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Several highlights of Norway’s activities, dining and iconic nature can be experienced in a single, three-day trip, through the cooperation of top hotels and restaurants.
Text: Mikael Lunde
“You’ll wake up to an incredible landscape. You’re at the highest point of the Bergen Railway. To the south, the Hardangerjøkulen glacier is twinkling in the sun across lake Finsevatnet”, says Trygve Norman, chairman of the hotel.
You’ll see an endless expanse of wild nature. And it’s calling for you to head out.
You might have seen this place before. Finse is where they filmed the famous set piece “Battle of Hoth” for the 1980 Star Wars sequel The Empire Strikes Back. Yet in summer, the area is completely transformed. It is covered, not in snow, but in the warm shades of green from moss and heather. There are no trees this high up.
This is also a starting point for Rallarvegen (the navvie’s road), built between 1902 and 1904 as an access road for the construction of the railway, and is crammed with history.
“In any one of these round trips, you get a taste of Norway – in more than one sense”, says Nils Henrik Geitle, CEO of De historiske. The organization includes 58 hotels and 22 restaurants around the country – and even a ship.
Their common denominator is that they have deep roots in history. Membership is a mark of quality, as all who apply face rigorous quality tests. Only a few ever pass.
The round trips are a way to combine several of the top hotels, restaurants, and activities into a single experience. “They are very popular, especially the trips to Trolltunga and Preikestolen”, says Geitle. He refers, of course, to the natural rock formations that are two of Norway’s – indeed, the world’s – most famous natural viewpoints. Trolltunga and Preikestolen are both found deep within the untouched Norwegian nature, so they require a little bit of effort to reach (dress code: mountain boots, not high heels). Then again, the one-of-a-kind views at the end are all the more rewarding. As are the multi course dinners when you return (now the heels are appropriate).
“Dining is an important part of the trip. No two places have the same menu, and so each will offer a different taste experience”, says Geitle.
Back at Finse, the day starts with a good breakfast. The bread is freshly baked and the produce, meats, and fish are all local. If you had lamb or reindeer the night before, then on the way down to Flåm later in the day you’ll pass the farm that delivered it – Haugen Gardsmat. You should also take a good, long stop to enjoy your “matpakke” – the traditional Norwegian packed lunch. “We don’t serve lunch at all at Finse. It is in the Norwegian spirit that you should get out and enjoy your food in the open. On a bike, you’ll get well beyond the watershed before you need to stop for lunch”, says Trygve Norman.
Whilst remaining far inland amid tall mountains, this small town also has one of Norway’s busiest cruise ship ports, connected to the sea through the Sognefjord. Whilst the town can admittedly be rather busy on a summer’s day, the surrounding areas are largely untouched. Any pictures you might have seen from the Norwegian fjord landscape are likely taken right here.
“By bike, you’ll go down the valley through some 23 hairpin turns. You then enter a wonderful cultural landscape. The first thing you’ll pass is a goat farm selling cheese, and then you’ll be surrounded by waterfalls in every direction”, says Norman. “Luckily, the valley is spared from being exploited for tourism – it is remarkably authentic. We recommend our guests to go straight to Fretheim, keep to their relaxed garden and enjoy a well deserved ‘Rallar beer’”.
The beer comes from Ægir. The microbrewery in Flåm is one of Norway’s very best. “Many of our guests go there for beer tasting”, says Connie Konglevoll, chief of sales at Fretheim hotel. Ægir opened in 2007, and local food is really nothing new in the area. You’ll get cheese and cured meats from livestock that roam age-old mountain pastures. Fruits and wild berries make for juices, cider and jams. The recipes are probably as old as the hotel, or older.
“The origins of the hotel go back to the 19th century, when it was a farm”, says Konglevoll. “The farmer Christen Fretheim then started housing English lords who came as tourists to fish in the Flåmselva river and hunt in the mountains.” It became a popular destination and was soon transformed into a hotel.
“It is beautifully located at the inner end of the Aurlandsfjord, a creek of the Sognefjord – framed by tall mountains. Nature is stunning”, Konglevoll says. Nearby is the incredibly narrow Nærøyfjord, which is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. “Another place we recommend to visit is Otternes – a wonderful old mountain hamlet where you can relax with food and coffee and just take in the view of the fjord”, Konglevoll adds.
There are several days worth of nature and activities to explore around Flåm. But thanks to the ferries and railways, it is also a hub to get around easily to other parts of the country – and possibly on another tree or four day round trip.
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