By Siobhan Mulholland - 27 July 2002.
Norway is officially the best place in the world to live, according to the UN. And although only one in 400 British people visit the place each year - representing just 125,000 visitors - it is also pretty good for a holiday. I have just returned from a week on the Norwegian Riviera.
The term Riviera conjures up images of a society playground with flashy yachts and ostentatious wealth, which is not something I expected to find along the Skagerrak Coast. Most of us only know the country for its postcard image of skiing, snow-covered mountains, western fjord cruises and alternative knitwear.
Few venture down the country´s east coast for their summer holidays. Which is great for the tiny number who do because the stretch of south-eastern coastline from the Kragerø down to Mandal is one of Scandinavia´s best-kept secrets.
Scenically it is stunning: mile upon mile of tiny rocky islands and skerries, hidden bays and coves, white clapboard houses and clear glistening fjords, all set against a backdrop of lush green forests and lakes. What is so striking is the uniformity of this coastline - not just its geography, but also its architecture.
Nowhere is the view marred by a huge hotel or high-rise apartment block. Instead you find slight variations on one theme: the Norwegian summer house, made of wood, with a red-tiled roof, windows overlooking the water and in just three colours - white, terracotta and a mustardish yellow.
This is where Norway´s urban dwellers stay during their holidays. It´s their second home, or belongs to a relation, or is rented from a friend. Many of the houses are copies of grander originals found in the historic and picturesque coastal towns of Risør, Tvedestrand, Arendal, Grimstad and Lillesand.
It´s astonishing how well preserved these former timber ports and shipbuilding centres are, with their narrow streets of white buildings, picket fences and rose gardens, leading down to harbour areas flanked by shops and restaurants.
Draconian building restrictions allow few opportunities to experiment with this architectural tradition. The Norwegians are fiercely proud of their heritage and fear its loss; you also feel that anything brash is anathema to this nation´s psyche.
The best place to see this picture-postcard heritage is in Lyngør, which is made up of four islands. If you look at photographs taken at the beginning of the last century and compare them to today, Lyngør appears eerily the same; only the boats moored to the jetties have changed.
The determination of these islands to maintain their local character is impressive - they are car-free and only accessible by boat. Any outsiders who want to buy property here must pay a hefty premium - and prove they intend to live in the house for most of the year.
With every holiday house comes a boat. For a Norwegian, a boat in summer is as important as skis in winter. On a sunny day each fjord or piece of benign coastal water is littered with craft of all sizes. And this is the secret to really enjoying this region - being able to travel out to and explore the thousands of small islands along the Skagerrak Coast.
There are few beaches on this Riviera. Sand is a scarce commodity here, which is why as you chug along in your boat you´ll see ever-resourceful Norwegian holidaymakers draped across any vaguely flat, accessible rock they can find. People here are masters at exploiting a moment of sunshinet.
But sun in this part of Europe does come at a price - which is probably the main reason why so few foreigners seek it here. Most things cost more here - taxes are high and much is imported into this sparsely populated nation of just over four million people. But the elemental beauty of the Skagerrak Coast is well worth saving for.
It´s great for cycling, walking, fishing and sailing, very child-friendly, and clean and safe. Riviera is an apt way of describing parts of it: there are yachts, wealthy visitors, exclusive residences - but they´re all on display in a typically understated Norwegian way. It´s possibly the best place to go on holiday in the world.
Aust Agder County
Vest Agder County
Flekkefjord in the west to Risør in the east, and from Lindesnes in the south to Hardanger in the north. The Skerries is Destination Sørlandet´s trademark.
Sørlandet is the region with the highest number of hours of sunshine in Norway, and since time immemorial the inhabitants have been involved with the sea, the islands protecting the mainland (the skerries) and everything smelling of seaweed.
Take the trip through Blindleia from Kristiansand, but it can be made in either direction. The trip starts by crossing Byfjorden in Kristiansand, through Randesund where the typical, white wooden houses lie cheek by jowl.
After crossing Kvåsefjorden we arrive in Blindleia, with its beauty spots one after the other. We pass old trading posts such as Gamle Hellesund, Kjøbmannsvik Ågerøya and Brekkestø before arriving at what is perhaps the most beautiful town in the region.
Blindleia is a cultural delight with the tang of the salt from the setting of islets and reefs. Summer guests are strongly recommended to pay a visit to this coastal sea-way with historical roots far back into time as a means of communication for dwellers on the coast. Scenery and environment in abundance.
Åkrasanden beach is a the local windsurf/kitesurf and a public recreation area. The dunes are a rare habitat in Norway. In Rogaland, we find many small dunes. Åkrasanden is well known for the plant life found there. At times you will find a rich bird life on Åkrasanden.