Beyond the beaten track of the Med and the Caribbean, yacht owners and charter guests are increasingly looking further afield to experience something new. The allure of new horizons and adventures in nature puts Norway firmly on the map so I visited the Western Fjords to see for myself why superyachts are increasingly tempted to explore this wild and beautiful country.
Flying into Bergen on the Norwegian coastline, the first thing you notice is the archipelago of small islands leading you into the city, a maze of anchorages and peaceful bays to explore.
Some of these host small villages which have been home to fishermen and seafarers for centuries. In recent years some of these islands have been connected to the mainland by bridges, although many still rely on ferries to deliver people from place to place, so the locals have a special relationship with the sea and a strong sense of heritage.
The western fjordland of Norway is a place of incredible beauty and diversity. The landscape varies, at times imposing, grandiose and intimidating, changing with a turn in the road to reveal a softer side of lakes, wildflowers, orchards and grazing animals.
Image: Sverre Hjornevik
The Norwegian people have learned over the centuries to live and profit from this sometimes harsh and unforgiving environment with its extremely cold winters. Harnessing the abundance of water that surrounds them, Norway relies almost solely on renewable energy, mainly from hydropower plants, despite the large oil reserves stretching up the 8,000 kilometers of coastline..
Norway as a destination for superyachts will not be for everyone. There are no beach restaurants, nightclubs, designer boutiques or jet skis, and the weather is not the same as in Miami or the Med but, this is part of the attraction.
For charter guests or yacht owners looking for a new adventure, to venture into nature to hike, canoe, ski, hunt and fish, or just to experience the peace and tranquility of the fjords, then Norway is Nirvana.
During a recent discovery trip, Ola Hiis Bergh from Superyacht Norway was our expert tour guide around the Western Fjords and he patiently answered our many questions.
Image: Sverre Hjornevik
Hardangarfjord and Lofthus
Leaving Bergen we drove inland into a majestic and unspoiled landscape. Waterfalls are everywhere, there is endless green and an incredible feeling of vast open space. The mountains on either side seem immense and it's hard to believe that you are actually at sea level.
In 2005 the fjords of Norway were included in the UNESCO World Heritage List and it is easy to see why.
Our first destination was Lofthus, a village on the eastern bank of the Sorfjorden, an arm of the Hardangarfjord, famous for its apple orchards. Acres of trees appear to cling to the mountainsides and during our trip these were is full blossom, a soft beauty in total contrast with the otherwise rugged and ancient landscape.
The marina of Lofthus is owned by the multi-award winning Hotel Ullensvang which has been managed by the same family since 1846 and was a favourite destination for the composer, Edvard Grieg, who composed many of his famous pieces, including Peer Gynt, overlooking the Folgefonna glacier.
The hotel is accustomed to welcoming superyacht owners and guests, ensuring discretion and flexibility in handling requests. Guests in the marina also have full access to the hotel's pool and sauna facilities. The heated outdoor swimming pool, the second longest in Europe, runs alongside the fjord with a breathtaking view, while the glass fronted sauna looks directly across the fjord to the glacier.
Another "string to the bow" at Ullensvang is the wine cellar which is named ‘Munkens Troyst’, or ‘The Monks Solace’ after a monastery once located in Lofthus. Containing some of the world's finest vintages, and a bottle of cognac said to have belonged to Napoleon Bonaparte, the cellar is a unique venue for a private dinner or event.
Image: Hotel Ullensvang - Superyacht Norway
The Hotel Ullensvang is no stranger to high profile guests, having welcomed important names such as Indira Ghandi, Henry Kissinger and many others including Norway's very own Queen Sonja who visits every year in the Royal Yacht the "Norge".
After recent investment, the new superyacht quay at Lofthus is in the first stages of development and will be able to host superyachts over 100 metres. Until completion yachts can anchor in front of the hotel or berth stern-to at the quay.
Facilities include a helipad for those wanting to explore the lakes, glaciers and trails that are hidden in the mountains behind the fjord.
After leaving Lofthus, we continued up the Sorfjorden to Odda, a town nestled in the crook of the fjord which, due to its beautiful setting, is rather incongruous as an industrial, iron-smelting town.
Passing through Odda, we entered the folgefonnatunnelah, one of Norway's impressive networks of tunnels, to come out and rejoin the main arm of the Hardangerfjord and on to Rosendal.
The landscape changes as you approach Rosendal. The steep topography that reaches directly from the water to the sky through the interior of the Hardanger fjord opens out to rolling green hills, gently inclining towards the higher peaks.
