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With the huge success of The Killing, Borgen and The Bridge, Scandinavia has kept us all riveted to our TVs. But it also offers a very tempting smorgasbord of outdoor pleasures, says travel editor David Wickers.

Norwegian Wood

Description: With its wonderful mountains coastline, Norway has much to offer visitors

With its wonderful mountains coastline, Norway has much to offer visitors

A third of Norway is forested, and around half is contoured by mountains, so it’s not surprising that the country is a hive of activities for those who want to experience the great outdoors without the crowds. But the biggest draw is its deeply incised coastline, one of the most scenic in Europe and arguably best explored by ship. Hurtigruten (020 8846 2666; hurtigruten.co.uk) operates 11 different vessels on 12-day round trip voyages along the scenically spectacular Norwegian coast. One departs every day from Bergen, visiting 34 ports of call in all, dipping into breathtaking fjords and carrying mail, supplies, locals and visitors. However, you don’t have to commit to the full voyage, as there are also port-to-port, bite-size portions.

Danish delights

In the mad summer scamper to the Med, it’s all too easy to overlook Scandinavia – even Denmark, despite our national passion for Borgen and co. But when you draw up a list of what you want from a holiday – from beaches to good food, plenty to see and inviting places to stay, you’ll find the ‘land of the open sandwich’ ticks a lot of boxes – especially for families. Not surprising when you consider that one of the most famous Danes ever was a writer of fairytales.

Description: Full of history: the city of Aarhus has a 13th-century cathedral

Full of history: the city of Aarhus has a 13th-century cathedral

Denmark is also easy to get to, with a wide choice of flights, as well as DFD’s ferries. The Danes themselves not only seem to all speak English, but are well-mannered and hospitable, too. It’s all very ‘hygge’ as they declare, meaning warmth, bonhomie and general cosiness. Although it looks small on the map, it makes sense to focus on a single region. A good bet is to head for the heartland of Jutland and hire a car, taking in the miles of unspoilt countryside groomed like parkland, along relatively empty, easy to navigate roads that take in the cow pastures, still lakes and patchworks of deep forests. We would highly recommend staying in the diverse range of the individually owned inns, or ‘Kro’ as they are locally known, often old staging posts for coaches with lots of traditional character and usually excellent regional cooking.

Jutland must-sees

·         The Old-Town in Aarhus and Den Gamle By – an open-air museum of historic buildings.

·         Climb Himmelbjerget (The Heaven Mountain), Denmark’s Everest – all 450 feet of it.

·         Take a tour on S/S Hjejlen around the Silkeborg Lakes.

·         Tollund Man, the best-preserved corpse in the world.

Capital ideas

With its museums and galleries, architecture, cool bars and hot restaurants, Copenhagen has been slowly working its way up the hit parade of city breaks. Its slick transportation makes it so easy for a weekend – in less than an hour after our flight touched down we were checking in to our hotel, the Kong Arthur. It’s also a city that will appeal to a board spectrum of interests. Foodies, for example, will want to sample Noma, ranked, for three years running, as the best restaurant in the world – but you’ll need to book weeks ahead and warn your bank manager. There are more affordable alternatives, though. We suggest combining a visit to the enchanting Tivoli, part-funfair, part-garden, part-fairytale, with traditional Danish dishes at The Brothers Price housed in a huge conservatory mid-Tiv.

Description: a boat trip from Nyhavn Quayside

Colorful Copenhagen: a boat trip from Nyhavn Quayside (above) is a wonderful way to get a feel for the capital, and make sure a visit to the delightful Tivoli Gardens (left) is also on your itinerary

Denmark, of course, is synonymous with design, best seen in the Kunstindustrimuseet and the smaller Danish Design Centre. If modern art is a priority, you should take the train to Humlebaek and head for Louisiana, one of the most interesting modern art museums in the world. It’s also spectacularly located in gardens overlooking the sea with Sweden on the horizon.

Book with Nordic Experience (01206 708888; nordicexperience.co.uk), and SAS (flysas.co.uk) offers non-stop flights from London Heathrow, Manchester, Birmingham and Aberdeen.

