Oslo is the oldest Scandinavian capital and the smallest. It is also the sunniest (144 days of sun a year) and the greenest (242 of Oslo's 454sq km are forest). A statue of its patron saint,
St Hallvard, who died defending a pregnant slave, overlooks
the harbour, holding open
his arms as though eternally poised to embrace.
In Oslo you can shop for quirky one-offs, visit art galleries and museums and do all the things you'd expect of a city break, but also — and this is unique to Oslo — ski on Olympic jumps, cycle into forests, and visit islands in the adjacent fjord. The last is home to species of white cowbell only found here, nestling among medieval ruins. At night, you can walk alone safely along the city quay and look into the low-lit windows of boats moored there — great 19th-century clippers and pilot cutters made of oak, the tree sacred to the warrior god Odin.
And then there's the snow, of course. Skiing plays such a part in Norwegian culture that from the age of three everyone is taught to ski cross-country (as opposed to downhill, like the more reckless Swedes) and 2,600km of the landscape is given over to permanently prepared ski tracks. From November to February, Oslo-dwellers regularly step off the end of the metro at Frognerseteren with their skis and whiz back into the city. The 1952 Olympic toboggan run is lit up until 11pm and children take to their sledges for the delirious 20-minute trip down.
But when the snow recedes, out come the bicycles and people head into the forests at Oslomarka above the city, where ancient spruce and yew, wild cherry and downy birch grow incredibly thick and tall around lakes stocked with fish so children can learn how to catch them humanely. The woods are full of lynx, stoats, hares and foxes. Blueberries, raspberries and cloudberries grow everywhere, making the air smell both honeyed and sharp.
In a wooden cabin café that by rights ought to have been made from gingerbread, one late warm morning I eat soup made from mushrooms foraged by the owner and drop bits of cheese on toast into the mouth of a begging husky. I've rarely felt better. Oslo clears your head like nowhere else, even after a melted Brunost binge.
Way to go
British Airways flies to Oslo from London Heathrow. Flight time: about two hours. Visit ba.com, where you can also book Avis car hire and
Join the Executive Club and earn up to 3,610 Avios points when you fly Club Europe to Oslo (return). Or redeem your points: you only need 15,000 to get to Oslo*.
*World Traveller return, excluding taxes, fees and surcharges
Book now at ba.com