Norway is a photogenic country. With beautiful fjords, northern lights, midnight sun, and cozy coastal cities, it’s no wonder many people are tempted to head north. But even for a coastal-dwelling Norwegian like me, Norway’s vast and sparsely-populated inland is unpaved territory.
My curiosity led me to a landlocked valley in Norway named Valle, and it proved that you don’t have to travel far to experience something exotic. The people in this long, narrow valley are known for their passion for deep-rooted and unique traditions. And what could be a better time to visit than during Norwegian Constitution Day, when traditions are on display and cherished?
Some 1,149 people live in Valle county. This rural mountainscape has an area greater than New York City and lies between the modern and lively cities of Oslo and Stavanger. But there’s not much that resembles any of that here.
Valle is like a living museum where you’ll find 17th-century buildings everywhere, unique folk music and colorful clothing with a long history. Even the dialect is well preserved and resembles medieval Norwegian, so even I felt the need for a traveler’s dictionary at times.
Norwegian Constitution Day
Norway’s national symbolisms are mostly rooted in its rural lifestyle and culture, which Valle keeps well and alive to this day. This is most visible during celebrations, especially on Constitution Day, which is all about lifting the Norwegian spirit. And every Norwegian village and town prove each May 17 that it’s not the size of the population that matters when it comes to celebration. It’s all about passion and dedication.
The Norwegian Constitution Day is not like any other celebration. During this national holiday, the streets are filled with parades and music. Whether you’re young or old, rich or poor, everyone is marching in the streets, singing and waving flags. It’s also an occasion to wear the bunad, the Norwegian folk costume with patterns, motifs and colors unique for every district.
Norwegians are typically known as a calm and modest people, but when you meet the crowds on this day, you will quickly conclude that during the other days of the year, they simply charge their batteries for the big national celebration.
The Car Parade: Valle’s Own Tradition
The people’s parade can be experienced anywhere in Norway, but Valle has its own tradition: the car parade. Cars embellished by flags, branches, balloons and teddy bears cruisie along the river.
A kind stranger offered to take me in his car, and I had an amazing opportunity to see all the breathtaking sights the place has to offer. The valley grew taller and the river wider as we headed up north. Old barns, both well-kept and some dilapidated, were situated along a river that was glowing under the sun.
The weather in Norway during this season may vary, but we were lucky this year. The valley was green, with just a bit of snow still on the mountain tops, and the many sheep were outside living on the sunny hillsides.
Norwegians wait several months for the summer to arrive, which makes it particularly valuable, especially in May, when nature, as well as the people, have defrosted and are embracing some long-awaited warm sun rays. Another reason to celebrate, although the woolly bunad maybe a little too much on a day like this.
Music is a Big Part of Valle’s Soul
Sigurd Brokke wears his old-fashioned bunad with pride. He also embraces Valle’s colorfulness in other ways. Music is a big part of Valle’s soul, particularly the fiddle and the Jew’s harp, which have long traditions in the area. Brokke, born and raised in Valle, lives on the hillside in a house with a history spanning 400 years. The surrounding sheep farm and the stunning view over the river and the valley create a perfect environment to practice the instruments.
“Music has been in my family, and 22 years ago I started to learn how to play the Jew’s harp. I try to make something innovative within this narrow genre,” Brokke says.
To experience live Norwegian folk music and dances, Valle is a good place tostart. Setesdalsfestivalen, a folk music festival, takes part every summer to promote cultural heritage. In addition to having given courses at the festival, Brokke has won several prizes there. He has even figured in a Russian documentary about the district’s folk music, and played concerts in various Norwegian folk music festivals, so the fascination is not exclusive to Valle.
But this valley is inhabited by many people who are passionate about cultural history, whether it’s silversmithing, folk music and dances, or making traditional clothes.
However, the musical echoes from the past may not go on forever.
“There are relatively many people in Valle who are proud of their traditions. But it relies on the dedicated few practitioners to keep it going,” Brokke says.
Valle’s folk music may be cited on UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage
A couple of decades ago, the tradition had a renaissance in the county, which brought old tunes back to life. But, now, the folk music course in the county’s high school is no longer available, and there are few young practitioners to keep up the hype. Community enthusiasts are working on getting the district’s folk music on the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage. If that happens, it could spark the interest in a larger scale.
Apart from the rich culture of Valle, the nature also is spectacular. And, if you want to get the most out of it, climbing is a fun fast-track to the best views.
After one hour of climbing, I found myself about 3,000 feet above sea level gazing over the valley and mountain tops as far as you can see. There are 500 climbing routes in the county, providing opportunities for beginners and adrenaline junkies alike.
One of them, Straumsfjellet, is northern Europe’s longest climbing route. But I took a more family-friendly route the company Via Ferrata provides.
It was still quite an adrenaline-pumping experience. You may rest your eyes on the postcard view as you ascend, but whenever you look down, the trees and houses appear smaller and smaller underneath you, and you realize a fall would bring you several hundred feet down before you smash into a thick forest.
But luckily you are secured by wires, and the guide, Arne Holskog, makes sure everything goes well.
“I started to guide climbing tours four years ago,” Holskog said. “I had no prior experience, but now I go on trips with people from all over the world. It has been an amazing experience.”
All Ages Can Get a Bird’s-eye View of Norway
Holskog tells about the time a 5-year-old girl climbed all the way up this hillside. Also, an 83-year-old man made it to the top. So it’s possible for anyone to get to see Norway from a bird’s-eye view. Four of the women in my group came from Thailand seeking adventure and were staying at Helle Camping over the summer to work on a strawberry farm, all run by our tour guide.
When arriving at the top of the mountain after a comfortable, but slightly height-fright-inducing climb, we took a moment to watch the endless plains on top of the surrounding mountains. From this height, the river and the log houses appeared like a miniature village by a creek.
After a lively celebration with music and parades, a trip to this completely silent no-man’s land beautifully ends a weekend in a wonderful Norwegian valley.