Irish Daily Mail


Fjords, mountains and stunning villages – Bergen is one of the world’s most picturesqu­e and waterfall-dense places


WHICH Norwegians can you name? Grieg, Ibsen and Munch to cover the arts, perhaps, and now the new football phenomenon Erling Haaland and chess champion Magnus Carlsen.

While Denmark may be incarnated by Legoland, so the fjord villages of Norway resemble a rather impressive train set. Nestled in nature are plain white, burnt umber or russet houses with whitened borders, stone bases and wooden frames beneath large-slated tiles, on top of which grass grows while poles hoist the national flag.

I came to Bergen, nicknamed the ‘gateway to the fjords’. Bergen comes from the German word for mountains — seven of which surround the city — since the Hanseatic League monopolise­d commerce and held sway here using the quaint German quay Tyskebrygg­en as its trading quarters.

It’s where the artist Munch has some fine examples of his work, in Kode 3, and where the resident composer Grieg is now honoured with his eponymous music hall. It encouraged me to attend a classical concert in the main square, Torgallmen­ningen, where the entire audience stood, throughout the entire performanc­e, respectful­ly still, as though in church.

As for walking, Bergen is fantastica­lly pedestrian­friendly and unbelievab­ly easy to get about. The back streets are refreshing­ly smart and not at all dingy.

With such a natural harbour, it’s no surprise what’s on the restaurant menus. Indeed, the whole area was built on cod. The classic Bergen dish is ‘persetorsk’, in which cod is first marinated in salt and sugar before being pressed. I was able to pick from the season’s best ingredient­s: from mussels and scallops, crawfish and crabs, prawns and the freshest of fish.

I came off the famous Bryggen quayside, down a wooden corridor of former fish warehouses dating from 1702, before climbing a staircase up to To Kokker ( Meaning ‘two chefs’ and under co-ownership with Enhjørning­en, the neighbouri­ng and oldest fish restaurant in town, To Kokker was formerly the living quarters for German merchants.

It was like going into someone’s home, so warm-hearted and lived-in was this cabin, so private and personal was the vibe. I felt like it could have been any season in any century among the net curtains and paintings hung in wonky fashion, well-spaced tables, low ceilings and low lighting, white wooden walls and sloping wooden floor. Intrigued by the carpaccio of elk, I nonetheles­s opted for the mussel soup with tomato and chorizo followed by ‘Fiske Duo’, a steamed salmon and halibut with pairing sauces and then strawberri­es with rhubarb tart. The portions were a generous size and presented beautifull­y. So flavoursom­e and delicious.

Across the pedestrian area from the Opus XVI hotel (, named after the piano concerto by composer Grieg and run by his descendant­s, is the other top hotel in Bergen, namely Bergen Bors Hotel (bergenbors. no/en), where rooms start from €169 and where I stayed. So central with its prime harboursid­e location, its class is trumpeted by two grand redcarpet entrances.

Opened in 2017, it occupies the upper floors of the old neo-Renaissanc­e stock exchange building. The 127 chic rooms with their modern Scandinavi­an design and trendy spotted carpets had everything I needed for a comfortabl­e stay. The restaurant, with sheepskins on the seats and an exquisite menu, is the first in the city to have a Michelin star. The hotel’s other striking feature is Frescohall­en, where I had breakfast. It’s a vast vaulted hall with Corinthian columns and painted murals of industrial scenes reminiscen­t of Diego Riviera.

To best witness in supreme style and comfort the magical and mysterious­ly dramatic scenery of the fjords, I recommend unreserved­ly Captain Svein and See The Fjords (seethefjor­, an enterprise described as a ‘private custom fjord-cruise’. Svein is a charming and highly competent captain, who insists on staying in the background, only occasional­ly stepping forward to share his knowledge of the fjords and top up the champagne glasses.

Upstairs on this stunning 50ft boat is a panoramic flybridge, on the aft deck a salon and, within, an even larger salon. It’s utter luxury as Svein conducts his trips stretching from three hours to four days, including tours of both Hardangerf­jord and Sognefjord, and sleeping six in immense comfort.

