🇳🇴 The Great Finnmark Road Trip: A Journey through Tranquility and Tradition

Press release from Destinasjon Sápmi

November 1, 2023
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Johan P. Eira, the proud owner of Čávžo Safari.
Johan P. Eira, the proud owner of Čávžo Safari.

In the northernmost reaches of Norway, Finnmark beckons with its rugged beauty, Sami culture, and a deep connection to nature. Here, time slows, and the noise of the everyday world fades into the background. What better way to explore this remote paradise than embarking on a 4 day tranquil road trip?

This journey is not for the rushed or restless; it’s for those who savour the open road, embracing the drive as the destination itself. Finnmark’s magic lies in its deep connection to the indigenous traditions, remarkable landscapes, and welcoming locals. Even though the majority of the population in Finnmark are not Sami, the culture is undeniably integrated in this part of the region, and with autumn’s warm, golden colours, it’s the perfect season for a road trip through this unspoiled wonderland.

Day 1
Arrival in Alta, Gateway to the Arctic
Your adventure commences the moment you touch down at Alta Airport, nestled between snow-covered peaks and on the edge of the serene Altafjord. From the moment you step off the plane, you’ll feel the crisp Arctic air and the clear sense of anticipation for the road ahead. Securing a rental car is effortlessly swift. In no time, you’re cruising down the open road, making your way to Sami Siida, a Sami cultural centre and museum located just 10 km outside of Bossekop in Alta. This is your essential first stop for delving into the heart of Sami culture.

Sami Siida stands as the heart of the enduring indigenous Sami culture, thriving in this region for millennia. It’s a place where you’ll discover the rich traditions of the Sami people, their exceptional craftsmanship, and their steadfast resilience in the face of the Arctic’s challenges. Run by dedicated reindeer herders, this centre offers an immersive dive into their history and the art of reindeer husbandry.

 

Visitors can engage in intimate encounters with reindeer, partake in Sami storytelling and yoiking (Sami singing), while also gaining insights into the ancient art of duodji (Sami handicrafts). Delve into the intricately designed lavvu (Sami tents) and increase your understanding of the Sami way of life, traditions, and spirituality.

Sami Culture Unveiled
As you leave Sami Siida behind and continue your road trip towards Kautokeino, you’ll find that every journey deserves a delightful pit stop. In the charming village of Máze, where 98 percent of its 200 inhabitants belong to the Sami community, you’ll be greeted with open arms by Johan P. Eira, the proud owner of Čávžo Safari.

Johan represents one of the diverse Sami groups, each with unique traditional lifestyles and livelihoods dictated by their geographical and ecological surroundings. He is a reindeer-herding Sami, a man with a welcoming smile and an even warmer heart, eager to share his deep knowledge of the land and its rich history. Just keep in mind, it’s considered impolite to inquire about a gentleman’s reindeer count, a lesson learned with a big laugh.

At Čávžo Safari, enchantment knows no seasonal boundaries. During the warmer months, you can embark on a riverboat journey to the renowned Sautso dam or immerse yourself in authentic Sami encounters while savouring traditional cuisine in their cosy lavvu. When winter arrives, you can partake in genuine traditions, from the art of reindeer herding to hearty meals (imagine serving guests in chilling -32-degree weather) and soulful joiking.

After an eventful first day, with lots of new impressions, Thon Hotel in Kautokeino is the perfect place for a good night’s sleep. Kautokeino is a city with a population of merely 3,100 residents spread across Norway’s largest municipality by land area, and is located about 130 km south of Alta.

Day 2
Journey to Kautokeino and Beyond
Kautokeino remains a remarkable hub for Sami culture, research, and education. The town boasts the esteemed Sami University, but also the true gem in Kautokeino’s crown; Juhls Silver Gallery. A place that invites travellers to explore the story of Regine and Frank Juhls, pioneers in the art of silversmithing within the Sami community.

Frank Juhls, a young Danish adventurer, worked as a handyman, while Regine, a young German girl, served as a maid in a reindeer herding family. Their paths crossed, and they started the gallery back in 1959. What began as a simple wooden house, evolved into one of the most unique cultural buildings in Northern Norway. The structure now shows off various architectural elements, including a roof mimicking a snowdrift, and new rooms are added every decade.

As you explore the gallery, you’ll be delighted by unexpected treasures, such as a glass-walled hen and sheep barn, as well as a room dedicated to the Juhls’ adventures in Afghanistan, to mention a few. The gallery is constantly changing, with Regine crafting a mesmerising glass mosaic in the main room, a futuristic tribute to Frank’s enduring legacy.

