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Introducing Lofoten

The pure air in your lungs (except for the strong reek of fish in some of the small ports), daylight around the clock and summer's infinite shades of green and yellow: Lofoten comes as a tonic. You'll never forget your first approach by ferry, especially if you've sailed from Bodø. The islands spread their tall, craggy physique against the sky like some spiky sea dragon and you wonder how humans eked a living in such inhospitable surroundings.

The main islands, Austvågøy, Vestvågøy, Flakstadøy and Moskenesøy, are separated from the mainland by Vestfjorden. On each are sheltered bays, sheep pastures and picturesque villages. The vistas (the whole of the E10 from tip to toe of Lofoten is designated a National Tourist Route, a title bestowed only upon the most scenic roads) and the special quality of the Arctic light have long attracted artists, represented in galleries throughout the islands.

But Lofoten is still very much commercially alive. Each winter the meeting of the Gulf Stream and the icy Arctic Ocean draws spawning Arctic cod from the Barents Sea. For centuries, this in turn drew farmer-fishermen from the mainland's north coast. Although cod stocks have dwindled dramatically in recent years, fishing still vies with tourism as Lofoten's largest industry, as evidenced by the wooden drying racks that lattice nearly every village on the islands.