Hotel passes can save you big money. In addition, there are several imaginative lodging possibilities other than hotels that are not only workable, but a lot of fun and a change of pace.
Booking a Hotel -- The Norwegian Tourist Board does not provide a hotel-booking service. Your local travel agency will be able to do this for you, or ask one of the tour operators. Alternatively, you can book accommodations directly by post, fax, or telephone. Practically everyone in Norway speaks English, so you will rarely encounter any difficulty communicating. If you're traveling in the high season (mid-June to mid-Aug), it's advisable to book in advance. Information offices in Norway often have a reservation service. You can also make bookings at the website www.visitnorway.com.
Hotel Passes -- In Norway, you will find several passes, discount schemes, and check systems in operation that are valid at hotels and offer reduced prices. For further information, contact your local travel agency or the following addresses:
Best Western euro Guestcheque, Best Western Hotels Norway (tel. 800/WESTERN in the U.S. and Canada; www.bestwestern.com); Norway Fjord Pass, Fjord Tours Strømgt 4, Bergen, NO-5015 Bergen (tel. 55-815-68-22; fax 55-31-20-60; www.fjordpass.no); Scan + Hotel Pass, Norlandia Hotellene, P.O. Box 6615, St. Olavs Plass, NO-0129 Oslo (tel. 22-98-97-00; www.norlandia.no); Scandic Club Card, Scandic Booking Services (tel. 517-517-20; www.scandic-hotels.no); Rica Hotellferie Pass, Rica Hotels, Slependv 108, NO-1375 Billingstad (tel. 66-85-45-00; www.rica.no); or Nordic Hotel Pass, Choice Hotels ASA, P.O. Box 2454 Solli, NO-0201 Oslo (tel. 22-33-42-00; www.choicehotels.no).
Chalet Holidays -- Norway offers one of the least expensive vacation bargains in all of Europe. Ideal for outdoors-loving families or groups, log-cabin chalets are available throughout the country, on the side of a mountain or by the sea, in a protected valley or woodland, or by a freshwater lake. Some lie in what are known as chalet colonies; others are set on remote and lofty peaks. At night, by paraffin lamplight or the glow of a log fire, you can enjoy aquavit or an early supper, as many Norwegians do. Some cabins are fully equipped with hot and cold running water, showers, and electricity; others are more primitive, evoking pioneer living. Naturally, the price of the rental varies according to the amenities, as well as the size (some come with as many as three bedrooms, most with tiered bunks). The price range is NOK2,900 to NOK10,000 ($580-$2,000/£290-£1,000) weekly, the latter price for completely modern structures. There are chalets in most parts of the country -- in the mountains, near lakes, along the coast, and in the fjord country. For a catalog with prices, locations, and other data, write to Novasol, Postboks 309, Sentrum, N-0103 Oslo (tel. 81-54-42-70; www.novasol.com).
Fishermen's Cabins -- In the Lofoten islands in northern Norway, you can rent a traditional former fisherman's cabin, called a rorbu. The fishermen used to come to Lofoten from other parts of the coast for the winter cod-fishing season from January to April and would make these cabins their temporary homes for the duration. Most have been modernized, and a number of them have their own shower and toilet. Nowadays you also find newly built fishermen's cabins, too. Although most rorbuer are in the Lofoten islands, you can rent these cabins all along the coast of Norway from north to south. The cabins are by the seashore and, therefore, boast excellent fishing. Prices range from NOK130 to NOK286 ($26-$57/£13-£29) per night. Local regional tourist boards will supply you with further information, or you can call the Lofoten Rorbuferie resort (tel. 76-07-84-44; www.lofoten-rorbuferie.no).
The B&B Way -- The B&B system in Norway isn't as highly developed as it is in such countries as England. Generally, when you arrive at a town in Norway, you can go to the local tourist office, which will give you a list of private homes that receive guests. Most often they will also book you into one of these accommodations for a small fee. Or you can look for accommodations signs displayed along roads or directly outside houses, reading ROM or HUSROM.
