This long, narrow country stretches some 1,770km (1,097 miles) north to south, but rarely more than 96km (60 miles) east to west. Norway is a land of raw nature. It occupies the western and extreme northern portion of the Scandinavia peninsula, bordering Finland, Sweden, and Russia. In the west, its 21,342km (13,232 miles) of coastline confront the often-turbulent North Atlantic Ocean.

There's plenty of breathing room for everybody. When you factor in the Arctic desolation of the north, Norway averages about 20 people per square mile. Most of the four million inhabitants are concentrated in the swag-bellied south, where the weather is less severe. Even so, the population of Oslo, the capital, is less than half a million. Aside from Oslo, there are no really big cities; the populations of Bergen and Trondheim are 210,000 and 135,000, respectively.

Norway does not want to be a melting pot, and immigration is strictly controlled. The largest minority group is the Sami, who live in the far north; they have broad powers of self-government, including their own parliament. Although many people have emigrated from Norway -- about one million to America alone -- immigration to Norway from other countries has been limited. About 3.2% of the population originally came from Great Britain, Denmark, and Sweden.

Norway is a constitutional monarchy. Though without political power, Norway's royal family enjoys the subjects' unwavering support. The real power is in the Storting, or parliament. Women play a major role in government. Some 40% of all elected officials are women, and women head several government ministries. Many industries -- especially energy -- are fully or partially state controlled. Oil from the North Sea is a vital resource; the government has a Ministry of Oil and Energy. The government grants large subsidies to agriculture and fisheries.

As a result of their natural surroundings, Norwegians are among the most athletic people in Europe. Nearly every Norwegian child learns to ski as readily as he learns to walk. They are also among the best-educated people in the world. Norway's educational standard has risen considerably since World War II, and some 90% of Norwegian young people take a 3-year course in academic or vocational school after completing their compulsory education.

About 90% of the population belongs to the national Lutheran church, of which the king is the titular head. Freedom of worship is guaranteed to all.

Because the economy depends significantly on foreign trade, most business is conducted in English. Norway has two official languages, Riksmal and Landsmal, both of Danish origin. The Sami, the indigenous people of the north, have their own language.

Cultural activities are important in Norway. The government subsidizes book publishing, guaranteeing sales of 1,000 copies of each book published for distribution to public libraries. Encouraging Norwegian writers helps preserve the language. Movie production, limited by population and language, fares poorly, however. Opera is fairly new to the country, and Norway didn't acquire a professional ballet ensemble until 1948. Folk music, however, has roots going back to Norse times and is still very much alive. Norway encourages the arts by providing a guaranteed income to active artists whose work has achieved and maintained a high standard over a period of years.

A 40% Quota for Women on Boards -- In 2002, the Norwegian government informed public companies that it will now be mandatory that boardrooms consist of 40% women. There are 650 public companies in Norway that must comply with this demand. Since then, the European Union continues to study the proposal. Would other countries ever consider such a requirement? Would America? Stay tuned.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.