An icy ride through the Norwegian fjords

Fjord norvégien

Not afraid of the cold? Then conquer the Norwegian fjords and discover these little corners of paradise.

Like diamonds, it took millions of years for the fjords to finally reveal their splendor. It all began in prehistoric times, when an enormous climatic shift took place. Rising temperatures enabled these green jewels to emerge from their ice prison.

Then, as time goes by, nature develops to offer this immense palette of greens, juxtaposed with the crystalline blue of the sea. These color schemes resist even the curiosity of mankind, when they become ingenious enough to tame the opposing elements.

Since this secret was discovered, thousands – if not millions – of visitors have flocked to this picture-postcard landscape. For the Fjords have the ability to magnify themselves at any time of the day or night. Whether it’s the glare of the sun or the coppery hues of the northern lights, these natural elements enhance an already magnificent panorama.

If you’re unfamiliar with what’s known as Western Norway, Generation Voyage reveals the secrets of one of Europe’s most beautiful regions.

Foreword

Norway’s vastness makes car hire essential, unless you’ve booked a complete package with a tour operator. What’s more, the fjords are scattered from north to south, so don’t hesitate to stay for at least two weeks if you want to make the trip we suggest.

A good level of physical fitness is also essential for the many hikes on offer around the fjords. Indeed, walking is the best way to reach the heights and take full advantage of the panoramic views.

The weather can be capricious and prevent you from fully enjoying your excursion, or even forbid it. So opt for the period from May to September. Finally, don’t hesitate to dress warmly, as the sun’s rays won’t always be there to warm you up.

1. Lysefjord, lord of stone

Stavanger is the starting point for your journey. The port city has a well-connected airport, but a stopover is mandatory to reach it. This remains the most viable solution, unless you prefer to arrive in Oslo and then drive for over 7 hours. However, you’ll discover in the course of this article that Norwegian roads are well worth the detour.

Indeed, a major renovation project began in 1994 under the leadership of the Scandinavian government. Bringing together more than 50 artists and architects – including the Snøhetta company, which drew up the plans for Oslo’s famous opera house – this vast program lasted 11 years and focused on 18 national roads. You’ll be amazed at the results!

To reach Lysefjord, you need to take the Øygardstøl road. Not included in the above list, this road deserves an exemption, as its 27 hairpin bends make you feel like Peter Sollberg. It’s a pity you can’t lift your nose from the road, as the surrounding countryside is also worth a look.

Route de Lysebotn

Photo credit: Shutterstock – szewo.com

But before you feel the excitement of a seasoned rally driver, you’ll stop just before the first bend to start your first hike, up the Kjeragbolten. A parking lot is provided for this purpose.

Kjeragbolten, the stuck rock

11 kilometers separate you from this famous rock, which seems to have been force-fitted between two cliffs. The average duration of this hike is around 6 hours round trip. What’s more, your route will be punctuated by smooth and sometimes very steep walls. Fortunately, iron chains are present, otherwise your progress would be almost impossible.

Once you’ve made it to the top, you can do as many of the clever kids who defy the laws of physics every year by having their photo taken on Kjeragbolten. Don’t forget, however, that you’re at an altitude of over 1,000 metres. The harder it is to fall.

Kjeragbolten

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Kochneva Tetyana

After this adrenalin-filled moment, your body deserves a little rest. So look for the best place to rest and admire the beauty of the landscape. You’ll understand why Hans Dahl – a famous Norwegian painter born in a village near the Hardanger fjord – found inspiration in contemplating this spectacle. Blue, green, white, a veritable kaleidoscope of colors!

Your exploration of Lysefjord isn’t over, however, as another sensational spot awaits you. But « he who wishes to travel far spares his mount », so put it off until the next day and head for the village of Lysebotn to sleep. At the very least, you’ll be able to treat yourself to one last treat as you tackle the famous 27-curve road.

The Preikestolen

This is THE most popular hike in the country! A good tip: either do yourself a favor and set off at the crack of dawn, or go in the late afternoon. That way, you won’t run into any crowds, which is important if you want to enjoy the Preikestolen to the full.

