Trip to west Norway
- August 2016
Atlanterhavsveien or the Atlantic road, komla, bacalao, klippfisk or stock fish, magnificent mountains, narrow mountain roads, the serpentine road Trollstigen, epic viewpoints, the beautiful Geiranger fjord, valleys with strawberry production, up close to Briksdalsbreen glaciers, standing on the edge of Flydalsjuvet with a view of the fjord, charming towns like Ålesund and Molde and Kristiansund, epic waterfalls all over the place, long tunnels, visiting the movie location of Ex Machina etc. This is a trip report from a road trip to beautiful and spectacular north west Norway together with family in August 2016!
Nikki’s mum, Primrose came to visit Norway from South Africa in August 2016. She has been to Stavanger in Norway before but we decided that it would be great to bring both our mothers on a short road trip in north west of Norway as this is the very heart of fjord Norway with some of the most spectacular scenery you can find in Norway! Statistically August is the month with best (meaning warmest) weather in Norway so it is a good time to travel in Norway. But you also have to keep in mind that August is the most hectic month in Norway. Lots of countries in southern Europe have their main vacation time in the month of August. Over the last few years we have been fortunate enough to visit many countries around the world including Cambodia, South Africa, Italy, Malaysia, Korea, Philippines, Portugal, Myanmar , Iceland etc but it is always great to also travel within Norway.
Planning the trip
The trip begins
Kristiansund was just a layover for us as it was better for us to get flight in the afternoon compared to early in the morning from Stavanger. We spent the night at Scandic Hotel and you can read my TripAdvisor review here. Kristiansund is a coastal town and with long traditions for klippfisk (dried and salted cod known as stock fish) and it can either be used straight up or in dishes like bolinos and bacalao. We had dinner at Bryggekanten Brasserie Restaurant & Bar where I had just that! The klippfisk was excellent as it is a bit firmer and a bit saltier than cod and this came with bacon, mash of potatoes that should have been a bit firmer and even a baked garlic!
Let's start the road trip!
As we started driving from the hotel we also saw a whole bus of Chinese tourists getting ready to leave. We did meet them again and again when we came to the Atlantic road. The drive out of Kristiansund is not spectacular in any way – at least not from my perspective. But it does include driving through the 6 km Atlantic tunnel. But only 30 km (19 miles) out of town we turned into the road leading to the actual Atlantic road. We were blessed with lovely weather which in Norwegian terms means about 20 degrees (68 Fahrenheit) and more or less no wind - and that is pretty unusual for this part of the country.
It didn’t take long before we had to stop to get out of the car do enjoy the scenery. The road and bridges cutting through the landscape is beautiful together with the islands and ocean. The road was built from 1983 to 1989 and they experienced several hurricanes during the building process. The most spectacular image comes from this road during the rage of a bad winter storms when the waves crash in over the road. We continued to drive and stopped at the tourist information center on Lyngholmen. Here you will find an elevated walkway around the island and you get a view to the most famous of the bridges: Storseisundbrua - quite the mouthful if you are not used to the Norwegian language. The tourist information center contains a coffee shop, information and also toilets so it is perfect for a pit stop. We spent quite a lot of time here as it was perfect spot for taking photos. The Atlantic road was great to drive and it was fun to see it in real life. It was amazing that we had such great weather when we drove it and it gave us the opportunity to take photos without freezing off various body parts. But it would have been even more spectacular with an intense storm blowing! If you are in the Kristiansund area it is worth the time to drive across this stretch of road.
A stop in Bud
One night in the city of roses - Molde
We had decided to spend the night in Molde when we planned our trip – after all we didn’t want to exhaust our mothers on the first day of the road trip ;-) But on the way there we first had to make a stop to check out the view of the town and the surrounding area. Right outside of the town you will find the view point Varden which is about 400 meters high (1300 ft). The great thing was that we could drive all the way to the top which was perfect for our mothers. At the top you get a great view of downtown Molde but you also get a view to over 200 mountain peaks where most of them are higher than 1000 meters! (3300 ft) Go there on a sunny clear day and enjoy the view!
