The A-Z of Scandinavian holidays

Fancy a game of golf under the midnight sun or a safari with the Sami of Lapland? Try Sweden, Norway and Finland
A is for the Arctic Circle. By 21 June, the midnight sun will have extended 500 miles south of the northern tip of continental Scandinavia. To see it on a single night of madness, call Scandinavian Travel Service (tel: 0171 559 6666) who run one-night return trips to Tromso in June and July for pounds 179.

B is for Bergen. Norway's most picturesque city is just over the water from northern Scotland. You can take an interesting three night break there by sailing direct from Newcastle on Color Line (tel: 0191 296 1313). Two nights at sea and one in dock (B&B) costs only pounds 109, departing Wednesdays. Otherwise fly with Scandinavian Travel Service (see above) on short packages.

C is for Crayfish. Sweden's big passion reaches its pinnacle in August. Every freezer in the land will be bursting with crayfish, and crayfish parties will be breaking out in every home and restaurant. The usual accompaniments are crispbread, cheese and beer.

D is for dog-sledging. Not exactly a summer activity, but the Scandinavian winter is never too far away. One good bet to travel with dogs is to join the exhilarating "frontier husky safari", covering 200 kilometres along the Finno-Russian border, staying in characterful guest-houses en route. For further information, call Campfire Adventure Sports on 01747 855 558.

E is for Europride '98. This year, Europe's most flamboyant festival for gays and lesbians will be taking place in Stockholm from 18-26 July. About 20,000 people are expected to gather in the grounds of the Norra Latin(?) conference centre for a party; a gay film festival, seminars, workshops, theatre productions and a huge pride parade will follow.

F is for the Flam Railway. This tiny little branch rail line (from the Bergen-Oslo line) is one of the most spectacular in Europe. It runs between Myrdal, high up on the main line and Flam far below on the shores of the kilometre-deep Sognefjord. A great round-trip from Bergen is to take the train to Flam, then continue by boat through the fjord and back to Bergen. This Norway in a Nutshell package, available through agents, costs pounds 35.

G is for Gotland, the largest island in the Baltic. It is also one of the most historic parts of Sweden, packed full of tiny medieval churches. The other attractions are the beautiful port of Visby (Unesco World Heritage Site), the great beaches and the fact that the whole island in summer is a cycling and camping paradise. Fly on SAS from Stockholm, or catch the boat from Nynashamn.

H is for Hurtigrute. This is Norway's legendary coastal steamer which has been making its way up and down the coast of Norway for more than a century. Every night of the year there is one departure from Bergen, on the six-day journey to Kirkenes, up by the Russian border. All inclusive Hurtigrute packages including flights to and from the UK start from pounds 1,195 in high season. Call 0171 371 4011 to book.

I is for Icebreaker. You can take an icebreaker cruise in winter from the Finnish town of Kemi in the northern Baltic. Cruise through one-metre thick ice, take a snowmobile safari and try out a specialised survival suit by plunging into the arctic waters of the Gulf of Bothnia. For further details, call Specialised Tours on 01342 712785.

J is for Jamtland in central northern Sweden, famous for its Lake Storsjo (by the town of Ostersund), inhabited by Sweden's version of the Loch Ness monster. The monster has been seen at least 400 times, but even if you miss it you can always visit the Jamtli Historyland theme park instead which has models of the monster. For a three-day package to Ostersund starting from Stockholm and costing pounds 95 based on four sharing, call German Rail on 0181 390 8833.

K is for Karelia, that eastern, watery, Russian-oriented part of Finland which comprises more lake than land. Come here to canoe whole chains of lakes, interspersed by bays and inlets and surrounded by forest. You can also see the Savonlinna Opera festival in the area while you are at it. Further details from Martin Randall Travel on 0181 742 3355.

L is for Lapland. One reason to be there this month is to attend the Lapland World Cup Fishing and European Fly Championships on 26-28 June. With thousands of kilometres of coastline and hundreds of pure water streams, rivers and lakes, where else but Sweden? For information on fishing packages, call Norvista Travel on 0171 409 7334.