Less strenuous than the previous hike – which can be completed in 3 hours round trip, with only 3 challenging sections – this hike will take you to a majestic peak, a symbol of Norway. For those who really want to take their time, swim in the lakes scattered along the way. In summer, temperatures can rise above 30 degrees, so the clear, limpid water is a great way to cool off.

If the Kjeragbolten has scared you, then the Preikestolen will. Perched at a height of 600 metres, this 25m² rock suspended in the void is sure to make you break out in a cold sweat. The more adventurous will approach the precipice, while the more rational will keep their distance. But everyone will remember this unique moment. Perched on the heights, the urge to shout « I’m the master of the world » will be pressing.

Preikestolen

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Landscape Nature Photo

Now it’s time to head north to discover another spectacular fjord, Hardangerfjord. Set course for Bergen.

2. Hardangerfjord, nature at its best

Bergen, the capital of the Fjords. It will be your home base for the next 3 excursions. It’s a real godsend if you want to put your Nordic exploration on hold for a while. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Bergen has plenty to offer.

Bergen

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Mark and Anna Photography

So don’t hesitate to sample the local gastronomy, stop off at bars to listen to regional bands – who knows, the new « Kygo » previews – and of course visit a few museums.

Hardangerfjord is no easy task. As Norway’s 2nd largest fjord, you’ll need to visit it in several stages. The R7 scenic route is a great ally in getting you to the must-see places. What’s more, the many villages along the way are great places to stop for the night.

Start with Norheimsund, home to one of the country’s best-known and most photographed waterfalls, Steindalsfossen. You can either contemplate it from the front, or take the small path that allows you to admire it from above. In either case, take time to listen to the water flowing and breaking below.

Steindalfossen Montage

Image of Steindals waterfall, seen from below (left) and above (right ) – Photo credits: Shutterstock – MortenHeiselberg & Pe3k

From there, we recommend you go as far as Tørvikbygd to take a ferry to Jondal. Apart from its church, nicknamed « the cathedral of Hardanger », this hamlet is mainly used to take a bus to the Folgefonn summer ski resort. This magnificent glacier is the perfect place to take a deep breath of fresh air. If you look for the highest point, you’re sure to catch a glimpse of the apple orchards in this polar setting.

Montage Jondal Folgefonn

Folgefonn on the left and the town of Jondal on the right – Photo credits: Shutterstock – Andrew Mayovskyy & Gertjan Hooijer

Imported to the region in the 13th century, Hardanger apples account for over 40% of national production. But Hardanger is also famous for… its cider! Norway has even won two gold and six silver medals at the CiderWorld Awards.

The most famous is « Hardanger cider », a controlled designation of origin since 2011. According to the Norwegians, its flavor could even make any Bretons or Normans kick the bucket. So take a few bottles home for a test drive.

Pommier d'Hardanger

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Sigrid Eriksen

Then return to Jondal and take your means of transport deep into the Odda valley. Lovers of waterfalls will be delighted. For 10 km, the waterfalls are so numerous that you won’t know which way to turn. Tjørnadalsfoss, Strandfoss, Vidfoss, Espelandsfoss and Låtefoss… so many places worth discovering, with a special mention for the last-mentioned.

Latefoss

Photo credit: Shutterstock – KatrineAanensen

Indeed, if you stand on the stone bridge, you’ll discover that this waterfall has the particularity of being split into two streams which then join together just beneath your feet. A magical natural spectacle!

A stop at Tyssedal is a must if you want to regain your height. Embark on a hike to Ringedalsvatnet lake. Your arrival point will be the Trolltunga rock, perched 700 metres above the lake. So, yes, more green as far as the eye can see, more crystal-clear water, more the sound of nature, but you just can’t get enough of it. Everything looks so pure, so calm… Why leave?

3. Sognefjord, the lord of the manor

Back in Bergen, your fjord addiction compels you to continue northwards to meet the Sognefjord. The second largest fjord in the world, and the first in Europe, it divides into several arms, including the most famous, Naeroyfjord.

