Staff Member: Dan Crandall
Travel Dates: September 9-16, 2016
Destinations Visited: Bergen, Norway and Norwegian Fjord Country
Overview: Bergen is Norway’s second largest city and gateway to the nation’s remarkable fjord region. Fjords are long, narrow sea inlets with high cliffs created by glacial erosion. Fjord Norway is a stunning land of contrasts – you find both rugged and peaceful scenery, with all kinds of outdoor activities. From wandering on long white beaches in March, to seeing the apple blossoms of May, to skiing in July on snowy glaciers, to seeing the fall colors in late September, many little surprises awaits travelers. Fjord Norway has everything you could wish for — mountains, fjords, glaciers, fresh air, quaint cities, plus alluring hikes, rafting trips, bike trips and boat tours among many other outdoor adventures.
Day 1 / September 9: Arrival in Bergen, Norway
I arrived in Bergen via Oslo at 3:00pm on Norwegian Air, an up-and-coming discount carrier now serving more and more destinations internationally, including JFK, where I boarded the flight.
The transfer to the city center from Bergen Airport took about 20-25 minutes.
Bergen, Norway’s second-largest city, is busy yet beautiful, ringed by seven mountains and the sea. Situated on the coast, for many this is the gateway to the nation’s remarkable fjord region.
Before our walk to the restaurant this evening, we took a brief art tour at one of the main art museums in town, the Kode 2, featuring one of the largest collection of Edward Muench’s works.
Dinner was at Lysverket – one of Norway’s best restaurants – highly recommended. Be ready for a “neo-fjordic” culinary experience with an excellent wine selection.
We had our overnight in Bergen at the Villa Terminus, a special on-site but separate property of the famous Hotel Grand Terminus, which is next to the historic train station that now serves as a shopping center.
Day 2 / September 10: Bergen and Haugesund
This morning, we rode the funicular in downtown Bergen to the surrounding hills, specifically Mt. Floyen. The funicular ride is 90 Kroner return (7 Kroner to 1 US dollar). It was cloudy – Bergen’s weather can be compared generally to Seattle’s, so be prepared for mist, clouds, and light rain – but we enjoyed a short hike around a small lake, where canoes are stacked and free to use if interested. Paths are well signed, with some cute ones included, saying things like “If you are looking for a sign, this is it” and “If nothing is going right, go left.” Hikers can choose to walk on paved paths or more rugged footpaths. Bikes are available for rent as well. Loads of fresh mountain air and quiet serenity.
One can do a scenic 17 km hike from the funicular top across the alpine ridges to the Ulriken cable car if time allows – it takes between 3-6 hours depending on your speed and physical condition (hikers can take a city bus back to downtown Bergen). Instead of hiking, we descended and took our tour bus to Ulriken to save time. A cable car takes you up the steep slopes. The wind died down and we were allowed to do the fun zipline (300 Kroner), advertised as “Norway’s fastest.” Alpine scenery abounds at the top, with wide open views of Bergen, the hills and fjord country below. Also, at the top is a beautiful lodge paneled with picture windows offering coffee, wine, beer, and fine food. We ate lunch there – a gourmet meal of cod – at the Sky Scraper restaurant.
- Bus departure to Haugesund via Troldhaugen
In the afternoon, we visited the Edvard Grieg Museum, with a tour of the villa and museum of Norway’s most famous composer, known for “The Hall of the Mountain King.” It was a short and pleasant walk from the parking lot to the museum which overlooks the water.
- Departure by road from Solstrand
- Ferry crossing Halhjem – Sandvikvåg
- Arrival Våge, continued by road to Haugesund
Our overnight in Haugesund was at the Clarion Collection Hotel Amanda. This property is right along the waterfront, making it convenient for boat excursions.
Haugesund is a pretty and lively large town along the fjord that literally gave Norway its name – “the North way.” We enjoyed a walking tour of this very walkable old city center before dinner, strolling this attractive town’s wharf lined with outdoor cafes and bars.
Day 3 / September 11: Viking history / Stavanger Old Quarter and Street Art
Today we received a fascinating taste of old Viking history. We set sail on the Johanne Karine, a wonderfully restored wooden sailboat from 1854, from outside the hotel to the Viking Farm at Avaldsnes. We took a guided tour of the replica farming settlement on the rugged coast here, with a quick stop at the Nordvegen History Museum, which deserved more time but we were in a hurry to catch a ferry. Before we left, however, we walked over the famous standing stone here – perhaps thousands of years old – that marked a meeting place for ancient peoples of the area. Right next to the towering stone is the picturesque fortified medieval church at Avaldsnes, built in the 1200s.