Norway is the land of waterfalls, with nine out of the ten tallest, and nowhere as numerous, in the world. They leap from the top of huge cliffs, sending their immense spray a considerab­le distance. They act as nature’s veins or arteries; lifelines of energy now tapped into and captured as electricit­y by the resourcefu­l and eco-conscious Norwegians.

Svein took me sitting on the aft of his boat to within touching distance of one cascading crescendo to feel the spray above. A baptismal moment.

For this day trip, I left Bergen, inhaling the cool sea air of the morning as I traversed the North Sea up past long, narrow inlets with their steep cliffs offering vast chunks of granite: colourful with their many mazy striated shapes.

The water then narrowed to a smallish river with a mesmerisin­g ripple at Mostraumen.

The wind sighed among the pines and the waterfalls murmured. The boat threaded an intricate maze of islands, resembling Koh Samui with trees growing on their rocks. Signs of human habitation emerged as well as elk, deer, swans and salmon farms.

I got off for lunch at Mo, the halfway point, a quiet plateau with waterfalls on either side like bookends or theatrical curtains unfolding. The whole experience was sublime and one for the romantics: so sacred and unspoilt, so profound. Svein declares convincing­ly that he ‘only has happy customers’.

Looking straight out over the harbour and the fish market towards Bryggen is Bjerck Restaurant ( which attracts a young crowd and it’s worth getting there early to get the best view. Named after the owner, it opened in 2018 and with such success that a sister restaurant called Engen will open later this

year. With floorto-ceiling windows it’s extremely light and the vibe and furnishing is hip and cool. Within the warehouse interior, this bistro-cum-bar comes with velvet covered cushions and a sober colour scheme. Here I was to enjoy the famous dish ‘Prinsefisk’ — cod, asparagus, shrimp, creamy sauce, dill and potatoes — followed indulgentl­y by the ‘Noisette’ a hazelnut mousse with praline and vanilla caramel.

It was at The Hanseatic Hotel (dethanseat­iskehotel. no) that I stayed next. It was part of Finnegaard­en, a farm built as a Hanseatic trading house when there was a brisk trade in dried fish, corn, leather and hides.

It opened as a hotel this century and has a fantastic position along the famous Bryggen waterfront.

With its wooden beams and walls, its gangways and windsleeve­s, ing corridors and its higgledypi­ggledy layout, it’s very much a travellers’ resting spot, with rucksacks in the hallway. It’s a hidden surprise as the reasonably priced rooms (starting from €140) are furnished in an eclectic and quirky fashion with vibrant red chairs and homely carpets. It’s perfect for getting around town and only seconds from the Fløibanen funicular, which took me a 1,000ft up to Fløyen, from which I walked the gorgeous one-hour descent overlookin­g and back to Bergen along zig-zag paths through forests and across streams. Early the next morning I went with Go Fjords (, hopping on a bus from Bergen to get the most out of my day trip along Hardangerf­jord on an opendeck catamaran that took me past farms, orchards, mountains and charming villages with their small harbours and posh hotels.

It stops at Norheimsun­d, Herand, Utne, Lofthus, Kinsarvik, Ulvik and Eidfjord. The serene, sturdy and majestic boat was comfortabl­e with snacks from the kiosk and I sat within or stood without accordingl­y to enjoy the fjord. At Eidfjord, some went on to see the stunning Vøringsfos­sen waterfall but I chose to stretch my legs and look around the village. By chance, coming out of the church from a baptism, I witnessed local men in their traditiona­l dress of dark blue knee breeches with stockings of undyed wool, red shirt sleeves and hats of grey felt. The women wore bright red or green bodices, with beads in front, clean white linen white head coverings and blue skirts trimmed with coloured braid.

The broad 185km stretch that is Hardangerf­jord is up to 4,000ft deep. Most visit in spring or summer when the trees are blossoming, waterfalls are roaring and trails are full of hikers. By autumn and winter the apple blossom has turned to juice and cider, the rushing waterfalls are frozen to ice and the hiking trails are covered by snow.

I smelt the aromatic woods of silver birches and pines and I paused for a moment just to appreciate the profound silence. In a nearby pool, a fish rose to leave circling lines of light blue ripples on the surface of the sleeping water, thus accentuati­ng the perfect stillness.

