Posted: 27th July 2018 | Written by: Victoria Pearce, The Islander
This adventure began on a beautiful spring day at the Palma Superyacht Show 2018. A dapper gentleman turned up wanting to talk to us about his proposal.
So far, so mysterious, but his red top hat, adorned with the Norwegian flag, gave us some clue as to where the conversation might be going... Cue a flurry of texts and I arrived back at the stand to wait for the legendary Ola (pronounced Ula).
What I was met with blew my mind. Ola is 87! Yes 87! Did I say, he’s 87! He was director of tourism for Bergen and as director of Cruise Norway was instrumental in bringing the cruise ships into the fjords when many said it couldn’t be done. When he retired as Tourism Director he was awarded the gold medal by King Harald of Norway in recognition of his achievements in raising the profile of Bergen and for his services to tourism in the Western Fjord region.
Now in his 87th year (I promise this is the last time I’ll mention this, but still……) he is Director of Superyacht Norway. Established in March 2014 after extensive research into the Superyacht market it is comprised of stakeholders who represent popular tourist destinations in the Fjord Norway region, along with companies with links to the Superyacht industry, including shipping agents and a water-born activities specialist. The common goal is to develop superyacht tourism in and around the fjords of Western Norway.
Photo credit: Jeff Brown
So, Ola’s proposal was that I and two other industry professionals, the wonderful Karen from Burgess and yacht captain Hans, join him on an exclusive tour around the fjords, mountains, inlets and waterfalls of Norway. He promised to introduce us to real Vikings, award winning chefs, simple farm folk and a supercar fanatic who, with the support of a local salmon farmer, is keeping the village of Lærdal firmly on the map.
The Beauty of Norway's Famous Waterways
The aim of the trip was to highlight the beauty and wonder of Norway’s famous waterways as a destination for the superyacht community. Not one to pass up the opportunity to travel and explore new places, I readily agreed and started to prepare for the adventure. Below: Ola and Victoria
Getting to Bergen, the gateway to the fjords, is pretty easy from any destination. The main carriers being SAS and Norwegian Air. To arrive from Mallorca, we had to change in Copenhagen, but it was a quick transfer and we were soon on our way.
Arriving in Bergen
When we arrived in Bergen we were met by our amazing host and guide for the next five days, Ola. Being a native of Bergen, Ola’s knowledge and connections are unsurpassable.
Bergen is an absolutely exquisite waterside city. With a population of 280,000 it is Norway’s second largest city with the epic fjord region on its doorstep. The airport has recently been renovated and new luxury hotels are popping up all over the city. There’s even a new train connection from the city out to the airport, although as it stops at countless stations along the way it isn’t the fastest form of transport.
Part of our tour would take in the National Route Hardanger. Our route comprised of the stretches Granvin – Steinsdalsfossen – Tørvikbygd – Jondal – Kinsarvik – Odda – Låtefoss. The entire road is 158 kilometres long and takes in Norway’s longest and deepest fjord: Sognefjord or King’s fjord. The name hits the mark, for it is indeed majestic.
Day 1: Waterfalls, fjords and exquisite seafood
Our first introduction to the drama of Norway is when we stop early into the journey at the 150-meter-high Steinsdalsfossen waterfall (above). There is a path and a newly covered walkway which allows you to ascend and actually stand behind the waterfall. The roar of the water crashing around us is deafening and you can definitely feel that it is melted snow running the mountain off as it splashes around the rocks and onto our arms and legs.
Through the waterfall is a spectacular view into the valley beyond and the verdant flora has a vibrancy that can only come from a land of water. Although, interestingly, for the week we were visiting there was a massive heatwave where they experienced the hottest May day on record and there were water shortage warnings. We were not going to complain about the heat.
Leaving our first waterfall behind us we continued to track along the water’s edge, where we could see the seabirds wheeling above us. A gentle calm began to descend over the group as we really started to let the peace and tranquillity of this untouched land sink into our bones, whilst Ola entertained us with stories of his ritual morning swim which he does every day the water is 10 degrees and above.
He ritually notes the temperature every day of the year. In fact, he was a competitive swimmer in his time and holds the record for the fastest breaststroke at sea in 12 degrees. In the height of summer, the lake water can reach 20 degrees, bathwater to a man of Ola’s constitution.
