"THE WHOLE EXPERIENCE HAS TO BE GENUINE, SUSTAINABLE, AND AUTHENTICALLY CHALLENGING."
– Throughout my career as a fisherman, I learned from others – this is my way of giving back, says Edgar Olsen, host and owner of Varanger Lodge.
The lodge, completed in 2017, is a top-class holiday experience right by the Varanger fjord in the small fishing village of Nesseby in Finnmark, Northern Norway.
But wait – how is building high-quality accommodation returning the favour for marine knowledge gathered through generations of fishing the arctic seas?
The answer lies on the other side of the lodge window walls: the rough and rugged beauty of nature in the Varanger peninsula.
Edgar’s vision for Varanger Lodge was clear from the start: the whole experience had to be genuine, sustainable, and authentically challenging.
– It had to be true to life in Varanger – I want to give people an understanding of how to live off the sea and how to respect it, he states.
Tried and true fisherman
Born and raised in Nesseby village, right where Varanger Lodge now stands, Edgar spent his childhood playing in the fishing harbour. He learned fishing through his father, but it wasn’t until his twenties when he was first recruited on a professional fishing boat and found his passion and livelihood.
Since the mid-90’s, Edgar has fished all over the North Atlantic from Novaya Zemlya in the east to Greenland in the west, and from Spitsbergen in the north to Iceland in the south.
Upon returning to Varanger and Nesseby in 2005, Edgar built his own fishing boat and became an entrepreneur.
This soon led to providing guided fishing trips on the side, with many a customer still returning for Edgar’s unmatched knowledge on fishing, local nature, culture and history.
Edgar’s roots are firmly planted in Varanger: his family has been based in the area since the 1700’s. Like his Sámi ancestors, Edgar follows the seasonal cycle of life in the north, fishing and hunting in arctic nature.
When the skipper says “I will give you a real Varanger experience”, it is an understatement to say you’ll be instructed by a local expert.
Sustainability – a way of life
Sustainability is a trendy term these days, but has been a practice in the Varanger area through the ages. Maintaining the delicate balance of natural resources is a way of life and a prerequisite for survival in the far north.
– Living off nature means you must respect it. Overfishing, for example, has direct repercussions, says Edgar.
The lifestyle is challenging, but rewarding: no day is the same.
– I hope my guests get to experience this while staying at Varanger Lodge, he continues.
At the lodge, sustainability is considered in everything from building materials and methods to energy consumption. It is simply an intrinsic part of all actions.
– We want to leave the area as it was before us. Understanding the ecosystems is key to using nature as a resource, but keeping it vibrant and healthy, Edgar concludes.
Varanger: seasons and nature
The Varanger peninsula is the only part of mainland Norway with an arctic climate. The changing seasons, of which there are up to eight this far north, are characterised by the shifting light conditions.
In the summer, the sun does not set: The Midnight Sun period spans from late May until the end of July. In the winter, the sun does not rise: The Polar Night lasts from late November until the end of January.
The Northern Lights, Aurora Borealis, can be seen in Varanger when nights start getting dark in the autumn, after the summer’s white nights. The Northern Lights season begins at the end of September and goes on until the end of March.
At Varanger Lodge, the Auroras can be seen dancing above the fjord and fells in colourful, usually green, arcs and other formations.
Please consider that the Northern Lights are a natural phenomenon, and their appearance cannot be guaranteed. If, however, you’re lucky enough to witness their show, a lifetime memory is a sure thing.
The nature in the Varanger peninsula is rather barren; the mountains are only covered with shrubs and grass, and short birch trees grow near the shoreline. Snow often lingers as late as mid-July on the mountaintops.
Animals of the region include reindeer, elk, the arctic fox and the snowy owl, among others. The rivers, lakes and sea are teeming with a plethora of fish and king crab, a sought-after delicacy. See king crab and fishing excursions led by Edgar Olsen here.
– Varanger is a paradise for outdoor lovers, and us locals get to take it for granted, says lodge host Edgar.
A brief history of Varanger and the Sea Sámi
The sea has brought people to the Varanger peninsula for thousands of years. Living off it has always been a prerequisite for life in the arctic outpost. Today, Varanger Lodge is a window to the local way of life – as close to the sea as you can get.
The peninsula has been inhabited continuously since the last ice age. At the cultural heritage site in Mortensnes village, a five-minute drive from Varanger Lodge, remains of human settlements date as far back as 10 000 years.
The Sámi are a well-known indigenous people of Arctic Europe – the northern parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland and the Kola Peninsula of Russia. The Sámi of the Varanger area were referred to as the Sea Sámi due to living off the sea as well as the land.
The Sea Sámi followed the annual migration of species both on land and at sea, and built their shelters of materials available – something Varanger Lodge draws inspiration from even today. Seal and fish were important marine resources, as were birds and mammals on land. Cod liver in particular was an important source of vitamin D, proving vital for surviving the long and dark winters of the north. (Photo: Knud Knudsen)
The natural cycle is still present in Varanger life. In the early spring, for example, as the cod come in from the Barents Sea to spawn in the Varanger fjord, locals get ready for a feast: the first meal prepared of fresh spring cod, its liver and roe, is northern nature’s bounty at its finest.
For more on the Sea Sámi and cultural heritage in Varanger, please see Varanger Sámi Museum Várjjat, located in Varangerbotn, a 15-minute drive from Varanger Lodge.