A bewitching region
The third largest county in Norway and reputedly the most heavily forested, Hedmark is a bewitching region to explore, accounting for about 8.5 per cent of the mainland − but barely four per cent of the population – with a total area of 28,000 square kilometres..
Starting from Kongsvinger, a 17th-century fortress town on Norway’s longest river, the Glomma, the forest of Finnskogen (named for the Finnish immigrants who settled here during the 17th and 18th centuries) offers intrepid visitors a 240-km-long trail from Magnor in the rich farmlands of the south to Søre Osen and Trysil in the mountains of the north.
Trysil itself is one of the largest forest communities in Norway, and one of the country’s largest, most varied and well equipped skiing centres. Despite its large size and rural character, Hedmark’s proximity to Oslo’s international airport makes it easily accessible to visitors. The larger towns, most of which are located in the southern part of the county, are comfortable and hospitable communities, relaxing places to visit.
With Lillehammer, in neighbouring Oppland county, the lakeside Hedmark town of Hamar famously played host to the 1994 Winter Olympics, for which two internationally acclaimed sports arenas were built: the Viking Ship and the Northern Lights Hall. Both are popular attractions for visitors - many of whom may well have arrived on Skibladner, the "white swan of Mjøsa".
Mjøsa, Norway’s largest lake at more than 350 square kilometres, is virtually an inland sea; and Skibladner, built in 1856, is thought to be the world’s oldest paddle steamer still in regular service. The vessel, painstakingly restored to its original splendour, offers its passengers an unforgettable voyage on lake Mjøsa, past the rolling hills and well-kept farms lining its shores.
Out on a headland jutting into the lake lie the ruins of the 12th century Hamar Cathedral Priory, over which a protective steel and glass cover was erected during the late nineties. The impressive structure, one of the largest glass constructions in Europe, has won international acclaim. "Hamardomen", also known as the "Glass Cathedral", was chosen as Hedmark's Millennium Site.
The city of Elverum, situated on the banks of the Glomma in the heart of the nation’s largest forestry region, served as the temporary capital and refuge during the German invasion of World War II, when Norwegian troops prevented the Germans from capturing Norway’s royal family long enough to enable them to escape to exile in England. With the valley of Østerdalen, the Elverum region is characterized by charming villages, beautiful agricultural landscapes and outstanding opportunities for recreational and leisure activities. Elverum is ideal for those who love natural wilderness. This is where the boreal zone, or taiga, begins, and no other area in Norway supports more wild animals: moose, bear, wolf, wolverine and lynx thrive in these woodlands.
For a change of pace, in the town of Løten, midway between Hamar and Elverum, Løiten Lys is quite possibly the world’s biggest producer of handmade candles, a dazzling display housed in a former aquavit distillery − plus an exhibition of works by Løten’s native son, Edvard Munch. And Eidskog, the southernmost municipality, shares with Sokndal in Rogaland and Levanger in Nord-Trøndelag the distinction of membership in the extraordinary “Cittaslow” (“Slow Cities”) movement. Based in Italy, where it grew out of the better known “Slow Food” project, this most exclusive of clubs describes itself as an “international network of cities where the living is easy”.
Children of all ages will not want to miss the Aukrust Centre at Alvdal, dedicated to the work of Kjell Aukrust - the author, poet and artist best known for the fictional village of Flåklypa and its weird and wonderful inhabitants as portrayed in the 1975 cartoon classic “Flåklypa (or Pinchcliffe) Grand Prix”, directed by Ivo Caprino.