Mountains over one thousand meters high, rise outside the window like giant chocolate biscuit cakes dusted with icing sugar. We are travelling in a ferry over glasslike water from Voss to Flam, two of the many picturesque towns on Norway’s Nærøyfjord. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is dotted with craggy rocks with faces like sleeping trolls – their wrinkles covered with bare trees, sticking straight like bristles of a beard.
Our journey started in Bergen, the gateway to the Fjords. It’s Norway’s second city and found on its western flank with a port and population similar in size to Cork. My son, Mark, has had a passion for Norway after a brief visit to Oslo 10 years ago so he’s the perfect travelling companion. We took the Bergen Railway from central station to Voss in darkness. During winter the sunrises about 9.30am and in summer it only disappears for a couple of hours. Both seasons bring different aesthetics to be enjoyed.
As the light breaks on the landscape a black and white land unfolds. The train chugs along and Mark whispers in my ear, “It’s like we are in Narnia.” We follow the icy river that hugs the train track next to blobs of green ice, and waterfalls held in stillness. The powder blue sky peaks out between the candy coloured clouds and I have to agree with him.
This glorious day trip includes a ride on the famous Flåm Railway and is part of Norway in a Nutshell (NiN) by Fjord Tours. The Ferry leaves from Gudvangen where the Viking Village offers a unique trip back in time to explore Scandanavian heritage. Various options include overnight stays and starting points from Oslo. The whole trip can be booked at fjordtours.com,
Dublin to Bergen is accessible directly with Wideroe Airlines and it opens up the beautiful Fjord lands to Irish passengers. But there is much to do in Bergen anytime of the year. On our first day we took the short tip on The Fløibanen Funicular from the centre of Bergen to the top of Mount Fløyen to enjoy the amazing views of the city. The mountain top has a welcoming gift shop and restaurant where we enjoyed mulled wine and local pastries. Many footpaths lead to the picturesque lake and woodlands where the great outdoors waits to be explored.
We organized the Bergen Card for 72 hours which allows free entry into many of the museums in the city and discounts on attractions such as the funicular. Norway’s most revered artist Munch is in permanent exhibition in the Bode Museum and well worth a visit. So too are the Maritime Museum and Aquarium.
Norwegians traditionally built their houses from wood making them a fire hazard and meaning many were burnt down over the centuries. They restored and maintain those buildings in key areas such a Bryggen which is a Unesco World Heritage site down at the harbour front. Charming pointed roofs with painted facades line the area where the fish market is still held today. We enjoyed dinner on our first night at Bryggeloftet Restaurant.
The most traditional food to eat on Christmas Eve is Pinnekjøtt (ribs of lamb or mutton) which Mark devours and was offered a second serving which is tradition in this restaurant with Christmas Dinners. I opted for the cod which is dried and salted before steaming to create a delicious dish. The history of the buildings in Brygge is fascinating as they go back to the days when the Hansiatic merchants traded from this waterfront to other parts of the world. The narrow wooden laneways offer boutiques filled with handcrafted goods, woven, carved and cooked.
Next morning we try the Scandanavian tradition of taking a dip in freezing cold water at Heit Bergen Sauna. This steaming hot sauna experience in combination with a fresh and cooling swim in urban and scenic surroundings is not for the faint-hearted. Mark dives in while I slip into the sauna and wait for him. He braved the waters three times in between saunas and said I missed out – I’ll have to take his word for it!
Bergen Christmas Market is located in its heart at Festplassen. With a small ferris wheel and carousel it’s lovely for all the family and an ideal place to find Christmas gifts. Mark sampled the reindeer hot dogs but with thoughts of Rudolph I opted for the hot chocolate! Close by is the Pepperkakebyen Exhibition. Every year the children of Bergen and surrounding community groups make the world’s biggest Gingerbread town and display it at Permanenten Art Museum. The aroma of ginger hangs in the air and each unique house, church, hotel and steam train is personalised. The result of it all is a mind-blowing fairytale town with atmospheric light.
We have pre-dinner drinks at Magic Ice, a winter wonderland constructed from several tons of ice. This bar is the work of world renowned ice carvers, who re-craft the decor several times every year. Sculpted sirens and Norwegian composer Greig are some of the marvels to be enjoyed. We sip on ice wine cocktails while sitting on the sheepskin covered sofas.
Location is everything when on a short city break and the Bergen Børs Hotel is perfectly situated to catch the light rail – only a 45 minute journey direct from the city centre to the airport. The building used to be a bank and hosts magnificent hand painted frescos in the dining area displaying the history of the town and its links through commerce and trade around the world.
We return to Brygge for dinner on our second night where one building stands out with a unicorn bounding out of the façade. Enhjørningen is one of the oldest fish restaurants in Bergen. Here we dine on scallops, monkfish and steak, again in traditional surroundings that lend extra atmosphere to the Christmas season. We’ve enjoyed the cuisine and charm of Bergen at Christmas and Mark agrees it’s the perfect destination for a winter break. He then adds we have to come back in the summer when the waterfalls have melted and the fjords and mountains turned to green. It would make the perfect Christmas gift he says with a knowing smile. Food for thought indeed.
Travel direct from Dublin to Bergen with www.wideroe.no
Wideroe Fly from Dublin to Bergen on Thursdays and Sundays. One-way fares from EUR 97
To stay at Bergen Bors see www.bergenbors.com
For the Bergen Card see https://en.visitbergen.com/bergen-card