The husband was down on all fours in mud as a skulk of Arctic foxes circled him hungrily. It was feeding time and they seemed ravenous.
“Just don’t nibble off his ear,” I called out, half jokingly. “He already has trouble listening.”
A beautiful blue-grey fox scampered up his back and is rewarded with sausages. My husband – whom we all knew appreciated a good sausage or two – gets none for his effort.
This is the Arctic Fox Experience in Langedrag Natur Park, a wildlife sanctuary for about 20 species of animals that are endemic to Norway.
There are wolves, lynx, moose, reindeers and these omnivorous polar foxes, which could easily rival Danny Devito in terms of cuteness and cuddliness. We got to feed and play with these incredibly hardy creatures – their beautiful bushy coats changes color according to the season, enabling them to survive in temperatures as low as -50 degree celsius.
They’re also the reason why we’ve decided to make a detour and drive into the Norwegian wilderness, aka the middle of nowhere – a decision that I’ve begun to regret the moment we handed over fistfuls of money only to find out its two hours left to closing time and most of the animals are in hiding due to the frosty climate.
(And here I am wearing a short skirt and expensive high-heeled boots like I’m not stumbling around in a mud and manure, about to die of hypothermia in the Norwegian tundra.)
As if on cue, Rudolph ambled by slowly, looking quite downcast because of his over-enlarged scrotum and the withering skin on his antlers, which hangs off him like a too-big condom.
“Oh my God! Is he sick?!” asked yours truly, horrified.
“He’s ok,” replied a fellow visitor much too politely. “He’s just shedding his antlers. They do that at the end of mating season.”
It turned out Rudolph our free-roaming resident reindeer was also famous, having made various news channels in Norway for his natural affability with humans, while the rest of his peers cavort behind enclosures. We trailed closely behind him as he hobbled all the way to the playground, where little children continued playing as if this bull – all 200 kilos of it – was just someone else’s pet dog.
The Langedrag Farm Stay was fully occupied for the night so we opted to stay close by. We were headed for Gudbrandsdal, an emerald valley that’s steeped in tradition and filled with all things typically Norwegian: cozy log cabins, unique stave churches and heritage farmhouses that look like they belong in a museum.
We zoomed past birch forests and road signs warning drivers of moose crossings. Fatal road accidents in Norway are among the lowest in the world but there is still a real possibility that this gigantic herbivore – or a carnivore, if you’re unlucky – might come crashing through your windshield in this part of the woods.
Back in 2012, a Norwegian chap swerved his car to avoid hitting a moose…and ended up running into a brown bear.
Instead of wild animals however, we spotted a Chinese restaurant, and hurriedly went in. Red lanterns and scrolls filled every available space in this restaurant, which no doubt belonged to the Chinese woman who stood in the doorway like our long-lost aunt. This bespectacled auntie is from Hong Kong and treated us like her offspring.
Her husband, a chef who’s lived and cooked in Norway for the past 30 years, whipped up some of the most delicious braised duck and mapo tofu we’ve tasted in Europe.
“How spicy you want it?” she asked.
“No mercy,” we said, completely underestimating Norwegian tolerance levels for spices.
After setting our insides on fire, we continued to Hesla Gaard Apartments, which are actually a cluster of centuries-old farmhouses with a spruced up interior. Our apartment is beautifully furnished with expensive antiques, and we spent the night watching TV in bed, surrounded by marshmallow-soft pillows.
A never-ending parade of drinks and dishes was brought to our bedroom the next morning for breakfast, and we enjoyed it on our own private terrace, overlooking the flowering garden.
“You want to see papagal?” asked the Romanian cleaners, beaming at our children, who were playing kickball on the lawn.
“Yes!” enthused the boys, thinking they were about to meet a magical unicorn or a Pokemon character.
The cleaners and our boys searched everywhere for this elusive creature – this papagal – but he was nowhere to be found. After 15 minutes of combing the property however, the man screeched, “He’s here! The papagal!”
The boys were somewhat baffled – a tiny green parakeet isn’t high on their must-see list after their encounter with foxes, reindeers and bisons the day before.
As much as I didn’t want to bid adieu to this beautiful place and their adorable papagal, we had to journey to another farmstead in Vagamo – this one owned by the sheep-rearing Blessom family since the 1700s. Located in a town even smaller and sleepier than Gol, Nordigard Blossom is perched on a velvety green hill dotted with sheep.