A couple of hours later, having passed beautiful multicoloured, wooden mountain-top farms, white wooden churches, and, a recurring theme throughout Norway, been through countless tunnels linking the little islands, we reached our destination of the Hotel Ullensvang in Loftus. Their strap line of ‘Check in, Breathe out’ certainly summed the place up accurately. This is where Greig wrote many of his compositions, surrounded by mountains on the edge of the water.
The hotel was originally opened in 1843 by a 14-year-old Hans Utne who had rowed across the fjord from his home town, bought a plot of land and opened his first room as a staging inn. 175 years and 5 generations of Utnes later, the present-day concept of one young boy’s dream is a state of the art fjord side hotel with all the facilities you would expect, but still with a family welcome.
We stopped here for dinner as Ola had promised us some of the best seafood we could imagine. He wasn’t joking. Dinner was an all you can eat buffet but in a very Scandinavian sense. There were crab claws, cold water shrimp, octopus, crayfish, mussels, caviar and, of course, herring. If it swims, it was on the menu. And it was delicious: delicate and cooked to retain a crunch. This all came served on freshly made bread with a helping of butter that my grandmother would have been proud of.
For the meat lovers there was delicious beef, pork rib and venison served with a rich red wine jus and linden berry sauce. At one point, as he was going for his fourth, Ola became extremely concerned that I myself wasn’t going for dessert. My dessert was the dessert of kings – another plate of seafood.
We finally finished up and headed to our hotel for the evening, watching as ringos were pulled behind ski boats, and families and friends gathered to soak up the spectacular almost never-ending sunshine, surrounded by wild flowers, blue skies, snow-capped mountains and bird song. It is an idyllic setting for a natural life, for visitors who want to get off the beaten track of the usual superyacht season to make new and interesting memories, something to treasure for always.
My room in the Quality Hotel Vøringfoss was stunning and felt like a home from home apartment with views over the water, looking down the fjord. It was a peaceful evening with couples strolling along, soaking up the chilled atmosphere. Working from my desk, looking out of the French windows I could easily imagine how the artists, musicians and writers who have flocked to these shores found inspiration. The western fjords saw the flourishing of the Norwegian Romantic movement between 1840 and 1867 and its artists depicted many of these vistas eloquently and dramatically in their work.
Breakfast the following morning, as we came to love and understand, was a banquet in itself. There was everything on offer, both sweet and savoury, British, continental, Scandinavian, caviar, herrings, bacon, eggs, every flavour of tea imaginable and of course coffee. No Norwegian breakfast is complete without this brew that was clearly designed for the Viking nation. We took our fill and readied ourselves for another day of exploration.
The spectacular Vøringfossen (Revered Falls)
As we drove through the narrow lanes and tunnels we passed all kinds of farmsteads. Ola explained to us that Hangerfjord is the orchard of Norway producing the largest amount of fruit and berries that supplies the cities and towns. There were apple groves and cherry orchards and plants that to the untrained eye looking like vineyards but were, in fact, raspberries. You could stop at roadside shacks to sample the local produce such as jams and ciders made from these sun-ripened beauties.
Ola also told us about a very special waterfall that can be accessed by boat or superyacht so that owners and guests can sample the purest of spring water from the heart of the waterfall itself. It is something that he’d always wanted to experience himself but sadly on the day that he was taken there it was still very cold and the water was frozen. On the week we were there, there would have been water in abundance, enough to fulfil the biggest superyacht’s desires.
It was clear to see that plenty of snow melt was flowing down the mountains when we stopped at the famous Vøringfossen (Revered Falls) which has recently had its visitor centre renovated and now has a network of wooden platforms with handrails and viewing stations installed.
It is one of the most visited attractions in Norway. The waterfall was hardly known to anyone other than locals until 1821. In that year, Professor Christopher Hansteen, who was on his way to Hardangervidda to make astronomical observations, estimated the height of the waterfall to be about 280 meters by throwing stones down from the edge and measuring the time they took to fall with his pocket watch. In 1893 it was measured with a string, and the real height was revealed to be 163 meters. So he was a little bit off.