After a visit, it is time to get back behind the wheel again and embark on a picturesque journey from Kautokeino to Karasjok. Starting from Gievdneguoika, just north of Kautokeino, you’ll follow national road 92 as it winds its way across the vast expanse of Finnmarksvidda, a journey that takes a little less than two hours.

Encounter the Locals of the Sami Capital
Karasjok, known as the Sami capital, stands in contrast to Kautokeino. Tucked amidst the pine forest along the Kárášjohka river, Karasjok is a bustling crossroads in the middle of the expansive plains. With its 1,800 inhabitants, the town offers a touch of urban life with hotels, eateries, and shops. It also houses the Sami Parliament, a symbol of Sami self-governance that can’t be missed.

One of the distinct charms of venturing into Karasjok lies in the warm hospitality of the locals who open their homes to visitors. A visit to Áldú unveils a world where Sire Márjá Wigelius immerses guests in the venerable tradition of reindeer herding, intertwined with the profound cultural narrative of the Sami’s eight seasons, all amidst the cosy setting of a traditional Sami coffee gathering in their lavvu. Nestled into a cherished scarf, a bequest from her grandmother, the tales of the river Sami’s customs flow from Sire Márjá with a tender reverence. Each story shared takes you back in time, illustrating the simple yet deep connection between their long-standing traditions and the surrounding environment.

 

Equally inviting is Marit Ragnhild Sara Nedrejord, a skilled seamstress, who through her venture Holbi contributes pieces to the revered Sami costume, offering yet another thread in the fabric of Sami cultural exploration. Or a visit to Sara Duodji, a haven of Sami artisanship managed by Ole Mathis Nedrejord, where you find yourselves amidst a rich array of authentic, handmade Sami artefacts inspired by nature. This abode of tradition offers a tangible connection, allowing guests to carry a piece of Sami culture back home.

If time allows, don’t forget one of the town’s treasures, Sapmi Park, a captivating testament to Sami culture and their deep-rooted connection with nature. This immersive park sheds light on the sustainable practices of the Sami tribes and the importance of preserving the Arctic wilderness. And when you’re ready to retreat, the Scandic Karasjok is a prime choice for accommodation.

Day 3
Between Quiet Towns and Husky Howls
As a new day unfolds, it is time to leave the quiet town of Karasjok behind, heading to Tana and Nesseby. The drive itself is an irresistible experience as the landscape of Finnmark unfolds before you, shifting from thick forests to the calming shores of Varangerfjord. Consider packing a lunch from the hotel, then find a scenic spot along the way to pause and enjoy a meal amidst nature.

Upon reaching Tana, you’ll be warmly greeted by Dag, the dedicated owner of Tana Husky. Dag is a friendly, down-to-earth individual who shares his journey of building a bond with the remarkable huskies he cares for (48 family members to be exact). Huskies have deep roots in Finnmark’s culture. Historically, these robust and enduring canines played an important role for the indigenous Sami people and other residents, serving as essential companions and transportation agents across vast terrains. Even though modern transport has diminished their conventional duties, dog sledding still remains a treasured cultural practice.

From Forests to Fjords
Before leaving the small town of Tana, make sure to stop by Tana Gull og Sølvsmie, an iconic establishment, inspired by its unique surrounding nature and culture. Established in 1977, it is housed in a historic log building where they specialise in creating Lappish gold, alongside exquisite silver and bronze jewellery.

As you continue your journey, take the short, serene drive alongside the shimmering waters, leading you to Nesseby. It offers an untouched landscape that speaks to the heart of wilderness enthusiasts. Visitors are often struck by the profound silence that surrounds them, interrupted only by the whisper of the wind or the distant cry of a bird, making it a perfect retreat for those seeking solitude and a deep connection with the natural world.

Standing as a testament to the harmonious nature is the 8 Seasons Hotel in Varanger, a short 10-minute drive from Nesseby. Drawing its name from the indigenous Sami people’s tradition of dividing the year into eight distinct seasons, the hotel offers a unique experience that resonates deeply with the rhythms of the natural world. With just eight rooms, the hotel embodies the owner’s deep passion and connection to the reindeer herding culture and their cyclical way of life.

