The Statens Vegvesen (Norwegian National Road Administration) compiled 18 Nasjonale turistveger – Scenic Routes, all well-documented online. This now relatively well-publicised concept was launched 20 years ago, and includes the most spectacular rural routes throughout Norway. We chose six of these Routes for our 10-day round-trip from Stockholm. All the regions in Norway were invited to submit a route with exceptional views, and 18 of the best were chosen. Each had to include points of interest, where new rest areas and service facilities were constructed. Artists, architects and landscape architects were invited to participate. The purpose of the scheme was to lure tourists to some of the more remote parts of the country, using outstanding architectural features as the incentive. Landscape design, architecture and infrastructure were the key words. Most of the routes and rest stops can only be reached by car or mountain bike, although there are now more locally-organized bus excursions. International coach tour operators also include some of these magnificent Routes in their itineraries – as we discovered.
The roads are good, as far as the topography allows, and the facilities clean and well-maintained. The view-sites offer a variety of well-developed touristic infrastructures: an information office, kiosk, souvenir shop, museum, café or restaurant, or viewing platforms high above plunging valleys, or simply a barrier protecting visitors from the wildness of nature. All the Routes have detailed information boards in Norwegian and English, some in German, French and Spanish as well.
Each Scenic Route presents spectacular aspects of the Norwegian landscape, from plunging waterfalls, tumbling rivers and magnificent fjords, to high mountain peaks bereft of vegetation and capped by majestic glaciers. Some, like the Geiranger Fjord, are World Heritage Sites. Many Routes include a work of art – a sculpture or installation – usually with a message, and some include a magnificent medieval stave church – the quintessential symbol of Norwegian culture. As the website states: In Norway, there is a long tradition for adapting buildings to arduous terrain. Designers have drawn on this tradition in their efforts to upgrade the Norwegian Scenic Routes. The architecture should facilitate the experience of nature, while also appearing as an attraction in its own right. Artworks along the road are there to reinforce the character of the route and invoke other suggestive narratives.
The roads are marked with signs warning against galloping elk, reindeer and deer, crossing sheep or cows, and other mobile creatures of the Norwegian fauna.
The Scenic Routes all bear the brown logo signs, emphasising that one is travelling through some of the most spectacular scenery in the world, to be enjoyed, photographed, and marveled at, but above all, to be respected and protected.
We began our journey around central southern Norway with a night in Oslo, 526 km from Stockholm, (about 7 hours’ drive including stops for coffee and a picnic lunch), and stayed at a lovely hotel recommended by a Norwegian friend: the Scandic Hollmenkollen, high on a hill above the city with a magnificent view over the Oslo Fjord.
The Norwegian Scandic hotels were all excellent value, with beautifully-decorated well-equipped rooms, and sumptuous buffet breakfasts.
The next day was spent travelling across to the west of the country for the start of our first Scenic Route the following day. En route we admired the Y-shaped Ypsilon Bridge at Drammen, a 137-meter cable-stayed pedestrian bridge designed by the firm Arne Eggen Architects, which opened to the public in 2008.
We passed fields of crisp-ripe oats and wheat being harvested, laden apple trees, waterfalls tumbling into deep lakes, and fast-flowing rivers. Throughout the trip we encountered quaint grass-covered barns on short stubby legs, some even sprouting tiny trees. Many bus-stops and letterbox huts are similarly adorned, and can be seen in the most remote of places.
At Heddal in Nottoden, Telemark County, we visited Norway’s largest stave church, which was begun during the early 13th century. This unique triple-nave structure fell into disrepair after the Reformation, and extensive renovations took place from 1849-51. But due to the limited knowledge and skill of the restorers at the time, further restoration was done during the 1950’s.
The vicarage barn that stands near the Church is now used for the Kafé Olea which provides tickets, souvenirs and refreshments. In the basement there’s an exhibition about Richard Wagner and JRR Tolkein’s connections to Nordic mythology, and the great works of art that it inspired: music dramas, poetry and novels. Linked to this church is the legend of Sigurd the dragon-slayer – hence the interest of these authors. Several small barns a short walk away form an outdoor museum which preserves this early form of farming abode. Inside are displays of regional national dress, and a small cafe serving piping hot pancakes with raspberry jam and whipped cream.
