Q. My daughter and I have never travelled abroad before and would like to visit Norway for a week in May. I wish to visit Aalesund, take a trip on the Flam railway and perhaps sail the fjords. We'd like to stay in a small hotel or B&B or, if possible, with a Norwegian family. Can we do this sort of trip independently, or would it be better to organise it through a tour operator – and if so, which ones? Also, my daughter is a strict vegetarian (no fish) – will we find food a problem? Mrs P Martin, Sussex
A. Independent travel in Norway is fairly simple to arrange if you are happy to spend a bit of time on the phone and internet to pre-book transport, accommodation and check time tables. To maximise your stay – and since you have some specific requirements with regards to accommodation and diet – booking ahead is essential. Vegetarian food is not as widely available in Norway as it is in the UK but there will be plenty of options as long as you flag it up when booking. Websites such as www.veggieplaces.co.uk and www.vegdining.com will help you locate vegetarian restaurants and cafés in Norway. Vegetarian dining options may be limited to the bigger towns and cities.
The Norwegian Tourist Office (020-7389 8800; www.visitnorway.co.uk) has free brochures and a comprehensive website with accommodation listings, maps, transport information and travel guides, including links to regional Norwegian tourist offices, which should help you plan the trip down to the last detail.
There are some homestay accommodations but these tend to be inland, based at farms or rural family homes and are mainly geared towards students. A good source of listings for B&Bs, although unfortunately none in your chosen destinations, can be found at www.bbnorway.com.
To make the most of your week it may be best to fly into one airport and out of another and make transfers via Norway's very scenic rail network. SAS (020-8990 7000; www.flysas.com) has two direct flights a week between Gatwick and Aalesund. Two no- frills airlines fly from Stansted to Oslo: Norwegian Air Shuttle (00 47 21 49 00 15; www.norwegian.no) and Ryanair (0871 246 0000; www.ryanair.com). Norwegian Air Shuttle and Sterling (0870 787 8038; www.sterling.dk) also fly to Oslo from Gatwick. Oslo is the hub of Norway's rail network, with services to all these points except Aalesund, which is connected by bus to the rail station at Andalsnes. For rail timetables, route maps and bookings visit www.nsb.no.
A possible itinerary might be: fly into Oslo, take one of Norway's fast and efficient trains north along the line towards Bergen (the highest in Norway) to mountainous Myrdal. From Myrdal take the vertiginous rail ride down to Flam, on the Flam Railway ( www.visitflam.com). There are also a number of guesthouses and small family-run hotels in Flam. Heimly (00 47 57 63 23 00; www.heimly.no) is a family-run pension. Double rooms with breakfast cost from NK990 (£92). For more listings visit the the regional tourist office website at www.alr.no.
From Flam, the local Sognefjord express boat (00 47 55 90 70 70; www.fjord1.no) makes a five-hour journey (1 May–30 September; NK625/£59 one-way) through the innermost part of the venerable Sognefjord out to Bergen. From Bergen, you could catch the Hurtigruten Coastal Express north to Aalesund. This spacious ferry with modest cabins makes 34 calls along the coast between Bergen and towns within the Arctic Circle.
For bookings go through the line's UK agent Hurtigruten (020-8846 2666; www.hurtigruten.co.uk). A cabin for an overnight sailing from Bergen to Aalesund in May costs £454, without meals.
The Art Nouveau town of Aalesund is the best base for exploring Norway's northern-most fjords. Aalesund's most characterful accommodation are the rorbu, traditional wooden fishermen's style cabins costing between NK350 (£33) and NK1,200 (£112) per room per night. The website www.visitalesund.com lists rorbu accommodation offered in the area.
You could also try Brosundet Gjestehus (00 47 70 11 45 00; www.62nord.net) a B&B in a smartly converted fish warehouse on Aalesund's Art Nouveau wharf. Double rooms with breakfast start from NK1,211 (£114).
After a couple of days in Aalesund it's back onto the Hurtigruten, sailing to the self-styled "Viking capital" of Trondheim. Then take the Dovrebanen rail line and head south again to Oslo. Alternatively, you could fly home from Aalesund.
A tailor-made tour through a specialist operator may help you make the most of your time. Some companies enjoy preferential rates for block bookings and hotels and transport can be cheaper than booking independently.
Scantours (020-7554 3530; www.scantours.co.uk) offers bespoke trips, motoring tours, coastal cruises and fjord tours.
Scandinavian Holidays (0118-931 4196; www.scandinavianholidays.org.uk) arranges self-catering chalets, coastal voyages and tailor-made itineraries.
Hurtigruten (as above) specialises in coastal tours aboard the eponymous ferry. It offers a seven-day itinerary, very similar to the one above, flying from Stansted into Bergen and out of Oslo, with two nights in Flam, two nights in Aalesund and two nights aboard the Hurtigruten travelling from Bergen to Trondheim and rail transfers back to Oslo. The price of £1,179 per person is based on two sharing, including hotel accommodation with breakfast, the boat from Bergen to Flam, half-board on the Hurtigruten passage and rail fares – though the Flam railway tickets need to be booked locally.
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