** Suggestion: Allow for about 2 hours for this visit and take in more of the museum. Dress according to the weather and bring good walking shoes.
- Ferry Arsvågen – Mortavika 25 min crossing the Boknafjord
- By road, arrival in Stavanger
After arriving in Stavanger, a large working town situated on the coast with a very attractive old quarter area full of boutique shops, we took to the old world streets by Segway, which was a lot of fun (though maybe that was because our guide let us zip around the streets at high speeds). While the focus was on this town’s impressive array of street art – featuring works from noted artists from around the world – we learned a bit about the town’s history and took in some historic sites like the ancient fortified church (dating from 1150) and the attractive modern oil and gas museum that hosts a colorful and unique playground for kids, like nothing I’ve seen before. There are other museums too like the canning museum that we didn’t have time to check out but would be worth a visit. Allow for about 2 hours for the tour which starts near the port and old quarter. Be sure to bring a camera, not just for the artworks, but also the beautiful little houses that line the cobblestone streets. The Segway takes about 1 minute to get the hang of and it’s very easy from then on.
Our overnight in Stavanger was at the Thon Hotel Stavanger in the old quarter area very near the port, within easy walking distance of the old quarter and many major attractions.
Day 4 / September 12: Pulpit Rock hike
- 8am ferry from Stavanger to Tau
- Bus Tau to Preikestolen Fjellstue
This morning we did the unforgettable hike to famous Pulpit Rock, rated by Lonely Planet as one of the top 10 most spectacular vistas in the world. This moderately difficult hike is about 2 hours each way, plus allow for about 30-45 minutes on the cliff plateau. People afraid of heights might reconsider the hike, as at the top, there is no railing and the cliff is huge, while the trail is fairly narrow. Pulpit Rock is essentially an overhang in the cliff overlooking a grand fjord, with luscious views all around. Imagine a great Yosemite viewpoint with a rugged fjord below you. Simply awesome! Wear hiking pants and bring layers for your top, and good waterproof hiking boots are recommended.
- Drive to Lofthus. 4.5 hours non-stop driving
- Part of the drive is a necessary ferry –Ferry Nesvik – Hjelmeland – 10 min crossing the fjord
Our overnight was at the Hotel Ullensvang.
Day 5 / September 13: Scenic Train / Bike descent to Flam / Sea Kayaking in Flord
- Drive from Ullensvang to Voss
- Train Voss-Myrdal
- Arrive in Myrdal / Bike descent to Flam
Myrdal is a stunning train whistle-stop high in the mountains. Here at the train station, we picked up bikes for our 20 km descent to Flam (pronounced “Floam”). Inexperienced riders may want to walk their bike through the very first part as it is very steep with loose rock, though the path is wide enough to fit a small truck. The bike ride is simply gorgeous, as you pass numerous waterfalls during your bike down the mountain-lined valley. Plan to make numerous stops for photos.
Suggestion: Dress for a proper mountain area biking trip, bring a daypack, rain jacket, water bottle, and wear comfortable shoes.
The destination was Flåm, a beautiful small mountain town of 200 people on Sognefjord. A million visitors trek through this picture postcard town so if overnighting, be sure to book your hotel well in advance. Also, try to visit the Ageir microbrewery’s bar situated in a beautifully restored wooden church; excellent ales add to the atmosphere.
This afternoon, following lunch, we embarked on an easy-going sea kayak trip into the fjord. A short stroll got us to the beach in Flåm where the kayak operation was based. We paddled the “Old Kings Path” tour – this was an ideal way to experience the fjords of Norway, practice or learn basic sea kayak skills with professional guides, and learn a bit about local Viking history. Notably, we passed an ancient Viking royals’ burial site, which was located right next to shore, looming under one of the myriad sea cliffs in the fjord. The tour lasted about 2 1/2 hours with instruction included. A kayak skirt, kayak jacket, and dry bag were provided.
Suggestion: Equipment you may want to bring includes warm, wind- and weatherproof clothing, sunglasses, water and boots or sneakers.
On occasion, travelers see sea eagles, but today we were content with a bright shining sun, a sea lion sighting, calm lake-like waters and the majestic mountain scenery all around us.
Tonight we enjoyed a buffet dinner at our historic hotel, the Fretheim Hotel. This property has wonderful glass panels lining the dining and lounge areas for magnificent views and attractive rooms.
Day 6 / September 14: Fjord tour by zodiac plus a “Farm to Table” hike and lunch
After breakfast, we walked to the nearby Flåm harbor for the Fjord Safari.
