At 68° north, a fair distance above the Arctic Circle, is Sortland, Norway’s Blue Town. Sortland is the capital of the Vesterålen Archipelago; less famous, perhaps, than its neighbour to the south, the Lofoten Islands, but no less stunning.
But why is Sortland blue? Well, despite its über-gorgeous surroundings, Sortland was a dreary town in need of a major renovation. Enter local artist Bjørn Elvenes, a man with an idea: why not paint the town blue?
The Blue Town was launched at the very end of the last century and in the years hence, the town has simply become an outdoor art project. Everywhere you look, you’ll see blue. Sortland has become a poetic city as well; little verses are painted on the walls, penned by famous Norwegian author Lars Saabye Christensen and local kids.
I’ve seen you run through the rain and catch up with the sun.
There’s midnight sun all year long. You just have to look for it.
In a corner of town lives silence. To find the silence you must find that corner.
There are so many nice things that haven’t been said yet
Fish balls. And nature.
Another quirky claim to fame of this archipelago is fish balls, made from cod fished in the cold, clean waters here in the Arctic. Fish balls is a traditional Norwegian staple meal – usually served with boiled potatoes, curry and white sauce. Or with small, green peas and prawns in millefeuille shells. Most famous, perhaps, is Vesteraalen Fiskeboller, who celebrated 100 years of fish ball production this year.
But blue houses, street poetry and fish balls aside, nature is Sortland’s main draw.
Blue Town practicals
This far north, the sun’s up 24/7 from mid-May to mid-July. For another month at either end there’s no real darkness at this latitude. Vesterålen is also an excellent place to spot the elusive Aurora Borealis. If you’ve seen photos of the Northern Lights in National Geographic, chances are good they’ve been taken right here.
- The nearest major airport is Harstad/Narvik (EVE), about 2 hours away by bus or hire car. The tiny, local Skagen airport is only 20 minutes away.
- Hurtigruten (The Coastal Express) stops in Sortland twice a day, the southwardbound around noon, the northwardbound at about 02.30 am.
- Strand hotell and Sortland hotell are the main accommodations options, both with simple and comfortable rooms and in the town centre. There’s also a hostel, in Norway known as vandrerhjem (meaning wanderers’ homes) in Sortland.
- Don’t miss Lihallen Kulturgård, a gorgeous art gallery, and
- last, but not least, be sure to get out on the fjord.