A Curated Travel Experience with UP Norway

Norwegian hotel
Beautiful trout dinner at Andre Etasje

Travelling to Norway During a Pandemic

August 2020. Like many countries, Norway had just come out of an intense three-month Pandemic Lockdown and was slowly starting to open itself to business and local travel. Norway wasn’t out of the woods yet. But with only two people hospitalized in intensive care, and less than 10,000 COVID-19 cases in total, the risk of jumping on a plane to visit my kjæreste (a.k.a. my boyfriend DW) in Norway at that moment was one I was willing to take.

I should clarify that travelling to Norway then, and at the time of writing, is still generally prohibited. However, on July 15, 2020, the Norwegian government announced a very limited girlfriend-boyfriend travel exemption for those of us with partners who were Norwegian citizens. And yes, I did quarantine there (10 days), and when I returned to Canada (14 days). While we were aware that we were still taking some risks by travelling, we (and the places we visited) took great efforts to ensure that we were doing it as safely as possible. Moreover, we were just so grateful to have been able to spend good quality time together this summer, and on one of the best trips either of us have ever taken, alone or together.

There are many experiences I want to write about from this Norwegian journey. However, I thought it best to start with an introduction to UP Norway, the company who orchestrated the incredible trip for us.

What is UP Norway?

The term “travel agency” has gotten a pretty bad reputation over the years for being a less desirable way to travel. Itineraries are predictable, you don’t get any flexibility, you constantly have to make sacrifices, and often, have to travel with people you don’t even like!

UP Norway is the innovative response to the traditional travel agency experience. If you’re reading this post, chances are, you’re just the kind of client that they have in mind – modern, conscious, and independent. Ironically, this modern independent spirit may lead you to thinking that you don’t need to work with a travel agency to visit Norway! I would urge you to keep reading.

It is more accurate to describe UP Norway as a travel curation company, and one that is changing Norwegian tourism in a big way. They make finding quality experiences easy and stress-free. And it’s not just quality in the sense of “expensive luxury”. They take a holistic approach to the definition, by also focusing on the sustainable, authentic, and unique. In 2020, quality in the form of high health and safety standards should also be highlighted.

The core of Norwegian tourism is all about enjoying the great outdoors (majestic mountains and breathtaking fjords) and returning at the end of the day to a comfortable hygge or kos (cosy and warm general sense of Scandinavian well-being) environment. Many of these authentic experiences can only be found “off the beaten path”, and it is harder to do if you do not have any pre-existing friend or family connections to those places.

It’s no secret that Norway is expensive, but traveling in Norway is really expensive, even for locals. Whether you are taking a once-in-a-lifetime trip from abroad or you are a Norwegian with a sense of adventure and dedication to quality, it is worth your while to make sure that the money you will be spending is worth it.

A stop to fill up our water bottles from the glaciers of Jotunheimen National Park

How Does it Work?

Torunn Tronsvang is the fearless founder of UP Norway. I had met Torunn virtually, in a sense, a few years ago through our connection with a Canadian event called Terroir Symposium. So when I reached out to her, she was already well-aware that authentic and local dining experiences were at the top of my travel wish list!

Once we were actually thinking about the trip more concretely, I used the short quiz on their website to tailor it further. You can choose broadly whether you are looking for a family-friendly trip with kids, an action-packed outdoor adventure, or a luxurious week of relaxation. For this particular trip, I specified that we wanted to spend nine days exploring the Southwestern Atlantic Coast (Vestlandet) of Norway, we would have a car, and would like to have a good “high-low” mix of a little luxury with a little rustic nature. Torunn knew exactly what we meant.

Overnight in Ålesund, a beautiful port town on the West Coast of Norway

After a quick chat, Torunn sent us a proposal for consideration, along with the overall cost. We debated a few different options (like if we preferred to make a stop at an award-winning cheese factory or whether we wanted to take a detour along the Atlantic Road) back and forth before signing on the dotted line. It was great to know that that we could pay one time for all of our accommodations and most of our dining and activities on the trip without stressing about paying upon arrival, and whether things like tax and tips were included or not!

A few days before we left, we were sent a digital itinerary to download onto our phones (which is mostly available offline as well). It was one of the most impressive guides I’ve ever gotten and I now want this for all of my trips! Each day was broken down by theme and had a description of the main things we would do that day, along with digital tickets attached (like for a ferry cruise or a skylift), contact information for our hosts, and a direct link to a Google Map with driving directions. Here’s a great photo from UP Norway’s site that showcases what the Digital Guide looks like:

By the way, I can also attest that the restaurant and event space Sentralen that they mention in this “sample photo” is legitimately one of my favourite places in Oslo!

A Few Highlights from our Itinerary

Torunn and her team of professional “Insiders” at UP Norway have many great connections throughout the country, and take care to test out all of the hotels, experiences and restaurants themselves before booking them for their clients. DW is a well-travelled Norwegian, and there were tons of things he had never even heard about!

The accommodations were so diverse and full of personality, and exactly the mix we had been hoping for. Many of them were also part of the De Historiske network, which is a great resource of special hotels and restaurants with historical significance in Norway. On our second night, we stayed at the five star, newly renovated Britannia Hotel in Trondheim (our room pictured below). The spa experience (which is included for all guests!) was remarkable, as was the luxurious breakfast.

The very next day, we drove right to the small island of Tustna, where we were treated to an incredible digital-free retreat at Tustna Ladestasjon (Charging Station) by hosts Mona and Paal, and drifted to sleep under the stars in our high-tech hammocks. What an incredible and brilliant contrast from the day before! UP Norway also arranged for me to learn how to make lefse, a tradition Norwegian flatbread, with Mona’s mom Grete in her home! The whole experience at Tustna is one that would have been impossible for us to replicate on our own, and one I will cherish forever.

Our hammocks at Tustna Ladestasjon

Every day was a highlight in its own way. Just a few examples of what we did include: meeting farmer Carl-Erik and having lunch at his biodynamic farm Skjølberg Søndre, hiking to the top of Mt. Hoven in Loen, relaxing at the fjord-adjacent hotels Visnes Hotel Stryn and Fjærland Fjordstove, sailing through Geiranger, white water rafting in Voss, and waking up to a beautiful, fresh (and predictable!) Norwegian breakfast every single morning.

Me with Carl-Erik at Skjølberg Søndre

When we arrived in Tustna, our hosts joked that their English might be a bit rusty as I was the first non-Norwegian to visit in 2020. The immense privilege of being able to do this trip, especially as a foreigner, is not at all lost on me. There were many times on this trip that my emotions just spilled over thinking about how special and powerful travelling can be. This Pandemic has certainly shown us just how much we have taken the ability to travel for granted.

Elkburgers and drinks at Store Ringheim in Voss

Thank you UP Norway, and all of the places and businesses we visited, for taking such great care of us during this trip. The travel industry has taken a bigger hit than any other during the Pandemic, and it’s been heartbreaking to witness the challenges they’re facing.

If you are Norwegian, I strongly recommend using UP Norway to help plan your next trip. If you are not Norwegian, here’s hoping that we will all be able to travel freely to Norway again soon.

P.S. Click here to read the other posts about Norway on my blog! Stay tuned for the rest of the posts I hope to share about this Norwegian summer trip.

Please note: This post was not sponsored by UP Norway and all opinions are my (and DW’s) own. UP Norway provided us some small discounts on a few experiences, but they are not easy to quantify, and did not have a significant impact on our overall booking. If you are thinking about booking with UP Norway, please mention that you read this post so that they can get an idea of what kind of experience you heard about!

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