169km (105 miles) N of Oslo; 363km (225 miles) S of Trondheim

Surrounded by mountains, Lillehammer is one of Europe's favorite resorts and our own choice for many a vacation. The town, at the head (northern end) of Lake Mjøsa, became internationally famous when it hosted the 1994 Winter Olympics. Today the sports sites and infrastructure benefit greatly from the two-billion-kroner investment that the government put into Lillehammer to make it worthy of the games. Skiers in winter can take advantage of many of these improvements.

Even with all its upgrades, Lillehammer's appeal still lags far behind the popularity of such chic alpine resorts as St. Moritz in Switzerland or St. Anton in Austria. Those great alpine retreats have far more dramatic skiing, an array of first-class and deluxe hotels, fabulous restaurants, and a glittering après-ski life. Compared to them, Lillehammer is just a country town. Yet for many skiers, it has great appeal because of its natural ski conditions. Sadly, "Winter City," as Lillehammer is called, doesn't get much of that famous alpine sunshine.

However, even if you're not considering it for a ski holiday, Lillehammer is an attractive venue for summer vacationers, as it has a number of attractions and a broad appeal for families.

With a population of 23,000, Lillehammer is surrounded by forests, farms, and small settlements. Its main pedestrian street, Storgata, is known for its well-preserved wooden buildings.

At the southern end of the Gudbrandsdal valley, Lillehammer was founded as a trading post back in 1827. Over the years, Lillehammer has attracted many artists, such as Jakob Weidemann, who were drawn to its beautiful landscapes and special Nordic light. The most famous artist who lived here was Sigrid Undset, who won the Nobel Prize for literature.

If you're driving into Lillehammer, you may be completely confused by the maze of convoluted traffic patterns, one-way streets, and tunnels. It's better to park as soon as you can and explore Lillehammer on foot. It's easy to navigate, and, frankly, there isn't that much to see in the very center once you've walked the Storgata. Lillehammer's greatest attractions, such as its ski slopes and the Maihaugen Folk Museum, lie on the outskirts.

At the peak of summer, the streets, which contain both attractive wooden structures and a lot of ugly modern buildings, are full of people shopping, eating, or drinking. In winter, skiers take over. Frankly, considering the fame of Lillehammer, many visitors expect a far more beautiful town than they discover here.

What you'll see in Lillehammer is shop after shop, some 250 in all, crowding the Storgata or streets branching off from it. Some of these stores, such as those selling crafts, will be of interest to visitors. Others are merely there to serve the population living in the province -- hardware stores and the like.