This is Part 3 of our exploration of the Norwegian fjords in a Volvo V90 Cross Country. Check out Part 1: Stockholm to Preikestolen here and Part 2: Stavanger and Bergen here. We are now entering truly grandiose fjord country and the next two posts will be full of spectacular scenery, as this is the reason I have decided to travel to this part of the world this year. Lonely Planet is not mistaken when it says about this area that “if could only visit one region in Norway and hope to grasp the essence of the country’s appeal, this would be our choice.”
Having reached Ulvik the night before, I had not had the chance to enjoy the landscape. A short drive from the hotel to the centre of the village is enough to envelop me in the legendary northern european tranquility that characterises the location. The Hardangerfjord is as still as a lake and soon a small ferry breaks the surface, creating slow-moving waves undulating towards the shores. Ulvik is home to only a little more than 1.000 inhabitants. It’s 10am but there is no one around except an elderly man also contemplating the surroundings from a bench near the water. We exchange knowing glances but neither of us wants to disrupt the sacred silence. We smile. It’s one of these moments in life when you can hardly believe the images relayed through your eyes.
A roundabout inside a tunnel…Lars about to enter Eidfjord (where the cruise ship is).
Next on the itinerary is Eidfjord. To reach it I must first drive through a marvellous oddity: a roundabout deep inside a tunnel that leads to the monumental Hardanger bridge, the longest tunnel-to-tunnel suspension bridge in the world: it’s a testimony of the effort that has been made in Norway to connect the multitude of fjords and mountains that complicate the area. It feels like I am in Monaco, except in the middle of nowhere. If the lead-up to Eidfjord is spectacular with sheer cliffs on each side of the fjord, the town itself is unfortunately soiled by an immense cruise ship that towers above everything and its hundreds of tourists have invaded every nook and cranny. The one positive effect is the ship’s smoke eerily mixing with the clouds around the fjord’s cliffs. I don’t stay long and push to Øvre Eidfjord, a lot quieter and from where I take an unsealed mountain road to explore the outer confines of the valley. I turn around when the track becomes a little too restrained for the large station wagon that is Lars, my Volvo V90 Cross Country for this trip.
Norwegian cheese and ham Lars in Kinsarvik with the Hardanger bridge in the background.
I retrace my steps to drive past the Hardanger bridge and explore Sørfjorden, an offshoot of Hardangerfjord located in the heart of the fruit tree region called Ullensvang. A deserted boathouse is the perfect spot for a tranquil lunch: given Norway’s high prices my regime is limited to bread, ham and cheese, but not just any cheese: the infamous and delicious Fløtemysost brown cheese… A couple of blokes are laughing their way through fishing on a tiny boat right in the middle of the fjord, and these are the only sounds around. I drive through Kinsarvik and Lofthus, and in between towns, apples are sold on the side of the road in unattended stands that rely on honesty: you slot the indicated price into a box and take the bag of apples with you. It’s now time to drive north through the Hardanger bridge again and towards Voss.
After driving along whose particularly steep 1200m-high cliffs are a great opportunity to make good use the V90’s panoramic roof, we soon reach Aurland, a village surrounded by greenery peppered with hundreds of bleating sheep, located at one end of the world’s longest road tunnel, the 24.5 km/15 miles-long Laerdalstunnel. But we won’t take that tunnel: instead, we launch into the Snøvegen, officially signed Aurlandsvangen. This 45 km (28 miles) Snow Road, open from June to mid-October, climbs and twists from Aurland at sea level to a 1311m-high plateau. The start of the road is narrow, making crossing vehicles a difficult task. The picturesque location is almost too perfect: sheep with their bells ringing call each other from one field to the next, oblivious to my presence and fighting the surrounding silence. The top of the plateau is a desolate, arid and beautiful swath of wilderness dotted with boulders and bright red lonely wooden houses. The cloudy weather adds even more drama to the menacing stance of this land.
Arriving in Laerdal, it’s time for a sunset ferry ride across Sognefjorden, the world’s second longest fjord (203km/126 miles) and Norway’s deepest (1308m), reaching Fjaerland just after the sun disappears for the night to admire the glacial tongue of Supphellebreen.
The car park is just 300m from the glacier and I almost expect to hear the ice cracking, so overwhelmingly silent is the place at dusk. Fun/nerd fact: ice blocks from here were used as podiums at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer. On my way to the Sandane hotel, in Skei the grey and orange skies completely reflect into the still waters of the Jolstra river. There is no one, not a whisper of wind, and the only sound is the clickety-click of a lone row-boat. Meditation-inducing stillness.
The next day is the first blue sky day of the trip, and it’s great timing as we are about to explore what would end up being the most beautiful area of this entire adventure. We start with Nordfjord and the hair-rising beauty of the fjord’s shores trigger multiple stops and endless photo shoots, in Sandane itself, Breim, then along the shores of Lake Strynevatnet in Stryn and Oppstryn. Spectacular sun rays combined with incredible scenery morph this trip into something close to paradise as we enter the Jostedalsbreen National Park.
The Gamle Strynefjellsvegen (old Stryn mountain road), a winding 27km single track at the time of construction considered a masterpiece of civil engineering, was opened in 1894 and was for over 80 years the main east-to-west route in this part of the country. Again, spectacular vistas await and I touch the first snow of this trip, stopping for a series of pictures near a wooden chalet baptised “Mon Plaisir” (My Pleasure in French). The pleasure is all mine indeed. This plateau is more colourful than the one we explored earlier in this post. Turquoise lakes surrounded by eye-waveringly white snow are overlooked by vast expands of red vegetation (rendered even redder by my sun glasses) peppered with imposing boulders. The air is crisp and the location inducive for a Volvo advertisement. Lars takes a pose multiple times along the plateau.
Next and for our final post in this series, we reach Geirangerfjord, arguably Norway’s most famous fjord, the coastal town of Ålesund, the Trollstigen Route and the Atlanterhavsveien before finally reviewing Lars our Volvo V90 Cross Country… Stay tuned!