The iconic Trolltunga rock is popular with visitors
Next up… snow! We travelled up up up from the waterfall through wide expanses of shrubland with the patches of snow slowly growing larger and larger until we crested the top of the mountain to find everything sparkling before us. It was as though someone had covered the mountain in diamonds. The colours were magnificent as the sunlight glinted into rainbows of refracted light.
Obviously the first thing the three children in the car did was test out our perfectly suited technical clothing. Yes, that’s right, our flip flops. Nothing is more satisfying than standing in snow in flipflops and bare legs with 28 degrees on your back.
To this day we are still confused as to why in such temperatures over such a period of time, the snow, which was not a glacier, was not melting before our very eyes. We would be happy to be educated, so answers in the comments below! Once our childish antics were satisfied we piled back into the car to babble at poor Ola about the very subject.
Having experienced the wonder and beauty of this spectacular land, Ola wanted to take us to the Hardanger Nature Centre so that he could explain more about its origins.
Essentially Norway was shaped by huge forces on its journey both above and below the surface of the earth. Over millions of years the land was raised up and worn down again. The end result is the beautiful landscape of mountains and fjords that we see today.
The Nature Centre is fascinating and a great place to visit for both adults and children. It not only covers the history and making of Norway from a geological perspective but with millions of NOK of investment and its partnership with SAS and Edinburgh University it is now a centre full of fact and figures, exhibits to see and touch and an interactive hunting arena where I found myself surprisingly adept. It currently satisfies more than 60,000 visitors a year and is a great place to learn all about the Norway you are enjoying.
After the Nature Centre it was time for a change of pace and transport, so Ola dropped us off in Voss to take the train to Myrdal where we changed onto the famous Flåm railway (below). In the span of a brief hour, the train takes you from the Myrdal mountain station at 867 metres down to sea level at Sognefjord in Flåm. The Flåm Railway is one of the steepest standard-gauge railway lines in the world, with 80% of the journey at a gradient of 5.5%.
The train runs through spectacular scenery, alongside the Rallar Road, vertiginous mountainsides, foaming waterfalls, through 20 tunnels and offers so many viewpoints that, for many people, a single trip up and down is not enough. National Geographic Traveler Magazine called the Flåm Railway one of the top 10 train journeys in Europe while in 2014 Lonely Planet Traveller went even further and named it one of the best train journeys in the world.
We next moved on to the Viking Village in Gudvangen. During the Viking era Gudvangen was an important trading hub. It’s known to be the place of the Gods beside the Nærøyfjord, the fjord dedicated to Njord, the God of trading and sailing. In the village of Njardarheimr we experienced an authentic village displaying how the Vikings lived 1000 years ago when Gudvangen got its name. But these weren’t dressed up actors, they are real Vikings of all ages who have chosen the Viking lifestyle. They know their history and have unique knowledge of Viking life. One of them was even in the series Vikings!
Torill was an amazing host and regaled us with stories of Norse gods, of Thor and Odin and the glorious battles fought, and ships sailed. We dined on food prepared from old recipes with ingredients that were available at that time. It was a fascinating experience and we really felt that we had been transported back in time. We slept in rooms decorated with Viking artefacts with dormer windows that allowed you to lie in bed and gaze up at the mountains and waterfalls beyond.
MY Savannah in Norway
What we did next probably ranks as my favourite part of the trip, though there are so many amazing memories that it was difficult to choose one. Ola arranged for us to take the electric ferry up the Nærøyfjord arm, the most beautiful and wild arm of the Sognefjord. It is on the UNESCO World Heritage list and the trip cruises in such a unique setting, with sheer, snow-topped mountains, waterfalls and idyllic farms clinging to the mountainsides.
The Nærøyfjord is 17 km long and at its narrowest point is only 250 m wide. It is definitely on of the most dramatic fjord trips in Europe with several sections looking like sheer reflections in the glassy water. It was quite simply breathtaking.
While it was sunny, it was also a little breezy, so I was lucky to be borrowing the Norwegian fleece of Ola’s 85-year-old wife (yep again) of 60 years Kirstin. As the only one protected from the cold I found myself alone with my musings, accompanied by one seal friend, travelling up through one of the most beautiful sections of nature I have ever witnessed, and I’ve travelled a lot. All you could hear was the rush of water against the hull. I can only dream what this would be like to experience on the deck of a superyacht!