Our route took us through several tunnels and high up into the mountains, where the looming fir trees have given way to gorse and heather, and where tiny valleys shelter lingering pockets of snow all the year round. Treacherous, hair-raising switchbacks lead up through rugged terrain to Odda, and the modest Røldal Stave Church which is thought to have been constructed between 1200 and 1250, the period during which the soapstone baptismal font and crucifix were also created.
The altarpiece was designed and installed by the German-born painter Gottfried Hendtzschel in 1629. Reconstruction of the church took place in 1844, and from 1913 to 1918 it again underwent extensive renovation and restoration: the 19th century paneling was removed, and the Renaissance interior brought back to life. A new gallery was also added to surround the church, providing it with additional protection.
Following a road through the Oddadalen Valley, flanked by a tumbling river fed by snow-melt and rain, we reached the impressive Låtefoss. This powerful 165 m twin waterfall is one of Norway’s most-visited tourist attractions. One can understand why when standing in the spray rising from this mass of water as it thunders down the mountainside and under the old stone arched bridge on which we stood.
One can feel the atmosphere conjured by Ibsen’s plays, and Grieg’s music in this mysterious rugged landscape, and comprehend its inspiration for the composer: the deep ravines, dark pine forests, trolls (the unofficial emblem of Norway), and other creatures of Nordic myth and legend, such as In the Hall of the Mountain King from his Peer Gynt Suite: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=INfBHRzUCgs
I was also reminded of an excellent exhibition at the National Gallery in London in 2011 titled Rocks, Forests, Torrents, which featured dramatic landscapes by Norwegian and Swiss painters: Johan Christian Dahl (1788-1857), although influenced by the German Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840), “invented” Norwegian landscape painting. There were also works by Swiss painters Alexandre Calame (1810-64), the “father” of Swiss landscape painting, and Caspar Wolf (1735-83), and Norwegians Knud Baade (1808-79) and Peder Balke (1804-87). Traveling through the rugged grandeur of this country it is easy to see from whence these painters drew their inspiration, such as JC Dahl’s The Lower Falls of the Labrofoss (1827):
The night was spent at the overpriced Tyssendal Hotel near Odda, located at the head of the Sørfjord. In front stands a picturesque church with carved figures surrounding the steeple. Large ships lie at anchor in the tranquil fjord, and in the distance a glacier cascades over the mountaintop.
Our first Scenic Route: the HARDANGER – mountains, fjords, waterfalls and glaciers – began with circumnavigation of the fjord, which includes a 7.5 km tunnel, and two drive-on-drive-off ferries. At each ferry dock tickets are sold by a salesman equipped with both a large old-fashioned purse hung by a strap across his shoulder, and an electronic hand-held device. It was incredible watching cars, motor-homes, large trucks and coaches boarding these ferries, including, on this trip, a double-wagon truck carrying cows.
This Route follows a narrow shelf along a steep-sided valley, or winds through lower-level orchards. The mountainous terrain allows little space for agriculture, but there is much activity with fishing and industry by the waterside, and large circular netted salmon farms shelter in the placid waters of the fjord:
Dry stone walls surround small pastures, and small groves of plum trees stand crammed into shallow spaces. The fruit is sold, along with delicious Norwegian moreller (cherries), through an “honour system” at little stands on people’s sidewalks, each equipped with a money box. Other stalls sell apple juice in tall glass bottles, all bearing testimony to an abundant summer harvest.
Fruit has been grown in Hardanger since the 14th century, and boat-building and quarrying also provided vital sources of income for the local communities.
Not all the roads in Hardanger have retained their former importance, and modern ones have been constructed, many with tunnels through the mountainside. At one of these we waited for some time due to road works, and were impressed with the entrepreneurship of two boys who went from one car to the next with a trolley bearing hot coffee and freshly baked buns and waffles (NOK 10 each, about ZAR 17) which they had risen early to bake.
