Some places move to their own beat. With the flow of the seasons, the rhythm of nature and the call of the wild, Western Norway is a force of wonder and a magnet for adventurers.
Yet for all its organic ferocity, the fjords prove the ultimate dichotomy: Jagged, snow-crested peaks plunge into deep narrow blue inlets; obscure sandy beach fishing villages cornered by towering green mountains; and thousands of remote isles appear, on approach, from a watery horizon.
Such drama is heightened by the profound peace unique to this region of Norway. For every square inch crammed with nature’s highlights, absolute Zen abounds.
Bergen, the cultural capital of Norway, is the gateway to the fjords and easily navigable on foot. Nestled between seven mountains and hugging the coastline of Sognefjord, the country’s longest and deepest fjord, Bergen is a treat for all the senses. From inhaling the cool mountain air on a hike past picturesque mountain houses and taking the funicular up Mount Floyen to sampling the seafood at the UNESCO-listed Hanseatic Wharf, culture hounds will want to stay a while.
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, paddle boarding, kayaking or simply finding a tranquil guest house on a tiny islet for a relaxing escape, the fjords are all-encompassing.
The network of inlets zigzags deep inland, funnelling out to the Norwegian and North Seas. They can be traversed in all manner of boats, from big ferries to tiny crafts. The fjords are the definition of wanderlust-inducing photography —every angle is a brochure cover.
Venturing to Norway’s westernmost islands of Solund, Bulandet and Vaerlandet involves hopping aboard a postal boat. Here, time is insignificant, as the waves, winds and wild nature dominate. Stopping en route at minuscule isles with few inhabitants offers a glimpse into the real lives of island folk. Given Norway’s Viking history, there’s little fear amidst the waters. A sense of resilience, in its truest form, prevails.
The demands of Solund’s more-than-1,700 islands, islets and skerries are telling on the locals. Weathered and enduring, one gentleman details his life alone on a tiny islet. Surprisingly, he describes it as anything but isolated, with a strong sense of community and an even stronger survival skill set. Taking ferocious pride in his ability to survive alone, he insists young people have much to gain from visiting the fjord islands and understanding their heritage.
Were it not for a map and coordinates, one gets a powerful sense of drifting into vast rugged wilderness, deliciously disorientated and set free. Aesthetic coastlines and wildlife, such as white-tailed eagle, seal and otter, are a given. A quick pit stop at Gasvaer island, far out at sea, entices visitors to stay put a while, as host Anne Marie serves homemade crepes and coffee, offering a tour of her outpost and characterful guest lodging.
Adventure-seekers continue north to Bulandet, a cycling haven. Six bridges and a virtually car-free 5-km-long road make this a sanctuary for cyclists wanting to stretch their legs and explore independently. With gentle inclines, rolling hills, viewpoints and modern art installations dotted around the land, all that’s required are a camera and backpack. Tired of cycling halfway? This is where you can leave the bike by the side of the road, and the hire company collects later.
From here, it’s a ferry, express boat and bus to Knutholmen, Kalvag, a worthy spot to spend the night or a few days.
Waking up to the sounds of Kalvag fishing village is sheer bliss. Here, life flows with daylight. Roomy accommodations overlook the pristine inlet, backed by hills outlined by hiking trails. For more privacy, luxury sea houses are available for rent. Charming narrow streets are fringed by old wharf houses and sea houses that are architecturally stunning.
Local maritime is a theme that permeates village life, as the North Sea fills out west. Fishing enthusiasts can fill their boots, as the waters are sustainably loaded with sea life. This was once the production post for cod liver oil and salt herring in a large fishery. Hike up the surrounding hills, along well-maintained tracks, for panoramic views across the region’s hamlets and waters.
After gallivanting, Knutholmen Restaurant is the finest place to eat. A lunchtime Fiskesuppe fish soup is thick, creamy and luxurious on the palate. Evening meals are celebrated occasions, with sumptuous fresh fish, seafood and local game paired with wine and Norwegian beer, on the scenic waterfront.
White sandy beaches and crystalline waters lie just an hour away. Grotlesanden Beach is a secluded haven. A few homes pepper the foothills of surrounding mountains, nestled amid pristine dazzling shores and shallow waters, where kayaking and paddling are a must.
Glaciers crown several mountains in the Nordfjord. In summer, these create waterfalls, rivers, and mountain lakes. When it’s not snowing, there are green grasslands, berries, fruit and running glacial water. In the inner Nordfjord, one of the most prominent glaciers is Jostedalsbreen. Troll cars take visitors up-close for guided glacier hikes. Boat safaris venture in front of the glacier in the epic and dramatic untamed nature of Lodalen Valley. Salmon fishing, surfing and fjord horse riding are some of the other activities.
The Loen Skylift is a breath-taking aerial tramway that ascends Mount Hoven. From 1,011m above sea level, the Via Ferrata welcomes serious adventurers, and there are hiking trails for all abilities. To take a skywalk is to fully appreciate the crisp mountain air and hair-raising backdrop of crests and drops, where every turn offers picture-postcard photos. The glass-fronted suspended Hoven Restaurant is a luxurious highlight. Gourmet dishes of locally sourced ingredients come with soaring views 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 Tourist Routes. Majestic scenes unfold, as the winding road meanders through steep mountainsides, hugging spectacular coastlines and bays.
Balestrand is a worthy finale. Arriving at the historic family-run Kviknes Hotel, positioned on the waterfront, the scene resembles a painting. The still misty waters of Sognefjord make for an ethereal scene. The Elysian vision evolves with the hours, maturing through salmon sunrises, bright blues and dusky pink sunsets, making it a dream rumination spot.
Thrill junkies find their element on-board the RIB speedboat fjord tours, splicing into the waters, for a fjord-level view of encircling lofty peaks and hidden waterfalls. Balestrand offers a heritage walk, which is best completed at Ciderhuset. After a detailed history of the cider-making process, a homemade meal offers the best accompaniment to some delicious cider-tasting.
Norway’s fjords offer true escapism. In winter, they wow visitors with the greatest gift of all — the dancing siren of the night skies, known the world over as aurora borealis. To witness green and pink floating flares, illuminating the wilderness, in a land of water, wind and wildlife, is a travel memory of a lifetime.