High in the Arctic Circle is a large group of islands that most people have hardly heard of, yet Svalbard holds some of Europe's most unique and exhilarating holiday experiences. Immortalised in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, Svalbard offers an insight into life in the polar regions – a world of Northern Lights, midnight sun and frozen wilderness dominated by the polar bear. It's important
first of all to get a grasp of where and what Svalbard actually is. Imagine a land mass the size of Ireland that looks like the Scottish Highlands during an Ice Age and start adding a long list of superlatives and quirky facts: Svalbard is almost as far from Oslo as the coast of north Africa; contains Europe's largest true wilderness; has the world's most northerly scheduled flight, full service hotel and pub; is inhabited by almost as many polar bears as humans; 60% of its land is covered by glaciers – and you start to get an idea of what Svalbard's all about. The climate is also remarkably mild for somewhere so close to the North Pole – a unique location that allowed early Norwegian and Russian hunters to settle over winter.

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