The Steindalsfossen on this HARDANGER Route is by no means the highest waterfall in Norway, but it is impressive. A steep path leads up to a narrow platform, and visitors can stand behind the curtain-like cascade without getting wet. The platform provides an excellent view of the countryside spread out far below, with model-train-set-picturesque farms and villages.
On the road between Granvin and Voss are the the 150-high twin Skjervsfossen falls.
A trail with paths and steps provides “a diversity of impressions of cascades and rapids.” I was more impressed with the sophisticated facilities, where a large window and glass floor provide the ultimate “loo with a view”.
The Hardanger area is lovely: mirror-smooth lakes lie in lush green valleys, reflecting the red-painted farmhouses, and here and there houses with “fish-scale” tiled roofs nestle at the foot of the mountain. The next morning we set out for our second Scenic Route, the AURLANDSFJELLET – The Snow Road between the fjords – which leads from Flåm and Aurlandsvangen to Laerdal (or vice-versa.)
Flåm is a small town with an extremely busy tourist centre, nestling in the deeply-gouged valley at the head of the Aurlandsfjord. An enormous cruise ship was docked in the harbour when we arrived, and the centre abuzz with tourists from all over the world.
The infrastructure here is highly developed, with massive souvenir emporia, cafés and restaurants, a visitor information centre, a supermarket and a superb bakery. The townspeople live in a settlement nearby, each garden with a heavily-laden pear or apple trees. Flåm has its own little wooden church, constructed by master builder Magne Essen in 1670. It was built on the site of an older stave church which dated from around 1350, and was badly damaged when the nearby river came down in flood in 1667. Travelling out of the valley and up into the mountains, we were rewarded with a spectacular view down into the Aurlandsfjord. Dry stone walls line the hillsides, presumably functioning as snow brakes for the houses below. Many of the landscapes we saw reminded me of the Swedish illustrator Paul Bauer’s (1882-1918) artworks, featuring trolls and other fairy-tale and mythological creatures set in dark Nordic landscapes.
The topographical contrasts on the Aurlandsfjellet Route make it one of the most spectacular in Norway: from green farmlands down in the valleys to mountain plateaux reached by vertiginous switchbacks.
These high-altitude areas are bereft of vegetation, with only lichen-covered boulders and moss, still lakes, and patches of all-year-round snow. The only sounds are those of the wind and, remarkably, the tinkling bells of a few inquisitive sheep. This road is closed during the winter months, but the stretch from Aurlandsvangen to the awe-inspiring Stegastein viewing platform is open all year.
This impressive cantilevered platform, 650 meters above the Aurlandsfjord, and reaching 30 meters out over the pines, gives the illusion of hovering in space. The summit, Flotane, marks the highest point of the Aurlandsfjellet (mountain), and here one is surrounded by the majestic sight of snow-capped peaks and distant glaciers. There’s a rest area with concrete benches, and facilities which obtain their electricity from solar panels, thus “uniting beauty, function and environmental friendliness.”
Descending via more hair-raising switchbacks we encountered several intrepid cyclists pedaling bravely uphill. Scandinavia, and Norway in particular, is a fantastic country for outdoor enthusiasts. There’s a wide variety of activities with excellent infrastructures: cycling, hiking, back-packing, fishing, swimming, sailing, etc., and there are hotels, hostels and cottages, and organised and “informal” camping sites for overnight stays, all set against the backdrop of magnificent scenery.
Descending the mountainside one reaches Vedahaugane – a sheltered spot from which views of the mountains, the valley far below, and the summits of the Jotunheimen massif can be seen. An “infinity bench” curves elegantly away from the road, and a walkway leads to a provocative artwork by the American artist Mark Dion (b 1961), Den, featuring a hibernating bear atop a pile of objects gleaned from flea markets and thrift shops. It’s described on one website (Tanya Bonakdar Gallery) as “a largescale folly in Norway’s mountainous landscape which features a massive sculpture of a sleeping bear in a cave, resting on a hill of material culture from the Neolithic to the present.” The day’s drive ended with another ferry trip across the aquamarine Sognefjord from Hella to Dragsvik, where a raspberry festival was due to take place the following Saturday, and the Dragsvik Fjordhotel at Balestrand.