Once you’ve had your fill of climbing higher and higher, stay at water level this time. At the village of Gudvangen, you face two difficult choices. The first, take the electric ferry – it’s better to enjoy the scenery with silence as your only companion – or hire a kayak to make the same journey. Take your time and risk sore arms, or let yourself be lulled to the rhythm of the water on a timed tour – the choice is yours!

Before you set off, find out just how important water is in this valley. In fact, some of the villages you’ll come across on your trip are not connected by any roads at all, and without them would be completely isolated. Norwegians even consider the Sognefjord to be a « highway » to the sea!

You’ll start by catching a glimpse of the Kjelfossen, an impressive waterfall that cascades down the mountain for 755m in several jumps, the highest of which is 149m. Its flow is most impressive in June. Thanks to warmer temperatures, the melted snow feeds the waterfall, giving you a spectacular sight!

Kjelfossen

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Murat Can Kirmizigul

A few kilometers further on lies the tiny village of Bakka and its white wooden church. Built in 1859 by Christian Henrik Grosch, its relative size in no way reflects its importance. Indeed, before its consecration on May 11 of the same year, people living along the Nærøyfjorden had to travel to Undredal – some 200 kilometers away – to practice their faith.

A few paddles further on – or just a few minutes later if you’re on the ferry – you’ll come across Styvi. This old farmhouse is unoccupied for ¾ of the year, and only in summer does a couple return to live here. The place has been transformed into a small museum, and few tourists venture in. Indeed, there are no roads leading to Styvi, and only the ferry stops there on request.

But smallness can make you proud. Styvi boasts the world’s smallest post office, with its own zip code (5748 STYVI). On the opposite shore is a little town with a similar history. A stroll through this ghost town is an excellent way to relax and spare your arms.

Montage Styvi Dyrdal

Dyrdal on the left and Styvi on the right – Photo credits: Shutterstock – Henryk Sadura & Dignity 100

Resuming your exploration, you should hear the water crashing into the river again. Then you won’t be far from the Sagfossen waterfall. Proof that the water route was the one to choose, you can only see Sagfossen by boat – or kayak – from the fjord. Once again, you’ll be amazed.

Sagfossen

Photo credit: Flickr – Øyvind Holmstad

All the way to Kaupanger, you’ll witness a succession of hamlets whose isolated appearance will send a storm through your skull. How can you live here, so far from everything? And yet, the small farms clinging to the steep slopes have existed since time immemorial… Life always finds its way…

It’s time to turn back, to see once again all the wonders you saw on the outward journey.

4. Geirangerfjord, the most mythical of all

Leaving Bergen with a heavy heart, the 7-hour drive could give you the fjord blues. But don’t brood, because Geirangerfjord is considered the most beautiful fjord in Norway.

The 3 waterfalls

The powerful waterfalls sheltered by this fjord are what make this region so famous. They are, of course, associated with local legends. To discover them, there’s nothing better than a hike, although the ferry can also satisfy your thirst for curiosity.

Once upon a time, a prince was lost in the region. Looking for a place to sleep, he was welcomed by a man who had 7 daughters, each more beautiful than the last. The prince fell head over heels in love with all of them, but couldn’t decide which one to choose. That’s the end of the « pretty » part of the story, but the rest is not so pretty.

Every night, each of the sisters came to share the monarch’s bed. And every night, he would promise to make a choice and marry one of them. That day never came. Over the years, the sisters became inconsolable and began to shed torrents of tears. These eventually formed the 7 streams of water that make up the Cascade of the 7 Sisters.

Cascade des 7 soeurs

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Andrey Armyagov

Facing her is a waterfall. This is the waterfall of the suitor, in reference to the prince, and, like the man depicted, she gazes tirelessly at them without making a choice. A third waterfall lies nearby, which the Men have decided to name « The Bride’s Veil », symbolizing the event that never took place. Never coming together, the three natural monuments form a Holy Trinity of sadness…

Meet the Trolls

Now that you’ve ventured into mythical lands, continue your tour with this theme. From Geiranger, take Route 63 and then a ferry to discover the Troll Road. Like the Øygardstøl road, this one has many twists and turns. But unlike your Øygardstøl, this one has earned the right to be called Norway’s scenic route.