Day 4
Varanger to Børselv: Arctic Whispers and Husky Adventures
There’s a certain magic in the air when you wake up in Varanger, where the whispers of the Arctic winds greet you as dawn breaks and you prepare for an early departure to Børselv. Though the drive is nearly three hours and covers about 140 kilometres, the scenic beauty along the way is so captivating that time seems to stand still. It simply begs for numerous photo-stops.

Upon arriving in Børselv, a stop that feels like a gateway to another world, you’ll find Pirate Husky. An unparalleled hands-on learning experience. Here you’ll be greeted by their Siberian huskies and learn everything from feeding and grooming to observing their pack dynamics. A particular highlight for many is the chance to walk the young puppies, an essential step in preparing them for their future roles as sled dogs. For the slightly more adventurous, you can step onto a sled amidst the backdrop of fall colours, and join in on an enthralling sensation. The huskies, with their boundless energy, pull you through the changing landscapes, demonstrating that sledding is not confined to winter’s embrace.

 

Following an exhilarating afternoon outdoors, a visit to the Kvensk Institutt is an enlightening detour. The Kvens, an ethnic group with Finnish ancestry, share a profound and intricate connection with northern Norway. Both the Kvens and the Sami have significantly influenced the cultural mosaic of the North, yet their traditions, languages, and histories diverge. At the Kvensk Institutt, travellers are introduced to the world of the Kven people, a narrative that is distinct from, yet as enriching as, the Sami story. The institute presents a curated selection of artefacts, literary works, and exhibits that bring to life the legacy of the Kvens and their integral role in shaping Norway’s cultural heritage.


A Journey to Northern Serenity
All good things must come to an end, but before they do, prepare to enjoy the continuously stunning scenery on the short route from Børselv to Lakselv. Along the way, the expansive and pristine Porsanger fjord will capture your attention. It’s a delightful journey through a picturesque part of northern Norway.

Before reaching your final destination, a detour to Wild Caribou is an absolute must. This place is not just a retreat, but a profound experience curated by Sandrine Johansen Bocher and her husband Kai Simon. This extraordinary couple invites you to step away from the hustle and bustle of urban life and to immerse yourselves into a world where nature’s rhythms dictate the day. Here, you don’t just observe the majestic scenery; you live it.

Rest under the protective dome, hopefully enjoying the magic of northern lights dancing in the sky, awakening to the gentle clucking of fresh morning chickens, ready to deliver breakfast. The day promises an array of activities – from tranquil bird watching sessions, absorbing the ambient sounds of nature, to hikes through the wilderness. Here, you’ll have the chance to meet and greet their friendly polar dogs or take a peaceful paddle in a canoe, whatever suits you. The environment exudes relaxation, allowing you to unwind and reconnect.

 

Adding to the charm of Wild Caribou is Sandrine’s enchanting collection of handmade jewellery. Crafting each piece with steadfast passion, Sandrine draws inspiration from the raw beauty of nature, integrating patterns and shapes she encounters in the wild. Sandrine and her husband, with their immense respect for the land, have crafted a haven where one can rediscover the purest form of existence. At Wild Caribou, you don’t just vacation; you reconnect and rejuvenate.

Finnmark: Where Every Road Tells a Timeless Tale
Lakselv is where the journey ends, the largest village in the Porsanger municipality, in the northernmost county of Norway. Home to the Porsanger Museum, you can delve into the Sami culture, local history, and the impacts of World War II in the region, before taking the two minute drive to the airport that is directly connected to Norway’s capital, Oslo. If you prefer a delicious cup of coffee before taking off, make sure to stop by Marthe’s Bistro before returning your rental car and heading onto the aircraft.

A road trip across the enchanting landscapes of Finnmark and into the heart of Sami and Kven culture is a journey of not just miles but moments. Moments of understanding, of reflection, and of an intimate communion with nature and history. And when you do embark on your next adventure, let the road be not just a means to an end, but a story in itself.

Ollu giitu (a gesture of heartfelt thanks)!

Fact Box
Arrival to: Alta
Departure from: Lakselv
Number of kilometres: 720 km
Stops along the route: Alta, Máze, Kautokeino, Karasjok, Tana, Nesseby, Børselv and Lakselv

For expert guidance and curated experiences, reach out to Destination Sápmi at [email protected].

Anja Tellervo Hansen

Anja Tellervo Hansen

Prosjektleder Destinasjon Sápmi

+47 45 35 65 30
Destinasjon Sápmi


Originally published on 1 November by Destinasjon Sápmi.

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