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A Scandinavian Summer: The All Day, All Night Adventure Land

With water, mountains, and 20 hours of sunshine — and people who know how to party — Scandinavia is the ideal summer playground.


By Kyle Dickman, Eric Hansen, Berne Broudy, Joe Levy, Nils Bernstein, Men's Journal

With water, mountains, and 20 hours of sunshine — and people who know how to party — Scandinavia is the ideal summer playground.

Sail to Ski in Norway
 Swooping massifs, soaring fjords, Viking-era villages — it should come as no surprise that Norway's Lofoten Islands, above the Arctic Circle, is the land that, legend has it, inspired Mordor. There's a highway that traverses the 120-mile archipelago, making summer road trips a popular pastime. But there's a better way to experience the Lofotens: by sea. Last spring, I met Emil Engebrigtsen, owner of SailNorway, for a five-day ski-and-sail trip in the islands beginning in Svolvaer, an Arctic town of 4,500. Emil, who traded a job in Beijing for rubber boots in Norway, is a hardcore believer in do-it-yourself adventures. "Comfort doesn't make you happy," he told me. "It makes you fat and lazy."

To that end, eight of us shared his stripped-down, 38-foot yacht, the Palandar. All of his clients cook, clean, and crew. Never mind that Umberto, an Italian "tough guy" on our trip, had never cooked. Never mind that I'd never sailed. By afternoon, Emil had me tacking the Palandar against Arctic winds to a harbor that, the next morning, we'd ski — yes, ski.

[post_ads]Lofoten owes its world-class, almost year-round snow to the Gulf Stream — and the storms that follow it. I found out just how good it can be on our third day. After sailing in squalls that dropped 18 inches of snow, we moored in a crack in the mountains called Trollfjord. Morning brought blue skies and slushy seas. Within hours, we were standing atop a 2,500-foot peak with views of the mountain summits folding over the horizon. "It's like the Tetons had offspring," I said to Umberto. "Or another Aiguille du Midi," he said, referring to Chamonix's iconic feature. Then we ripped off our climbing skins and giggled our way through blower powder back to the sailboat — and heaping plates of whatever Umberto was calling dinner.
  
   
Trail Run in Coastal Sweden
It shouldn't be surprising that in the country that elevates fika, the coffee break, to a near-mandatory workday pause, competitive trail running is as much about the scenery and camaraderie as the finishing time. One of the most Swedish events is the 47-mile, three-day Icebug Xperience. The course cruises along seaside cliffs, through stunted forests, and over oceanside boulders.

If you don't want to run, you can walk. There are cinnamon rolls at aid stations. And each stage ends by the Baltic Ocean with saunas, massage, and an unsanctioned cannonball contest. At night, you crash on an Ikea-furnished sailboat, sharing beer with your neighbors. Competition never felt so civilized. 
    
  
Mountain Biking at Norway’s Canvas Hotel
Southern Norway's Canvas Hotel is a village of 10 yurts perched on a granite island in a lake halfway between Oslo and the Bering Sea. The vibe is best described as Viking chic. Each yurt is furnished with two beds, lanterns for light, and a wood stove. The furnishings are made of weathered wood that could have been salvaged from 700-year-old Norse ships.

[post_ads]The main draw: mountain biking. Out the flap of the yurt are 70 miles of singletrack that thread through thousands of lakes and undulate over granite slickrock that rides as sticky as Moab. The country as a whole is in the midst of an MTB boom, and the trails range from easy cross-country jaunts to head-banging downhills. But it's mostly relaxed riding at Canvas, and at the end of the day, three-course meals are prepared on giant grills out back — you can even help cook the local meat, fish, and vegetables. Or just sip from deep pours of wine and microbrews on tap, then soak in the outdoor iron hot tubs.
   
   
Salmon Fishing in Iceland
Alaska, Russia, Patagonia — there are plenty of places to catch wild salmon in epic settings. But few compare to Iceland. And there's no place on Earth like the country's Breiddalsa River, on its eastern flank, where, on a six-day guided trip, you can find yourself at a remote cabin above a pristine river, with some 500 thrashing, spawning salmonids in the water below you (between July and October). In the morning, you and your guide might cast a single-handed rod at the base of a waterfall. In the afternoon, you might whipsaw a doublehander from a loamy cutbank. This is to say: Each of the 57 fishing spots with unpronounceable names is wildly different. And with just eight rods allowed, you rarely see another fisherman — and when you do, it's a welcome surprise.
   
   
Sweden's Summer Escape
One day last August, my wife and I borrowed some bikes to head to the beach. We were staying with friends in a converted schoolhouse in Vamlingbo, a tiny village on the southern end of Gotland, a 1,200-square-mile island in the Baltic Sea. The day was typical Swedish summer — blue sky, 70 degrees, 17 hours of sunlight — so it didn't matter much when we missed the turn to the beach. Instead we found ourselves zipping down a back road that felt like the south of France.

