato fondant topped with smoked salmon, capers and a balsamic glaze. The main course was a delicious cut of beef cooked to order, or a baked cod with a cream sauce both served with sautéed vegetables. They even surprised us with their range of vegetarian options, which included wild mushroom risotto, pasta arrabiatta, and lentil ragu – the chef had certainly thought of everything! After a quick interval to gaze at the northern lights as they flashed across the fjords, dessert was served; a classic crème brulee which we just about managed to squeeze in!
After dinner we headed up to Malangen’s Camp Nikka, which is just at the back of the resort and a great place for a Northern Lights Activity. The open sided lavvu was cosy with the open fire in the centre and the views of the Northern Lights over the fjord was certainly a great welcome to the Arctic Circle!
With a busy day ahead of us, the following morning Off The Map team member Becky thought she would fuel herself by sampling the Norwegian delicacy “Brunost” – a sweet brown goats cheese and the nations best loved culinary treat! This is what Becky had to say about her early morning experience: ‘As most of the team love brown cheese, I was really looking forward to trying it, what an acquired taste and have to confess it’s just not for me’.
After breakfast we took the scenic drive to the Camp Tamok in the mountains. Here we would be learning how to drive our own team of excitable huskies through the pristine wilderness of Tamok Valley. After a thorough safety briefing, and some time to take obligatory photos with the dogs, we were off with our dog team through the snow! It took some time to get used to controlling the sled – stopping involved standing on a metal ‘brake’ with both feet, but the dogs were far too excited to think about stopping! Some of us mastered this better than others – Off The Map team member Alice managed to fall off not once, but twice, face down in the snow! At least it was a soft landing!
On our return to the Camp we were welcomed inside the traditional Sami Lavuu to enjoy a warming drink and a tasty Norwegian stew. Again, everyone was well catered for, with a wide range of hot drinks and even a meat-free stew for the veggies.
After we had fully defrosted, we went to take a look at the exciting new addition to Camp Tamok – the Ice Domes. These were still in construction, but we could see that they were going to be huge! Make totally of snow and ice, the domes will be constructed every year, and will be home to an ice bar and ice restaurant! Since our visit, the Ice Domes have been completed, and are now welcoming guests looking for an extra special addition to their adventure at Camp Tamok.
One of the many wonderful things about Tromso is the range of fantastic restaurants and eateries dotted around the city. The evening after our dog sled adventure, we dined at the “Emmas Drommekjokken” which translates to Emmas dream kitchen, and it certainly lived up to it’s name! The restaurant is right in the heart of Tromso’s stylish harbour side district and has an upstairs for formal events and a downstairs for more casual dining. Emma offers a seasonal menu of elegant dishes including a divine soup of the day, duck confit and a baked fish dish all presented with the finesse that you would expect in a fine dining bistro. The dessert was a citrus and cointreau infused chocolate ganache which was a big hit with our taste buds as well as with our followers on the Off The Map instagram!
Next on our list or Arctic adventures was a tour by RIB boat to explore the many islands around Tromso. Usually at this time of the year whales including Orcas, fin and humpback whales come to feed on the swarms of herring that can be found offshore. Witnessing these majestic creatures is an Arctic highlight of many trips. After suiting up in warm overalls, we took our seats on the RIB boat and headed into the fjords with our knowledgable skipper. As we sailed past snowcapped mountains and rising islands dotted with brightly painted cabins we were mesmerized by the unique and tranquil beauty of this place. This trip highlighted to us the increasing presence of climate change, and the accelerated effects this is having upon the Arctic regions. At this time of year, the waters around Tromso are usually full of these magnificent creatures, however this season we have seen a shift in their migration patterns. The whale’s main food source, the herring, have moved further North than ever before, and the whales have followed. Off The Map Travel do all we can to ensure our whale watching activities are sustainable, and focused on the welfare of the whales – a feature which is becoming increasingly more important. Although we didn’t get to see the whales, we were captivated by the sea eagles which circled above us, and couldn’t get over the crystal clear blue water of the fjords!