We stayed one night at the Seilet hotel and you can read my TripAdvisor review of the hotel here . We got there in the early afternoon and he gave us the opportunity to walk around a bit to look at the town. Later on we had dinner at Egon Molde which is not a culinary adventure but it has an extended menu so there is something for everyone. As we were walking back to the hotel in the evening we saw one Hurtigruten ship leave port as another one was coming into town. Hurtigruten is the Norwegian coastal express and ships go from Bergen to Kirkenes every day of the year and it is quite a spectacular sea voyage. The sun was setting at about 9.30 pm at this point and we enjoyed some evening drinks on the skybar at Seilet hotel. The bar is not that high up but it gives a great view of the harbor area and we got to enjoy amazing colors as the sun was setting.
Time for the serpentine road Trollstigen!
It was time for us to leave the rugged coastline and head a bit inland. Our main target this morning was the famous Trollstigen road! We left the city of roses (the nickname for Molde) and it didn’t take long before we had to take a ferry across the Langfjorden – if you drive around western Norway you will eventually have to take a ferry (or two or three). If we had been alone without our mothers we would have taken the short drive to Eikesdalen to see the beautiful waterfall Mardalsfossen. But we headed on route 64 to Åndalsnes instead.
If you want to stretch your legs and get a great view you should stop by Rampestreken in Åndalsnes. This is a view point at about 530 meters (1740 ft) so it looks like it gives you a great view! As we had a bit of a drive ahead of us we decided to skip this. I don’t think my mother would have been up for a hike anyway as the path takes you from 25 meters to 530 meters in only 1,5 km. That means about 19 degrees uphill in average! If you don’t think it sounds that steep, try in on the treadmill one day.
We followed the Rauma river for a bit before turning into route 63 and it didn’t take long before we were driving along huge mountains on both side. The best know rock surface is Trollveggen (the Troll wall). This is a 1700 meter peak (5580 ft) and you can walk to the top of it if you approach it from the back. But the front that you see when driving on route 63 is pretty much like a wall! As it has a wall with 1000 meter that is pretty much vertical, it also became a popular spot for BASE jumpers but this was eventually banned as there were many people that got killed while jumping and rescue operations were difficult.
About 10 km (6 miles) after we turned off from the main road we reached Trollstigen road. We had to stop several times as we approached it to take some photos. On one of our stops we saw a girl that was out hiking and later on we saw her at the top! So you can also hike in this area even if it is most popular to drive this serpentine road. This is an old mountain pass and there has been paths leading over here for hundreds of years. But the road itself was opened in 1936 by Kin Haakon VII and initially it was just 3-4 meters wide! (10-13 ft) Later on the road has been made wider and today it is also possible for buses to drive this road – barely. The road is closed for the winter and normally opens in May.
We stopped at the parking located at the beginning of the climb and here you will find information and good spots to take photos. But there is no doubt that the road is most scenic from the top! When you view the road from the lower parking lot it is hard to see the entire road but you get a great view of the mountain faces and waterfalls. As we started driving up the road we knew that this would be a slow drive as there is a lot of look at – and to take photos of! The road has 11 hairpin bends and they all have names after the guy who was responsible for the work on each bend. Luckily there are a few places to park on the way up and we stopped several places to take pictures. One of the most picturesque places is by the bridge over Stigfossen waterfall. This waterfall is close to 200 meters high and if there is lots of water in the river you will feel the water mist if you make a stop here. As we were driving up we could see the view point known as Plattingen that is built at the top and it is sort of hanging outside the rock surface.
On our way up we met regular cars, RV’s motorcycles and even people on bikes! I guess it is a perfect spot to test your shape as the road goes up to 850 meters. We eventually made it to the top where you will find the Trollstigen kafe. In the past I don’t feel that Norway has been that great at facilitating for lots of tourists in places like this. But Trollstigen kafe was beautiful with a large parking, souvenir shops, a modern coffee shop, great toilets with a view, restaurant and with sturdy walkways to great viewpoints! The first viewpoint is right at the start where the waterfall Stigfossen starts but the best viewpoint is Plattingen a couple of hundred meters away. This was the view point that we saw when we were driving up the road. Made out of iron, concrete and glass it seems very sturdy and it gives an amazing view! There are two levels and some of the walls facing towards the valley are of glass and that enhances the view. We spent a bit of time here taking photos as the view was stunning. The weather was still cooperating even if it was a bit cloudy. The clouds were low and hanging on to the mountain peaks and from Plattingen we could see most of the Trollstigen road in all its glory. I never thought I would be able to write that much about a piece of road. Trollstigen kafe is a good spot to grab a sandwich lunch and coffee. Make sure to try strawberries from Valldal if they offer that. You can check out more photos of Trollstigen here.
