Daring and courageous. I thought about his words often as I drove for five days, sometimes for as long as eight hours at a stretch, both in terms of the architecture I saw as well as in trying to convince myself that his overarching plan described how I was feeling. In fact, my state of mind about the trip could be described as shaky at best. A friend in Oslo warned me that bad weather often cropped up unexpectedly in October, especially in the north: torrential rain storms or early snow storms that leave cars stranded on a mountain pass or by a lonely fjord.
I was slowly becoming a more daring driver but I was not used to being without a passenger in a country where I didn’t speak a word of the language. On top of that, I already felt emotionally quite alone from my marital breakup, a melancholy sensation that only intensified during intervals when an hour passed without seeing another car, even on major highways.
After a couple of days though, the peace and diversity of the countryside became meditational, a panorama that seemed dreamlike through my windscreen. Traditional country cottages built into mounds of earth with grass-topped roofs and green weathered doors looked as if they were out of “The Hobbit.” Dark thick forest alternated with bucolic sun-dappled farmland and bare, desolate mountains overlooking quaint lakeside towns. One late afternoon as I drove into a village, the sun appeared to drop like a fireball into the fjord. Spectacular modern installations appeared on remote corners in the most far-fetched of places, that they sometimes seemed like a figment of my imagination.
I have never seen a place so multifaceted in its geography and so unpopulated, except perhaps on the other side of the earth, in Patagonia.
Above Trollstigen, another project conceived along these routes is the Juvet Landscape Hotel, designed by the architects Jensen & Skodvin, and the creepy, if incredibly appropriate aesthetically, setting for the 2015 film “Ex Machina.”
From the exterior, the compound, in a nature reserve called Reinheimen, looks almost like a hippie campsite with its low-slung, wood-encased cabins on stilts. But as I was shown into my room, the rustic vision was completely turned on its head — the natural wood or in some instances stone that covers the rear of the structures hides glass walls and raw cement cubes facing front — with views onto the gentle valley, and onto the surrounding peaks and meandering river that cut through the landscape behind.
The perspective created the effect that I was both inside and outside the hotel, part of the natural surroundings, both the voyeur and the inhabitant.
After a dip in the outdoor hot tub, I joined other travelers and guests around a candlelit communal dining room, an intimate warm environment where locally hunted venison was served alongside foraged mountain vegetables that were like strange fairy-tale versions of carrots and beets with curly tendrils and odd shapes. A roaring fire and candles were our only light.
Around the dinner table, we traded stories about what brought us up the mountain and where we came from. The Chinese-American college student recounted his adventures while taking a gap year. The Norwegian honeymooners were in need of a wilderness break from Oslo, the capital. The glossy magazine reading hikers from Britain wanted a sleek hotel after rugged trails. I shared my journey in broad strokes, the American expatriate in Tuscany, my road trip, my love of nature, and I left out the impending change in my marriage and my sense of loss.
When I look back now, my Norwegian road trip seems like one of the most surreal and meaningful of any I have ever taken, even after many years of absorbing trips. The memory turns in my head like a film trailer, so cinematic and surprising that I still almost can’t believe it was real. The pristine beauty, the sense of drama. Perhaps it was the network of beautiful art and architecture that made me feel, daring and courageous by journey’s end. And for that, I am grateful.
If You Go
Many of Norway’s Scenic Routes stay open year round but the ideal period to hit many is from April to October. I went in late autumn when the fall foliage was at peak, roads uncrowded, but when weather can be inclement.
For the Atlantic and Trollstigen routes I drove, I flew an hour from Oslo to Kristiansund airport and rented a car from there. Be sure to reserve well in advance for a night at the Juvet Landscape Hotel, close to the Trollstigen installation and an architectural showcase in its own right, and a boutique property, too. Information: juvet.com; +47-950-32-010, doubles from $316 (or 2,500 in Norwegian krone). For a full list of the 18 Norway’s Scenic Routes, go to http://www.nasjonaleturistveger.no.