We were warmly received in this pleasant place, in the reception area of which stand large glass cabinets displaying beautiful porcelain dolls clad in national costumes from the 19 different fylker (administrative regions) of Norway. They were handmade by the grandmother of the owner. Our comfortable room had a lovely view of the Sognefjord, as did the dining room, where I enjoyed a delicious “apple mousse” for dessert: a glass filled with warm apple pulp and scoops of whipped cream and ice-cream, topped with crushed biscuits.
The next day the drive from Dragsvik to Florø included our fourth Scenic Route – the GAULARFJELLET – from Sognefjord to Fosseheim, which is definitely “a well-kept secret”. It begins skirting the deep bottle-green waters of the Sognefjord, leaves behind the fertile valleys harbouring sheep and cows, passes gushing waterfalls fed by melting glaciers and the previous winter’s snow, and makes a steep ascent up nail-biting switchbacks. At Utsikten (The View) on top – another cantilevered platform – one is rewarded with fabulous views of the surrounding snow- and glacier-capped mountains, and deep valleys far beneath.
The Route follows the natural watercourses, “offering everything from wild rapids and waterfalls to calm stretches where the water flows quietly on its way.” At Likholefossen visitors can walk along the flexible steel bridge that crosses the Gaula River, and experience one of the closest encounters with the forces of nature imaginable. There are hiking paths along these watercourses, including along the Fossestien River. The Route continues passed fairy-tale fir forests and clear icy mountains streams, where the air is sweet-scented, and at the beautiful picnic spots the sounds of tinkling sheep’s bells and rushing water can be heard. Rain meant forgoing these delights, and lunch in the car beside the Eikefjord. Much of the route is adorned with beautiful flora: purple foxgloves, aromatic heather, and the ubiquitous fireweed (Gieganjiuolla, Hoárbma) “the weed of Norway”, also prevalent in Sweden in summer.
We reached our final destination in the early afternoon, the picturesque seaside town of Florø – Norway’s westernmost town.
The excellent Quality Hotel by the yacht marina, offers free tea and coffees from a machine in the dining room, and in the reception area stands a waffle-maker and bowls of batter, jam and whipped cream for hungry travelers. Our room overlooked the yachts, where lively summer activity was under way in spite of intermittent showers. Armed with umbrellas we set out to explore the main historic street nearby, Strandgata, where the most significant 19th century timbered houses are labelled and documented in Norwegian and English. The initial raison d’être of Florø was the herring industry. Today wealth derives from the black gold of the offshore oil fields, as well as from herrings, fish farming, and ship-building.
The purpose of our two-night stay in Florø was a ferry trip to the island of Kinn, with its fabled Kinnakyrka (Kinn church) dating from the 1100’s. Built in the Romanesque style it is one of the oldest churches in Norway. Closely associated with it is the legend of St. Sunniva, and each year in June a performance of the play Kinnaspelet by Rolf Losnegård is staged out of doors, with the natural environment providing a magnificent backdrop. There are also superb hiking opportunities up the Kinnaklova Mountain, and lovely walks. But the rain persisted and the church was closed for renovations, so we took the island-hopping ferry for a sheltered view of the archipelago’s islands and skerries instead. Few houses and some sheep can be seen on these remote islands, most of which are fairly rugged, with steep cliffs and little vegetation. Protected by treacherously submerged rocks, some have lone red-and-white cottages, or pine groves, or were ablaze with purple heather. Photography was only possible through the rain-spattered windows of the ferry. A few herons, and seagulls wheeling overhead, were intent on their own fishing expeditions. After disembarking we made our way to the excellent Sogn og Fjordane Kystmuseet (Coastal Museum) – testimony to a seafaring nation. Several old fishing boats are displayed, stuffed Nordic animals and birds, and a re-created fisherman’s family home.
The Snorreankeret oil platform exhibition illustrates the history, exploration and exploitation of the North Sea oil and gas fields, the source of Norway’s incomparable wealth.
The route to Gaupne the next day took us passed scenic picnic spots on the banks of the Hellefjord, through tunnels, on ferries across the fjord “arms”, and through picturesque countryside. More dramatic is Hornelen – Europe’s highest sea cliff – which rises 860 meters above sea level.