Short stop at a movie location and eating berries
We continued our road trip and our next destination was Geirangerfjorden. This picturesque fjord is one of the most well-known fjords of Norway and it has also become more known to the world after in came on the UNESCO world heritage list. We drove from Trollstigen Kafe after lunch and we made a quick stop at Gudbrandsjuvet. The gorge has a powerful river running through it and potholes have been formed due to this. We got easy access as there is a walkway setup along the gorge. We also stopped at this place as we wanted to make a brief stop at one of the most unique hotels in Norway: Juvet landskaps hotel. We had a booking here a couple of years back but we had to cancel the trip. This time we wanted to have a peak at least but we were unfortunately denied as they were setting up the hotel for a wedding. Sooner or later we will get to stay there.
From Juvet it was a short drive to Valldalen apparently known for the best strawberries in Norway. When we got closer to Valldalen there were lots of places that were selling strawberries and we pulled over at one place where a young girl was busy playing a game on her cell phone. When we asked if we could pay by debit card the girl said no and we were afraid that we would not get to taste the berries. But then Nikki asked if we could pay by Vipps (an app for easily transferring money) the girl said “Of course”. So we got to buy the berries but I’m not completely sure that they are better than the ones we have at Sola outside Stavanger.
The national treasure Geiranger fjord
From Valldalen we had to take a new ferry to Eisdal over the fjord Tafjorden. The community of Tafjord is maybe most known for the disaster in 1934 when a rockslide created a tsunami. By the time the wave hit Tafjord it was 16 meters (50 feet) high and killed 40 people. You will see this mentioned if you see the Norwegian movie Bølgen (The wave) from 2015. We continued driving on route 63 over the mountain and we were not moving fast as we were behind some French RV’s and the narrow roads of Norway make it tricky to pass other vehicles. All of a sudden we got a glimpse of a body of water and there it was – the magnificent Geiranger fjord.
We were not the only ones out this day as when we reached the so called Ørnesvingen (the Eagles bend) there were lots of cars parked on both side of the road. It was not that much of a problem with regular small cars but all of a sudden lots of buses came to this place as they were bringing up cruise ship tourists up from the cruise ship that had docked in Geiranger. It got so narrow at places that a guy crashed into a bus when he was trying to pass and the bus driver did not look very happy. But I do recommend a stop at this place as you get an amazing view of the Geiranger fjord. It is right by the bend of the fjord so you get a view to the community of Geiranger and cruise ships that are docked there. But you also get a view towards the seven sisters waterfall on the way out of the fjord. Make sure to stop here to enjoy the view but try to avoid the major crowds.
Checking in at Geiranger hotel and living on the edge!
We had booked rooms at Hotell Geiranger – I think we basically got the last hotel rooms in Geiranger. This hotel is featured in the movie Bølgen which I mentioned earlier but I was not that impressed by the hotel. You can rRead my review on TripAdvisor here for more detals. We did get rooms with a great view of the Geiranger fjord and my mum was happy when she could sit down to relax in the sun and enjoy an ice cold beer from Geiranger brewery. Nikki and I still had more energy so we left our mothers at the hotel while we drove route 63 out of Geiranger. This road also has lots of hairpin bends and the road passed by a waterfall a number of times. We stopped at Flydalsjuvet located only 4 km (2,5 miles) out of Geiranger and there is a parking lot here and a viewing platform. The view from this place is also amazing as you get a view down to the community of Geiranger and the fjord. But Flydalsjuvet is actually split in two and we walked down to the lower viewing deck. On the lower area you will find toilet facilities but also information and the installation called Fjordsetet (the fjord seat). On the edge here you get a great view down the gorge but we were looking the place where one of the most iconic photos of Geiranger is taken. I was looking around for quite a bit and then I spotted that there seemed to be a bit of a trail on the other side of the low fence that was setup in this area. Being curious I crossed the fence of course and I followed the path and I still could not find this place. But when I had followed the path 20-30 meters I turned around and there it was! I had actually walked right over the place where the photos are normally taken but without the right angle it doesn’t look like much. Nikki was freaking out a bit when she came over to take a look at it but luckily there were a couple of Chinese tourist there that could help me take some pictures while I was standing on the edge.
