The main things you have to remember about Norway are the three Fs, our tour guide told us. And while the mention of fire was for historical reasons, the stunning Norwegian fjords and array of fish on offer in the country is second to none.
Our trip began in the cosmopolitan city of Bergen, “the gateway to the fjords”, which nestles in the shelter of seven mountains. The city’s charm is undeniable, with narrow cobbled streets and colourful houses, and a different cultural experience around every corner.
We were first guided around the popular fish market, which gave us our first taste of Norwegian seafood but not the last on our action-packed Scandinavian adventure.
We then moved onto the Hanseatic Wharf, a Unesco world heritage site. The quaint row of wooden houses are now home to galleries, silversmiths, artisans’ workshops, restaurants and cafes.
There we learnt that Bergen has been devastated by fires throughout its history, its predominantly wooden buildings soon destroyed. But the city, thought to have been founded by Olav Kyrre, King of Norway, in 1070, has risen from the ashes more than once.
A trip to Mount Floyen was next for us, which you ascend using the Floibanen funicular railway, or under your own steam, Norwegian style.
The journey to the peak, nearly 1,050ft above sea level, takes just seven minutes, and the panoramic view proved spectacular.
The highlight of any visit to Bergen has to be the incredible sights from the top of Mount Ulriken, and our group was lucky enough to witness a stunning sunset while enjoying a meal at the Sky:Skyraperen restaurant, which perches on top of the mountain.
Looking out at the shimmering changing colours among the mountain range is a moment I will certainly never forget.
Our group had to get used to sights like this however, as the scenery got even more dramatic as the trip went on, with the most often repeated phrase definitely being “Oh, look at that!”
Our journey then took us on a picturesque ferry ride to Sognefjord, the largest fjord in Norway, and the winner of my favourite moment of the trip.
The region is considered one of the world’s most beautiful travel destinations, a claim I certainly could not argue with. I also got to enjoy the closest view of the fjord in Balestrand, as I decided that swimming in it needed to be ticked off my life “to do” list.
Once I got used to the temperature (cold) and remembered how to keep myself afloat, I began to relax. While I only lasted about 20 minutes, I will always remember the feeling of treading water surrounded by snow capped mountains, certainly a once in a lifetime experience.
Another way to enjoy the fjord at a faster pace is through a rib boat safari – which allows you to take in the full scale of the surrounding peaks and cascading waterfalls.
Another highlight of Balestrand is a visit to a family run cider house, which enjoys incredible views across the water. Travelling along the National Tourist Route of steep and twisting roads, with breathtaking views, we then arrived in Geiranger via Sogndal and Sognefjellet.
Nestled among the hills in the tranquil surroundings of the Sognefjord lay Urnes Stave Church, one of the oldest wooden churches in the world.
First built in 1150, a stave church has been built three times on the same site – and the building overlooks the calm, turquoise waters of the fjord. It is estimated that 2,000 stave churches were erected in Norway during a 200-year period, by skilled builders who handled their materials with the same care that Viking boat builders did.
The breathtaking views continued as we drove up roads that twist and turn through one hairpin bend after another to experience a panoramic view of one of the most beautiful tourist destinations in the world.
The Dalsnibba mountain is one of Geiranger’s main attractions and from its plateau there is an incredible view across the World Heritage Site, nestled in the surrounding mountain landscape with Geirangerfjorden right in the middle.
It is the highest point I have ever reached in my life, and literally made all of us feel like we were on top of the world.
Yet another way to get up close and personal with the stunning Norwegian scenery, and another favourite moment of the trip for me, was a kayaking trip along the Geiranger fjord. Cue views of lush green vegetation, snow topped mountains, and the deep blue waters – as well as a friendly and noisy herd of goats.
Geiranger has just a few hundred inhabitants and is one of Norway’s most famous resorts. A short drive away from the village, and you will be able to experience the Storserfossen waterfall, which is hidden in the midst of Westeras Valley and can only be reached on foot.
The initial walk follows a gently inclining road, which turns into more steep rock steps and a definite hike. But the sweat and occasional bout of breathlessness was well worth it, as I was able to experience a waterfall in a completely new way, with the sound of the roaring and cascading water coming from behind.
Geiranger also boasts another hidden treasure, the only chocolate shop in the world to operate from a boat house.
While it sounds exotic, it can pose problems for the chocolateur as chocolate production is sensitive to both the humid fjord climate and temperature fluctuations. For that reason, the indoor climate is carefully controlled.
The tempting chocolate shop specialises in the unusual, including a remarkable and tasty blue cheese chocolate.
The final destination on our activity filled holiday was to Alesund, a unique town on the edge of the ocean, surrounded by fjords and mountains, nicknamed the “The Art Nouveau” town.
Ironically, and harking back to the start of our trip, it is thanks to fire that Alesund has one of the world’s greatest concentrations of Art Nouveau architecture.
During the great fire of 1904, on a cold winter night, 800 buildings were reduced to ashes and 10,000 people were left homeless, with one person killed.
Craftsmen and architects from all over Norway lent their skill and expertise to the huge rebuilding project which resulted in one of the most considerable concentrations of Art Nouveau architecture in Europe.
For beauty, adventure and incredible views, Norway is certainly in a league of its own.
- Norwegian Air flies directly from London Gatwick to Bergen and Alesund, from £34.90 one-way. SAS flies from London, Manchester and Edinburgh to Norway from £140 return.
- Taber Holidays offers a tailor-made “Fjords of Norway” trip, which starts and ends in Oslo from £1,995 per person. The trip takes in Ulvik, Bergen, Geiranger, Flåm and Balestrand.
- Highlights include a visit to the top of Mount Fløyen overlooking Bergen, a ride on the world-famous Flåm Railway and cruise on the Unesco World Heritage-listed Geirangerfjord.
- Prices for the seven-night trip include flights from London Heathrow, accommodation, most meals, the services of a tour guide and coach throughout, and all visits mentioned in the itinerary, based on two sharing. See www.taberhols.co.uk