Image: Jan Aril Sivertsen
Folgefonna glacier, the third largest in mainland Norway, provides a striking backdrop to the fertile green that surrounds the village and serves as a year-round ski slope or climbing destination.
Rosendal is a Barony, the only one in Norway and it therefore has its own unique story.
In 1658 the wealthiest heiress in Norway, Karen Mowatt, married a Danish Nobleman by the name of Ludvig Rosenkrantz, and her father gave them Hatteburg farm in Rosendal as a wedding present.
The newly married couple started to build a manor house of their own in Rosendal and it was completed in 1665. In 1678 King Christian V of Denmark awarded the estate the title of Barony, the only one of its kind in Norway.
The house stands today, much as it was then, with the original tapestries on the walls in the library, and the staircase, floors and walls still in their original state. Beautiful rose gardens were planted in the 1800’s and the house and its grounds have become a popular venue for concerts and cultural events.
Image: House of Flowers - The Production House
The marina in Rosendal is well accustomed to welcoming visiting yachts and has hosted more and more over the past few years as superyacht owners and guests travel further afield in search of new and exciting locations. Yachts of up to 120m can be accommodated in Rosendal and refueling can be organized here.
The marina is also equipped with a helipad so that guests can fly straight in from Bergen and have better access to the surrounding area.
Since we spent longer than anticipated visiting the sights in Rosendal, we boarded a boat to get us to our next destination in time for our much anticipated dinner in Bekkjarvik.
Arild was our captain on his boat MY White Whisper. On the stunning two hour trip through the fjord he plied us with locally brewed cider while telling us all about life in the fjord. We passed salmon farms that produce world famous Norwegian salmon on an impressive scale and pointed out a local landmark, a stone troll peeking out of a rock face. Although the troll could have been the cider.
Just 28 nautical miles south of Bergen, Bekkjarvik is located on a beautiful island in the municipality of Austervoll, near the entrance to the Hardangerfjord.
Arriving in Bekkjarvik is a treat. It is a small town and, like most in the area, rooted in the history of fishing and the processing of herring. On rounding the bay, you enter a small and very well protected marina surrounded by typical Norwegian wooden buildings that were once used to process the fish and make the wooden barrels for storing them.
Image: Karo Hammervold
Nestled in the middle, and a stone's throw from the boat is Bekkjarvik Gjestgiveri, a traditional Norwegian inn with an award-winning chef who attracts diners from all over Norway and the world. We were lucky enough not only to eat his local and innovative fare but to meet the man himself.
In 2015 Orjan Johannessen won the Bocuse D’Or, one of the most prestigious, gastronomique awards in the world and, despite being offered jobs in some of the best restaurants around the globe, he chose to come home and produce beautiful food using ingredients he has grown up with and can now help to promote.
After a truly exceptional meal we slept in beautifully renovated rooms in the old herring barrel factory. The original feel has been respectfully preserved and the spacious and attractive rooms with stunning views out over the sea managed to convey a feeling of modern comfort while maintaining a sense of history.
Image: Laurent Cipriani - NTB - Scanpix
On the outer wall of the harbour entrance, a well protected marina has been built with every convenience and technical requirement catered for. On site there is a helipad, refueling facilities, security, provisioning and 24 hour assistance. The marina can accommodate yachts up to 56m with a draft up to 12m.
The next morning we were up early as our final destination was Gudvangen, via Flam, and to get there we needed to take a car journey, two boats and two trains.
After a stunning drive across the islands of Austervoll and a ferry to the mainland, we arrived just in time to catch our first train on the famous Flam Railway.
The historic Flam Railway is a 70 year old route running between Myrdal in the mountains and ending in Flam, at sea level in the heart of the fjords, making it one of the steepest and most scenic railways in the world.
Image: Morten Rakke - www.rakke.no
After a surreal stop high on the mountain where we were treated to a visit and lullaby from Huldra, a figure of Norwegian folklore, we arrived in Flam.
Flam & Gudvangen
Flam is at the tip of the Aurlandsfjord and has become a popular destination for tourists with a lot to offer. The village of approximately 500 residents has one of the oldest stave churches in the region, dating back to 1147.
Due to the increasing demand of tourists to visit Flam and its surrounds, the Aurland Port Authority, which also manages the facilities in Aurland and Gudvangen, has been extending and modernising the Flam Marina facilities to be able to host yachts up to 120m. The marina is also ISPS certified.