There are not that many places to eat in Geiranger so we decided to just dine at the Hotell Geiranger at the place called Friaren Bistro. The food was not epic in any way and the service was a bit slow. One Swedish guy obviously got enough of the Norwegian service level and had a major tantrum in the middle of the restaurant. That gets really awkward at least in Norway. I don’t think that you can blame the young waitresses – it was more of a management problem.
Crossing states and looking at landscape
When we got up on Saturday morning the weather was not cooperating with us anymore. The clouds were low and there was light drizzle in the air. We had shown the photos of Flydalsjuvet to our mums and take thought we were crazy of course but at the same time they also wanted to have a look at this place. We did make a new stop at Flydalsjuvet on the way out of Geiranger but it was not that much fun with rain in the air and not the best view. We continued with the road out of town and it went higher and higher. As we got high up there were boxes on the side of the road and we could not understand the function of these. It turns out that it used to contain dry black soil and this was sprinkled on the snow to get it to melt faster in the spring. Before 1947 this road was cleared manually each spring! A team of up to 100 men cleared 4 to 7 meters (13 to 23 ft) of snow and the work could take up to 12 weeks. Progress on technology has some advantages!
About 16 km (10 miles) out of Geiranger you will reach Djupvasshytta where you can take off the road to head to Dalsnibba. This is a view point located on 1500 meter and you can see all the way down to the Geiranger fjord. Unfortunately the clouds were so low that there was no view at all so we decided to not waste time on driving up there. We continued on route 62 and turned into route 15 towards Stryn.
In this region you will drive some loooong tunnel in this area and I assume that this makes it a lot easier to get around here in the winter. We have a lot of tunnels around Norway as the terrain is a challenge. But when you come out of the tunnels and see the landscape, it is truly epic. I tried to point out waterfalls to my mother in law to start with but in the end I had to give up as there were waterfalls right, left and center. I would really love to go back to this area when the weather is better to be able to see the whole landscape in all its glory! Around Oppstryn you have beautiful lakes, waterfalls, mountain peaks and view to glaciers. We had a stop at the Jostedalsbreen Nasjonalparksenter at Oppstrynsvatnet where you can learn more about the glacier Jostedalsbreen, about the geology in the area and you can also buy souvenirs.
A visit to Briksdalsbreen
We made a quick stop in Olden to grab some lunch at Yris Kafe but this was more of a fast food joint where everything was deep-fried. Olden is most known for the production of bottled water by the same name. The neighbor community Loen has some pretty epic via ferrata options by the look of it but we did not get to test this out this time. And in 2017 there will be a new gondola opening here and it will take you from sea level to 1000 meter and the view should be quite spectacular.
Our main target this day was the Briksdalsbreen glacier and we drove the narrow road Fylkesvei 724 along Oldenvatnet towards the glacier. Unfortunately we ended behind a French car and the driver seemed to almost get a heart attack every time a car came in the opposite direction and most times we came to a complete stop due to this. But we made it to the Briksdalsbreen parking and I went into the first information center to ask where I could park and how far it was to the glacier as my mum can’t walk that far. The lady told me to just park there and walk the short distance up. I would have appreciated if she had told me that it was actually possible to drive up to the main visitor center to drop of people.
