Explore All of Norway's Delights; Gloria McShane Visits the Scandinavian Country for a Tour of the Non- EU Capital of Culture
Byline: Gloria McShane
WIDE open spaces, magnificent scenery - and less than two hours flying time from the UK.
You don't have to head for Canada, or the US, when Norway is near enough for a short break.
And, to ensure you make the most of a country that's one of the largest in Europe, this summer Norwegian airline Wideroe is offering the Explore Norway pass.
It gives you unlimited travel to up to 35 Norwegian airports for an amazing two weeks, and includes a return flight from the UK.
From the fjords to action-packed cities such as Bergen, Stavanger and Oslo, to adventures in northern Finnmark (Lapland country and land of the midnight sun), take your pick of tempting destinations.
As a sample of what's on offer, I flew to Stavanger, on the south coast - a vibrant city that's little-known in the UK, but shares Liverpool's Capital of Culture title this year as the non-EU holder.
Perhaps the city's most atmospheric hotel is the Sola Strand, built in the 1920s right on beautiful Sola beach.
A distinctive feature is the elegant dining room, panelled in dark wood.
Once the smoking lounge of the ocean liner Montroyal, in 1930, the hotel owners bought the room and reconstructed it inside the building.
It was all aboard for a mouthwatering buffet lunch, choosing from a huge spread including salmon, beef, prawns, plus a rainbow selection of vegetables, fresh fruits and desserts.
Afterwards (yes, I could still walk!) I explored Stavanger's old town, a charming warren of cobbled streets lined with white 19th-century wooden houses.
Then, for contrast, I dropped into the hi-tech Norwegian Petroleum Museum.
OK, this sounds very earnestly Scandinavian, but actually it's an absorbing attraction.
Norway has grown rich from its offshore oil and natural gas fields, and the museum is full of entertaining displays, zippy short films, and handson features.
There's plenty to keep children amused, and outside the museum they can also enjoy GeoPark, a large, innovative playground.
My next stop was Sandefjord, which the Norwegians call their best-kept secret.
It's a major junction for Wideroe flights - but don't just pass through.
This former spa town is an attractive summer playground with a laid-back holiday atmosphere.
I stayed at the art deco Rica Park Hotel, an elegant place with large, airy rooms offering views of the fjord and harbour.
A major Sandefjord attraction is Europe's only whaling museum, which explores the history of this industry, once a vital mainstay of the town's economy.
The immense whale skeletons on show are fascinating - and I was astounded to learn that whales (which are mammals, not fish) once walked the earth.
There's a Teesside link to Sandefjord's whaling history, too. In the harbour, a restored whale-catcher ship on display, the Southern Actor, was built in Middlesbrough in 1950.
I could have spent a week chilling out in Sandefjord.
However, a flying visit to Bergen on the west coast was a must.
This delightful, historic city with a wealth of museums and lively outdoor cafes is also the gateway to fjord country.
Staying at the centrally-located Neptun Hotel Rica Partner, which has an extensive modern art collection on show, I was spoiled for choice when it came to sightseeing.
Highlights included the ancient wooden buildings on the Bryggen (the medieval wharf) and the unmissable Floibanen funicular railway.
It whisked me high up the mountain, for a stunning panoramic view of the city and its surrounding fjords and islands.
Just outside Bergen, Troldhaugen, the home of famous 19th-century composer Edvard Grieg, was well worth the trip.
Besides his villa, there is also an interesting museum, his lakeside composing hut and his tomb built into a crag. …