We were welcomed by the Blessom’s resident sheep-dog, Ingrid Blessom (who looks fabulous despite popping out an adorable baby girl not too long ago) and her dad, a kind, elderly gentleman who showed us to our extensively renovated dwelling with its own massive four-poster bed which is, just like the entire house, crafted entirely from wood.
This isn’t the place to play with fire.
Later, we trailed Papa Blessom to his farm and was rewarded for our curiosity with freshly harvested kale, tomatoes and potatoes and eggs from the chicken coop.
He also gave us some lamb stew and, with the piping hot instant ramen that we smuggled in from Singapore, we dined like Gods in Valhalla as portraits of their ancestors stared enviously at us from the walls.
Just as I was contemplating how unusually blissful life in rural Norway seemed, we saw Papa Blessom taking his 3-month-old granddaughter for a nighttime stroll in the frigid cold.
“It’s the only way to get her to sleep,” he said sheepishly.
Oh, believe me, I understand.
The next day, we went to the main house where a crackling fireplace and a table spilling with autumnal bounty awaited us.
We dined with the family, feasting on homemade breads, cheeses and jams while they regaled us with stories of their ancestor Johannes Blessom, a crooked-neck man who has famously made it into Norwegian lore about a giant. (Uh huh, the Norwegians take their trolls and giants seriously.)
Vagamo also lies in the shadow of the Jotunheimen National Park, the land of giants. This area encompasses some of the tallest, snow-covered peaks in Norway, all waiting to be conquered. I was tempted to do the Bessegen, one of the most exhilarating hikes in the world, but walking on a narrow ridge with a sheer drop on either side seemed like a death wish with two children, so we stuck to our car instead.
We drove to Lom, our last pit stop en route to Norway’s highest pass. The Lom Stave Church has a reputation that far exceeds the village it sits in, and exploits its popularity by charging visitors an entrance fee.
We paid, pushed open the heavy wooden doors and found ourselves in a church that…looked like any other wooden church.
The only difference was the painting of a beast high above the door – an old Viking symbol to appease local pagans before converting them to to Christianity – and the most extra chandelier I have ever seen.
Lom itself is an unassuming town that occupies a photogenic location amongst rivers and mountains. It’s all about the great outdoors here and we chose to spend it at a precarious-looking footbridge over the roaring rapids.
Tummies rumbling from all the adventure, we searched for a decent eatery that didn’t dole out cold dishes for lunch.
We found none.
To our collective dismay, we ended up purchasing a medley of mediocre and ridiculously priced sandwiches.
But at least the views were spectacular, and free.
Little did we know that it was about to get even better. The Sognefjell National Route is Norway – and Northern Europe’s – highest pass, cutting and winding through these very mountains.
We were on our way to the fjords and not even a thousands of second-rate sandwiches could stop us.
Farmstay Langedrag Naturpark If you love animals, then this rustic accommodation set in the middle of a wildlife sanctuary will blow your socks off. Don’t expect five-star dwellings (toilets and bathrooms are shared) and gourmet food, and you’ll have a swell time communing with nature. $$
Hesla Gaard Apartments Set in 17th-century farmhouses, these family-friendly apartments have everything you need for a comfortable stay…and then some. Each apartment differ in size and decor but they’re all equally spacious and beautifully kitted out in antiques. But the best part? A generous breakfast is delivered to your room each morning. $$
Nordigard Blessom The heritage farmhouse has been in the family for generations – Great Grandma Blessom used to rent out rooms to wandering artists in return for paintings. These days, rooms have been renovated for greater comfort but still maintain a traditional appearance (meaning no TV or radio). However, breakfast is farm fresh and its close proximity to the great outdoors makes it the perfect getaway for those who are looking to disconnect and explore. $$$
- Langedrag Natur Park is a pricey experience but worthwhile if you plan to get up close and personal with Norwegian fauna. Staying overnight, however, allows you to participate in several activities not offered to regular visitors, offering more bang for your buck on the whole. The park also offers different experiences on different seasons. Check their website (www.langedrag.no) for a more schedule of daily activities and be sure to book well in advance, since this place is popular with in-the-know locals.
- There are plenty of farm stays in the Gudbrandsdal region, and they vary greatly in price and quality (some require you to pay extra for towels and linens). Some accommodations also include dinner due to their remote location.
- One night is usually sufficient – especially if you’re not an avid walker / hiker – but oftentimes you’ll wish you stayed for more. Those who plan on doing the Bessegen hike should allocate a whole day to complete it (you’ll need a minimum of six to seven hours, excluding rest).