After a bit of driving back and forth we were ready to take on the challenge of going to the glacier. We were told that it was a bit of a walk to the glacier and due to this we bought tickets for the Troll cars to bring us up to the top so that my mum wouldn’t die in the attempt. Apparently they used horses a few years back for this task but an accident put a stop to that. The Troll cars are small cars with room for 6-8 people and they only run at about every 45 minutes. The road leading into the glacier is beautiful and it is only about 3 kilometers (2 miles). We found out that the Troll cars does not take you all the way in so I was worried that my mum would not make it all the way into the glacier but she took her time and made it. As we walked in there were small signs indicating that the glacier has diminished a lot in size over the last 200 years. This is the real evidence that climate change is real and then you can debate if this is man-made or not.
When we reached the blue green glacier water we also got a great view to the Briksdalbreen glacier. Is has retracted half way up the rock face and it is not as impressive as you seen on old photos and on many of the postcards that they sell. But it is beautiful to see the blue ice of the glacier! The color is beautiful and we also saw this when we were hiking on Folgefonna. All in all it was great to see Briksdalsbreen but I think I prefer hiking on one like we did on Folgefonna in Hardanger a few years back. As we were driving down toward the Briksdalsbre Fjellstove, the clouds were breaking up and we could see the glacier clinging on to the mountain tops.
Drive to Ålesund
The visit to Briksdalsbreen ended our road trip in many ways. As there are not many airports in this area we had booked return tickets to Stavanger from Ålesund. The drive to Ålesund is about 165 km (103 miles) and took about 3 hours and was not that eventful. In Ålesund we stayed the night at Quality Hotel Waterfront which was a pretty good hotel and you can read my TripAdvisor review here. We enjoyed the last dinner together at Anno Restaurant and bar which had good service and a good menu ranging from bacalao to pizza!
When we woke up the next day we had some time to browse around the town and it is a beautiful town. The city more or less burned to the ground in 1904 and when it was rebuilt it was done so in an Art Nouveau so it looks different from other Norwegian towns. Today there are about 50000 people living on the islands here. Two cruise ships had docked in the early morning hours and this was excellent as guided tours were offered when cruise ships were in town. We bought tickets for our mums to get a guided tour on a “train” while Nikki and I decided to walk around to explore the town. If you visit Ålesund make sure to visit Aksla viewpoint. There is a beautiful staircase that leads up there and after 418 steps you can enjoy the view of the entire town and the neighboring islands. But on the way up there are view points and benches if you need to take a break!
Time to head back home
On Sunday August 7th it was time for us to head back home and we drove in our Avis rental car to Ålesund airport Vigra located on one of the neighboring islands (well, the island of Vigra). We took a SAS flight back to Bergen and from there to Stavanger. We had a great trip and here is a conclusion of some sort. Let us start with some of the challenges of traveling in this region of Norway or in Norway in general for that matter It can be costly especially if you are coming from e.g. Asia. The main challenge with Norway is that it can be hard (or impossible) to find budget alternatives in terms of food and accommodation. You should not have too high expectations when it comes to the hotels – there are very few top notch hotels in Norway and we are not the best in the world when it comes to service. The landscape in western Norway is challenging with lots of mountains and valleys and due to this the roads are often narrow, lots of up and down and lots of bends. A new challenge these days is that some of the most popular places are getting really crowded. One example is Trolltunga (which I had the pleasure of visiting a few years back). A few years back only a few hundred took the 11 km walk into Trolltunga but this year it seems like there will be 100.000 visitors!
Being Norwegian I guess I can’t be objective in my evaluation of Norway. But for me the Norwegian fjord landscape is some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world with the fjords, majestic mountain tops, spectacular waterfalls, breathtaking glaciers and viewpoints that are out of this world. So even with the challenges mentioned above, north west Norway is definitely worth a visit. Many of the places that I have mentioned in this story are places that can only be visited in the summer time and that means that you have a pretty short window of opportunity to visit – typically from May to September/October. I think June is the best time to visit – the days will be long (sun will rise at 4-5 am and set at 10-11 pm), there will still be snow on the mountain tops, the air will still be a bit cold and crisp and most likely all the trees will be in bloom.
I hope that you get to visit Norway and if you do come here I would also recommend a visit to Stavanger to visit the beautiful Preikestolen and Kjerag. Get in touch on firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions or comments.