Two hours of heaven later we were back in the car and Ola took us up over the mountain road to experience more dramatic snowscapes, lakes covered with ice, cairn memorials, where I left a stone to honour my dad, and then went skipping through the snow completely inappropriately dressed once again.
Up until ten days before there had been enough snow on the mountain that there were people partaking in the favourite Norwegian pastime of cross-country skiing. Now spring was definitely in the air and the birds were making their voices heard. Passing through the ever-changing verdant landscape we continued on to Lærdal where we were to stay for the evening.
Lærdal turned out to be chocolate box perfect. The old village is made up of 161 houses, many of which date back to the mid-18th century. On the night of 18–19 January 2014, a major fire destroyed at least 30 buildings. Our guide for the day, as well as the whole village, told of the utter horror of the night. How the villagers rallied around to desperately save their beloved village and finally put out the fire. Miraculously no-one was hurt, and the village was united.
Lærdal is one of the most historic valleys in Norway and has been inhabited as long as people have existed, as it is the perfect position for trade and communication routes, being at the heart of the lowest mountain pass. Once upon a time it was used as a meeting point for traders at a medieval market which would see the village only open for 8 days a year with the other 357 seeing the houses used mainly as storage facilities.
SY Juliet cutting through reflections on the fjord
The day we visited we were treated to a wonderful lunch at the newly re-opened Lærdalsoren Hotel and pub, run by the delightful Johannes. It was originally built and opened in the 1880s and was primarily used as a residence for British salmon lords but had a secret pub in the basement where the locals could enjoy a tipple or two. It had sadly been closed since the 1970s until Johannes, a supercar enthusiast, bought it and moved in as Hotel Director.
There is now a very distinctly fun and boyish feel to the hotel, with a bright yellow Lamborghini sat in the courtyard which can be hired for the day, along with several other such as his Lotus Elise and a 1960’s long based Mercedes. He also has a secret room that has a trap door beneath the carpet giving the resident direct access to the bar below. But Johannes is not just playing, he has restored the hotel beautifully and has further plans afoot.
The restaurant serves locally sourced produce and the menu is designed by him. It was a joyful lunch relaxing in the beer garden with the sun streaming through the trees as we listened to the story of the terrible fire and how a village pulled together.
After lunch we went for a tour and got to see inside some of the old trader’s houses, whilst trying smoked venison and salted cheese that would have been eaten by the early settlers. We also popped in to the new local deli Smak av Sogn run by the delightful Alice, where we tasted a beautiful sparkling raspberry drink which has been voted as the best non-alcoholic champagne by a national Norwegian newspaper.
Lærdal is situated on the banks of the River Lærdalselvi which was traditionally one of the most exclusive salmon and sea trout rivers in Norway. Known by the Norwegian King Harald V as his second Queen, the river established Lærdal as one of the meccas of salmon and sea trout fly fishing, among others, for the unusual fact that the river offers daylight fishing and dry fly fishing for sea trout.
The salmon population was drastically depleted after an infestation with the salmon parasite Gyrodactylus Salaris in the autumn of 1996. However, after several years of treatment managed by salmon fishing specialist and director of the Norwegian Wild Salmon Centre, Rolf, the river has now been officially cleared - fantastic news.
Rolf then took us to his luxury wild salmon fishing retreat at Moldebo. Rolf’s family have had the property for generations and have played host to the royal family, numerous rock stars (Rolf taught Eric Clapton to fly-fish), and now superyacht owners.
There are several unique cottages dotted about a fairy-tale forest of silver birch trees, plus the main house where we had a dinner, cooked by the Michelin star trained chef, that was literally fit for a king.
There’s also a swimming pool and access to his catch and release licensed section of the river. We were brave enough to go for a swim - I say swim, it was more like a dunk in a freezing cold waterway, but at least we can say that we did it. Rolf’s tales of fly fishing with King Harald and the exploits of his grandmother kept us captivated well into the early hours.
