Caution! Watch for Trolls

Where else but Norway have roads become cultural destinations?

What other country would embark on a thirty-year plan to build scenic roads to amplify natural wonders in remote areas? Hold nationwide competitions for the engineering of these new roads, for the architecture of accompanying pavilions, observation decks and restaurants (even “extremely fancy toilets”) and for the installations of noteworthy artists?

Take, for example, the wildest and most visited of Norway’s Scenic Routes, Trollstigen (“Troll’s Staircase”), an engineering marvel in the famous Romsdal Alps, a road featured in every Norwegian guidebook we consulted, named in endless ‘”Top 10 road trips” from National Geographic to The Guardian.

Brutal twists completely visible top to bottom—we knew what to expect! Built by hand over eight years—to be fair eight summers, as winter construction here is impossible. Surpentining 12.2 kilometres, buttressed by rockwalls of the Trolltindene mountain range. A natural stone bridge to carry you past the Stigfossen waterfall. Eleven hairpins, a separate team for each bearing the name of its project foreman. A 10% grade (12% in one spot). Only 3.3 metres wide, albeit there are passing pockets. Although some hairpins have been widened, long buses still make three-point turns on a few of the curves. Vehicles must be no longer than 12.4 metres so our rented motorhome Hjulrundt (“wheel around”) qualified.

Coming from Åndalsnes on Norwegian National Road 63, we drove the Troll’s Road up the mountain instead of down, which I believe is easier and more rewarding. The best part is the visitor centre known as Stigrøra at the top (after a 858 metre climb), steel walkways and overhanging platforms designed by Oslo’s Reiulf Ramstad Architects, embracing you with stunning organic design and dramatic eagle’s eye views of Trollstigen and the valley below. Wow Factor: 10/10.

Our timing was perfect. About 3,200 drivers per day (May/June to October/November when it’s not snow-blocked) navigate the Troll’s Staircase. We were there in off-season, September 2, a Monday, mid-afternoon, so it wasn’t too busy and best of all, sunshine lit up the dizzying staircase of twists and turns. Quite often, a veil of milky mist from the adjacent waterfalls clouds the gorgeous views—and the road.

My jubilado status is not to blame—the Trollstigen’s abrupt turns make it impossible to crank your neck and look behind you for another breathtaking view of the road, or Stigfossen cascading down, or the surrounding mountains. Magellan had hoped to fly his drone as this is a landscape-protected area not a national park. But two things stopped him: few pullouts with enough space for him to set it up, and vehicles within the regulated distance of 150 metres.  We couldn’t really even stop for photos.

The project to create Norway’s Scenic Routes was Initiated by the Norwegian Public Roads Administration and began in 1998 when the country’s parliament called for national nominations—Trollstigen was one of the 18 roads nominated and selected.

In the desire to lure more tourists to remote areas, it was recognized early on that using outstanding art, architecture, and landscape design would be an effective draw. The built works would facilitate the experiences with nature while being attractions in their own right. At the same time, the works were to reinforce the character of the route, its specific landscape, while capturing each site’s uniqueness and mood.

Construction began in 2004. Roads now weave along 1,850 km of the country’s rugged backcountry, enriched by more than 150 shelters, scenic lookouts, hiking trails, rest areas and bird-watching pavilions—a total of 249 projected by 2023. Trollstigen opened on June 16, 2012.

Although, you might say Trollstigen got its initial start in 1891. That’s when farmers on both sides of the mountain constructed a connecting pack road through this dangerous pass. By 1913, the road was upgraded for horses and riders, except for the steepest section that remained a pack road until 1936 when the impressive link of switchbacks was asphalted and opened to wheeled vehicles.

According to Norwegian folk legend, trolls roam the mountains of Trollstigen every night, changing to a mass of stone when sunlight hits them in the morning. It is said that during construction, the ringing of church bells in the village of Valldal kept the trolls from causing avalanches and other such fiendish actions. The only troll we saw on this roadway, twirling and twisting on our rear-view mirror, was our beloved Rugnhild, a talismanic Christmas present I gave Magellan last year.

Norway’s Scenic Routes have been a steep turning point for the tourism industry. The iconic attractions have inspired travellers from all over the world “to visit our country, stay longer and come back again to experience more,” according to Kristian B. Jorgensen of Fjord Norway.

