According to the county authority, Vest-Agder, where the Gulf Stream first meets the long Norwegian coast, boasts the warmest and sunniest climate in the country. Much of the county is also sheltered from the strong winds and frequent rainstorms which blow in from the Atlantic Ocean to hit the northern and western coast; instead, gentle winds from Skagerrak and eastern areas of the North Sea bring early springs and late autumns.
The vital presence of Kristiansand, the regional capital and Norway’s fifth largest city, makes Vest-Agder the more metropolitan of the two southern counties. Built by the Danish King Christian IV in 1641 in a chessboard layout featuring four town “quarters”, Kristiansand’s compact, pedestrianized centre is an attractive mixture of historic gravitas and the relaxed seaside atmosphere typical of southern Norway.
Posebyen, the charming old quarter of dwellings, small workshops and family businesses, is one of Northern Europe’s largest preserved developments of 18th and 19th century wooden terraced housing. Other quarters feature a canal and fish market, a lively collection of restaurants, and even a public beach well within the city limits. To the east of the city, Kristiansand Zoo and children’s park Kardemomme by (“Cardamom City”), a theme park based on a well-known Norwegian children’s book, are among Norway’s most popular attractions. Covering an area of 150 acres of wild Nordic terrain, “Kristiansand Zoo” is actually five separate parks: a water park (bring bathing suits and towels), a forest, separate entertainment and theme parks, and the zoo itself, which contains an enclosure for Scandinavian animals such as wolves and elk, and a large breeding ground for Bactrian camels. The “My Africa” exhibition allows you to move along a bridge observing native savannah animals such as giraffe and zebras.
Kristiansand is, of course, the trade and communications centre for the region; it is also one of Norway's major ports, particularly for travel to and from Nordic neighbour Denmark. It is only to be expected that the seafront neighbourhoods can at times become - to put it mildly - extremely lively, especially at the height of summer when the "white nights" seem to go on forever....
Far out in the Kristiansandsfjord you will find a welter of islands to explore en route to the coastal skerries that teem with life.
Mandal, the most southerly town in Norway, offers a distinct change of pace. The birthplace of the famous sculptor Gustav Vigeland (see Oslo), the town is built on both sides of the Mandalselva river, which furnished the salmon on which Mandal built its fortune in the 17th century. A country park of over 100 hectares and two kilometres of sandy beaches are within easy reach of the town centre, where the well preserved wooden houses in the pedestrian precinct include a number of interesting shops.
About 40 km to the southwest is the Skagerrak, and the windswept headland of Lindesnes, site of Norway’s oldest lighthouse (1655), Norway’s southernmost point. Thanks in part to the violent storms and high seas that pound it regularly, Lindesnes is a permanent fixture in Norwegian weather forecasts.