Part two of Jules’ Norway blog, our Travel Expert continues her journey through this spell-binding country to Ålesund. A charming waterfront city surrounded by some of the world’s most beautiful landscape…
As we descended the Eagles Pass or was it the Troll’s Road (amazing names and very apposite when you drive them), we arrived at Geiranger, one of the most famous (and touristy) towns at the head of the well-known Geiranger Fjord. Not necessarily the place to venture to in high season. However, our guide Toril from 62 Nord finds ways to see this town in all its splendour while avoiding the crowds that, for the first time, threatened to dispel the myth that only 3% of Norway is inhabited.
The drive to Ålesund from our stay at 29/2 Aurland was about 5.5 hours or a shorter helicopter transfer over some amazing scenery. Time was marching on and my precious six nights in Norway were now whittled down to two nights and nearly three days. Toril was magnificent and with her as our guide, we found ourselves immersed in another amazing side of the Norwegian culture.
Storfjord was wreathed in cloud and fog and everything was grey including the incredible view over the fjord, which resembled grey cotton wool. We were welcomed into the chalet-style Storfjord Hotel with welcoming fires, the antlers of mighty reindeer, sheepskins and cosy lights. Rather like a top ski hotel, the whole ambiance was nailed perfectly. I could have stayed in their charming reception room come library by the fire but there was a treat in store and one everyone who comes here must try. We were taken to meet up with Inge, Anna and Bjorn who are simply the perfect living examples of everything totally and typically Norwegian. The small tour from their own home bakery to their home where they have a veritable ‘orchard’ of apple trees growing along the wall of their garden, to the house of their parents wrapped up in time, is truly wonderful. An insight into how people used to live and cook in the past and husband the food for the long winters. How they slept and what they wore and tilled the land. This Norwegian food safari is a tasting extravaganza of everything fresh and delicious in their home. From the salmon they have caught and salted; the reindeer meat they have smoked; the chanterelles gathered that day in heaps of golden earthiness concocted into the most delicious soup; herbs and leaves from their garden and more surprises to come including of course the cheese from their pastures and deserts and berries from their land. The original outside loo is a wonderment that House and Garden should photo. The love of their heritage is fierce and keeping this alive for the youngsters is wonderful.
Toril then reminded us we still had dinner at the hotel to contend with! After another delicious meal in front of the fire, we discovered the weather forecast for the next day on the Fjord Explorer promised sun, sun, sun. So it was with a light heart that I threw open the windows of my lovely room to the fresh night air and drifted off into the arms of Morphius or whichever Norse equivalent was lurking nearby.
I haven’t mention the Huldra people as of yet – the famous fairy stories of the beautiful Huldra ladies who lure the men into the mountains were around us all the time, along with the Viking tales and Norse legends. Tonight, watching the tendrils of mist clearing and the full moon bobbing behind fluffy clouds I did wonder but then was lost to dreams.
You have to do the Fjord Explorer and hopefully with Martin the captain. To start the day, we were picked up from the Storfjord Hotel after a hearty breakfast overlooking the wonderful view hidden by fog the previous day. We descended to the dock and whisked up the Storfjord itself into the Norangsfjord fjord surrounded by just the most fantastic scenery and beauty you can imagine.
Our lunch was scheduled at the famous ‘museum’ hotel of Union Oye, where each room is decorated with a theme from Karen Blixen to Queen Victoria and where the charming owner Katerina has been known to don a wig and impersonate the famous Huldra Queen to unsuspecting guests! After a great lunch, we headed off for another hidden valley famous for the rock-slide that buried the village under the lake. As you kayak you can see the foundations of the village in the crystal clear waters of Lyngstol Lake. It was fun, peaceful, not very strenuous and we didn’t get wet. We felt part of that beautiful hidden lake with the peaks soaring all around us. Sailing back to Ålesund Harbour at the end of the day sipping Prosecco and approaching a magnificent sunset over the bay was fantastic and we felt very privileged to have spent the day on such a beautiful vessel. Martin sickeningly had climbed a mountain (whilst we were having lunch) and was back to pick us up without having even so much as pulled a muscle – these Norwegians love their hiking and a day without it seems to be a sin. Arriving into Ålesund Harbour at sunset with the islands glinting in the golden shimmering evening shadows was truly beautiful. Pulling up to the Brosundet Hotel with all the colors of the houses reflected in the canal was a perfect end to a perfect day. But no, the Norwegians don’t end on perfect, only sensational and Toril announced one of the final treats in store was Maki.
Now there are fish restaurants and fish restaurants in this world. Very few are this exceptional and being on the very source of where the main menu comes from is a help. The nine-course tasting menu including crab, cod, calamari and langoustine was truly gorgeous and Lars’s interpretation of the wine to accompany each dish a perfect accompaniment. It was not heavy at all so by the end, replete but not feeling ‘overcooked’, we quietly turned into our comfortable rooms to await the new and final day of this magical discovery.
Surely Toril had peaked in her ‘things to do and see’ itinerary. But no. We still had the Flatflesa Lighthouse to experience.
If you are lucky enough to work this into your Norwegian adventure, then it is the cherry on the cake. If not, there are plenty of other great things to do in Ålesund, like the sea safari on a rib boat, a night in their self-catered, charming cabin on an island joined to the mainland by bridges, sea kayaking, a guided tour as we did with the knowledgeable and lovely Sidsel and a myriad of other options that 62 Nord offer and arrange for our guests. After a fun and fascinating walk, we boarded another boat with Steine and headed out to Flatflesa Island and the lighthouse. It was a bit bumpy but otherwise the hour journey passed relatively smoothly until we moored up at the island. YOUR island.
This is rustic accommodation with charming and comfortable bedrooms and a living room overlooking the sea in every direction. It has board games and squishy sofas, a dining room fit for ‘posh’ guests where breakfast is served and a magnificent outdoor area with a hot tub, places to fish and pull up the crab pots and the fabulous and unique Crab House.
You take the island exclusively and it is ideal for families with two bedrooms and a shower room in the annexe cabin and three bedrooms in the main building. This is your private island with a difference, surrounded by amazing views where the brilliant Lars cooks for you and Steine looks after your every whim. The team help with your kids; if they want to fish from dawn-to-dusk, go to the one of the islands for a picnic, swim, haul up the crab pots for dinner or just chill as so many do after such a full-on itinerary – the world is your oyster.
We were ushered into the Crab House for lunch and I cannot spoil it as it is so special. What they create and do is so wonderful. Every day here is something special. I’d recommend one or two nights depending on the budget. This is not five star accommodations, not five star luxury but a five star real life experience.
Licking our fingers from fresh langoustine juice (where I had learned the art of cracking this perfectly), along with that last drop of champagne, we walked to the top of the knoll to meet up with Christian, our helicopter pilot who had come to take us to Ålesund Airport and home.
I admit freely as I write this that I cried. For the people and friends I had made in this amazing country; for the trolls I never saw; for the beauty of the Fjords and majestic mountains and lakes; for the little red houses reflected in crystal glacier waters; for the roaring waterfalls; the trout jumping in the lakes we rowed on; the delicious flat bread and brown cheese I brought home for ‘Long Legs’ who could not come and has never forgiven me for. It is not for everyone, but for those who wish to embrace nature and have fun with a little adventure, it is a fabulous family vacation and one our guests have loved this year.
I hasten to say dear reader that I do not hike, I do not kayak, I do not head off to goat pastures as a weekend pastime and the helicopter part reassured me that Jules was back in her comfort zone – but I would return tomorrow. And do it all again.
And again and again.