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Of sailboats, Ibsen _ and shellfish

Sorlandet, the area along Norway's southern coast, is an idyllic region of charming villages, pristine wilderness, quaint harbors and scenic rocky islands termed skerries.

The tourist season, which lasts from May through September, peaks in August with three festivals. Begin your sightseeing and merrymaking in Risor and head southwest along the coast to Mandal, a trip of about 125 miles, with stops 15 to 30 miles apart.

At Risor's Wooden Boat Festival, Aug. 4-6, thousands of boats come from Scandinavia, France and elsewhere for regattas _ one for sailboats, one for motor vessels.

Landlubbers who come to admire the panorama of bobbing masts and colorful flags silhouetted against the white buildings in Risor's harbor, are welcomed aboard for viewing and often for a sail.

Tourists stroll along the quay or through Risor's narrow, crooked streets, stopping at shops and galleries, the boat yard, and the Church of the Holy Ghost, built in 1647 with an altar piece attributed to Rembrandt.

On the festival's final night, there are street musicians, pop and folk music concerts and fireworks.

From Risor, head to Gjeving and catch the ferry to Lyngor, a historic hamlet with a well-preserved harbor and a ban on cars. Wander the hilly brick and cobble streets and admire clapboard homes and gardens lovingly tended by the 110 year-round residents.

Stroll to the old schoolhouse and post office, then to the Den Bla Lanterne (The Blue Lantern), well-known for seafood and strong brew; you can return to the mainland on the afternoon ferry.

Farther down the coast is the old shipping town of Arendal, set on seven islands. Visit Klockers House to see how wealthy, 19th-century Norwegians lived. The Aust-Adger Museum focuses on geology and history, the Bornsholmen Museum on logging on the Nidelva River.

At Grimstad, enjoy performances and exhibits at "Ibseniana," the Henrik Ibsen Festival, Aug. 7-12. Visit the playwright's home and the pharmacy where he apprenticed.

Grimstad's 12th-century stone church, maritime museum and parks and gardens are worth a look before traveling on to Lillesand and its landmark buildings from the 1700s: the Sandra Svensen home, Town Hall, the customs house and the Bronsgarden Farm, on an archaeological site dating back 3,800 years.

On to elegant Kristiansand to view the Renaissance-style square and ancient, white-painted, wooden buildings of Norway's fifth largest town, planned and built by King Christian IV in 1641. Kristiansand has a wolf reserve, an amusement park, bathing beaches, a harness race track, art and natural history museums, Christiansholm Fort and other historic sites.

Sail or drive to Mandal, Norway's southernmost town, for the Shellfish Festival, Aug. 11-13. A table stretching a couple of blocks is set amid the town's vintage houses and is piled with fresh mussels.

And you can fish for dinner on the scenic Mandalselva River, prime for salmon. Local outfitters rent gear, Mandal's chefs will clean and cook your catch.

IF YOU GO

For information about travel and events in Sorlandet and free maps, contact the Norwegian Tourist Board (NORTRA), 655 Third Ave., New York, NY 10017. Telephone (212) 949-2333.

The festivals are popular, so it's best to book well in advance. NORTRA can advise boaters about chartering vessels. Bus and train schedules are available, but auto rental provides greater flexibility.

Rent a car in Oslo, drive to Risor and tour the coast, return the car at Stavanger, fly to Oslo, connecting to your trans-Atlantic flight.

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