Last week I spent four days exploring the mysterious wilderness of Norway’s western reaches, with Visit Norway and Fjord Norway. We were in the area around Bergen, the fjords, and Myrkdalen ski resort. I’ll be writing a few posts about the region, beginning here with Flåm, a small village two and a half hours east of Bergen.
In February, Flåm had the sleepy air of a ghost town just coming out of hibernation. The village is small, with just 300 inhabitants; the wooden houses, in their bright shades of mustard, oxblood and snow-white, are engulfed by the towering, ice-tipped mountains behind the village and the deep, inky black fjord. Flooding is always a threat; occasionally, you can see the Northern Lights. It’s a stark reminder that, in Norway at least, nature is King.
That’s not to say the inhabitants of Flåm haven’t gone to take advantage of their beautiful surroundings. The Flåm Railway carves its way through one of the most picturesque routes in the world. You can take a guided tour along the fjords with Flåm Guide Service (I’ll be posting separately about these trips). There’s a Railway Museum in Flåm, and a cultural park, with easy walking paths and a playground. And – if you can stomach a knuckle-whitening drive along the Aurlandsfjellet mountain road, with hairpin bends and sheer drops that would make even a mountain goat call for crampons – you’ll be treated to one of the most breathtaking views on this planet, from the Stegastein viewpoint.
A daily bus service runs between Flåm and Stegastein. The viewpoint itself is 650 metres above sea level, with a wooden jetty that juts out over the precipice, before doubling back under itself in an elegant curve. This means that, when you peer down over the sloping perspex barrier at the end, all you can see are the mountains, and the Aurlandsfjord way down in the abyss. In winter, only the occasional boat can be seen on the fjord, punting along like a water-fly. In the summer months, the Aurlandsfjellet scenic mountain road is open between Læedalsøyri and Aurlandsvangen, and you can carry on to its highest point, at 1,306 metres.
You can see Stegastein in this video, which also shows out trip on Flåm’s Winter fjordsafari, as well as the Flåm Railway. I’ll be posting about both of those experiences soon:
A round trip from Flåm to Stegastein is NOK 290. Children aged 4-15 are half price.
We stayed at the Fretheim Hotel, which legend has it is haunted. The Fretheim sleeps 240 guests and is part of Norway’s De Historiske group of hotels and restaurants. It dates back to the 1870s, when English Lords arrived in Flåm to hunt and fish, and demanded the local farm be converted into a hotel for their pleasure.
These days, the Fretheim is a cosy, elegant place. There was vintage wooden furniture, gas-lit fires and a restaurant in a glass-fronted section of the hotel, with panoramic views across the mountains and down to the fjord harbour. In the historic quarter of the hotel, rooms were reconstructed using fixtures from the 1950s – the hotel’s heyday – with no televisions to intrude upon the hotel’s genteel hush. We stayed in the modern quarter, where rooms do come equipped with Smart TVs. Wi-fi and tea/coffee makers are standard across the whole hotel. There are two family rooms, and six Junior suites that sleep four.
For breakfast, I tried some of the local goat’s cheese, a sweet, granular delicacy that tasted more like fudge than what I think of as cheese. As well as eggs cooked to order, cereals, bread and jam, you could choose the more traditionally Nordic breakfast of herrings, pickled beetroot, caviar from a tube, and raw carrots. The hotel prides itself on using local produce, served in three-course meals in the Arven restaurant, or in the hotel lobby bar. As we only had one night in Flåm, we ate instead at the Ægir Brewpub, so we could sample more of what the village had to offer.
Prices vary at the Fretheim Hotel, depending on the season and choice of room. See their website for further details.
We were welcomed at the Ægir Brewpub by Kris, a tall broad-chested blonde man who looked as though he could easily be one of Ægir’s mortal step-brothers, but who turned out to be Polish. The Ægir is a Norse-themed establishment, built ten years ago as an homage to the Nordic god of the sea. Ægir also happened to be a brewer, and hosted parties attracting high-profile gods like Odin and Thor. Norway has few breweries at the moment, so the stuff that’s made at Ægir has people driving for hundreds of miles to collect it (we ran into a jovial crowd of burly men on our way in, who’d come in a coachload to pick up crates). It can even be found as far afield as Whole Foods stores in London, or Mother Kelly’s Bottle Shop in east London.
The restaurant’s wooden building was built like a traditional ‘Stave’ church, as an homage to Ægir. But the pragmatic Norwegians have put it to good use: the villagers decided to hold a mass there, after Flåm’s church was destroyed in the floods of 2015. Ægir has also hosted a Christening (although the priest did insist the brewing vats and bar area be hidden behind a sheet during the service).
Wood was everywhere in the restauant: glossy, honey-coloured wood for the tables and chairs; rougher, more tough-looking wood for the walls. The draft beer was pumped using deer antlers, and the scent of hops and roasting meat hung heavy in the air.
From the Norse-themed menu we were treated to a Viking plank: five dishes paired with five beers from the microbrewery. Crayfish and mussels were balanced by a light, orange-scented Witbier. Smoked reindeer was set against a malty amber ale. Even the chocolate ganache dessert was washed down by a dense, chocolatey Sumbel Porter.
There’s a children’s menu, with game meatballs from a local farm. Vegetarians, unlike in the Viking days, have their own ‘plank’, with the rather un-Norse quorn, falafel, and aioli dressing.
A Viking Plank, with five accompanying beers, is NOK 495. A range of other dishes is available. The Ægir also runs a bed and breakfast alongside the restaurant.
You can find out more about Flåm on the Visit Flåm website.
Here’s the full itinerary of my four-day press trip.
If you liked this post, you might be interested in:
Flåm Railway, Fjordsafari and Vatnahalsen Høyfjellshotell
What to expect from Bergen, Norway
Bergen: Troldhaugen, the Edvard Grieg Museum
A walk in Oslo’s Nordmarka Forest
Seven relaxing things to do in Oslo, Norway
Have you visited Flåm, or anywhere in the rest of Norway?
I was a guest of Visit Norway and Fjord Norway on this trip.