Only experienced hikers can ascend this steep and challenging cliff – which excluded us – and be rewarded with fantastic views of the narrow deep fjords, majestic mountains, and tiny islands far out to sea. At the top there is a stone cabin sporting the Norwegian flag.
Travelling southwards, we reached the many-tongued Jostedalsbreen (Glacier), Europe’s largest icecap, which was still slowly advancing while most glaciers elsewhere were retreating as a consequence of global warming. But since 2006 Jostedalsbreen also began to withdraw, and nearby Briksdalsbreen is cracking and fissuring. These glaciers and several outliers are now protected as the Jostedalsbreen National Park. Visitors can to walk close to the foot of Jostedalsbreen on a well-trodden path, which was bustling that afternoon with both tourists and a herd of lowing cows.
The outstanding Norwegian Glacier Museum lies further along the Route, and with films, information boards, and hands-on exhibits for children, visitors can experience the story of flowing ice and how it has sculpted the Norwegian landscape. There is also a multimedia exhibition, Our Fragile Earth, which leads tourists from the earth’s creation via a tertiary-era forest and the last ice age to the present, all accompanied by the breathy voice of Sir David Attenborough who urges responsible, personal action to save our precious planet.
After passing back again through the ski resort town of Sogndal, we arrived at the Gaupnetunet Hotell in Gaupne for the night.
The next morning we enjoyed another good Norwegian breakfast consisting of breads with cold cuts and cheeses, patés and confitures, boiled eggs, cereals, yoghurt, fruit and strong coffee, tea, or juice, and set off for our fifth Scenic Route: SONGEFJELLET – on the roof of Norway, from Gaupne to Lom (or vice versa).
Travelling along the Lustrafjord, with its chalky-green water, we passed more waterfalls, farmsteads and settlements. On the way we stopped at Elveseter, an old farm in the Bøverdalen valley in Lom County, surrounded by glaciers, craggy peaks and huge mountain massifs. Here we admired the impressive Saga Column, begun by the sculptor Wilhelm Rasmussen (1879-1965) in 1925, but interrupted by the WW II. It depicts scenes from Norwegian history from the Viking age during the 9th century until the Eidsvoll Constitution in 1814. Atop the column on horseback is Harald the Fairhead, the first king of Norway. It was finally completed and raised under the auspices of art-lover Aasmund Elveseter in 1992.
Unfortunately this Route was popular at this time of the year – peak holiday season – and the narrower roads were difficult to negotiate when confronted with numerous motor-homes and tourist coaches. This was especially challenging on the hairpin bends that lead up into the mountains to the “roof of Norway”. Dramatic snow-capped peaks surround the summit of the Hurrungane massif (1,434 meters), some with glaciers, and the trees have given way to a moonscape of lichen- and moss-covered rocks interspersed with a few pools. This barren wasteland was a chilly 5 degrees, with no birds or animals in sight, and pockets of snow lying forever frozen in shadowy hollows.
Nedre Oscarshaug provides one of the best vantage points across the Sognefjellet mountains, and here a glass “telescope” – a sheet of glass on a swing mechanism – enables visitors to see the names of the surrounding peaks on a metal table. Mefjellet lies at the Storevasskrysset crossraods in the centre of the mountain plateau, and from here the Fanaråken Glacier can be seen. As with most of the Scenic Routes, this also has an art work: Knut Wold’s stone sculpture, a massive concrete block standing in the centre of the high-altitude scenery which is a favourite motif for photographers. Further along is the Vegaskjelet viewing point.
Descending once again we arrived at the captivating Sognefjelletshytta Ski Lodge. This outstanding architectural marvel, designed by architects Jensen & Skodvin, brilliantly combines elements of the old and the new: a cozy living area of glass and blond wood which allows for a panoramic view of the surrounding landscape, and décor of candles, comfortable sofas and flooring of loose gravel, contrasting with cottage furniture painted in the Bauernmalerei style.
“The combination of glass and wood disperses the light through the room, and imparts the changing moods of the weather and light at this high altitude.” The Lodge stands at 1,400 meters, and is a popular training centre for national ski teams from all over the world.