In larger towns, private rooms are priced from NOK650 to NOK900 ($130-$180/£65-£90) for a double, breakfast included. A B&B guidebook for Norway titled Bed & Breakfast Norway has full details; copies are available in Norway at general bookshops. For more information, contact B&B Norway AS, P.O. Box 92, N-6659, Rindal, Norway (tel. 99-23-77-99; www.bbnorway.com).
The list of private homes serving as B&Bs can change from week to week. Also, Norwegians will sometimes open their homes only briefly for the few weeks that summer lasts. Therefore, recommending permanent B&Bs that receive guests year-round is not always reliable. Actually, some of the best B&Bs are located in ugly industrial towns. As such, they tend to attract mainly commercial clients and not the adventurous visitor who wants to explore Norway's scenery.
Clarion Collection Hotel Gabelshus is one of our favorite places to stay in Oslo. In other parts of Norway, other favorites include: Gjestehuset Ersgård in the summer and winter ski resort of Lillehammer; Ullensvang Gjesteheim, at Loftus, one of the best B&Bs in the western fjord country; Ulvik Fjord Pensjonat, another idyllic B&B in the fjord country; Norrøna, in the far northern city of Bodø beyond the Arctic Circle; and Gamle Prestegård in the remote Lofotens.
Farm Holidays -- Farm holidays in Norway are many and varied, but all serve as escapist (and often isolated) destinations for those who want to venture into the remote hinterlands to discover what is called "the real Norway." Farms all over the country offer accommodations, ranging from western farms in the mountains, sometimes with impressive fjord views, to farms in northern Norway facing the open sea. Guests usually stay in their own comfortable cabin or house, complete with kitchen facilities, in or near the farmyard. Some farms provide breakfast. Many offer the chance to participate in activities and aspects of daily life on a farm. The standards, activities, and prices vary a great deal. Contact the local tourist information office, or visit www.visitnorway.com.
We've stayed in enough farmhouses to have some particular favorites. Hardangerfjord og Fjellferie BA, Sjusetevegan 145, N-5610 Øystese (tel. 56-55-58-65) is actually a complex where five owners offer 14 units for rent in restored farmhouses and modern cabins in Øystese and Norheimsund in the Hardangerfjord district (one of Norway's most beautiful fjords). You can also visit www.hff.no for more information.
Outside Bergen, we recommend No. 17 Grønnestølen Gård, Grønnestølsveinen 17, N-5073 (tel. 55-28-66-00). Lying about 4km (2 1/2 miles) from the center, this complex of wood-sided buildings in tranquil surroundings lies in beautiful countryside.
In the Telemark district in the south of Norway, our favorite is a typical old farm with log houses and turfed roofs, the Uppigard Natadal, Flatdal, N-3841 Flatdal (tel. 35-06-59-00).
Another real charmer is Kårøyan Fjellgård, Kårøydalen, N-7203 Vinjeøra (tel. 72-45-44-60), lying in the beautiful, rugged countryside at the end of the Kårøydalen Valley. This place is ideal for families. You'll get rustic accommodations and country food, with plenty of farm animals. Mountains and white-water rapids lie nearby for walking and rafting outings.
A final favorite is Lilland Gård, Lilland N-4120 Tau (tel. 51-74-20-00), a farm dating from the Viking Age. The king, Erik "Blood-Axe," had his estate nearby. In idyllic surroundings, you can enjoy rustic accommodations and an old-fashioned Norwegian breakfast.
Camping -- Norway has more than 12,000 campsites, so you're sure to find somewhere to stay in the area you want to visit. The sites are classified with one to five stars, depending on the standards, facilities, and activities available. There is no standard price, and rates vary. Normally, the fixed charge per site for two to three stars is NOK85 to NOK170 ($17-$34/£8.50-£17), and four to five stars is NOK120 to NOK350 ($24-$70/£12-£35), with additional charges per person.
Many campsites have cabins that can be booked in advance. Most cabins have electricity and heating, but note that you may need to bring bedding. Check when making your booking.
