By Aidan Goldstraw
When a country has as much coastline as this, there’s really only way to see it - get on a boat.
Ever since a brief and fogbound press trip to Norway with the RAF as a cub reporter, I’d longed to return. Pining for the fjords, as you might say.
So when my fianceé and I were discussing locations for our forthcoming honeymoon, the land of salt herring and chunky jumpers was high on my list. Vikki liked the idea too, so we booked a cruise aboard the Ocean Majesty, operated by cruise experts Page & Moy.
Embarking at Felixstowe, we found the Ocean Majesty to be a modestly-sized but extremely comfortable ship. Our outside cabin was small but well appointed, with plenty of hidey-holes for things which might, ahem, tumble about a bit.
There’s only one problem with sailing over to Norway from the UK. It’s called the North Sea. Our first night was surprisingly serene but nearing the Norwegian coast near Bergen we hit a Force 8 and things got a bit more interesting.
Both Vikki and myself were feeling pretty OK, having taken the anti-nausea tablets provided pretty quickly, but these do make you drowsy and it was perhaps a mistake to schedule the captain’s cocktail party for that night. We’d been invited on to the captain’s table but the rest of that party was largely assembled from the ship’s crew, including a rather green-looking engineering officer.
Entertainment on board ship was good and of course the service and food were tremendous, albeit a serious threat to the waistline.
Our first port of call in Norway was the busy little port of Alesund. Alesund’s chief claim to fame, aside from its prominence in the Norwegian fishing industry, is the town’s glorious art nouveau buildings which dominate the local architecture. Alesund was completely rebuilt following a terrible fire which destroyed the town in 1904.
Alesund forms the basis of many land and sea-based trips. It’s a popular stop-off for whale-watching cruises (although the Norwegians are famously ambivalent about these creatures - you’ll find whale meat for sale everywhere) - we chose instead a day-long run out to the outer islands, which are connected to Alesund by a series of undersea tunnels, themselves an incredible feat of engineering.
The coastline is unremittingly rugged, and the old lighthouse which was our final stop for the day was a reminder of this. Inside we were regaled with hot coffee and an absolutely delicious but stomach-bursting selection of cakes. As we were to find out, Norwegians consider at least six cakes to be an absolute minimum when it comes to hospitality!
Then it was back to the ship and down to Olden, our next port. Now you are deep into fjord country, with the cliffs rising spectacularly above you and plunging even deeper beneath the dark waters. Olden is a modest little port, more of a village than anything, but is a useful base for excursions to inland attractions.
Of these, the Briksdal glacier is perhaps the most notable. Although alarmingly reduced in size by global warming over the last decade, this creaking, glimmering, blue-black phenomenon with its own micro-climate is a magnificent sight.
The glacier is something of a hike from the nearest car park (although there are little buggies which will take you MOST of the way if you really insist) but your reward awaits at the little cafe at the bottom - more cake!
The next day saw the Ocean Majesty entering perhaps the most famous - and without doubt the most scenic - of all Norway’s fjords - the Geiranger, with its famous Bridal Veil and Seven Sisters falls. Large ships cannot moor at Geiranger so the Ocean Majesty deployed a couple of lifeboats to get us all ashore.
Our excursion led through miles of twisting, single-track road to Herdal Summer Farm, right in the heart of a World Heritage Site, the West Norwegian Fjords. Here several hundred goats pass their summers, before being taken down the valleys to lower, winter pastures.
The farm is owned and operated by Åshild Dale and Jostein Sande, who delight in welcoming visitors and showing them the largely-unchanged methods of farming and food-production. You’ll certainly want to try some of the famous Norwegian “brown” cheese, which has a sweet, fudgy taste and is simply delicious.
The final leg of our journey took us to Norway’s second city, the cosmopolitan and elegant Bergen. A city tour is a must, especially the “Bryggen” quarter of old Hanseatic houses and warehouses dating from the 17th Century. Bergen’s lively fish market is also a must to stock up on smoked salmon which far surpasses anything you’ll find in a foreign supermarket.
A popular excursion from Bergen is Fantoft Stave Church, built entirely of wood in the old Norwegian style. Originally built in the village of Fortun, the church was moved piece by piece to just outside of Bergen when it was threatened with demolition. Unfortunately in 1992 the church was destroyed in an arson attack, so the building you see today is an accurate but modern reproduction.
One person eternally linked with Bergen is the composer Edvard Grieg. Excursions run daily to the Grieg Museum at the musician’s former home at Troldhaugen. Here you can visit his grave (in the side of a cliff!) and listen to one of the daily recitals of Grieg’s music at the modern concert hall built alongside the house at Troldhaugen. There can be few better finales to your own personal Norwegian symphony!