After another incredible breakfast which consisted of every imaginable element you could wish for, we loosened our belts and got set for another day of exploring the wonders of this sensational country.
Up first was Norway’s oldest glacier. Worryingly Ola was telling us how it has recently been receding faster and faster every year. It has lost 425 metres since 2013 alone. And with the weather we were experiencing that week it was not hard to imagine why. The visitor centre tells the story of the glacier, its formation and its current state, as well as supplying equipment and trained guides for all of the activities the glacier has to offer. It is possible to do things such as ice climbing into the ice caves, kayaking and white-water rafting.
Should you be less adventurous there is a new boat that runs in the summer months and allows visitors to get up close and personal to the majestic sight. As climbers have priority on the boat it is definitely worth calling in advance and reserving a spot.
Norway's largest glacier
Leaving the glacier behind we headed to our next destination for dinner which involved a drive down the aptly named Romantic Road. Apart from a couple of hairy pitch-black tunnels the road itself lived up to its name. It was treelined, with wild flowers everywhere you looked. The smell of blossom was heady on the warm summer breeze, as powerful waterfalls crashed around us.
The wooden houses perched precariously on the slopes of the mountains were reflected in the glasslike surface of the fjord, with the glacier standing proudly in the distance. It was an epic drive that took us through some of the best sections of the fjord coastline.
Before stopping for dinner, we visited the Stave Church at Urnes. Stave churches are considered to be among the most important examples of wooden Medieval architecture in Europe. In the Middle Ages, there were probably more than 1,000 stave churches in Norway. Today, only 28 remain, including Urnes stave church, which dates from around 1130 and is on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
A stave church is made of wood, and the construction is made out of poles ("staver" in Norwegian), hence the name. Most of the remaining stave churches in Norway were built between 1150 and 1350. The decoration is a fascinating mix of both Christian and Viking symbolism.
Due to the Black Death and the reformation, many stave churches disappeared. In 1650 there were still around 270 stave churches left, but during the next 100 years another 136 of them disappeared. The stave church we visited at Urnes is the oldest surviving example in Norway.
Beside the stave church is a delightful deer farm where we watched dozens of bambis running amok in the summer sun.
Dining alfresco at the Skjolden Hotel
After a delicious alfresco dinner at the Skjolden Hotel we were taken to a meeting point as Ola explained that our trusty car did not have the capability to get us up the mountain to our next mystery destination. Instead we were transported in Sigfrid’s awesome 4x4. If Norway is looking for the next female rally driver it need look no further. The girl has skills. What we were met with at the top of the mountain pass was simply incredible. It was Skaari Farm, an exclusive medieval hill top farm replete with its own non-medieval helipad.
It is believed that there has been a settlement on the site of Skaari farm for three or four thousand years and a plan is in the pipeline for an archaeologist to formally date it. The site is perfect for a farmstead due to the natural spring and the water flowing past here down the mountain. The soil is incredibly fertile and easy to till and that, coupled with the temperate climate, make it a perfect place for agriculture.
All the produce served to guests is grown on the farm, including the goats. In days gone by the value of a farm was based on the trees that grew there and Skaari has sacred trees in abundance. Often, they were given as wedding gifts and some of the elm and birch trees have been aged at approximately 500 years old.
Breathtaking views from accommodation in the heart of nature on Skaari farm
The accommodation at the farm is delightful. My room in the 16th century barn had the most incredible view across the valley and the mountain and was utterly breathtaking to wake up to. What is also fabulous is that should you wish you can also stay in the working barn and sleep with the animals just as they would have done in ancient times. Sigfrid said it could also be arranged that you can be present during any of the animal births that frequently happen.
One of my favourite interiors was the fairy-tale room complete with an ornate bed from the 1700’s depicting the tale of Rumpelstiltskin. Should you be after some additional luxury there is a beautiful outside dining area and a hot tub with views out over the countryside. There are currently 43 Sherpas living in the farm grounds helping to renovate and rebuild various different sites across Norway, including Skaari.
Everything at Skaari is designed to make your stay a pleasure. When a booking is made the farm belongs exclusively to that group therefore there will never be any crossover and discretion in their motto. Both Sigfrid and Turid are wonderful and knowledgeable hosts and nothing was too much trouble for them. They can also produce an experience book for you featuring everything that has happened during your time there, which is a wonderful memento of what will be an unforgettable stay. I was seriously sad to leave but leave we must.