What will Norway do next? How about a national competition to curate playlists to accompany driving each scenic road? What songs would you nominate for Trollstigen?

Navigation

Cohane, Ondine. “In Norway, the Journey Is the Destination.” New York Times. October 16, 2017.

Miller, Wiliam C. “Fusion of art and nature along Norway’s scenic routes.” Nordics Info, Aarhus University. May 22, 2019.

Norwegian Scenic Routes: Our Most Beautiful Road Trips.

Reiulf Ramstad Architects

A few photos from their website to show you Norway’s “Road Culture.”

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13 replies
  1. Avatar
    Diana says:

    I was in the area a little over a year ago and what struck me about that part of Norway was the pristine, untouched landscape. I hate to say it, but tourism can have a detrimental effect on natural environments so I would discourage publicizing all of these remote places online. Let’s keep the country remote and preserve our wild places.
    Thanks from a second generation Norwegian!!

    Reply
    • Spice
      Spice says:

      It is a dilemma isn’t it, especially their boom in the number of cruise ships and the crazy people risking their lives to get a “cool” photo in dangerous spots. We read that Norway stopped going to international travel shows as an attempt to slow tourism after the movie Frozen accelerated the number of tourists—many of them going to the same areas en masse rather than the more remote locations. With no social media links and being non-influencer jubilados, our little site isn’t likely to make much of a difference to their tourism—that road trip may even scare a few visitors away!

      Reply
  2. Avatar
    Barry MacLeod says:

    Reminds me of the Anarchist (sp) pass east of Osoyoos BC, quite a drive in itself and very beautiful dropping down into the Okanogan Valley in blossom time from the west.
    Too bad you do not have a two way logging radio if you want to see some gravel road switchbacks that will curl you hair, if you have a look at the peaks in the kicking horse pass imagine the logging roads going into the Mountain Goats homeland, not for the faint of heart then throw in the odd loaded logging truck coming at you at breakneck speed.
    Do Not Attempt This without an experienced logging road driver and more important the proper radio so the trucks know where “You Are”
    I believe that 90 % of Canada’s Highway passes are higher than the Norway pass, Norway is nice but Canada is home🤔🤔🤔🤔🤔. Nice photography👍👍👍

    Reply
    • Spice
      Spice says:

      We once found ourselves accidentally, on an old logging road. Had to back up Rove-Inn very slowly as there was nowhere to turn around. Never again I say—that is for the young. Will have to check out Anachrist Pass. You’re right about Norway; their mountain passes are not nearly as high as ours.

      Reply
  3. Avatar
    HACKER Bill & Lynn says:

    WOW!!!
    Makes the Logan Pass in Glacier National Park in Montana look like a multi lane freeway… all two lanes with lots of turnouts and parking areas for photo opportunities and a bathroom or roadside lunch breaks. Have you ever been over the Logan? Spectacular views!

    Reply
    • Spice
      Spice says:

      Yes, I remember the first time many years ago when there was still snow on one side: gorgeous—probably one of the most scenic roads in the US.

      Reply
      • Magellan
        Magellan says:

        In the early 60s I was with my parents on the Going-to-the-Sun Highway (Logan’s Pass) where it seemed every fourth vehicle was stopped with its hood open from overheating.That’s a serious climb.

        Reply
    • Magellan
      Magellan says:

      The traffic conditions for us were perfect. But can you imagine a busier period when you have 10 vehicles following your motorhome, and a motorhome is approaching you coming downhill with 10 vehicles behind it, and the small bulges widening to two lanes only accommodates 4 vehicles each way? Who backs up? Not me!

      Reply
  4. Avatar
    Diane Wilby says:

    Well, that video was nerve racking! I felt like I was with you all the way. And I thought the skinny 2 lane highways through the mountains in New Zealand were tight. However, the views were amazing when you got to the top!

    Reply
    • Magellan
      Magellan says:

      I think the driving conditions in Norway and on the south island of New Zealand were very comparable. We drove the same manual-shift motorhome in both. New Zealand has a few more pull-outs where you are expected to let others pass. The two-way highways in Norway that are only one-lane wide can get grid-locked in tourist season. Fortunately we were there in the shoulder season.

      Reply

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