Travel

Norway's Golden Road Is the New Golden Circle

A true mountain-escape road trip.

Hans Marius Mindrum/500px/Getty Images
Hans Marius Mindrum/500px/Getty Images
Hans Marius Mindrum/500px/Getty Images

Norway? Yes way! This joke is terrible. The Scandinavian country is not.

With wildflower-dappled hills, steep fjords, and lapis-blue ocean water, the Land of the Midnight Sun straight up sparkles. You might be wondering if a visit to the ocean-line country would force you to subsist on a diet of just seafood and fish or if you’ll be mercilessly attacked by a pack of stuck-in-11th-century vikings (no, just me?), but fear not. The answer to both is a resounding no.

But I really couldn’t help but wonder if Norway would be similar to nearby-neighbour Iceland, with glaciers, other-wordly beauty, and Dr. Seuss-esque rock formations. The comparison isn’t just proximity-based, but is furthered by the similarity in names of their two most famous tourist routes: the Golden Road and the Golden Circle, respectively.

Iceland’s Golden Circle connects a handful of the island’s most popular attractions like Gullfoss Waterfall, the Great Geysir, and Þingvellir National Park, while Norway’s Golden Road guides travellers through sustainable food, beverage, art, and handicraft stops to provide a diverse glimpse of small-town living, mountainside escapes, and even sandy beaches.

The road trip through Norway’s Trøndelag region is offered by Up Norway, a travel agency specialising in creating personalized itineraries tailored specifically to unique and sustainable culinary, adventure, and cultural experiences. In fact, they’re the local authority when it comes to navigating the Golden Road in particular, having partnered with the 22 dedicated landmarks that have been approved by the co-op (yes, the businesses work together and apply for membership!) for official inclusion along the 66-mile route via the region’s main E6 roadway.

Here are a few of the must-see highlights along the way, perfect for any European vacation, group or solo trip, and even honeymoon for the couple who appreciates life in the fast lane.

Marija Stupar/EyeEm/Getty Images
Marija Stupar/EyeEm/Getty Images
Marija Stupar/EyeEm/Getty Images

Pamper yourself in Trondheim

The journey starts and ends in Norway’s third most populous city of Trondheim. Access to the once-difficult-to-get-to metropolis is now quite convenient with frequent (and inexpensive!) flights on budget airlines like PLAY, which offer extended layovers in Iceland, should you want to compare and contrast the two “golden” paths in one trip.

A stay at the Britannia Hotel to bookend your excursion is an absolute must. Not only is it the city’s most luxurious accommodation in style, location, and service, but it also boasts a pool-laden spa with multiple skin-strengthening saunas and Michelin-star restaurant Speilsalen, complete with a caviar and Champagne bar. The beds are also one of the most comfortable I’ve ever slept in-plush and deep with oversized pillows and sheets that preserve a sensation of coolness that lasts through the entire night.

Trondheim is also chock-full of history with periods of polarizing kings, influxes of boat-weary immigrants due to its close proximity to water, and the aforementioned vikings. Book a walking tour through Hands on History and be sure to also explore the area’s most famous monument, the Nidaros Cathedral, which sits above a maze of crypts and hidden chambers.

For a more modern (and slightly acid-trippy) glimpse of the town, a jaunt through K-U-K will showcase contemporary paintings and sculptures from local artists, both established and new. Cap your evening with a meal at adjoining Gubalari, which draws inspiration from locally-sourced ingredients like smoked redfish and spring salad with primroses and cured ham.

Skjølberg Søndre Kretsløpsgård
Skjølberg Søndre Kretsløpsgård
Skjølberg Søndre Kretsløpsgård

Spill all the tea with sheep

One of the first stops on the Golden Circle is Gulburet, a multi-building farm, art studio, gift shop, and cottage where you can sip chamomile tea and nosh on flower-adorned oat cake before petting a herd of friendly sheep.

The stop features a plethora of hours-old butters, soft cheeses, and other Norwegian countryside staples for purchasing and nibbling on for the remainder of the journey.

Should you choose to go the opposite direction or want to end your trip on a similar note, consider a farm visit to Skjølberg Søndre. The biodynamic property supplies herbs, meats, and dairy products to some of Norway’s most celebrated restaurants. It also runs a weekend-only dining room in a tastefully-decorated and cozy, country-style farmhouse with floral prints and mismatched china. Meals are served with a crusty and pillowy sourdough bread that was, by far, my favourite food from the entire trip.

Øyna Kulturlandskapshotell
Øyna Kulturlandskapshotell
Øyna Kulturlandskapshotell

Live inside a mountain at Øyna Cultural Landscape Hotel

A quick, though somewhat strenuous e-bike trip is the most scenic (and healthy, frankly) way to go from Gulburet’s region of Straumen to Inderøy. This sleepy-town peninsula features a cliffside backdrop topped by the 18-room Øyna Cultural Landscape Hotel, which greets its guests from above a mountain. The architecturally stunning building is literally constructed into the Earth in order to adapt to nature and offer panoramic views of the Trondheim Fjord and the Fosen Alps. Rooms are minimalist with industrial cement and pine walls, cascading balconies, and roofs covered in grass (which you can actually stand on when not inside).

Sustainability is at the forefront of the lodge’s mission statement, offering beverages and meals with ingredients sourced only from within a few-mile radius, from produce and meat to dairy products and even aquavit. Owner Frode Sakshaug, a former pig farmer himself, even left dinner early to pick up food that would be served the next day. He also wakes up before dawn, almost daily, to longline-fish for cod, haddock, and other sea-derived proteins that take leading roles on the restaurant’s always-changing menu.

Stokkøya Strandhotell og Strandbaren
Stokkøya Strandhotell og Strandbaren
Stokkøya Strandhotell og Strandbaren

Sleep in an oceanside triangle on Stokkoya Island

Stokkøya Sjøsenter resort is slightly off the beaten-err-freshly-paved path of the Golden Road, but it’s an absolute must-stop for a complete change in scenery. The beach village is aligned with rows of shipping container-style rooms made from recycled materials like burlap and polyester sail fibre, as well as coastal cottages with unobstructed views of the ocean. There is even an area with pointy tents to camp right on the sand, complete with toilets, grilling stations, and a lush herb garden.

On-site restaurant Strandbaren (which translates to “Beach Bar”) mirrors Øyna’s mission by serving only the freshest of local ingredients, like its signature mussels that taste and melt on the tongue like sweet butter.

But it’s nearby Naustet Stokkøya, a loft-style boathouse, that will wow even the most jaded of luxury travellers with its sleek, all-black design and oversized deck to accommodate outdoor dinners, a firepit, jacuzzi, and even a sauna.

There are also two triangle-shaped rooms separate from the main home that are perched above rocks with floor to ceiling-windows; ideal for any guest who wants an added level of privacy.

Host Remi will keep the wine and local beer flowing as he encourages guests to scallop-dive directly off the dock to harvest, shuck, and immediately top the briney meat with a simple splash of ponzu sauce, all while guest chefs like French Laundry-trained Adrian Lovold prepare a sunset feast.

Without trying to sound too hyperbolic, the view from the rental and its seemingly never-ending orange, purple, and red-hued sky was one of-if not the most beautiful sights-I’ve ever experienced in my years as a travel writer. It left me and my fellow housemates in a state of awe, disrupted only by my lousy attempt at a joke to overcome the trance of this country that had left us, quite literally, speechless: “Norway? Yes way.”

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Joey Skladany is a contributor for Thrillist.

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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