The boats for this excursion were large, souped-up zodiacs with comfortable seats. A full body flotation suit was provided, not so much to protect you from a maritime disaster, but more to provide some wind and weather resistance as you blasted down the fjord. It was a surprisingly peaceful experience, zipping along the glass-like waters of the fjords, watching mountain after mountain unfold in front of you. A highlight was getting up close to the substantial Sagfossen waterfall, the largest of the fjord.
After our visit to the waterfall and a brief encounter with harbor seals and harbor dolphins, we enjoyed a special farm-to-table experience. We off-loaded at Skjerdal dock, where we started the moderate but steep path to beautiful Leim mountain farm. This hike took about an hour, passing family homes and farms, waterfalls, and small flocks of sheep and goats. Sandwiched between the mountains, lay the farm, which features a boutique goat cheese producer and intimate al fresco dining area. This bucolic goat farm is a proud practicing member of the slow and local food movements. Following a brief tour of the goat cheese making process, we enjoyed a great lunch of locally sourced cheeses, cured meats, breads, and salads, while looking at the magnificent fjord below.
We hiked back down and hopped in the waiting bus for our return to Flåm.
- Drove the Aurlandsfjellet (road nr. 243) from Aurland to Lærdal with stops along Aurlandsfjellet including Stegastein viewpoint, part of the National Tourist Road
- Continued drive to Marifjøra
- 10 minute Ferry from Fodnes to Mannheller across the Sognefjord
The drive over the mountains was fantastic, with the birches just beginning to change colors and waterfalls, tarns, and rugged alpine ridges abounding. Spectacular! What’s great is this area gives a traveler an excellent glimpse at what much of the grand interior of Norway looks like, so even if you are focusing on fjords, you can get a sense of what much of the rest of the country resembles.
We had dinner and our overnight at the lovely Tørvis Hotel, another wonderful historical hotel.
Day 7 / September 15: Glacier Hiking & Return by scenic ferry to Bergen
Today we departed by road approximately 45 minutes to mountainous Jostedalen.
We met our mountain guide from Folgefonni Breførarlag at the equipment depot at the car park by the glacier lake, which is the trailhead. We took an exhilarating blue ice hike, outfitted by the company with crampons, harness, and rope, and we ascended a tongue of this massive glacier, continental Europe’s largest. The ground beneath us glowed blue as we passed over ice ridges and through glacial troughs. We walked up about 1 hour and then descended. The hike from the trailhead to the start of the glacier hike is moderately difficult, with several strategically placed ladders and bridges to cross. Waterfalls, alpine scenery and fresh air were all around us on this beautiful day on the ice – spectacular! The ice hiking itself is not for people with a severe fear of heights, but anyone can do it with the right attitude and a modicum of physical fitness.
** Preparing for glacier hiking: Bring warm, wind- and weatherproof clothing, sunglasses, water, and a packed lunch to eat at the excellent visitor center, about a 10-minute drive from the trailhead. Wear solid waterproof hiking boots – which can be borrowed in a pinch if you don’t have your own. Clothing must cover the whole body. Hat and gloves recommended.
- Drive approximately 2 hours to Leikanger
- Departure by comfortable express boat from Leikanger to Bergen
On arrival in Bergen we had an easy walk – about 5-10 minutes – to our hotel, the Scandic Neptun Hotel – from the boat terminal. After a late but delicious dinner at Bryggen Tracteursted, we had our final overnight in Bergen.
Day 8 / September 16: Walking tour in Bergen & Departure
After breakfast, we departed from our hotel lobby on a morning walking tour of the historic port area of Bergen, taking in some of this city’s beautiful architecture and upbeat vibe along the way. We passed a number of leafy public squares commemorating famous Bergenians of old, plus the fortress, the port, the lookout tower and more. The highlight, however, was the UNESCO heritage site at Bryygen. This tightly packed section of ancient homes is renowned for its vintage Hanseatic-era tenements, fish houses, and shops. Twisting narrow alleys thread through the original colorful wooden buildings, leading you to quaint restaurants and contemporary shops. Bryygen may be the most photographed scene in Norway and justifiably so.
After the tour, I took the easy airport shuttle (about 115 Kroner/cash/person each way) direct from downtown Bergen, paying the driver as I got on. These shuttles run approximately every 10-20 minutes from a number of stops in Bergen during peak travel times and once an hour on off-peak times (your hotel can help you with finding the nearest pickup area, confirm the price for you and suggest the best time to connect with your departure flight). I said farewell to Bergen and Norway soon after, with a profound sense of awe at what this peaceful country of just 5 million souls has accomplished. The modern infrastructure is simply magnificent yet the country retains all of its old world charm within one of the world’s most scenic settings.