Trollstigen

Photo credit: Shutterstock – saiko3p

Trolls first appeared in Norwegian folklore during the Viking era. The Nordic people revered nature and used it to pay homage. They began to tell numerous sagas set in forests, fjords and mountains.

According to Scandinavian mythology, there are two types of troll. Ugly stone giants hidden in the mountains, only to be seen at night, and smaller ones living in groups in the forest. The latter are more akin to our friendly elves.

Troll

Hope you don’t come across a troll… – Photo credits: Shutterstock – Bildagentur Zoonar GmbH

All along the route, perfect glass platforms are present to let you discover the panoramas. Once again, you’re immersed in a magical landscape of turquoise lakes, thick forests and lush green valleys. It all seems so unreal. For those who’d like to take another walk, at the top of the road there’s a tourist center from which a hike takes you to Lake Bispevatnet.

Just when you think you’re nearing the end of your journey – there’s only one fjord left to visit – you type in the coordinates for Trollfjord and discover that it’s over 1,200 kilometers to your destination.

Of course, don’t try to do it all in one day. Take the opportunity to stop in towns like Molde, Trondheim or Bodø to lighten your journey time.

5. Trollfjord, to the end of the world…

Here’s a fjord you’ve got to earn! It’s been almost an eternity since your last ascent, and your desire to find a new green setting is inevitably at its peak. So it’s time to take the boat one last time to visit Trollfjord.

The battle of the herring

The only way to discover the natural charms of this fjord is by ferry. Don’t worry about your promiscuity, as its position close to the Arctic Circle disarms many tourists. You won’t run the risk of running into too many people. Let’s go for a 3-hour stroll along the water’s edge.

You’ll discover an unspoilt natural wonder. Unlike its West Coast brethren, Trollfjord has no settlements along its shores. On the one hand, weather conditions are not the most hospitable. At times, the entire fjord is frozen over. This has even led to conflict between fishermen.

Trollfjord

Photo credit: Shutterstock – May_Lana

More than a century ago, there were two distinct types of fishermen. The former needed the latter to break the ice for fishing. The former needed the latter to break the ice for their fishing. However, leniency was not the rule, and the steamboat fishermen were entitled to 40% of the fish brought in by their fellows.

But on the night of March 5-6, 1890, a violent storm broke the ice. Rowing fishermen rushed to bring in as many herrings as possible. By blockading the narrowest part of the fjord with their nets, they managed to catch countless fish.

This technique provoked the ire of the other fishermen, hence the fierce battle that ensued. The scene was depicted in a painting by Norwegian artist Gunnar Berg. Currently on display in an art gallery in Svolvær, this Norwegian work of art is one of the most recognizable in the world.

It’s hard to imagine such a conflict in the silence of the valley. And yet… Savor the last waterfalls before your eyes, the brilliant green of the flora and still the crystalline aspect of the river. Sadly, all this will be behind you, but why not treat yourself to one last little treat by visiting the Lofoten Islands?

The Lofoten Islands

This archipelago lies above the Arctic Circle. Here, too, nature has been able to thrive undisturbed by man. The island’s capital, Svolvær, has fewer than 4,500 inhabitants. Located on the island of Austvågøya, it owes its important status only to the fact that most tourists approach the archipelago via this charming village. It even has an airport!

Ile Lofoten

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Jarmo Piironen

As well as strolling between the mountain peaks that rise up from the sea, you can book an excursion to observe the large marine mammals. Depending on the season, whales and orcas may come your way.

Tente Sami

Photo credit: Shutterstock – V. Belov

Finally, if you see a tepee, don’t think you’re crazy! You’re simply looking at a building typical of the Sami people, the indigenous inhabitants of northern Norway. From Lapland to your holiday destination, over 80,000 people are scattered across these snow-covered lands. Learning more about them would be a great way to end your trip in style.

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. The return journey will be full of emotion, and it’s with a heavy heart that you’ll leave your green jewels. Do you now understand why some rankings put the fjords ahead of the Egyptian pyramids, the Galapagos or even the Maldives? The answer is in the question…