Copenhagen must-sees

·         On your first morning take a boat trip from the historic Nyhavn Quayside to get a sense of the place

·         The stores along Stroget, the longest pedestrianised street in the world, include tempting housewares at Illums Bolighus, the jewellery at Georg Jensen and porcelain at Royal Copenhagen.

·         Tivoli (for opening times, seetivoli.dk). Entry is free, as it is to most other museums and all local transport, if you buy a Copenhagen Card (from $52 for 24 hours) on arrival at the airport.

Fine Finnish

Description: The truly magical Northern Lights

The truly magical Northern Lights

It’s open for holiday business during the summer of course, but in many ways Finland in winter is a more tempting prospect – especially for anyone looking for lots of fun in the snow other than downhill skiing. While ski slopes may be in short supply, the cross-country skiing is excellent and easily mastered by all ages, plus there’s snowmobiling, husky sledding and snowshoeing. Finland is also one of the best places in the world to see the Northern Lights, which, according to NASA, are currently performing at the peak of a 50-year solar cycle of activity. Nordic Experience (01206 708888; nordicexperience.co.uk).

Icelandic saga

Although it’s now better known for its banking crisis, Iceland is best loved for its amazingly wild volcanic scenery, including dramatic craters, lava flows, hot springs, geysers, glaciers, geothermal pools, waterfalls and whales. Discover The World (01737 214250; discover-the-world.co.uk) offers a wide range of Icelandic holidays, from short breaks to escorted and fly-drive itineraries, plus activities ranging from hiking to horse riding and whale watching to views of the Northern Lights.

Description: http://morfis.files.wordpress.com/2010/06/svartifoss.jpg?w=710

Natural wonder: Iceland’s Svartifoss Waterfall

Other tour operators to Scandinavia include: Sunvil (020 8758 4722; sunvil.co.uk), Taber Holidays (01274 875199; taberholidays.co.uk), Specialised Tours (01342 712785; specialisedtours.com) and Transun (020 7025 1365; transun.co.uk)

Wallander’s Sweden

Got a weakness for Wallander? Then it’s likely you found the setting of quaint streets and gentle farmlands dotted with castles as absorbing as the plots and Kenneth Branagh’s portrayal of the moody Swedish detective. Most of the filming took place in Scania (or Skane) in southern Sweden, an easy drive across the bridge (as in The Bridge) from Copenhagen’s Kastrup Airport or a direct Ryanair flight from Stansted to Malmo, Sweden’s third city and an excellent base from which to explore the area. Surrounded by friendly locals, you can shop for covetable Scandinavian design or sample real Swedish meatballs and pickled herring. As part of the appropriately named Swedish Hospitality programme, you can even enjoy a dinner party with locals at their home – visit malnotown.com for more information.

We’d also recommend that you nip into the Saltsjobad Hotel for fika (or coffee and cake) – the Swedish equivalent of afternoon tea, and save time for a walk along the wonderful beach.

Description: Stockholm at sunset

Stockholm at sunset

Must-sees in Scania

·         The university town of Lund. Visit its Romanesque cathedral and the Kulturen open-air museum, which has historic buildings spanning hundreds of years of Scandinavian history.

·         Malmo’s shopping district, which includes the Form Design Centre.

·         The Renaissance-era Malmohus Castle, which holds the city’s museum.

·         Enjoy a walk in the Kungsparken, with its view of the Turning Torso skyscraper.

·         The endless sandy beaches of Sandhammaren on the south coast.

·         Book with Simply Sweden (0845 890 0300; simplysweden.co.uk).

Description: Sweden’s Turning Torso skyscraper

Sweden’s Turning Torso skyscraper

The rise and rise of Scandi-crime

From the mega-success of Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo trilogy to Henning Mankell’s hit Wallander series, Scandinavian crime fiction is having a bit of a moment. Swedish husband and wife team Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo kick-started modern Nordic noir with their Martin Beck series in the 1960s and 1970s, but it wasn’t until 1992 that Peter Hoeg’s Miss Smilla’s Feeling For Snow became the first real international bestseller. What they have in common are depressive detectives, bleak weather and grisly violence set against an inhospitable landscape. Here’s what to read next: The Drowning by Camila Lackberg, Phantom by Jo Nesbo, Disgrace by Jussi Adler-Olsen and Bad Intentions by Karin Fossum.

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