Far away - and yet close to home - in the beauty of the Norwegian fjords
Monday 24 March 2014
Sometimes, the planet's greatest wonders are far closer to home than you think. Did you know, for example, that one of the world's most glorious areas of craggy mountains, stately glaciers and steep-sided canyons lies not in the Himalayas or the Andes – but just two hours from Britain amid the dramatic scenery and lovely fjords of western Norway?
The pretty port city of Bergen – with the many-coloured merchants' houses of Bryggen wharf standing as a key landmark – is the gateway to this realm of geographic wonder.
And while many hundreds of fjords – serene, water-filled grooves, carved by the incremental movement of glaciers in the Ice Age – wend their way into this rugged stretch of coast, there are two in particular that should be on everybody's travel to-do list.
Tucked just south of Bergen, the Hardangerfjord is a 111-mile-long miracle, where tall cliffs frame calm currents, and boats are dwarfed by their surroundings as they venture in.
In appearance, the Hardangerfjord looks remote and majestic. Yet it is easily accessible from the city.
The flexible 'Nutshell' tours organised by Fjord Tours (fjordtours.com) are a range of single and multi-day trips which allow visitors to absorb the scenery – snow-capped mountains, sparkling blue waters – at a leisurely pace. They can also point their cameras at the raw spectacle of Vøringfossen – a lively display of splash and crash, where several waterfalls converge to drop 182 metres.
There is every chance that you will want to stay longer to admire the area in more detail. Perhaps by hiking to the top of the Trolltunga cliff, an incredible piece of rock which juts out at 700 metres in the air. Or you can take to the surface of the Folgefonna glacier – which is so cold that you can ski on it during summer.
North of Bergen, meanwhile, the Sognefjord is an undoubted global icon. Cutting east into the Jotunheimen mountains for 127 miles, this is Norway's longest and deepest fjord. Its beauty is encapsulated by the Naerøyfjord, a sub-fjord within, so photogenic that it is recognised as a Unesco World Heritage site – one of Europe's truly unmissable locations.
Again, the Sognefjord can be explored – via a choice of day-trips or longer tours – from Bergen (through Fjord Tours).
And again, the Sognefjord rewards extended inspection. Why not take a walk across the icy contours of the Nigardsbreen – a side-arm of the incredible Jostedalsbreen glacier? Or you could head to the bottom of the same giant, and paddle out by kayak on Styggevatnet – the glacial lake which forms at the foot of Jostedalsbreen. Then there is the timeless charm of the Flåm Railway (Flåmsbana) – a fine feat of engineering which climbs from the fjordside village of Flåm (on the Aurlandsfjord), curling past waterfalls and cliffs to the mountain top-station at Myrdal. Grab a window seat – and prepare to be enthralled.
Cosy accommodation is provided in villages such as Balestrand and Voss. The latter has long been a key dot on tourist maps, renowned as an ideal base for activity breaks. From here, you can indulge in a spot of hiking, rafting or climbing, while also noting that local life fits seamlessly into the picture – fruit trees swaying softly in the wind, sheep grazing.
So how can you go about this? Simple. British Airways (ba.com) flies to Bergen from London Heathrow, while Norwegian (norwegian.com) and easyJet (until the end of May; easyjet.com) serve the city from London Gatwick – with each of these flights taking just under two hours.
This magnificent region of endless geological grandeur is practically on your doorstep.
For more information, see visitnorway.com
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