Fjord Norway 'makes you feel alive'By Stuart White
August 26, 2010
National Geographic has once again rated fjord Norway as the planet’s most iconic destination. STUART WHITE explains why after returning from Scandinavia on Sunday
You could hardly call it cycling. One of the greatest trains in the world had dropped us off half way down its steep descent to Flam and we were left to free-wheel the rest.
I thought the scenic view from the tracks was spectacular, but out in the freshest of air is the place to be. It is breathtaking, and doubly so if you are ever brave enough to try and pedal back up the open road.
Waterfalls crash into clear water streams (drinkable, I was told) which meander beneath the green mountains to the fjords. It is fantasy cycling. I was in my element.
I got back from the five-day trip to fjord Norway on Sunday and couldn’t wait to write about it. It was buzzing round my head; I had to let it out.
These pictures (except of the train) were taken with my own camera, which I could not put down the whole time I was there. If you are not tempted by the view these words are not going to persuade you to visit the Scandinavian country where everybody smiles (and at such a depressing time with a-ha on their farewell tour).
And why wouldn’t you be happy in a place like Norway? Home of beautiful blondes and, if I’m honest, lots of other nice people (who all speak perfect English) I was not quite so interested in.
Fjord explorers tend to start in the city of Bergen. It is from here you can get connected to the water, although the city is worth a couple of nights itself.
Take the funicular up to Mount Floyen for a panoramic view of everything before working your way around the fascinating old town – a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The wooden buildings of Bryggen (the wharf) are an artist’s palatte of colours and lean into each other for stability like a row of drunken sailors. I recommend dinner at the best seafood restaurant, Enhjorningen, with its stylish, de-styled interior of old frames and mirrors and creaky floorboards which slope down to the water. It is a favourite among the locals, who know their fish.
Bergen is good for shopping (check out fashion label Moods of Norway), has a food market, art galleries, university, and is an anchors-down cruise stop destination. It was also home to famous composer Edvard Grieg – I’d never heard of him either but you will know his tune.
But the real action is out in the wild; ‘powered by nature’ is the national catchphrase after all.
The train to Myrdal, which passes through primetime winter sports destination Voss (snow guaranteed), is under two hours and it is here you change for the classic Flamsbana line, the third steepest railway in the world.
We got off the green machine at midway Berekvam Station for the final 11km downhill cruise – brake as much as you like, stopping off for snaps and a dip, and enjoy the scenery until you hit Flam. Bike hire can be arranged through the Fretheim Hotel, who also serve a traditional English tea and grill up a mean meat kebab (which included reindeer) at the end of the railtrack.
Half hour out of the fjord-side resort is the purpose built viewing station at Stegastein high up in the mountain where I took hundreds of pictures. You have to go there.
We then caught a ferry to Balestrand’s Kviknes Hotel for the night. Here they serve quality buffet-style dinner and have plenty of rooms with views over the Sognefjord, where you can go for a ride on boats with a bit more zip. Local man Jonny Noken, who is also an ambulance driver, will take you out on his RiB for a small fee.
And then the next day we tried glacier walking. All kitted up in walking boots with seriously spiky crampons, I joined a group of 15 all roped together and all in awe of the giant mass of electric blue ice at Nigardsbreen. I was like a dog on a lead, desperate to power up, up, up. Unfortunately some nervous Spanish woman had other ideas on the pace our group, which was guided by an official instructor, should set.
Because of the rope, if one stops you all stop. It is not scary at all, and you have more chance of slipping over on the wet Bergen pavement than falling on the glacier. What an experience, unique. Norway makes you feel alive.
The water in these parts turns a shade of green due to the ice, and the Lustrafjord outside nearby Torvis Hotel is not for bathing in. You can kayak or fish or go cycling or hike around it until your legs melt if you like. The hotel has all the gear available to borrow – bikes are not even locked overnight. Crime is not like it is back home in the fjordlands.
Now this hotel, half hour from the glacier, deserves special mention. It was completely refurbished three years ago using materials sourced from the area. Old barns were stripped to provide flooring, artwork restored and given an audience, chefs the freedom to express themselves in the kitchen. The finish is so polished the owner insisted on painting all his neighbours’ homes for free to complete the scene.
This hotel is not cheap, but worth stretching yourself for a night or two.
I could quite happily have stayed a couple of months, but it was back to Bergen via a short flight from Sogndal for dinner at fine dining Skyskraperen Panorama Restaurant – how many views can you take? We finished in an underground bar listening to The Strokes and White Stripes drinking £6 Hansa lager.
I know you are thinking Norway is really expensive, and alcohol and tobacco is highly taxed, but if you are a savvy planner and combine hotels with camping – free as long as you are more than 150 metres from a property – or affordable pensions you will be surprised.
Norway, just a two hour flight from London, is not so far out of reach. And you wouldn’t want to sit in a bar drinking beer all day in a country like this. It is gorgeous, in every way.
Flights from London to Bergen start from £29 one way (including taxes) with www.Norwegian.com. Wideroe operates a large network of internal flights. Boats and coaches go the same routes.
The easiest way to see Bergen, Flam and the Sognefjord is to book in on the popular Norway in a Nutshell trip. You can tailor this to suit your own preferences. Visit www.norwaynutshell.com.
Enhjorningen is located on the historic Bergen wharf. Four course menus are around £55. Visit www.enhjorningen.no.
There are daily guided hikes on the Nigardsbreen glacier. The Blue Ice trip for families cost £19 per adult, £9 per child. A longer guided trip for adults only costs £40. Visit www.jostedal.com.