The county of Akershus is a perfect introduction to Norway – quite literally, as its boundaries take in Gardermoen, the country’s main international airport, served by an ultra-modern fast train to Oslo.
Despite the county’s close ties to the capital, a variety of enchanting villages, beaches, lakes and forests, seemingly a world away from the big city, are easily accessible by boat, train, bus or private car in an hour or less... ideal for an afternoon stroll, Sunday lunch or overnight stay in a county that is often described as the capital’s “green belt”.
Akershus has played an important role in Norwegian history: the Constitution Hall at Eidsvoll, for example, 80 km to the south of Oslo, a beautiful old manor house and about the closest thing in Scandinavia to a stately home, is where the Norwegian constitution was drafted in 1814.
And Oscarsborg fortress, in the Oslofjord at Drøbak, is revered as the site where, on 9 April 1940, two canon rounds sent the German warship Blücher to the seabed, temporarily bringing the Nazi invasion to a halt and winning time for the royal family and government to flee the country and spearhead the resistance movement from abroad.
Drøbak itself is one of several beautiful old fishing villages (nearby Son is another) favoured by Norwegians as weekend retreats in and out of season.
The Henie-Onstad Kunstsenter (Art Centre), Norway’s largest museum of modern, international art, is idyllically situated at Høvikodden in Bærum. It offers touring exhibitions of Norwegian and foreign art, a permanent exhibition of its own collection, and a sculpture park. In the town of Lillestrøm, Akershus Kunstsenter is notable for its craft exhibitions and for its Pilot gallery, featuring children’s art.
Rich Stone Age finds tell of a long period of human activity in Akershus: the site of Nøstvedt at Ås, for example, suggests that Norway had a hunting population as early as 5000 BC. Raknehaugen, at Ullensaker, is at least 1400 years old; it is also northern Europe's largest burial mound, with a diameter of 95 metres and a height of 19 metres.
On a lighter note, about 20 km south of Oslo is Tusenfryd, a world-class amusement park with a full complement of roller coasters, carousels, water slides - more than 30 major attractions in all - plus all the usual restaurants and souvenir shops. Open from the end of May to mid-September, the Tusenfryd site includes Viking Land, an educational theme park taking visitors back a thousand years in Norwegian history.