A stretch of coastline littered with rocky islands and skerries, hidden bays and coves, shimmering, clear water. No “Private” signs. Free access to your own piece of sun drenched rock and blue-green lagoon. Newly picked strawberries. Fresh shellfish. Lush forests, green meadows and carpets of wild flowers. A small town with beautiful, old whitewashed wooden houses, windows overlooking the water. No monstrous holiday villages or apartment complexes.
This piece of summer heaven can be found on the southern coast of Norway, also labelled the Skagerak Riviera. Kragero is one of Norway’s favorite holiday destinations, but very few people outside the country have heard of it, much less considered a sun holiday there. In a wealthy country that takes their holidays seriously, it has never needed to attract foreign visitors.
The small town has one famous son, the painter Edvard Munch, creator of the Scream. “Many a sleepless night my thoughts and dreams go to Kragero. To my daily walks over the hill beyond Kragero. Up there the wind blew in from the sea. Behind me the fragrant pines, out there the waves breaking over the skerries…My regards to Kragero, the pearl of coastal towns”. This is what the painter had to say about the place that inspired many of his beautiful landscapes. It now attracts thousands of Norwegian holidaymakers during the warm, bright summer months.
Whenever I visit I stay nearby in a hytte, or summerhouse. All Norwegian families have a share in a summer cottage or mountain cabin; often they have been in the family for generations. This is where every Norwegian learns to worship the great outdoors, and to value old building traditions. Fine architecture is another reason to come here. The islands and fjords are dotted with simple, picturesque wooden houses; all in red, white or mustard yellow. They are preserved not so much through draconian building regulations (which do exist), but Norwegians’ pride in their heritage. Any change which threatens this architectural tradition is fiercely resisted. The houses can be admired on every tiny island you sail past, and in the town of Kragero itself. The old timber post and shipbuilding center is almost exactly as it was 100 years ago. Take a walk through the narrow streets and along the buzzing harbour. The old, traditional wooden boats moored here reflect the passion to preserve, as well as the reliance on them as modes of transport. These boats are in everyday use throughout the summer. The busy harbour also has its share of brand new yachts in which the rich can display their wealth, and the rest of us only envy from afar, much like on any other Riviera.
Most summerhouses come with a boat; mine included. And the best way to explore this area really is on the water. In front of Kragero lie around 500 islands and skerries. As your boat sails slowly through a maze of fjords, channels and small sounds, you have a great opportunity to appreciate both the scenery and the unique architecture. Many of the islands are also uninhabited. This is where you stop to soak up the sunshine and swim in the crystal clear, surprisingly warm water. You can have your own island and your own bit of ocean. There are few sandy beaches, but among the smooth sea washed rocks are coves where children can catch crabs and play Desert Island.