Telemark is a traditional Norwegian region. In 2020, the former county merged with Vestfold. In this article we concentrate on the Telemark region which claim they hold most of what the kingdom of Norway has to offer. It’s like a Norway in miniature.
The former Telemark county covers more than 15,000 square kilometers and stretches from Skagerak’s salty waves along the coast via lush fruit settlements around Norsjø to the high mountain plateau Hardangervidda. You can experience heavy industry in the Grenland region and beautiful cultural landscapes in the mountain villages west of the county.
The name Telemark means the “mark of the Thelir”, the ancient North Germanic tribe that inhabited what is now known as Upper Telemark in the Migration Period and the Viking Age. The vast region of southern Norway is also considered to be the birthplace of skiing.
In the Middle Ages, the agricultural society of Upper Telemark was considered the most violent region of Norway. Today, half of the buildings from medieval times in Norway are located here. The dialects spoken in Upper Telemark also retain more elements of Old Norse than those spoken elsewhere in the country.
Telemark has been one of Norway’s most important industrial regions for centuries, marked in particular by the Norske Skog Union paper mills in Grenland and the Norsk Hydro heavy water and fertilizer production in Upper Telemark.
Norway’s newest UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Rjukan-Notodden Industrial Site includes hydroelectric power plants powered by waterfalls, along with the transmission lines, factories, transport systems and towns.
The largest lake area in Norway
Telemark is also the county with the largest lake area in Norway. Some of the largest are Møsvatn, Tinnsjå, Norsjø, Nisser, Bandak, Totak and Fyresvatn. Boat enthusiasts can experience the pleasures of sea with both fresh water and salt water under the keel.
Visible history includes the many rural churches including some of Norway’s most beautiful stave churches. The region has a long tradition of folk costumes and rose painting.
The Telemark Canal
The Telemark Canal was considered the world’s eighth wonder when it was completed in 1892. At that time, 500 men had worked for five years to blast and dig through mountains that created a divide between the lakes. The canal between Eastern Norway and Vestlandet is 105 kilometer long and lifts the ships 72 meters above sea level via 18 lock chambers. The canal created a revolution in transport in its time.
Today, the canal has long since lost its significance as a traffic route. Instead, it has become one of the county’s biggest tourist attractions. During the summer season, boats leave daily from Skien and Dalen in the morning, arriving at the opposite end early in the evening. You can choose to set aside the day to join the whole journey, or you can join for a while, and then be bussed back to the starting point where the car is parked.
Bicycle can be an alternative where you combine a bicycle trip and a boat trip of different length and duration. Visittelemark.no sells bicycle packages that include accommodation along the way. For mobile home tourists, there is a relatively good selection of campsites around Norsjø and elsewhere along the Telemark watercourse. One of the larger ones is Norsjø Ferieland in Gvarv, which has exciting offers in most forms of water sports.
Seljord is not far away if you are in the area around the Telemark watercourse, and it may be worth taking the trip. Seljord, which is located in the middle of Telemark, is said to contain Norway’s only invisible sight, namely the sea worm in Seljordvannet. For more than 250 years, people have claimed to have seen a worm-like animal in the 15-kilometer-long and 150-meter-deep lake, but evidence has so far been lacking. A 17-meter-high lookout tower has been erected on Bjørgeøyane near Seljord camping and many bring binoculars and cameras up into the heights in the hope of getting a glimpse of the monster.
The historic end point of the Telemark Canal, the Dalen Hotel is one of the most picturesque accommodations in Norway. Many guests on boat trips from Skien choose to stay overnight here and enjoy a sumptuous dinner in 19th-century surroundings before returning the next day.
Norway’s ‘fairytale hotel’ also offers visitors a range of packages, from three-course dinners through to spa treatments. Guests can enjoy the terrace and piano bar, borrow a small rowing boat, or even play croquet in the garden.
The most important city of the region, Skien, was historically one of Norway’s most important cities, although its importance declined after the Napoleonic Wars. The playwright Henrik Ibsen was a native of Skien, and many of his plays are set in places reminiscent of the city and area.
If you want to move above the tree line, you should find your way to Kalhovd and the gigantic areas there. Here it is easy to walk and cycle, and there are almost no people. Gaustadtoppen looms in the field of vision all the time. Perhaps one of the most beautiful areas in the Norwegian mountains.
Kalhovd Tourist Cabin is a cozy lounge with a fireplace and a dining room seating 60 – 80 people. Here, they serve breakfast, lunch during daytime and dinner in the evening; all for standard DNT (Norwegian Trekking Association) prices. There is a small kiosk, and they have license to sell alcoholic beverages.
Telemark as a county is expected to be re-established by 1 January 2024, following a vote of the county council of Vestfold og Telemark on 15 February 2022 to split the newly established county into its respective counties that existed before the merger took place; Telemark and Vestfold.
A Norway in Miniature, compiled by Tor Kjolberg
Feature image (on top) © Visit Telemark