TASTEscape: Ålesund and Geiranger

TASTEscape: Norwegian Fjords

by Heine Johansen 28 September 2016

Heine Johansen introduces Ålesund and Geiranger, two places filled with breathtaking views, stunning scenery and dedicated artisans making incredible food.

Heine Johansen is a sommelier, wine and food writer based in Bergen, Norway.

Heine Johansen is a sommelier, wine and food writer based in Bergen, Norway, where he runs the wine bar Don Pippo. He is also the editor of the Norwegian wine and food online magazine nattverden.com.

Ålesund and Geiranger is perhaps the epicentre of the iconic fjords of western Norway. The fjord landscapes are quite literally the stuff of legends: they have given life to great parts of the Norwegian traditional folklore, describing the dramatic waterfalls, the high rising mountain walls and the icy-blue deep fjords.

The city of Ålesund has long been the gateway to these fjords. A city built on fishing and commerce; it is the largest fishing harbour in Norway today – and home to much of the world renowned Norwegian seafood. But it is also built on the ashes of a great catastrophe.

Ålesund: the city that burned

Ålesund's beautiful architecture has been the subject of many a photograph over the years, but the city wasn't always so picturesque. In 1904, a fire spread throughout the streets, destroying 850 houses and leaving most of Ålesund in ruins. It proved to be one of the worst fires in Norway's history.

As the restoration of the city started, help was sent from all over the country – but it was German emperor Wilhelm II's love for the area that helped the most. He'd fallen in love with western Norway years earlier and, having visited the city many times, donated large amounts of money and resources to help rebuild the city. Every house was rebuilt with its own individual identity, which is why Ålesund today is considered one of the most important Art Noveau-style cities in the world. Now, the islands, canals and architecture of the city make it one of the most beautiful in Norway.

Jugend Centre
The Jugend Centre recreates the story of Ålesund's great fire
Runde puffins
The puffins on Runde Island are famous with birdwatchers all over the world

Go on a kayaking tour around Ålesund’s beautiful archipelago

Because of Ålesund's many canals and waterways winding their way through the centre, the city has earned the nickname 'Venice of the North'. This means visitors can see Ålesund from the water, paddling into the inner harbour and under the Brosundet bridge to take in the views of the art noveau architecture. Book a tour on one of the guided trips provided by Kayak More Tomorrow or just rent a kayak to discover the city by sea yourself.

Visit the Jugend Centre and Kube Art Museum

A large part of the Jugend Centre is built like a time machine, taking you back to the city fire of 1904. See how the city was rebuilt, pulling on the great international art and architectural trends of the time. If you fancy something a little more modern, the Kube Art Museum exhibits contemporary art from both Norwegian and international artists, with their ever-changing, interesting and thoughtful exhibitions.

See the puffins at Runde Island

Known as a bird island, Runde is just a short boat trip from Ålesund and while only 150 people live there, over 500,000 seabirds make the shores and rocks their home during nesting seasons. The puffins are by far the biggest attraction and can be seen along the craggy cliffs, making Runde a hotspot for photographers, birdwatchers and hikers. Walk out to the island’s lighthouse and climb the stairs to be rewarded with an incredible view of the surrounding islands and ocean.

Geiranger is a tiny village nestled within an immense fjord
Geiranger Sjokolade
The local community is passionate about food, making artisan chocolate, beer and charcuterie

A fjord filled with food

The Geiranger fjord is home to some of Norway's finest food producers. While the area is home to only a small community, the locals are clearly inspired by the beautiful surroundings in making artisan products.

Buy chocolate made in an old boathouse in Geiranger

Geiranger Sjokolade makes handmade artisan chocolates focusing on local ingredients. Go to their café and taste their incredible creations, or call owner Bengt and ask to book a tour of their production cellar and tasting. Their hot chocolate is excellent, and the more adventurous can try the unique brown cheese chocolate truffles.

Sip the local brew

The Geiranger Brewery was started only two years ago, but is already becoming a favourite with drinkers in Norway’s thriving craft beer community. Get a taste of their beers in Brasserie Posten, Hotel Union or Stranda Hotell. Their beer Vikingstøa Pale Ale was actually judged to be among the ten best beers in Norway in 2016, and is well worth a try!

Sample the cured meats

Tind Spekemat is one of the best cured meat producers in Norway, relying both on old Norwegian traditions and international inspiration. Their factory is located in Stranda, just outside of the village of Geiranger. Buy different delicacies from the local shops along with some simple bread, and have a feast. Be sure to buy enough to bring back home – the reindeer and blackberry cured sausage is so good you’ll want to share it with everyone you can.

Seven Sisters waterfall
The Seven Sisters waterfall can be seen on one of the area's many fjord safaris
Trollstigen offers unparalleled views of the Norwegian countryside

The hike of a lifetime

In the Geiranger fjord you are surrounded by some of the most majestic sights in the whole of Norway. Experience a countryside with waterfalls, mountains and vast open plains home to all sorts of incredible fauna and flora.

Go on a rib safari

You need to remember your camera for this one – book a fjord safari on a speedy ‘rib’ boat for a thrilling way of experiencing the magnificent nature surrounding the fjord. The boat makes frequent stops for you to take in the fantastic sights, and actually goes through some of the waterfalls (so bring a coat)! You won't get nearer to nature than this. Note the beautiful ‘Friaren’ (The Suitor) and De Sju Søstre (The Seven Sisters) waterfalls as you go along; it is said that they are courting one another on the other side of the fjord.

Forage for fruits and vegetables in the countryside

Going to Geiranger, you're a long way from urban city life. There's a wealth of fruit and vegetables to pick in the forest during summer and harvest time, and several of the mountain farms have been abandoned for decades, leaving behind a wealth of fruit trees and other edible plants. Nothing tastes better than Norwegian blueberries straight from the bush.

Wind your way along the Trollstigen

Trollstigen (The Troll’s Footpath) is considered one of the most beautiful trails in Norway. There are several platforms along the route to stop at and take in the views, both for the more careful at heart and the more adventurous. The biggest platform is built atop a 200 meters high mountainside, which will really get your heart racing.

Ålesund has a rich coffee culture, and Jacu Coffee Roastery is renowned across the country
Reinheimen National Park
Reinheimen National Park is a haven for keen hikers who want to leave civilisation behind and get to grips with nature

Still have time to spare?

– Visit Jacu Coffee Roastery for a taste of Ålesund’s rich café culture and some of the best coffee in all of Norway. The finest beans from Ethiopia, Kenya and Honduras are roasted daily on-site, before being expertly brewed by a team of internationally-acclaimed baristas.

– Catch a show at Teaterfabrikken, an old fish factory turned theatre which serves great food with views out of the Norwegian coast. The dining room alone is popular with locals seeking a good meal, and the programme of events encompasses stand-up, live music and performances from local playwrights.

– Take a walk around Reinheimen National Park and catch a glimpse of the wild reindeer herds. There are 760 square miles of protected mountains to explore, with dozens of guided trails, tours and walks which bring to life one of Norway’s most beautiful natural areas.

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