Lom, at the heart of Norway’s most spectacular mountain scenery, marks the end of the Sognefjellet Scenic Route, and is the “gateway” to the Geiranger area. It’s a bustling touristic town with shops, artisanal food boutiques, restaurants, a supermarket, and a bakery so popular that visitors, lured by the delicious scent of cinnamon, stand in long queues to buy their cinnamon buns and other delectable pastries. This is where we refueled with coffee and the famous Norwegian apple cake, before exploring another magnificent stave church.
The Norman-style Lom Stavkyrkje, reached across a bridge over tumbling rapids, is one of the finest in Norway. Constructed in 1170 and extended in 1634, it’s still used for regular services. There is no charge for wandering through the grounds, but there’s a fee to enter the church (NOK 55), where visitors can marvel at the interior paintings.
Our night stop was high up in the mountains at the Hotell Djupvasshytta which stands beside a deep glacial lake, literally in the middle of nowhere. There was no internet reception, but the room was cozy, and the dinner excellent. From the large dining room, (there is curiously no lounge here) there is a magnificent view of the high surrounding mountains, one topped with a glacier. Breakfast the next morning was not the usual buffet, but individually served on a tiered pedestal, and in attractive little dishes.
The Dalsnibba platform (1,476 meters), just above the hotel, was our first stop the next crisp and chilly morning, where the bright sunshine gave visitors fantastic photographic opportunities – the ubiquitous narcissistic Asian tourists permitting. From this, the highest view sight in Europe, it’s possible to look far below into the Geiranger Fjord, and the towering, glacier-capped peaks that surround it. Like most of these excellent view-sites in Norway, it’s well-equipped with a small kiosk and information centre.
It was no easy task, maneuvering our way down the mountainside via more narrow hairpin bends, against a tide of ascending tourist coaches, on our fifth Scenic Route: GEIRANGER – Trollstigen – bendy roads along precipitous mountains. Once down in the Geiranger settlement at the head of the Geirangerfjord, we found ourselves in the busiest and most popular tourist site yet on our journey. This small touristic area was heavily beleaguered with coachloads of tourists, and elderly visitors with mobile walkers and wheelchairs recently disembarked from gigantic cruise liners (Arcadia and P&O Cruises) docked there for the day.
The souvenir shop assistants were visibly harassed by the crowds. We ordered hot chocolate at Geiranger Sjokolade which boasted “chocolate with a view” and hot chocolate made with “real chocolate”. But, after waiting for some time in this hopelessly understaffed little spot, and thus expecting something along the lines of a Viennese or Parisian treat, we were disappointed to receive watery and lukewarm drinks.
This popular touristic spot tries to offer tourists more than they’re able to manage: eateries, souvenirs, camping, kayaking, accommodation, and much more. It may be better to go during the spring or autumn months, when the numbers are hopefully less.
Our drive to the famous Trollstigen area took us out of the Geiranger valley up more hairpin bends crammed with coaches, and a ferry crossing from Eidsdal to Valldal. Once on level ground we passed strawberry fields, clear turquoise rivers, bee hives, and lovely villas in picturesque Norwegian architectural designs, many with grassy roofs for insulation against the winter cold.
Norwegians are able to live almost anywhere, whether on a narrow mountain shelf or a craggy outcrop. The people are closely bound to the landscape and natural surroundings, living in settlements that have provided a livelihood for them for centuries.
Trollstigen includes 11 hairpin bends, sometimes suddenly revealing waterfalls tumbling down the mountainside, chalky rivers, and a lichen-mottled, treeless landscape. The Trollstigan viewing platform includes an immense triangular-shaped restaurant, from which a path leads to two platforms that afford a close-up view of a magnificent thundering waterfall, and the Geirangerfjord far below.
Once back down in the valley peace is restored: a tranquil landscape of golden wheat fields, flocks of sheep, villages with pretty little white wooden churches, and a deep teal river meandering placidly on its way.
