City and ski: Fjords, fish and funiculars in and around Bergen
Known as one of the world’s prettiest cities - and one of its raniest - there’s plenty to see in this delightful gem under the clouds
Bergen is a reassuringly lovely city.
We arrived in a flower-filled park in the centre of Bergen after a 45-minute tram ride from the airport. Our hotel, Hotel Oleana, was a five-minute walk up a gentle incline in a cobbled square.
The decor of the hotel could be best be described as “quirky”, but in a fairly entertaining way. The corridor walls on every floor featured a motif of a different scantily clad person, often posing next to an instrument like a cello, against a purple velvet background. The glass lift doors on either side granted access to both wings of the hotel, with one wing sitting half a storey’s height higher than the other, making for some entertaining lift rides.
Bergen’s waterfront was, thankfully, much more traditional. We went for a very leisurely walk in the evening sunshine past the quintessential colourful wooden houses and a 13th-century tower that was once home to the delightfully Scandinavian-sounding King Eric Magnusson. Rubbing up against these historic buildings are the enormous cruise ships that famously dock in the harbour.
What was striking about this part of the city is just how peaceful it was, even at seven o’clock in the evening on a sunny day. Perhaps if we’d timed our walk to coincide with a cruise ship’s worth of people disembarking (though the local government has actually placed restrictions on the number of ships that can dock at any one time), we might have felt differently, but the contrast to London from that morning was stark.
The comparisons continued when we ordered a glass of wine at a waterfront bar - the cheapest glass of wine on the menu was about £15. On the plus side, this made London pubs look a bargain. Dinner that night was at a waterside restaurant a few doors down - perhaps a bit of a classic foreigner’s error to eat in such a touristy area, but the food was fantastic. Again, it certainly wasn’t cheap - £100 for a shared starter of scallops, two main courses of trout and cod, and two glasses of wine. But this is standard for Bergen and Norway in general, where wages are much higher than in the UK. And to have dinner outside, a short distance from the water while the sun shone into the evening, was truly lovely.
If you’re only in the city for a few days, a trip up the Floibanen funicular railway to see the city from above can be done in a morning - the views are incredible and remind you that there is more to see in Bergen than just the waterfront, and there are also some resident dozy goats to pose with.
Once you’ve found some time to try a local cinnamon bun, it’s also really worth doing a half-day boat trip to the fjords. (You can buy discount cards from the tourist information office right on the waterfront which get you a discount to trips like these, and at local restaurants). In pleasingly Norwegian fashion, our boat left exactly at 2pm. It then wound its way to the end of a blustery fjord, where a member of the crew entertainingly dangled a bucket on the end of a long stick so as to fetch fresh waterfall water for us all to drink.
As with Bergen’s town centre, the scenery was exactly as beautiful as we’d been led to believe it would be by cruise companies advertising during Sunday-afternoon murder mysteries. If you have more spare time in the city, you might want to visit one of Bergen’s many art galleries in the flower-filled gardens that surround lake Lungegårdsvannet, or - my personal favourite - the nearby leprosy museum.
Heading for the slopes, Myrkdalen was, thankfully, a fantastic choice of resort for tentative new skiers who had somehow avoided the seemingly obligatory university and family ski trips for the past 30 years. Having borrowed all the necessary gear at the resort's Ski School, we were welcomed by cheery instructors who patiently helped us build our confidence on the gentle slopes. On top of learning the basics of how to get vertical and stay that way, we made a valiant effort at ignoring the skilful seven-year-old skiers who deftly wove down the mountain behind us.
Myrkdalen has 21 slopes, and so is kitted out for both beginners and more adventurous skiers. Although we weren’t necessarily conquering the highest mountains on this particular trip, we took advantage of the resort’s range of ski lifts, which provide spectacular views for riders. We were also lucky in not having to spend hours waiting in line for the lifts, as the slopes weren’t overrun with skiers at this point in the season. And when we tired of trying to stay upright, we could always call in to the hotel's bar for a restorative hot chocolate.
For a couple of people who had been fairly nervous about skiing for the first time as 30-year-olds, and lacked the innate confidence of seven-year-olds, our days at Myrkdalen provided the perfect introduction to the activity.
The next day, we took an impromptu fjord trip, this time to the delightfully named town of Flam, which again sat at the very end of a fjord inland. While a lot of our fellow boat passengers chose to continue their journey to places with perhaps more than seven buildings, we stayed put, shoring up in the villlage’s only hotel, a beautiful white wooden building. Inside the hotel, where everything was also made of wood, we were greeted by extremely friendly staff who gave us our complimentary, Flam-branded reusable coffee mugs. Our room was cosy, and came with a balcony with views of the beautiful harbour and surrounding hills.
The appeal of staying in a village which you can walk around comfortably in five minutes is that you can see everything without having to expend much energy. But even so, we made sure to fit in a hot chocolate and pastry after our trip to the museum and gift shop (which was inexplicably filled with wild-looking model trolls of all sizes). We segued neatly from this into dinner at the hotel, which was a spread of Norwegian specialties, including fish and salads. We steered clear of the whale, despite the enthusiastic encouragement of a staff member.
The next morning, we boarded the Flam railway, to start our journey home. The railroad route between Flam and Myrdal is the steepest in northern Europe, and the old-fashioned carriages provide pretty spectacular views of the surrounding mountains. Without the keen iPhone photography of the other passengers, it would have been easy to think that we were travelling fifty years ago.
Ski Solutions offer a City and Ski trip to Bergen and Myrkdalen in Norway from £1,225 per person, including international flights, return transfer to Myrkdalen, two nights B&B in Bergen and five nights half board in Myrkdalen. skisolutions.com 020 3944 2077