A picture tells a thousand words – an adage epitomised by Norway, a country of natural beauty.
This isn’t your average holiday destination, Scots tend to head south rather than north. After all, Scandinavia isn’t first choice for getting some colour on our pale complexions. Even so, thanks in part to an episode in the BBC’s popular Coast programme last year, there has been a renewed influx of UK visitors wishing to experience the dramatic scenery for themselves. In fact, in a recent survey by the country’s local airline, Wideroe and holiday company Sunvil, Brits consider Norway to be amongst the most desirable places on earth to visit. I agree.
As you fly over the beautiful coastline into Bergen airport, you are instantly aware that you are about to land somewhere very special. Bergen is the gateway to the fjords of Norway making it the ideal starting point to explore this unique topography. It is the country’s second largest city with a population of approximately 235,000 people; steeped in history and tradition dating back 900 years, it has an old world charm and a vibrant atmosphere.
With Bergen achieving World Heritage City status in 1979, there’s plenty to see but if you are only here for a day, make sure your first stop is Bryggen, where the city’s first buildings were built. It’s also where the Hansas (the German medieval guild of merchants) opened one of their European offices in the thirteenth century and continued to trade here for the next 400 years. These wooden dwellings and narrow passages have been ravaged by fires and explosions in the past but now restored to its former glory, Bryggen is the postcard image most commonly associated with Bergen. A stone’s throw away is the Fish Market selling fish, flowers, fruit and vegetables, handicrafts and souvenirs. Here you can try raw oysters or buy freshly boiled shrimps to eat by the waterfront.
norway-ins2.jpgFor spectacular views of the city, take the five minute journey on the Fløibanen funicular, to the top of Mount Fløyen. From here you can take the guided ‘Walk like a Norwegian’ tour through the forests, lakes and mountains whilst learning more about the local history and traditions. We took a 30 minute flight from Bergen into the mountains of Sogndal. Norway measures 1,100 miles from the south coast to the Russian border so jumping on a flight to any of the 35 airports is the easiest way to travel. The good news is it’s not prohibitively expensive either. The Wideroe Explore Norway Ticket is valid for two weeks, from 21 June to 27 August, and includes unlimited domestic flights in Norway across three zones and return flights from Aberdeen or Edinburgh. A one-zone ticket costs £312, a two-zone ticket £376 and the three zone ticket, £446. One-way fares to Bergen from £69 including taxes.
Sogndal (in the same zone as Bergen) is in the heart of Sognefjord area, the longest and deepest in Norway; it’s 204 kilometres long and over 1,300 metres deep and its magnificence is accentuated with the mountains rising from the fjord to heights of over 1,700 metres. Take a cruise along the Sognefjord and be blown away by the sheer natural beauty that surrounds you or take a bus trip to the Jostedal Glacier National Park and choose from a range of activities including kayaking on the glacier lake, white water rafting, canyoning and horse riding. I chose to grab an ice axe and crampons and take the guided walk on the Nigardsbreem Glacier, an arm of the Jostedalsbreen Glacier, the the largest glacier in mainland Europe.
For those of you interested in history or churches, five of Norway’s 28 stave churches (a medieval wooden church with a post and beam construction, Norway’s most important contribution to world architecture) are located around the Sognefjord. Urnes Stave Church, the oldest in the country dating back to around 1130, features carvings on the north portal estimated to be from between 1050-1100, indicating they were from an even earlier church.
To help quantify my sentiments of this beautiful country, I’ll leave to the experts at National Geographic who rated Norway as the best travel destination in the world. Now there’s an endorsement.
Where to stay: Across the fjord from Urnes Stave Church is the Walaker Hotell – the oldest hotel in Norway, offering hospitality unlike any other, great food, warm people and amazing views. In Bergen, the Augustin Hotel and Hotel Grand Terminus provide excellent service.