The delights of summer: Vacationing at Norsjø Ferieland

By Sasha Aslanian
Special to the Norwegian American Weekly

The bees outnumber tourists on this late-summer day at Norsjø Ferieland, a popular camping resort in Telemark. At the outdoor restaurant, bees dive-bomb our apple cider.  They have cell phones, proprietor Torstein Lindheim jokes, Whenever one comes, they call each other.

Lindheim is a gregarious bearded fellow, who jokes easily and gives me a bear-hug upon introduction.

Lindheim’s own phone rings frequently. The busy impresario of this resort also runs his family’s ancestral fruit orchards and has taught economics at the nearby college in Bø for 25 years.

We’re sitting in his outdoor restaurant, looking out at the tidy yellow cabins and blue water.  And although we have arrived in mid-August, Norway’s summer season is winding down.

Norsjø kneeboarding

Kids enjoy the water at Norsjø Ferieland

“If you had been here two weeks ago,” says Lindheim, gesturing to the hillside of caravan-style tents, “You would have seen a thousand people. It was crowded!”

There is still excitement in Norsjø Ferieland today. The main attraction the waterski tow is humming along and teens in wetsuits and wakeboards catch rides all day long. Six can ride at the same time, gliding out from the dock and weaving through the obstacle course of ramps and jumps. Girls as well as boys show off their moves. Norwegian and international pop tunes play in the background.

The “ski lift on the water” is a German invention that’s caught on in Europe. Lindheim says it’s been a popular draw among Norwegians too. The cabins and tents form a sort of amphitheater in the hillside above the skiing cove and tents with better views pay 30% more.

Norsjø is a calm blue lake on the Telemark canal, and according to Lindheim, benefits from a warm micro-climate. Norwegians from the rainy west coast come here for more reliable sunshine. But Lindheim says he also draws visitors from Oslo and eastern Norway.

Norsjø Ferieland was once the home of Norway’s biggest sawmill.  After the national railroad was finished in 1927, the sawmill fell into disuse, save for a brief period during the Nazi occupation. In the 80s, it became a campground. Lindheim and his partner took it over in 1994.

Lindheim’s Spanish team of chefs hustles out a lunch of Norsjø trout topped with bacon. It’s served with seasoned chunks of roasted potatoes and a gourmet salad. Guess where this fish come from? Lindheim says with evident delight at the trick question. The Norsjø trout comes not from the gorgeous blue lake a few meters away, but is flown in from a mountain lake in Chile.

Still, there’s a strong feeling of Norway all around.  Flags and window boxes adorn the year-round campsites. Guests bring all the comforts of home: comfortable furniture, stereos and the family dog. The resort hosts music festivals and a daily pirate show for kids.

Every year, Lindheim and his partner try to make improvements. In 2005, Norsjø Ferieland was voted the best campground in Norway. “I don’t think it was,” Lindheim says modestly, “But we hope we will be in 2010 when we finish. We have a lot of things do to. There are plans to promote the Telemark canal for bicycling, boating and day hikes.”

But like the bees with their cell phones, technology isn’t always Lindheim’s friend. He says tourists have gotten fickle. Where they used to plan a vacation in advance, “Now they have GPS connected to the weather forecast and they just press the button ‘sunshine’ and go wherever the sunshine is,” he says with a shake of his head.

The ski-tow has certainly added excitement, but where a resort in Barcelona, Spain can use it for eight months of the year, Lindheim’s season is a mere 12 weeks.  In this northern paradise, summer is over in the blink of an eye. “I’m so unhappy about it! But that’s how it is. That’s Norway.”

The family staying in the neat wooden cabin next to ours pulls up with three children and a dog. Within minutes, steaks are on the grill, the baby is sleeping in the stroller on the porch and their two blond sons run alongside the ducks and swans on the lake. Their hound jumps ecstatically against his leash at the sight of the ducks and the smell of the steak and finally it’s his dinnertime too.  Then, they all settle in for a perfect late summer evening picnic. They have nine months to dream of summer’s return.

This article was originally published in the Dec. 19, 2008 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. 

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