Real-life Scandinavian destinations that inspired the world’s most beloved stories
Scandinavia’s landscapes have been the storybook setting for many an author, be it Roald Dahl, whose childhood-defining characters danced onto the page from memories of mystical pine forests, or Philip Pullman, whose armoured polar bears roamed the wilds of glacial Svalbard. So, to celebrate World Book Day on March 1st, we’ve taken a closer look at the destinations from which some of the world’s most beloved children’s authors took their inspiration, which are, in accordance with Scandinavia itself, hugely varied but all spectacular. From summertime forest trails to remote archipelagos, our wonderful itineraries allow you to experience these settings for yourself, all memorable trips for children and adults alike.
Roald Dahl's Norway
One of the world’s most renowned children’s authors, Roald Dahl, who was born to Norwegian parents, reflects on summers spent in Norway in many of his stories. He even states how his mother told him of ‘trolls and all the other mythical Norwegian creatures that lived in the dark pine forests’ in his Roald Dahl Cookbook and his happy childhood is reminisced in children’s classic The Witches. And it’s not hard to see how – it’s in Norway’s stupendous landscapes, cosy cabins and vast fjords that we see his stories come to life. In Boy: Tales of Childhood, Dahl describes how his boat weaved ‘in and out between cloudless tiny islands’ complete with ‘small brightly painted wooden houses’ and ‘unless you have sailed down the Oslo-fjord like this yourself on a tranquil summer’s day, you cannot imagine what it is like’. Experience this magical landscape for yourself with our Roald Dahl's Norway itinerary, starting in Oslo, channeling a young Dahl with boat trips through inlets and picturesque bays, taking time to stop off for swims and picnics.
From Oslo you’ll head on a coastal drive of around three-and-a-half hours, characterised by pretty characterful houses and enormous lakes, ending at Fevik where fir trees cling to coastal shores, home to the same hotel Dahl stayed in for several summers when he was an adult, the Strand Hotel Fevik. Built in 1937 and located on Norway's scenic southern tip, its modern, bright rooms contrast cosily with the tranquility of its surrounds, where a private sandy beach lies among the picturesque archipelago, peppered with island skerries and harbour ports. It’s an idyllic place to spend a few days, and you'll enjoy boat cruises to explore the area, evocative of the trips Dahl took himself among hidden coves and fishing spots, said to have inspired his later works.
Philip Pullman's remote Svalbard wilderness
In stark contrast are Norway’s barren northern reaches – Svalbard and its numerous polar bears, of which there are more than people, were the inspiration for epic trilogy His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman. This icy archipelago is truly remote – an ideal setting for Pullman's first novel Northern Lights and probably the most iconic. Experience the best of it all with our Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights itinerary, where you’ll explore ice caves hidden in colossal glaciers, dogsled among snow-covered pine trees and enjoy an outdoor campfire in search of those revered Northern Lights. And, of course, you’ll spot the archipelago’s most famous residents prowling on glaciers, the inspiration for Pullman’s fearsome ‘armoured polar bears’.
Children and adults alike will love embracing their inner Lyra, first with a visit to Longyearben, Svalbard’s largest settlement. It's one of the world’s northernmost towns, where polar bears and reindeer roam the streets, icefields dominate the landscape and looming icebergs dwarf the colourful wooden houses, the residents of which live in darkness for four months of the year, bathed only in the delicate glow of the Northern Lights. You’ll stay in the aptly named Radisson Blu Polar, where saunas and hot tubs are a welcome antidote to outside’s icy Arctic wilds. A dogsledding adventure is reminiscent of riding your own dæemon, with huskies sledding along 12km of icy trails onto a dramatic glacier, eventually reaching an ice cave hidden deep within – it’s truly a scene straight out of Pullman’s novel. And of course, you'll culminate your trip with the book's namesake – the Northern Lights, which, luck depending, you'll spot, from the cabins of Camp Barentz in the remote Advent Valley. This will be your dramatic setting for a wilderness experience, where you'll enjoy stories around the campfire, a polar bear presentation, reindeer dinner, and of course the ethereal lightshow emerging from the dark, clear skies.
Moomins of Finland
Think of the Moomins and you probably think of Finland. The author of the beloved books, Swedish-speaking Fin, Tove Jansson, took inspiration from many a childhood memory here, from remote Finnish archipelagos to her beloved home city of Helsinki. Our Moomins in Finland itinerary offers a wonderful exploration of the inspiring landscapes. Jansson’s home city remembers her in the form of the Helsinki Art Museum, showcasing a gallery of her works – this is the beginning of your adventure, where you'll visit charming Moomin cafes that dot the city. You’ll then head into Finland’s lakes and archipelagos and explore Söderskär, a remote lighthouse island, much loved by Jansson and believed to be the inspiration for the setting of one of her most famous books, Moominpappa at sea.
Head there after June 2018 for a special exhibition, Tove and the Sea, showcasing photographs of Jansson’s life in the archipelago, as well as illustrations from Moominpappa at sea. You’ll go on to visit Tampere’s world-unique Moomin Museum, where children and adults alike will love exploring childhood favourites set in the magical ‘Mumidalen’. You’ll browse the library of enchanting stories and stroll around the Tove Jansson and the Moomins exhibition that showcases Jansson's Moomin figure drawings, including her 1930s Moomins and satirical 1940s cartoons. Enjoy guided tours and creative workshops before ice skating or swimming on the lake that lies just outside, before heading to the charming city of Turku. It's all medieval buildings, cobbled streets and lake-side colourful houses, setting the scene for theme park Moominworld on the beautiful island of Kailo. Little ones will love meeting characters, walking the barefoot trail in the summer through charming rock-lined forest and mini-skiing with the Moomintroll in the winter, song adventures and interactive performances with Little My, and of course, a visit to the iconic blue Moominhouse.