The fjords can wait: before chugging up Norway’s rugged west coast in pursuit of icy swims, glaciers and the last of the summer blackcurrants, spend 48 hours in Oslo’s smaller, but cooler, sibling city
Get your winter fix of Nordic cosiness in Norway’s new hotspot, the cool and colourful Bergen
Behind the rows of pink-, rust- and mustardhued clapboard houses, residential Bergen teeters on the hill that rises from the seafront. Norway’s second biggest city is perhaps best-known in Britain as the jumping-off point for exploring the Western fjords, but although parts of it still feel like a fishing village, a wave of inventive cooks and creatives and – of course – a thriving coffee culture is now making the city start to sparkle in the eyes of design, art and architecture magpies. ➤
Villa Terminus, a beautifully restored 17th-century house, where the 18 bedrooms – chalkywalled and lit by subtle skylights and Arne Jacobsen lamps – are chic, yet homely. At breakfast, guests mill around the architectdesigned kitchen island while the house chef brews fresh mint tea and cooks perfect scrambled eggs to order (£162 per night; villaterminus.no). It is the oldest of five small, interesting hotels recently set up by a Bergen family in a variety of historic buildings – the biggest, Zander K ( 1), is spread over a 1920s bike shop, ex-garage and new building (£105 per night; zanderk.no), and the grandest, Bergen Børs ( 2), is housed in a red tiled and soapstone Neo-classical building (£162 per night; bergenbors.no). All five hotels were designed by Stockholm studio Claesson Koivisto Rune and kitted out with custom furniture by Norwegian carpenters, interspersed with pieces by a roll-call of our favourite names in design, from Ilse Crawford and Josef Frank, to Danish furniture designer Børge Mogensen and east Londoner Samuel Wilkinson.
En route to the morning fish market, pick up a cup of Oslo-roasted Solberg & Hansen coffee from tiny café-shop Blom ( kaffemisjonen.no), and a seed-steeped cobbler from locals’ go-to Godt Brød ( 4) which, translating as Good Bread in English, does what it says on the tin ( godtbrod.no). At sunrise, a riot of pinks, oranges and pungent salty air awaits at Torget’s 300-year-old daily dockside fish market, where you will find everything from cured salmon on slabs of brown bread to just-caught crayfish sold by the kilo. Wander through Nygårdsparken park to Møhlenpris, a formerly thriving neighbourhood that the proprietors of retro, pistachiogreen-painted new café-concert hall Nobel Bopel hope to return to its former glory. The venue is vibrant, with a seasonal lunch menu, a bi-monthly beer-brewing festival, and mini performances by the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra (nobelbopel.no).
A potent cocktail at Bare – a restaurant located within the grand former stock exchange’s Chamber of Commerce, where a Carrara marble bar now occupies the space in which the boardroom table stood – is an excellent way to start the evening ( barerestaurant.no). The building’s interior is deliberately reminiscent of men’s tailoring – think houndstooth upholstery and argyle patterned floor tiles – and the restaurant serves sophisticated dishes, such as halibut with gooseberries and buckwheat ice cream. Cool Bergeners come here for a beer on Monday evenings. Similarly modern-but-cosy are Lysverket ( 3), a brasserie attached to the Kode 4 art museum (try the delicious roasted cauliflower with miso and peat; lysverket.no), and Marg og Bein, a light, airy dining room with huge windows, bare bulbs and lush, green plants – make sure to leave space for the delicious lemon meringue pudding (marg-bein.no).
ARTS AND CULTURE
On a fine day, hike – or take the fun funicular railway – up Fløyen mountain for spectacular views and to pay a visit to Tubakuba ( 6), a contemporary cabin that was designed by Bergen School of Architecture students and is rented out to families in order to encourage city children to explore the wild (floyen.no). Back in town, head to Hordaland, Bergen’s first artist-run art centre, which currently has British book designer Phil Baber in residence ( kunstsenter.no), or the waterside ‘ house of culture’ Kunsthall, with an exhibition of sculptor Magali Reus’ work opening 3 November ( kunsthall.no).
Things to admire or acquire across Bergen include cult LP sleeves at Apollon record shop (apollon.no), designer anoraks at Norwegian Raincoat’s flagship (norwegianrain.com) and carefully curated clothes and perfumes at Pepper, a shop stocking treats, from Italian brand Marvis’ cult toothpaste to Commes des Garçons’ coats (pepper-bergen.blogspot.com). Plus, you can take home Nordic berry preserve or cured salami from Colonialen, the deli-café at The House of Literature, where you might catch a debate – if you’re lucky, in English – on anything from fishing to feminism ( litthusbergen.no; colonialen.no).
ESCAPE THE CITY
If you’re after a night in the wilderness, but would prefer not to sacrifice great design and a hot shower, head out to A292 Aurland ( 5, from £ 154 per night; 292aurland.com), a working farm where ‘300 years of happiness meets modernity’, as its owners put it. Check into its Goat Barn, a genius new-build that was assembled using windows from the estate’s derelict outhouses and built with timber boards salvaged from the former smokehouse. There’s a sauna, eco hot tub, woodburning stoves and a breakfast of eggs (from the neighbour’s hens), goat’s cheese and raspberry juice to propel you up the mountains for a bike trip along the former Flåm railway track.