We were now heading south, dropping below Bergen on the way to Bekkjarvik, our final overnight destination. The closer to Bergen we got you began to notice the traffic and it really made me appreciate the peace and tranquillity we had just been enveloped in for the previous four days. Thankfully the traffic was short-lived as we were off on another ferry to one of the beautiful islands in the Austevoll municipality, where we were staying at the Bekkjarvik Gjestgiveri, which was built in the 17th century and has been taking guests for more than 300 years. It is a family run hotel that bubbles with warmth.
Ola with Ørjan Johannessen at the Bekkjarvik Gjestgiveri; and the decadent dessert.
That night at the Bekkjarvik Gjestgiveri we were in for a very special treat as we were being cooked for by Ørjan Johannessen, who won the gold medal in Bocuse d`Or 2015, and his twin brother Arnt. And what a treat it was. The starter of crayfish was so sweet and succulent that it pretty much silenced the table as we sat savouring the delicate flavours of the seafood that had been caught and delivered by the fisherman leaning against the bar. It turns out he’d also caught our second course of the day, so we had much to thank him for.
We finished up with a chocolate and berry dessert so decadently delicious that the table went from silent to excited bursts of absolute pleasure. It was a truly wonderful gastronomic experience worthy of any superyacht owner.
My final night in Norway was a joy. Once again, the room I was staying in was plush and with a view to die for. It was with a heavy heart that we bade goodbye to Bekkjarvik to spend a final few hours in Bergen (above and below). But then Bergen was also charming. The architecture is wonderful and colourful and the funicular to the top of one of its 7 mountains affords some of the most spectacular views of the surrounding city and countryside.
We had the chance to visit a beautiful silverworks workshop, where they make bespoke pieces of jewellery and replicas of Viking art. We also managed to find the time to sample a few more of Norway’s finest shrimps, served, as expected, with lashings of butter. Bergen is an old city with a young outlook. A city with its feet in the sea, its head in the skies and its heart in the right place. It’s full of infectious enthusiasm and it is happy to share it with visitors.
So, is Norway a superyacht destination? Without a shadow of a doubt, a resounding YES! For those who have ‘been there done the beach’ this is a simply magnificent destination. There is so much for guests to do: kayaking, salmon fishing, hiking, bird watching, ice-climbing, rock climbing, skiing, heli-rides, mountain railways, award winning private dining, horse trekking, to name but a few.
The advice given by Arfinn Jarl Seim Sr of Superyacht Services, a partner of Superyacht Norway, for any vessel considering Norway as a destination is to make sure to provision in advance for those ‘special’ delicacies that guests may want, although standard provisioning in Bergen would not be an issue. Also ensure that the fuel tank is full before entering Norwegian water as there will be tax added at fuel stations, until you reach the last bunker before leaving Norwegian waters, where fuel becomes tax free. And finally, be aware of the weather, it can get cold in Norway so make sure the heating on the superyacht is functioning.
MY Legend near Balestrand
I knew when I woke up for the final time to a stunning view of water and snow-capped mountains that I was truly going to miss the epic and often haunting beauty of Norway’s fjords. Never before have I fallen so heavily and quickly in love with a country and everything it has to offer. I will be back at the earliest opportunity and I suggest you get there too!
Tax free fuel in last harbour
Advantages for shakedown cruises
Low port fees
Weak NOK compared to EUR/USD
Favourable VAT regulations on charter fees (max 11 %)
Immigration/ Crew Changes
Complete itineraries and guided tours arranged through FjordGuiding DA
Some of the yachts that have visited Norway recently: up 40% Year on Year
MY Forever One • MY Savannah • MY Seaflower • MY Podium • MY Archimedes • MY AnnG • MY Positive Carry • MY Eclipse • SY Cinderella • SY Topaz • MY Ilona • MY Seaflower • MY Plan B • MY Kismet • MY Astrid Conroy • MY Michaela Rose • MY Maria • MY Legend • SY Ganesha •
Thanks to Ola and Superyacht Norway for providing the trip.