WIND­ING UP ON NOR­WAY’S WEST COAST

Nor­way may not be the cheap­est coun­try for a drive, but the up­side is you will mostly have its ma­jes­tic beauty and prize-win­ning roads to your­self.

Lonely Planet (UK) - - Travel Quiz - Peter Thoem­ing

Hair­pin bends, glacial fjords, sky-reach­ing cliffs and in­ge­niously built roads pave the way north along Nor­way’s western coast­line

Nor­way means ‘nar­row way through the straits’, rather apt, given the mighty glacial fjords that lac­er­ate its western coast. Ad­mit­tedly there’s not much that’s spell­bind­ing as I roll north out of Ber­gen. The majesty comes later; for now I’m pass­ing the en­gi­neer­ing work­shops and other small fac­to­ries serv­ing the oil and gas in­dus­try that has made the city rich – again. The charm­ing build­ings that sur­round the har­bour are a re­minder that Ber­gen was a suc­cess­ful busi­ness cen­tre for many cen­turies, go­ing back to its days as a Hanseatic port. I’m rid­ing out in the won­der­ful, slightly wa­tery, sun­shine typ­i­cal of Nor­way. As I fol­low the fjord first east and then north be­fore turn­ing in­land again to Voss, the rugged, of­ten ver­ti­cal coun­try­side be­gins to work on me, rais­ing thoughts of Vik­ings and moody gods. Nor­way’s roads, bridges and tun­nels are sparkling ex­am­ples of their builders’ skill and tenac­ity, but they shrink to scratches on the mile-high cliffs if you look up a lit­tle. Whoops! Not enough at­ten­tion on the road and a long frost break is try­ing to turn my front wheel into on­com­ing traf­fic. Nor­way’s main roads are ex­cel­lent, but not all back roads sur­vive the bru­tal win­ters un­scathed. I turn north at Voss and then take Stal­heim­skleiva, the loop of road which runs be­tween two wa­ter­falls and of­fers 13 hair­pins on its mile-long 20-de­gree climb to the epony­mous ho­tel. It took seven years to build the whole six miles (10km) of road, fin­ish­ing in 1849. The view to­wards Gud­van­gen from the ho­tel is spectacular, with near-ver­ti­cal cliffs box­ing in the nar­row green val­ley bot­tom. Not far past Flam, I face a de­ci­sion. Carry on straight ahead through the world’s long­est road tun­nel, a 16-mile (28km) mar­vel, or take the old road across the top? I’ve rid­den through the tun­nel be­fore, so the choice is easy. I don’t re­gret it. There are deep snow banks along­side the 30-mile (48km) stretch of nar­row, steep and twist­ing road but its sur­face is clear and tempts my in­ner boy racer. Back at sea level I am speed­ing along one of the ten­ta­cles of

Sogne­fjord. I cross it on a ferry and turn west along its shore be­fore an­other ferry takes me across to Dragsvik and on to the E39 main road. It’s an in­tox­i­cat­ing run north and east from here, al­ways ei­ther along­side a fjord or cross­ing a rocky range by hair­pins, smooth, long curves and reg­u­lar blinks of tun­nels. At Grotli I turn west again, and af­ter fol­low­ing the water­side for a while, climb back up to the high, icy coun­try that in­ter­rupts the fjords. The drop back down to sea level at Geiranger is a su­perb stretch of road, which de­servedly won a prize at the 1924 World Expo in Paris. Climbing back up from Geiranger is just as im­pres­sive. This is Ør­nesvin­gen, the Ea­gle’s Road, and it has a won­der­ful look­out like a long tongue of con­crete at the top. The high val­ley be­fore Troll­sti­gen is renowned for its straw­ber­ries, and the fields stretch as far as I can see. A quick visit to Jord­baestova, a cafe ad­ver­tis­ing the best straw­berry cakes in Nor­way, and then I reach the top of the Troll’s Ladder. I pull in at the car park and walk to the view­ing plat­form. Piles of stones, bal­anced on one an­other, dot the rocks. ‘The tourists think the trolls like them,’ says a lo­cal. ‘They don’t. Any­way, there are no such things as trolls.’ I’m not sure about that. There’s one out­side the fu­tur­is­tic in­for­ma­tion cen­tre, with its odd looks com­bin­ing hu­mour and veiled threat. The brochure about Troll­sti­gen claims only 11 hair­pins for the de­scent. That may be true in the strictest sense, but it feels like a lot more, as my bike takes me over bridges span­ning the white wa­ter

tum­bling the 762 me­tres to the val­ley floor, and along short straits with steep drops on one side and more sheer rock on the other. Then it’s a short run along Roms­dals­fjord and up the penin­sula that has Åle­sund at its tip. This is a lovely town, best seen from the hill be­hind its sprawl around the wa­ter­ways that de­fine it. There is one more mar­vel to tackle – the At­lantic Road to the north, on the way to Kris­tian­sund. It’s only five miles (8km) long, but it squeezes eight bridges into that dis­tance, in­clud­ing the twist­ing Stor­seisun­det Bridge, which you’ve prob­a­bly seen in a car com­mer­cial on TV. It’s an ex­hil­a­rat­ing ride, es­pe­cially when the sea is up, and when I fi­nally reach the long tun­nel that will take me to Kris­tian­sund, I’m ready for a beer.

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