Off the beaten track in Finnskogen, Eastern Norway

A unique history, vast forests and a wide array of activities make little-known Finnskogen a destination of choice for nature lovers, says our travel editor Marie Peyre.

Driving north from Kongsvinger, then venturing further east towards the Swedish border, it is easy to see why the Finns who emigrated to this part of Norway in the 1600s felt right at home here. Forests. Lakes. More forests. The area that makes up Finnskogen, a 40km-wide belt along Hedmark and Värmland, would have reminded them of their native Finland - a natural place to settle down after fleeing from famine and hardship in their own country.

And here they lived, in relative isolation, until well into the 19th century - preserving a culture that has left its mark on the whole region to this day. Svedjebruk (slash and burn agriculture) and a little livestock helped sustain them, but it was their skills as hunters and fishermen that made their reputation. They were so good at it that local villagers were convinced they had supernatural abilities.

What to do

Little wonder then, maybe, that what draws many visitors to Finnskogen today is the excellent fishing, particularly pike fishing. There are a number of lakes in the area where big pikes can be caught. Fish over 100cm long are not unusual, with some occasionally weighing in over the 10kg-mark. You can fish from land or from a boat. Go with a local guide, who will know the best spots to cast a line. Come winter you can also go ice fishing here, which is great fun. Want to stay up late? Try fishing for burbot, a nocturnal species fished on ice from dusk and through the evening. Explore Finnskogen organise fishing tours in the area. 

Hunting is another popular activity. While hunting for big game like moose is possible, it is big forest birds that attract hunters in search of a different kind of experience. Three of the most prized game birds in the world can be found in Finnskogen: capercaillie, black grouse and hazel grouse. Although capercaillie hunting is a demanding hunt (52 hunting days per caught capercaillie on average), with good local guiding your chances of success are much better. Alternatively, why not try beaver hunting (yes really!). Prime time for beaver hunting is spring. Contact Five Stars of Scandinavia, Inc for more information. 

If hiking is more your thing, you will be spoilt for choice in Finnskogen. There are many day hikes to choose from, from easy, short walks to longer hikes in more challenging terrain. Finnskogleden is a 240km-long trail that crosses Finnskogen from Eidskog in the south to Trysil in the north. The historical trail goes through an extensive forest landscape with few people, rich wildlife and good fishing waters. Running on both sides of the border, the marked trail follows old routes between the former Finn settlements, providing an insight into Finnish culture in the area.

For something a bit different, and to get another perspective on forests (and trees), spend a few hours at Gjesåsen Climbing Park. Great fun for the whole family, this lovely park offers four different courses with a variety of challenging elements and a three zip-lines, as well as an easier course for younger children. Trampolines are also available, and ponies, sheep and rabbits come as a bonus (the park is located on a working farm). You can stay the night in a tree tent, two metres above ground level - the soothing sound of the wind in the birches and the sheep's bells tinkling just outside your tent will ensure a good night's sleep. A fitting way to end a day of climbing.

Visiting in winter? You will find an extensive network of cross-country skiing tracks in Finnskogen, extending all the way to the resort of Mattila on the Swedish side - allowing you to ski in two countries in one day. The area has 170km of trails. In nearby Torsby you will also find Sweden's first ski tunnel, a 1.3 km-long loop that follows the terrain's natural level differences, allowing for both classic and freestyle skiing. The ski tunnel has been used by the Norwegian cross-country skiing team for training purpose. There is also an ice rink.

Where to stay and eat

Finnskogtoppen, a wellness and spa hotel up on a hill, boasts great views over Lake Røgden and the surrounding area, with forests covering the land as far as the eye can see. Here you will find a cosy atmosphere, healthy food, swimming pool and spa, and a programme of activities throughout the day. The perfect place to recharge your batteries. Full pension included in the price.

If you can do without the comfort of a room and a bed (or a shower, for that matter), but like to be even closer to nature, take the camping experience to another level (literally!) and stay in a tree tent at Gjesåsen Climbing Park (see above). The two tents have access to a large wooden shelter - the perfect place to make dinner on an open fire while taking in the view over nearby Lake Gjesåsen.

What about food? Skaslien Gjestgiveri in Kirkenær is the best restaurant in Finnskogen, and the place to go for a treat after a long hike in the woods. The menu changes daily, but always features the very best of local, seasonal ingredients. Rooms available too.

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