M is for Midsummer golf at Midnight. At Tornio on the Swedish-Finnish border (locally known as the place where Swedes go to stock up on cheap booze) you can play golf in two countries - nine holes in Sweden and nine in Finland - under the midnight sun. Call Norvista Travel on 0171 409 7334.

N is for Nordkapp. Neither the most northerly part of the continent (it is an island) nor the most northerly part of Europe (Spitzbergen is), Norwegian Nordkapp seems to get all the credit anyway. The cliff on the northern end of the island is the place to aim for; there's an expensive cafe where you can keep warm while watching the midnight sun.

O is for Oslo. One of Europe's most low-key, quiet capital cities, Oslo is a delightful place for walking, cycling, and, in winter, skiing (many of the ski trails immediately north of the city are floodlit in the long, winter nights). In summer, by contrast, there are good beaches just a few minutes from the city centre. A three-night break this summer will cost pounds 325 per person. Call Scandinavian Travel Service on 0171 559 6666.

P is for pilgrimages. In the east of Finland, near the Russian border, there are a number of Greek Orthodox monasteries which can still be visited. An operator called Special Pilgrimages organises packages, which also include one day in Russia visiting the monastery of Old Valamo. Call 01702 394000 for details.

Q is for Queen. There are at least two of these in mainland Scandinavia, Queen Sonja of Norway and Queen Silvia of Sweden. Finland makes do with a president.

R is for Ryanair, who pioneered the concept of cheap air fares to Scandinavia from Britain. Their no-frills service from London Stansted to Stockholm Skavasta (three departures a day) cost from pounds 109 return, including tax. The catch is that the bus from Skavasta airport into town costs pounds 20 each way! Call Ryanair on 0541 569569.

S is for the Sami (also known as the Lapps). In Swedish Lapland you can take a seven-day "Safari with the Sami people", in which you learn about the traditional way of life of this indigenous people. Herd reindeer (and eat them), and try fishing, hiking and swimming as well. Call Norvista on 0171 409 7334.

T is for Tent. The right of common access applies to all forests and wilderness areas in Sweden, Norway and Finland, ie, pitching your tent on all non-private land is legal and perfectly acceptable. Given what pleasant places Scandinavian camp-sites are (and how expensive Scandinavian hotels are) camping is the best way to go.

U is for Umea. This is almost certainly the funkiest city anywhere in the world north of the 63rd parallel. With an average age of just 35, heavily influenced by Norrland University and its 20,000 students, there are bars and discos aplenty. You can come here by boat from Vaasa across the Baltic in Finland; or by train from Stockholm in 11 hours.

V is for Vikings. On 1 August this summer, Viking ship replicas from Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Russia, Germany and Britain will arrive in Stockholm under full sail. Tourists will be able to witness Viking skills being practiced from close quarters; there will also be a Viking market. For cheap B&B accommodation in Stockholm, try one of the two B&B agencies on 0046 8 660 5565 or 0046 8 643 8028.

W is for walking. Scandinavia is one giant hiking paradise. Among designated long-distance trails, notable examples include the 500-km Kungsleden trekking route leading south from Abisko in northern Sweden, and the 800-km Kerjalan Kierros around Lake Pielinen in Finland. Contact the relevant tourist boards for more details on routes, maps, and accommodation. Inntravel (tel: 01653 628811) run walking holidays in Norway.

X is for X-rated movies. This used to be one of Scandinavia's strongest features. Now that the rest of the world has caught up, it is no longer a significant reason to go there.

Y is for Youth Hostel. These are a particularly good idea in expensive Scandinavia, and what's more, you can usually stay in them regardless of whether you are actually youthful or not; families are also welcome. Most hostels have dormitories and private rooms. For the Hostelling International (HI) handbook, containing addresses of all affiliated members in Europe, send pounds 7 to YH Association, Trevelyan House, 8 St Stephens Hill, St Albans, Herts AL1 2DY.

Z is for Zero. Sweden's Abba may be the most famous Eurovision winners, but despite some better years recently, Norway still holds the record as the country with the highest number of nul points: they have achieved the ultimate zero four times. Don't go to Norway for the pop music.

Tourist boards: Norway 0171 839 2650; Sweden 0171 724 5868; Finland 0171 839 4048.

Comments