How long do you have to travel from a town or city before you start saying hello to strangers?
n a trip to Norway several years ago, I joked about that with some locals in Oslo. As with any urban dwellers, they said, most of their week was spent passing other people by. But on weekends, when they hit the trails, slopes, lakes or parks, that standoffishness fell away. Suddenly, they started smiling at everyone.
That was the first time I heard of ‘friluftsliv’ (pronounced free-loofts-liv).
Forget hygge, which splashed Insta-friendly indoor cosiness all over our homes in the 2010s. Friluftsliv literally means “the outdoors life”, and anyone who has spent time in Norway, Sweden or Denmark will know that it feels embedded in the very DNA of these places.
Generations in the making, many companies make space for it in work schedules, access to land is freer and ski and cabin infrastructures are mouthwatering. It is passed on through childhoods on ski slopes, friendships forged by cabins and campfires, long summer days interspersed with energising swims or forest runs. It’s a recharge, a blowing away of cobwebs, a reconnection with nature.
“It is better to go skiing and think of God, than to go to church and think of skiing,” as the explorer Fridtjof Nansen put it.
Sound like a lockdown cure?
All over the world, we’ve returned to nature – be it birdwatching from our gardens or wearing out our lockdown walking loops. And the trend looks like it will transfer to future travel. In a recent TripAdvisor survey, 65pc of participants said the ability to avoid crowded places is more important now in their choice of destination, while 52pc said they’re more likely to take an outdoor or nature trip.
We already know the great outdoors is healthy, but months of hibernation, continued limits on indoor gatherings and improving weather through spring and summer will, I think, push things to a whole new level.
So what about Ireland? I know it can sometimes sound like Scandinavians are better at everything. But Ireland’s outdoors has come a long way in recent years, and there are signs that this pandemic could see our own fledgling ‘friluftsliv’ take a quantum leap forward.
Fáilte Ireland is preparing to release outdoor dining grants, €63.5million has been given to a new wave of greenways, and new walks range from flagship trails like the 135km Royal Canal Greenway to simple, stunning loops like the Cahore Point Trail (here’s a list of 20 walks to look forward to for future adventures).
From Blackrock to Kinsale, we’ve seen towns push parking off main streets. City councils in Dublin and Cork have become more open to al fresco eating, and sea swimming has never been as popular.
I fully expect bike and tent sales to go through the roof again this year, self-caterers are going to be searching for activities, and we’ve seen how cheap gear like Lidl wetsuits (and not-so-cheap gear like dryrobes) can take the edge off Ireland’s weather.
Unlikely to travel abroad, this summer is shaping up as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for holidaymakers to explore beyond crowded beauty spots at home. A few years ago, our Irish Adventure Bucket List hailed a mind-boggling array of adventures, from surfing to sea-kayaking, mountain bike trails and aerial obstacle courses. It’s only grown since.
Covid has also brought huge creativity to Ireland’s casual dining boom. Restaurants are closed, but hatches, takeaways and food trucks like the Salty Buoy in Dublin and the Misunderstood Heron on Killary Fjord have blossomed (Katy McGuinness has a list of 50 great Irish takeaways and meal kits here).
As friends and families look to avoid crowds and indoor time slots remain limited, I think you’ll see deliveries, picnics and take-outs winging their way all over the island this year.
We may not have a word for friluftsliv, but once we’re free to travel beyond our 5km and into other counties again, I think we’ll smile at every stranger we see.
Samhradh na saoirse, anyone?
NB: This article was first sent as the ‘Travel Insider’ newsletter. It’s free, curated by Pól Ó Conghaile, and is sent every Wednesday at 7.30pm. You can sign up here.