Image: Bjame Oymyr/jazzfoto.no
In very organised Norwegian fashion, we stepped straight off the train and onto a sightseeing boat to take us through Aurlandsfjord to Gudvangen, in the Naeroyfjord, which is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Naeroyfjord is one of the narrowest and most spectacular of all the fjords. On the two hour cruise from Flam to Gudvangen we passed seals and porpoises playing in the still water, the only sign of a human being the occassional kayak along the shore. There is a lot of viking history in these fjords, with viking burial sites being pointed out on a couple of occasions. Their presence here is both impressive and surprising considering the geograpical isolation and harsh climate they chose to inhabit.
Arriving in Gudvangen, 19 nautical miles from Flam, it is hard not to make the obvious connection with Hobbit Town. The two main buildings are circular and have the traditional grass roofs of many buildings in this area. It is like entering the set of a Peter Jackson Tolkein film.
Image: Oscar Siches
After incredibly delicious and much needed Norwegian waffles with cream and jam, Norway's answer to a cream tea, we were shown to our rooms for the evening. My room in the Gudvangen Fjord Hotel had a glass ceiling so from my deer–skin covered bed I could wake up to see the waterfall on the cliffs opposite.
Gudvangen is a busy tourist destination where bus loads of people arrive to embark in cruise ships to visit the fjord. Despite this, it is very well managed and the Naeroyfjord does not feel busy or congested, managing to maintain a sense of peace and tranquility. Because of this tourist traffic there are ISPS certified marina facilities for visiting yachts up to 60 metres and yachts can also refuel with advance booking. The facilities may be minimal but the scenery is worth the trip!
Image: CH - visitnorway.com
The most memorable evening I had in Norway, and for a long time, was just outside Gudvangen. After visiting the stunning Stegastein viewpoint, 650 metres above sea level, we arrived at Otternes.
Otternes is a farm dating from 1700, although signs of settlement from as early as 300ad have been found here. It sits high on the mountain side overlooking the Aurlandfjord.
The traditional farms in these fjords consisted of several families living in group settlements, each working their plot and, as summer approached, they moved their herds of sheep and goats higher up into the mountains. This original site has been tenaciously and lovingly preserved and brought to life by Layla who shared her amazing project with us. We were shown inside the small wooden houses where each family lived, kept as they were when the last inhabitants left.
We helped to make the traditional brown cheese, a Norwegian speciality made from the whey of goat and cows' milk and then caramelized to give it a slightly sweet flavour. We stood in the half light of the Nordic night, high above the fjord, and fed the lambs before being taken into one of the huts for dinner.
Image: Stegastein viewpoint - Sverre Hjornevik - visitnorway.com
The chef at Otternes is world class. We started the meal with a soup of lovage that he had foraged from the hillside in the afternoon. The next course I had been slightly concerned about as I knew it was to be lamb, and I have not eaten meat for 25 years, but I decided to keep that fact to myself and eat it. I am glad I did as it was tender and delicious.
We left Otternes late that night, still light, tired after a long day, but energised and warmed by Layla's passion and a lot wiser about the history and culture of this part of Norway and it's people.
We returned to Bergen, "the Gateway to the Fjords", the next day and visited the busy port which has been the center of life here for centuries.
Bergen is experiencing a burgeoning superyachting industry and the facilities here are fantastic. The port is sheltered from the North Sea and so berthing is comfortable and safe.
Image: Jan Lillebo/visitbergen.com
Right in the heart of the city, and close to the charming Hanseatic Wharf lined with shops and cafés is the new superyacht basin. The 90m Quay is ISPS certified and secured from the rest of the port with fences and security.
Mount Floyen, one of the seven mountains surrounding Bergen, has a funicular to take you to the top for a breathtaking view of the city.
Bergen is a city you can explore on foot and there is something for everyone here. Bryggen wharf, with its colourful, wooden buildings, now full of trendy cafés and shops, is on the UNESCO list of world history and cultural sites. The fish market on the port is a must with every kind of salmon and other local fish to sample. From there the shopping district is a short walk and has enough to keep even the most avid shopper happy for days.
Bergen is a cultural city with many museums, galleries, theatres and concert halls. The restaurants, bars and cafes are bustling and give the city a feeling of vibrancy.
Image: Bergen Sunset - Willy Haraldsen - visitnorway.com
The rapidly expanding superyacht industry in Norway means that marina infrastructure is continuing to grow and improve to better cater to the yachts coming to experience this incredible landscape and coastline.
The Norwegian people are also open and welcoming which makes visiting their country a pure pleasure!
Tips for visiting yachts
Yachts over 70m LOA require a pilot for navigating inside the fjords.
Refueling in Norway is tax free before leaving Norwegian waters.
The Norwegian Hydrographic Service has 23 tide gauges along the Norwegian coast.
For more information about visiting the fjords of Norway by yacht contact Superyacht Norway.