The Camping Card (Norsk Campingkort) entitles you to a faster check-in service along with special deals. The Camping Card can be ordered before traveling from the Norwegian Hospitality Association (Reiselivsbedriftenes Landsforening, or RBL), Essendropsgt 6, N-0305 Oslo (tel. 23-08-86-20; fax 23-08-86-21; www.camping.no). The 1-year stamp can be purchased from participating campsites for NOK100 ($20/£10). RBL also provides a camping guide with extensive information.
Our favorite campsite in Norway is Lone Camping, located between Espeland and Haukeland, Hardangerveien 697, Haukeland (tel. 55-39-29-60; www.bergen-guide.com), because it lies among some of the most dramatic landscapes in the fjord country. If you tire of the country, you can always head for Bergen, which is 20km (12 miles) away and is reached by public bus no. 900. The bus runs to town every half-hour during the day.
While you're in the area, you might also check out Bratland Camping, Bratlandsveien 6, Haukeland (tel. 55-10-13-38; www.bratlandcamping.no), which lies nearby and is also reached by bus no. 900. Here you can rent tent sites or simply furnished cabins, costing from NOK80 to NOK120 ($16-$24/£8-£12). This site is well equipped and lies 4km (2 1/2 miles) south of the town of Lone.
Still in fjord country, a final favorite takes you to the summer resort and winter ski center at Voss. Voss Camping, Prestegårdsalléen 40 (tel. 56-51-15-97; www.vosscamping.no), has a lakeside location and is convenient to the attractions and sports of the resort. Cabins cost NOK500 ($100/£50) and tent sites cost NOK140 to NOK190 ($28-$38/£14-£19). In the same area, Tvinde Camping (tel. 56-51-69-19; www.tvinde.no) is one of the most scenic campsites in central Norway, as it lies beside a waterfall 12km (7 1/2 miles) from the center of Voss. Both tent sites and cabins are rented here. Cabins cost NOK375 to NOK495 ($75-$99/£38-£50), and tent sites are NOK130 ($26/£13). This camp is reached by the public bus marked VOSS-GUNVANGEN.
Home Stays -- Friendship Force, 34 Peachtree St. NW, Ste. 900, Atlanta, GA 30303 (tel. 404/522-9490; www.friendshipforce.org), is a nonprofit organization that encourages friendship among people worldwide. Dozens of branch offices throughout North America arrange visits, usually once a year. Because of group bookings, the airfare to the host country is usually less than the cost of individual APEX tickets. Each participant spends 2 weeks in the host country, the first as a guest in the home of a family and the second traveling in the host country.
Servas, 1125 16th St., Ste. 201, Arcata, CA 95521 (tel. 707/825-1714; www.usservas.org), is an international nonprofit, nongovernmental, interfaith network of travelers and hosts whose goal is to help promote world peace, goodwill, and understanding. Servas hosts offer travelers hospitality for 2 days. Travelers pay an $85 annual fee and a $25 list deposit after filling out an application and being approved by an interviewer (interviewers are located across the U.S.). They then receive Servas directories listing the names and addresses of Servas hosts.
Home Exchanges -- One of the most exciting breakthroughs in modern tourism is the home exchange. Sometimes the family automobile is even included. Of course, you must be comfortable with the idea of having strangers in your home, and you must be content to spend your vacation in one place. One potential problem, though, is that you may not get a home in the area you request.
Intervac USA, 30 Corte San Fernando, Tiburon, CA 94920 (tel. 800/756-HOME; www.intervacus.com), is part of the largest worldwide exchange network. It contains over 10,000 homes in over 36 countries. Members contact each other directly. The cost is $85 plus postage, which includes the purchase of three of the company's catalogs, plus the inclusion of your own listing in whichever catalog you select. If you want to publish a photograph of your home, there is an additional charge of $15. Fees begin at $90, going up to $150.
The Invented City (tel. 415/846-7588; www.invented-city.com) publishes home-exchange listings three times a year. For the $50 membership fee, you can list your home with your own written descriptive summary.
Home Link, 2937 NW 9 St., Fort Lauderdale, FL 33311 (tel. 800/638-3841 or 954/566-2687; www.homelink.org), will send you five directories a year for $130.