It was December 2009, the year in which Ryanair flights really did cost a penny. To certain places, anyway. This was how I found myself on a flight to southern Norway, with no Lonely Planet guides to accompany us and very little money to my name. We did, however, have a complete winter tent supply packed and ready to be used.
“Hmm,” Emily said, as we exited the airport. “So how exactly do we get to Oslo from here?”
One expensive coach ride later, we were in the centre of Oslo, asking the bus company for “anywhere with snow”. The tour operator looked at us over her glasses, and decided quickly that we were barking mad. “Geilo,” she said simply. “It’s where Norwegians spend their holidays.”
Keen to go anywhere that could be summarised as ‘local’, we clambered sleepily aboard a slightly cheaper coach, nudging each other awake when we started to pass by snowdrifts, gazing out with sleepy eyes at passing white mountains.
Geilo was in a valley in the middle of such mountains, a fact not easy to discern when we exited the bus at eleven PM. It was minus 9, and nowhere was open. “That’s fine,” Emily said cheerily. “We’ll go set up our tent.”
We wandered for a while. “Here will do, right?” I questioned doubtfully, looking at the snow on the side of the path. It was my first time camping.
“You can’t camp on snow,” Emily said, perplexed.
“Oh,” I said, pausing. “I thought you knew it would be snowing here…”
Our first night in Norway was thus spent huddled on two sleeping mats in an open air car park.
For all the coldness of that night (and on a couple of the evenings to follow), there is nowhere as spectacular as Geilo in the winter. Nestled in the Hallingdal valley, every direction is host to staggered towers of mountains, ski trails drifting between crevices. In the snow, the fjords littering the valley are covered in thick, dreamy layers of ice and snow, tiny waterfalls bubbling out under whitened paths and bridges. The cabins we eventually stayed at were surprisingly inexpensive considering how costly Norway is; the in-season four bed log cabin with a kitchen that we stayed in was £18 a night, with the largest lake Ustedalsfjorden only three foot outside of our back door.
Although we were far too poor to take advantage of the skiing facilities, Geilo offered more than enough excitement with its incredible walking trails. The walks around the lakes were such a distance that we couldn’t possibly complete them within even a day trekking. With a quick ski lift ride up the mountain, we were able to enjoy the views with little effort. And on the days where it was just too cold to bother going outside, our cosy little cabin offered an insurmountable view of our surroundings.
Although bitterly cold, I could imagine no better way of understanding Norway to the full extent of its beauty than in winter. And for an easily accessible and affordable way into where the locals go to on holiday, Geilo is one of the best places to be.
by Dannee McGuire, Razz Travel Correspondent