The land approach to Norway’s fjords

Bergen is the gateway to the fjords.
Bergen is the gateway to the fjords.
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The instructions from the mountain guide sound like a punchline. ‘A cowboy mouse on the way to Everest,’ he beams down.

But as the dark clouds descend ever further, the winds lash harder and the grainy snow of Folgefonna Glacier gets even deeper, I’m beginning to think it’s a joke I may never understand.

Until suddenly, theatrically and perfectly on cue, the dark clouds disperse. And there it is. Not the joke, as such, but certainly the reason our guide has been smiling: Folgefonna valley.

Arching grey stone mountains, pitted lakes and swathes of deep green forest lie ahead.

Of course, seeing such heart-stopping beauty in the middle of Norway shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Since the 19th century, when the first boats of tourists arrived from England and Germany, this country has been a magnet for people wanting beautiful views.

Now the Norwegian fjords attract hordes of eager visitors every year.

A vast majority of these will arrive by water. But there’s a growing trend towards DIY trips around the fjords – booking a cheap flight, hiring a car and setting off into the vast and beautiful countryside.

We landed in ‘The gateway to the Fjords’, Bergen, a popular fishing town clinging to the western coast of the self-named region.

The town is also surrounded by seven peaks, known locally as De Syv Fjell.You can climb these on foot and bike, or – if you’re feeling less active – by cable car.

As the car edges up the Ulriken Mountain, it becomes clear it doesn’t really matter how you get up there, just as long as you do; the view is breathtaking.

Back on lower ground, Bergen is equally as impressive, with its bustling fish market, serving everything from (ecologically-sourced) whale to caviar, and – most famously – the Bryggen Hanseatic Wharf.

A row of brightly coloured wooden shops and houses on the edge of the harbour have, our town guide informs us, seen their fair share of fire, decay and war, but have now emerged triumphantly as an UNESCO World Heritage-listed site.

The Folgefonna Glacier, Norway’s third largest mainland glacier, is a 1.5 hour drive away from Bergen.

It is perched at 1,200m above sea level and the road to reach it is long, slow and stilted by hairpin bends, but you don’t really notice.

Each awkward turn and glimpse out of the window reveals yet another plunging lake, thundering waterfall or snow-smudged rocks.

There’s no denying it feels a bit unnerving to be in the middle of summer and to stumble upon snow.

Things are about to get even more unnerving too, when the guide for our imminent glacier hike appears. One bemused look at our flimsy waterproofs, and he heads to a nearby cupboard.

Moments later, he emerges with ropes, helmets, crampons and ice-picks.

It wasn’t quite what I was expecting – for some reason, I thought our trip would be a quick amble to see some ice, then back in the car.

But now I realise the clue is in the title; glacier hike.

Thankfully, the guide is more than willing to impart his advice.

‘Take little steps, wide apart for a good grip in the snow,’ he says. ‘Like a cowboy mouse on the way to Everest.’

TRAVEL FACTS

Nel Staveley was a guest of the Norwegian Tourist Board (visitnorway.co.uk). For more general information on the area, visit fjordnorway.com.

Norwegian Air (norwegian.com) flies directly from London Gatwick to both Bergen and Stavanger, from £34 one way.