We turned right, rolled downhill under leafy trees and came out onto the shoreline headed south. Now the landscape looked like the cover of Zeppelin's Houses of the Holy — ancient rocks, moss, waves. We kept going until we hit Hoburgen and fields dotted with 700-year-old churches — like the English countryside, only with better weather. Three landscapes. Two hours. The best bike ride of my life.
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If you want to vacation like a Swede, go to Gotland. "It's the only place in Sweden where Swedes feel like they can really leave normal life behind," says Carin Rodebjer, a fashion designer who lives in Stockholm. "Instead of going to Crete, you take a boat or plane to Gotland and you're somewhere else completely, surrounded by water and sunlight."

The island is prized for its natural features, including the limestone bedrock that retains heat well enough to sustain everything from windswept pines in the north (not far from where Ingmar Bergman lived, on another, tiny island) to lusher green in the south. (Flights from Stockholm to Visby — the island's major city, with steep hills and a medieval wall — run about $150.)

An hour northwest of Visby is Fabriken Furillen, a minimalist designer hotel in a converted limestone quarry that lies next door to one of Gotland's 100 nature preserves. Hop onto a bike or hike across the bridge to Legrav Fisk & Cafe, and eat herring and smoked salmon on picnic benches by the sea. The light bounces off the water with so much warmth you'll have to remind yourself the colors are real.

It's a two-hour drive from Visby to Gotland's southern tip, where there are few people and lots of farmland, making the area a haven for creatives. Photographer Jakob Axelman — who grew up in Sweden and spent summers on Gotland — compares it with upstate New York. "People come from Stockholm, see how much space they can have, and stay," he says. The town of Burgsvik is Gotland's Woodstock, with a comfort-food diner, Fiket i Burgsvik, and a good hotel, Pensionat Grå Gåsen. Down Route 142 is Razzle Dazzle Glass, a homemade ice cream and sandwich spot and the beginning for the best bike ride of my life. Any turnoff will take you past cows and horses and leave you by the water. Don't be surprised if you're tempted to stay.
       
   
Road Trip the Faroe islands
The Faroe Islands, made up of 18 volcanic massifs in the North Atlantic, is like a cross between Hawaii and the Scottish moors. You should come for the weirdness alone. The island's hottest restaurant, Ræst, specializes in fermented foods (cod, lamb intestines, pilot whale), and its biggest party of the year is a three-day concert, called G! Festival, that's something akin to a mountain-backed beach club with hot tubs. Because the islands are connected via a series of bridges and tunnels — with blacktop that winds through impossibly green valleys — the best way to see them is by cruising on a motorcycle, available for rent in Tórshavn, the capital.
   
   
Denmark's Democratic Fine Dining
Denmark is routinely rated atop the world's democracies when it comes to transparency, fairness, and freedom. That egalitarianism extends to its inventive culinary scene, where its high-end restaurants spawned a legion of low-cost alternatives. The legendary Noma fathered 108, where lunch runs under $30. The people behind Michelin-starred Kadeau offer more approachable menus at Pony and Nabo. Even the national dish, smørrebrød, epitomizes the Danes' love of economical quality, turning bread and leftovers into little open-faced works of sandwich art. "If you cut away the unnecessary," says Christian F. Puglisi, who is behind the affordable joints Manfreds, Bæst, and the new Rudo, "a great meal can be experienced in any setting."
  
   
The New Nordic: Estonia

Wild forests, 1,500 islands, and medieval-era city centers

Even if Estonia isn't Scandinavian, it's Nordic in the literal sense: Tallinn, its immaculately preserved medieval capital, is farther north than Copenhagen and Stockholm, and it shares far more culturally and genetically with Finland than with Latvia, to its south. What this means for travelers is a country that has most of the advantages of Scandinavia (amazing food, beautiful people, endless summer days) and less of the downside.
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The adventures are surreal, from swimming in an impossibly clear limestone quarry with a half-sunk prison to ice yachting in winter. On Muhu, one of the country's 1,500 islands, you can visit a church built in the 13th century that's next to a decaying Soviet rocket base.

On the flip side, Estonia is one of the world's most forward-thinking countries: Skype was created by Estonians, and the internet was declared a fundamental right in 2000.

Estonians are notorious for taking advantage of their easy access to nature — the country is half forest — and the spring floods are seen less as a burden than an opportunity to canoe through a landscape full of lynx, elk, and wild boars. In summer, you can hike the primeval forests of Soomaa National Park and by sundown be eating a five-star meal in Tallinn's cobblestoned Old Town. Now that's progressive.



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Travel Magazine: A Scandinavian Summer: The All Day, All Night Adventure Land
A Scandinavian Summer: The All Day, All Night Adventure Land
With water, mountains, and 20 hours of sunshine — and people who know how to party — Scandinavia is the ideal summer playground.
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