The picture postcard landscape of the Norwegian fjords has been featured on numerous advertising campaigns and promotions over the years and even today, it is hard to pick up a newspaper or travel by train without seeing a dramatic picture of the region’s steep mountain peaks and crystal clear waters. Yet with all of the promotion and awareness, I can guarantee that you will not be prepared for how you will feel the first time you see the fjords – Your breath will literally be taken away. I have travelled to the region on numerous occasions over the years and I still am in awe of this magnificent landscape carved by nature, and am always filled with emotion as I absorb the wonder of the scene. No matter the weather, the panoramas are second to none.
The Norwegian fjords (or ‘Fjord Norway’ as it is familiarly known) stretch from Kristiansand in the south to Trondheim in the north, a distance of 1333km. My recent trip to Norway focused on the north of the fjord country and included the Art Nouveau town of Alesund, the Geirangerfjord and the Trollsteigen Road.
The coastal town of Alesund was rebuilt using Art Nouveau designs at the beginning of the 20th century after a fire destroyed the settlement. Today, it is one of the prettiest cities in Norway with colourful buildings – yellows, greens and reds; cobbled streets, canals and backed by mountains and an archipelago of islands. To truly appreciate the beauty of the town, I would recommend that every visitor climbs the 418 steps to the top of Mount Aksla (the viewpoint can also be reached by car)
Alesund is an ideal destination for a short break especially during the summer months when the town hosts many music and cultural events. Good restaurants are in abundance and seafood a specialty, in particular stockfish. The town is also a wonderful base from which to explore the Norwegian coastline; visit the island of Runde with its puffin colony; hike in the mountains and from which to tour the Geirangerfjord. It is also possible, during a full day, to drive to the Atlantic Road north of Molde.
The 15km Geirangerfjord is inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List for the protection of its natural beauty. An arm of the larger Storfjord, the Geirangerfjord is also one of the most visited fjords in Norway and a popular port of call for cruise ships in the summer months.
On my trip I accessed the Geirangerfjord by rib boat from the harbour of Hellesylt (car ferries also depart from here). It was an exhilarating ride. Whether you arrive/depart by boat or just enjoy a cruise on the waterway during your stay, I will promise you that you will not be disappointed by the experience. As I travelled along the fjord I saw the ‘Bachelor’ and the ‘Seven Sisters’ waterfalls, as well as many abandoned farmsteads and small hamlets. Another option – for the more active – is to hire a kayak from Geiranger and take a relaxing paddle into the fjord.
The village of Geiranger at the base of the fjord is worthy of a 3-night stay. The village has a fascinating visitor centre and museum exhibiting images of the region; numerous walking trails (suitable for all abilities and of varying lengths); and also one of the nicest spas I have seen in Norway, at the Hotel Union. Unfortunately, I did not have time to sample the treatments myself… maybe next time.
I left Geiranger on the Eagles Road, a series of hairpin bends that wind their way upwards on the northern bank of the fjord. The viewpoints towards the top of the road offer uninterrupted and magnificent views back to Geiranger and also along the fjord towards Hellesylt. The picture below is taken from the viewpoint. Imagine this view on a sunny day!
The Trollstigen Road is a series of 11 hairpin bends that descend the mountainside at a gradient of 9%. The best way to experience this road is driving downhill thus approaching the road from Geiranger (c. 90 minutes drive). At every turn the view changes and the desire to take a picture increases. From the Trollstigen it is possible to drive to Alesund along the E136 coastal road. It is a very scenic route.
The Alesund and Sunnmore coastline has much to offer the visitor. Whether looking for a short break, spa holiday, fly-drive or wish to experience the beauty of the fjord region by public transport and cruise look no further. I for one, can not wait to return.