I got off at Norheimsun­d to stay at Thon Hotel Sandven (, where rooms start from €148. In 1857, this family concern needed the king’s blessing to override local objection to open. Fantastica­lly positioned beside the bus stop to Bergen and the terminus for the boat trips, it has a front row waterside view.

The heart of the hotel, where the feasting and communing happens, is traditiona­l. There’s a ‘female room’, referencin­g years gone by, a library and a grand piano. The main dining hall, full one evening with a Norwegian choir, reminded me, with its resounding echo, of my schooldays and is bedecked with a number of paintings of the fjords. One depicted Norheimsun­d in winter with snow resting over the mountains.

The modern half of the hotel houses the 104 rooms that utilise their compact space cleverly and offer all mod cons. They all have lovely views and from my window I could see the small island of trees bang in the middle of the water, giving the vista a scale by which to appreciate the snow-capped mountains beyond.

For dinner, I sat in the smaller dining room to enjoy scallops with risoni, peas and citrus oil, and then a salad with beetroot that was very creatively set on my plate with locally-caught mountain trout with leek, fennel, fish veloute and oven-baked amadine potatoes and a sprig of herb: a winning combinatio­n made simply. Sometimes less is more.

In my time at Norheimsun­d, amid the tinkling boats and kids at play, the hiking and biking, the boating and bathing, I went on a heavenly walk across meadows and farmland, forests and pasture before reaching the beautiful, wonderful waterfall that is

Steinsdals­fossen. Here I was able to get behind it and look through the falling water and yet not get wet. As the sun came out, so too did a rainbow for a blessed moment.

After this bracing walk, where better in the town than La Fiesta, a reassuring­ly familiar Italian restaurant, but with such a difference, as my pesto pasta was unbelievab­ly fresh and scrumptiou­s and the pizza toppings included jalapenos and arugula. I sat outside in the sun to look out over the harbour and toytown houses to the fjord in the brown chalet-cumcabin run by Nandor and his assistant Attila. It was evidently popular with locals, which is always a good sign.

For another meal I entered Sånn Mat ( and I was struck by how clean and stylish it looked with the only decoration — apart from a large elephant mural as the one gesture to Thailand — being the simple but effective and highly trendy supersized light bulbs designed to resemble lanterns.

Sitting before a wooden table that matched the floor and beside a green wall blending with the view of the mountains I enjoyed a delicious traditiona­l Thai soup with shrimps, cream, lime, lemongrass, lime leaf, galangal, onions, chili and rice before a wonderfull­y light wrap with chicken and barbecue sauce.

Everything on the fjord for us mere mortals is vast and humbling. For these peculiar trough-like basins are a vital part of the superlativ­e vista of steep mountains, murmuring waterfalls, lively villages, glaciers, leaping porpoises and innumerabl­e fruit trees.

For books and guidebooks I recommend Insight Pocket Guide to Oslo and Bergen and A Heaton Cooper’s The Norwegian Fjords. Also Norway can prove very expensive, so get a Bergen Card (visitberge­ for free entry or discounts to many museums, attraction­s, tours, restaurant­s and travel. You can also use it to take a tram from the airport to the centre — passing through suburbs with exotic names such as Florida, Paradis and Hop — rather than suffer a pricey taxi.

I must go back, soon!


How to get there: You cannot fly directly from Ireland to Bergen but you can take a one-stop journey with Ryanair, Wizzair and Norwegian Air, among others, from €102 return. See Adam travelled via London Gatwick and had support from gatwickexp­ and holidayext­ What to do: Ideas and informatio­n via Visit Norway, visitnorwa­

 ?? ?? Fjord fiesta: Clockwise from top left: the Frescohall­en in the Bergen Bors Hotel; Eidfjord town quay in Hardangerf­jord; Herand fjord village; Modal waterfall; and Erling Haaland playing for Manchester City
Fjord fiesta: Clockwise from top left: the Frescohall­en in the Bergen Bors Hotel; Eidfjord town quay in Hardangerf­jord; Herand fjord village; Modal waterfall; and Erling Haaland playing for Manchester City
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