With its pleasing flow of seasons, strikingly diverse terrain and astonishing range of wilderness activities, Western Norway is a magnet for adventurers. Here, jagged, snow-crested peaks plunge into deep, narrow blue inlets; towering green mountains surround beachside fishing villages; and thousands of remote isles emerge, on approach, from a watery horizon. This dramatic landscape finds its counterpoint in calmness; in alliance with the awe-inspiring mountain backdrop, a profound sense of Zen abides.
Bergen, the cultural capital of Norway, is the gateway to the fjords and easily navigable on foot. Bordered by seven mountains and hugging the coastline of Sognefjord, the country’s longest and deepest fjord, the city is a treat for the senses. From inhaling the cool mountain air on a hike past picturesque cabins to taking the funicular up Mount Floyen and sampling fresh seafood at the Unesco-listed Hanseatic Wharf, there’s plenty to tempt the visitor to tarry awhile.
After an idyllic introduction to Norway, it’s time for an expedition into the fjords. Several maritime routes offer visitors varying degrees of duration, remoteness and challenge. Whether it’s hiking, climbing, skiing, paddleboarding, kayaking or simply finding a tranquil guest house on a tiny islet for a relaxing escape, the fjords offer something for everyone.
Venturing to Norway’s westernmost islands of Solund, Bulandet and Vaerlandet involves hopping aboard a postal boat. Time soon gives way to waves, winds and wild nature. One gets a powerful sense of being on the edge of a vast and rugged wilderness, deliciously disorientating and free. Untouched coastlines teem with white-tailed eagles, seals and otters.
From here, it’s a ferry, express boat and bus to Kalvag on the island of Froya, the southern entrance to Norway’s sixth-longest fjord, Nordfjord.
The Nordfjord mountains cradle a number of glaciers whose summer meltwaters feed lakes, rivers and waterfalls. Inner Nordfjord is home to Jostedalsbreen, the largest glacier in mainland Europe. Shuttle carts known as troll cars ferry visitors up for guided glacier hikes. Boat safaris venture in front of the glacier in the dramatic Lodalen Valley, while salmon fishing and horse riding are other options for enjoying this untamed wilderness.
Loen Skylift is a breathtaking aerial tramway that ascends Mount Hoven where, at more than 1,000 metres above sea level, there are hiking trails for all abilities – and the Via Ferrata Loen welcomes serious adventurers. To take this skywalk, which incorporates a 120-metre-long suspension bridge over a canyon, is to fully appreciate the crisp mountain air and hair-raising topography of crests and drops.
The glass-fronted suspended Hoven Restaurant is a luxurious highlight. Gourmet dishes of locally sourced ingredients are enjoyed against a backdrop of vistas across glaciers, mountains and navy-blue fjords.
One of the most scenic drives in the world begins at Loen, along the Gaularfjellet route, one of 18 National Scenic Routes. Majestic landscapes unfold as the winding road meanders across steep mountainsides, hugging spectacular coastlines and bays.
Thrill junkies find their element in speedboat tours, splicing into the waters for a fjord-level view of encircling lofty peaks and hidden waterfalls. Balestrand offers a heritage walk, best completed at Ciderhuset where, after explication of the cider-making process, a cider tasting is accompanied by a delicious home-made meal.
Norway’s fjords offer true escapism. In winter, they wow with the greatest gift of all: the dancing siren of the night skies, the aurora borealis. To witness green and pink floating flares illuminating this land of water, wind and wildlife is a travel memory of a lifetime.
Read the full story in the Prestige Hong Kong August 2018 issue