South Norway's Setesdal Valley

Two-story storage shed called stabburs
By Rick Steves

Welcome to the remote — and therefore very traditional — Setesdal Valley. Probably Norway's most authentic cranny, the valley is a mellow montage of sod-roofed water mills, ancient churches, derelict farmhouses, yellowed recipes, and gentle scenery. The locals practice fiddles and harmonicas, painting flowery designs on wood, whittling, and gold- and silverwork. The famous Setesdal filigree echoes the rhythmical design of the Viking era and Middle Ages.

The Setesdal Valley joined the modern age with the construction of the valley highway in the 1950s. All along the valley you'll see the unique two-story storage sheds called stabburs (the top floor stored clothes; the bottom, food) and many sod roofs. Even the bus stops have rooftops the local goats love to munch.

In the high country, just over the Sessvatn summit (3,000 feet), you'll see herds of goats and summer farms. If you see an Ekte Geitost sign, that means genuine homemade goat cheese is for sale. (It's sold cheaper and in more manageable sizes in grocery stores.) To some it looks like a decade's accumulation of ear wax. I think it's delicious. Remember, ekte means all-goat — really strong. The more popular and easier-to-eat regular goat cheese is mixed with cow's-milk cheese.

Each town in the Setesdal Valley has a weekly rotating series of hikes and activities for the regular, stay-put-for-a-week visitor. The upper valley is dead in the summer but enjoys a bustling winter. This is easygoing sightseeing — nothing earthshaking. Let's just pretend you're on vacation.