The intense contrasts of this Route make it one of the most spectacular in Norway. It ends at Andalsnes which lies at the head of the Romsdalsfjord. From thence we crossed the fjord on a ferry to Sølsnes, and then across an impressive bridge to the attractive peninsular town of Molde on the Moldefjord.
Our hotel here was a wonderful surprise, the Scandic Seilet, designed like a ship’s sail. Here we had a beautifully furnished room overlooking the fjord, traversed every so often by the local coastal ferries. Dinner was in the hotel restaurant overlooking the wide Moldefjord, in which the celebrated Hurtigruten working-cruise ships pass and dock. A tour up the splendid Norwegian west coast with this line is highly recommended, as I can vouch from our 2013 trip. Read more here.The next morning we experienced our last and sixth Scenic Route: ATLANTERHAVSVEGEN (The Atlantic Sea Road) – the road across the sea, from Bud to Kårvåg. This spectacular but short Route (only 35 km) takes motorists right up close to the ocean. At least that is the intention. Unfortunately that morning it was low tide – a Spring Low – and the sea had receded far out, leaving a shoreline of pungent marshlands and lagoon-like ponds populated only by a few statuesque grey herons. But the coves, weed-covered rocks and skerries were revealed, while the distant sea lay serenely calm as a millpond.
This Route includes seven bridges linking the islands and peninsulas, each a marvel of modern engineering. From Kårvåg and bypassing Kristiansund we made our way to our last touristic stop on our itinerary, the medieval city of Trondheim, where we marveled at the magnificent 11th century Nidaros Cathedral, the largest medieval structure in Scandinavia. The west façade, sculpted during the early 20th century, features Biblical characters along with Norwegian bishops and kings. Inside the vast, dimply-lit interior, visitors can savour the brilliant stained-glass windows, especially the magnificent rose window at the west end, the gentle scent of wax candles, and the hushed atmosphere. (No photography allowed inside.) The altar stands over the grave of St. Olav, the Viking king who converted from Nordic paganism to Christianity.
From Trondheim we travelled back over the Norwegian-Swedish border to our night stop in the ski resort town of Åre, and the next morning across to Sundsvall on the east coast of Sweden, and down the E4 back to Stockholm.
After a round-trip of just over 3,000 km, we bring back fantastic memories of a truly spectacular country. Although on several days our drives were not specifically designated as “Scenic Routes”, it is fair to say that wherever one travels in Norway, the routes are invariably scenic. There are towering mountains, plunging waterfalls, deep glacier-carved fjords, lush green valleys, tumbling torrents and picturesque settlements. There’s plenty of extremely varied accommodation, from well-organised camping sites, some with cozy main buildings with pretty cottage décor and a glowing fireplace, offering breakfast or coffee and cake, to country inns and luxurious hotels. Everywhere there are clean and well-maintained facilities, supermarkets to buy a take-out salad lunch, sandwich and fruit, restaurants to dine, many with spectacular views, visitor information centres, souvenir and supply shops, and printed material in many languages. Everything is very expensive – more so than any other country in Europe. Fuel, and dining out is particularly expensive – and not always worth it. But be sure to sample some of the delicious signature-brand Norwegian chocolate, Freia (perhaps deriving from the Nordic Freya, goddess of beauty, love and fertility),
or the delicious Norwegian apple cake, the recipe of which was given to me by my Norwegian friend Heidi:
Norwegian Apple Cake (6-8 servings)
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 and 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
130 g cubed butter at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla essence
3 apples peeled and sliced
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1) Preheat oven to 200° C. Grease a 20-cm springform pan and line the bottom with baking paper. Grease and flour the pan again.
2) Stir together the sugar, flour, baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon. Cut in the butter. Add eggs and vanilla and mix until smooth.
3) Scrape the batter into prepared pan. Push 1 layer of apples into batter in a circular pattern, and then top with another circular layer of apples. Combine the remaining teaspoon of sugar and cinnamon and mix well. Sprinkle over the top of the cake.
4) Bake for 30 to 35 minutes. Remove and cool on a wire rack for about 15 minutes. Remove the ring and serve warm with ice cream or whipped cream.
National Scenic Routes, Norway, website: https://www.nasjonaleturistveger.no/en