That evening, we headed to Bardu’s Bistro to refuel before our Northern Lights activity. The restaurant draws inspiration from Southern European concepts, combining this with fresh Norwegian cuisine and quaint decor. The result is a relaxed, welcoming atmosphere – and extremely delicious food! Two of us tucked into the best Mussles we’ve ever tasted, while the others sampled the HUGE Bistro Burger. We were absolutely stuffed, as we made our way to meet our guides for the evening.
As often experienced in the Arctic, the weather had taken a turn for the worst, and with thick cloud cover and snow, the Northern Lights were no longer an option for tonight. Instead, we were taken out to meet an authentic Sami family, at a traditional Lavvu (Sami tepee tent). We were introduced to the reindeer – Little Steven’s cheeky personality made him an instant favourite! We enjoyed a sled ride around the camp, and as the snowfall became even heavier we retreated inside the Lavvu to warm up around the roaring fire. We sat and listened to the fascinating stories of the Sami way of life, before tucking into freshly cooked reindeer steak! We were still full from our huge dinner, but we couldn’t refuse!
The following day it was time to wave goodbye to half of the team. Two members of the Off The Map Travel team headed to Tromso airport for their return flight to London, while the remaining two enjoyed a leisurely evening before a very early start the next morning. We caught the 05:20 bus from Tromso, for our onward journey to Narvik. The journey was long, but we could relax on the comfortable bus, and we managed to snooze most of the way! Before we knew it, we were in our next destination, and busy day awaited!
We spent the morning exploring the city of Narvik, which included a visit to the fascinating War Museum – a definite must visit for anyone in the area. Of course, our day was planned around our stomachs, and we stopped for lunch at the Scandic Narvik – this was a delicious buffet, with a huge spread of salads, meat, cheese, breads, pasta – you name it, we ate it!
After lunch, we departed Narvik, to cross the border into Sweden for our final night. We were filled with anticipation, as we would be spending the night in an Art Suite at the ICEHOTEL 365! Neither of us had experienced anything like this before, so couldn’t begin to imagine what to expect! By the time we arrived at the ICEHOTEL, it was time for our last dinner in the Arctic, and it certainly didn’t disappoint! We were driven out to a secluded opening in the forest, where we lit torches and made our way through the candlelit clearing to a stunningly inviting Lavvu. Inside, a roaring fire crackled, and we warmed our hands while sipping on Gluhwein. Our host for the evening shared his fascinating knowledge of the Northern Lights, before leading us out to a timber building. Inside, the cabin was laid out beautifully, with a glowing fire, and candlelit dining tables. We settled down and relaxed as our first course was prepared in front of us – a fresh Arctic Char salad, served with crispy warm bread rolls. The main course was prepared over the open fire oven, and we were presented with a delicious wild mushroom risotto for the vegetarians, and a traditional reindeer steak for the meat-eaters! We eagerly awaited our desert – a crisp and mouthwatering crème brulee! This evening was one of our favourite moments of the entire trip, and we couldn’t recommend the experience more for anyone looking to add an extra special gastronomic experience to their visit to the ICEHOTEL.
We made our way back to the ICEHOTEL for our long-awaited night sleeping sub-zero. After a visit to the Ice Bar for some liquid courage, we made our way to our Art Suite. Each room is uniquely designed, and we entered the ‘Pillow Bar’ to be greeted by intricately carved ice figures enjoying a few too many at the bar! We settled down and wrapped ourselves in an Arctic grade sleeping bag, and slept soundly through the night!
We were woken by a friendly face offering a cup of hot lingonberry juice, which was well received! After warming up with a sauna and a heart hot breakfast, we spent some time exploring the ICEHOTEL before making our way to Kiruna Airport for our return journey home. The flight was spent dreaming of all of the amazing people we met on our journey, and savoring the memories of the Norwegian and Swedish cuisine we were lucky enough to enjoy! Both Tromso and the ICEHOTEL should be at the top of the must-visit list for any foodie visiting the Arctic!
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