- Trips & Tours
- Trip Planning
- WJ Reviews
- Great Places to Sleep
By Viv Chapleo, photos by Jill Hoelting
Backpacking around Europe for a few weeks during the summer of 1987, I made the split-second decision in Amsterdam to take the train south into France instead of going north to Scandinavia. In all those years, I’ve returned to France many times, but only just (summer of 2012) made the journey north to Norway – Land of the Vikings!
When the opportunity came up to spend 9 nights experiencing various parts of Norway, I jumped all over it. After flying from the west coast of the USA via Frankfurt in Germany, Jill (my sidekick) and I landed at the Bergen airport on a cool and rainy mid-June evening. The approach into the airport gave me a few pleasant surprises – everything was so green and lush; the hilly terrain rising up in every direction around the airport was stunning; lakes and fjords were in abundance.
The airport shuttle bus transported us right outside the hotel – Clarion Collection Havnekontoret Hotel – within 45-minutes (NOK 100/US$17.30).
The Clarion turned out to be the perfect place to spend a couple of nights in Bergen – they include a plentiful breakfast buffet and light dinner buffet in the room rate. The room (suite 600) was quite spacious in which to relax between sightseeing, and the bed was incredibly comfortable to get a good night’s rest after a 30-hour journey. Another advantage to staying at this hotel was the super-fast internet connection (complimentary), and lots of outlets for charging all of our gadgets.
A full day of sightseeing in Bergen saw us taking a 60-minute city-sightseeing mini-train to get a perspective of the lay of the land and some history; a Bergen Harbour sightseeing cruise; taking the funicular for a view of the city and surrounding areas; and exploring the Fish Market where we sampled lots of fish, seafood and local specialties from FISH ME.
The following morning we made a quick stop at the train station to pick up train tickets that NSB had provided us with for our train journeys in Norway and subsequently to Sweden. Our itinerary had us picking up a rental car from the Bergen City Avis office – which was previously arranged (better prices are available for advance reservations). Once we picked up the car – a VW Golf TDI 4-door – we drove to our hotel to collect our luggage and check out.
Bergen to Flam:
By 11 AM Jill was behind the wheel and we were driving along the E16 in the direction of Voss, and then onward to our final destination for the day – Flam. Although the weather continued to be rainy and overcast, the views of the mountains, valleys and fjords as we drove towards Flam were breathtaking. The mountains were straight up, there were endless waterfalls, the water in the fjords was crystal clear, and the rivers ran swiftly. We were also amazed by the many tunnels that cut through the mountains – some that we encountered were only a few hundred meters, others up to 11 km.
We covered the 166 km drive from Bergen in just under 3 hours, and arrived at the Fretheim Hotel in Flam (next to the railway station) just before 2 PM. The location of the hotel was perfect for exploring the area, and we were immediately wowed by the incredible view of Aurlandsfjord – a tributary of Norway’s longest fjord, Sognefjord. The Fretheim Hotel is a member of the Historic Hotels and Restaurants, and has quite an interesting history. In the 19th century it was a farm where English lords would visit to spend time fishing for salmon in the Flam river. Today the white wooden hotel with a small, older historical wing and a large newer building from 2000 is comprised of 121 rooms.
Note: Fretheim Hotel does have internet, but it was not working when we stayed and we were told that this is a common problem due to its location.
After checking-in to our room we made a quick dash over to the railway and picked up tickets to take the Flam-Myrdal Railway ride at 3 PM. This rail journey is not to be missed – the engineering is incredible and the stunning scenery is eye-popping along all parts of the train route. This is one of the steepest railway lines in the world, and the 20 km train journey to Myrdal takes approximately one hour. The railway rises 864 meters on the way from Flam to Myrdal as it makes its way through a deep mountainous valley of waterfalls, gorges, lush green farmlands and tunnels with hairpin turns. Part way along the route, the train made a stop at the impressive Kjosfossen Waterfall (free fall of 93 meters/305 feet) and passengers left the train to take photos from the platform. Once in Myrdal, we had a 10-minute stop before the train started the return journey to Flam. It was at this point some passengers disembarked and joined another train that was going to Bergen.
If we had arrived earlier in the day (and the weather was better) we definitely would have gone hiking in the area, then taken a later return journey back to Flam. Otherwise, there isn’t much to do or see in Myrdal – the journey on the train is the main attraction.
Once back in Flam we spent some time in the Flam Railway Museum, which helped us to better understand the railway engineering and history.
Aegir Brewery and Pub:
Returning to Flam, we decided to wander the tiny village, and were thrilled to discover Aegir Brewery and Pub. Brewmaster and owner, Evan Lewis, was just about to start a beer tasting tour and invited us to join the group. Evan is an American living and working in Norway, and here in Flam he is brewing up some great beers and developing an amazing microbrewery business. Beer drinkers must definitely visit Aegir Brewery and sup on a glass of IPA around the fireplace.
Fretheim Hotel Restaurant:
The remainder of our evening was spent enjoying a delightful meal in the Fretheim Hotel restaurant. It was possible to order ala carte from the menu, but once we viewed the extensive dinner buffet selection we didn’t need to look any further. We dined on a variety of hot and cold buffet options from local sources, with plenty of tasty fish, deer, beef, potatoes, vegetables, pastas, salads, cheeses and desserts. It was a delicious meal!
If You Go:
Follow more of WAVEJourney’s June 2012 travels in Norway: