Norway has always been a nature-loving country, making it a prime eco-tourism destination. I recently took a trip to visit relatives and recreate some childhood memories. The last time I had been to the land of midnight sun was in the ‘80s, back when Pan Am was still in operation and the kroner was starting to gain strength, as it continues to do (prepare to spend $9 on an ice cream cone!). This time around, I was just traveling with my mom, which made it easier to make spontaneous decisions on the fly. In fact, an unplanned detour —a day in Flåm, as a stopover on the Norway in a Nutshell tour—turned out to be the highlight of our sustainable adventure.
For those not familiar with Norway in a Nutshell, it’s a picturesque journey from Bergen to Oslo that involves different modes of transportation: you ride a boat that traverses through the sparkling fjords, a bus that winds around the mountain roads, a train that darts across the rustic terrain, parts of which are blanketed in snow even during the spring. We were delighted to be able to break up the trip this way. Unlike the United States, here, the transport is very old-world: the train feels like a locomotive from the 18th century and the ferry is a thrilling ride. The bus is quite clean and comfortable, and it’s not your responsibility to keep your eyes on the road, so you can just enjoy uninterrupted views out the window. Traveling by train, boat, and bus is ultimately a wonderful way to connect with the landscape. And the experience is all quite romantic, even with your mother. A few hours from Bergen, the boat pulls up to Flåm, a tiny fishing village where you can catch the train and continue en route to Oslo, or book a stopover for a day or two. We checked into the town’s famed and ecological Fretheim Hotel, which offers every activity imaginable, from hiking the old trails of the Flåm Valley to wine tasting to kayaking the Sognefjord and a “wildness camp” for groups complete with axe throwing, bow-and-arrow shooting, team ski racing, and a slightly scary-sounding “duel.”
The hotel dates back to the mid-19th century when Christen Fretheim converted his family farm into a cozy place for salmon fisherman to stay over night. Over the years, it’s been expanded and modernized—today it’s still got plenty of Norwegian charm and respect for local traditions. Case in point: almost all of the food served in the hotel is fresh from the farm and sea, including locally-caught fish, organic fruits and vegetables, homemade breads and fruit jams, and hand-churned butter. The hotel even smokes its own meat, hanging it in the stabbur (storehouse) to cure. Before launching an exploration of the area via the hotel bicycles ($15/4 hours), you’ll want to stand still for several moments to breathe in the fresh Flåm air and take in the views. The scenery is unbelievably idyllic. The bike trail led us through the mountains, past rocky waterfalls (when the spray misted our faces, my mom said, “It’s like getting a facial in nature!”), bucolic fields with sheep baa-ing in unison, rustic cottages painted bright red—basically, the set of Sound of Music but in Norway. Be prepared to work those quad muscles as you navigate steep inclines and hairpin turns on two wheels. And wear layers, because it can be a sweaty ride. Mom and I ended the day with a glass of organic wine back at the hotel, which we sipped while watching the sun (almost) set in the distance. And to think we nearly missed this perfect pit stop? We toasted skål to spontaneous decisions and to coming back another year.
How to get there: Airline: Continental flies direct from Newark to Oslo with many flights. You can take the public bus/train or taxi to the Oslo Central Railway Station to catch the Norway in a nutshell tour. Norway in a Nutshell: Round-trip from Oslo to Bergen is NOK 2135 (about $368 USD). It leaves from the Oslo Central Railway Station. (Jernbanetorget 1, 0154 Oslo) (norwaynutshell.com)
Photos: Courtesy of the author