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Travel with Terri
Ålesund and Sunnmøre: An Intersection of Natural and Cultural Treasures
Story and Photos by Terri Marshall
Imagine a land enchanting enough to inspire the landscapes for an Oscar winning picture. Norway is such a place and if you saw Disney’s animated masterpiece, Frozen, you were treated to glimpses of Norway. From the mountains to the sea each landscape is inspiring, each town intriguing and each experience alluring. The Norwegian fjords are among the most famous nature-based attractions in the world and the Ålesund and Sunnmøre region of Norway has an abundance of them. In fact, this little piece of Norway is chock full of natural and cultural treasures. Here are a few of my favorite experiences.
Strolling through Ålesund’s Town Center
On a winter’s night in 1904, Ålesund was devastated by fire leaving 10,000 people homeless and 850 homes in ashes. In a span of three years, the entire town rose from the ashes. Rebuilt in the Art Nouveau style that was prevalent throughout Europe at the time, the charming yellow, salmon, blue and rose buildings are ornamented with a myriad of turrets, spires, medieval ornaments and dragons earning Ålesund UNESCO World Heritage status. Recently voted the most beautiful town in Norway, Ålesund is an architectural art gallery.
The Art Nouveau Centre/Jugendstilsenteret offers unparalleled insight into the story of the great fire of 1904. Located in the former “Swan Pharmacy”- one of Ålesund’s most characteristic Art Nouveau buildings – the center has a time machine ready to transport you back a century. www.jugendstilsenteret.no
The View from Above
The rugged coastline, deep fjords and high mountains in the Sunnmøre Alps are a hiker’s paradise. The terrain offers easy walks, challenging climbs and everything in between. There are even glacier hikes available year-round.
Ålesund is one of only a few places in the world with hiking opportunities in the center of town. Climb the 418 steps up to Fjellstua at the top of MountAksla for an unforgettable panoramic view of Ålesund, the coast and the surrounding mountain and fjord landscape. If hiking up 418 steps isn’t appealing, hitch a ride on the Town Train in the city center and ride up! Whatever you do, don’t miss this view.
Wander through the time capsule of this open air museum to learn more about the cultural history of Norway. Historic wooden buildings with rooftops sprouting grass have been restored to show life as it was in years gone by. There is even a collection of historic Viking boats just begging for a sail! Every Wednesday during the summer, the museum hosts activity day for young and old alike with – among other things- potato cake grilling, boat building, learning to tie knots and more. www.sunnmore.museum.no
Wildlife Sea Safari
As pretty as the town is, venturing out is a must. Just a few hours after my arrival, I boarded a high speed RIB boat for a thrilling bumpy ride into the ocean. Our destination…Runde Island, population 150 humans and over 500,000 birds! The bird cliffs of Runde are the southernmost in Norway and have the widest variety of sea bird species in all of Scandinavia. Every nook of the craggy cliffs is teeming with life as colonies of great skuas, gannets and shags scramble for their nesting zones. About 100,000 pairs of puffins nest on Runde from February to August. Puffins are better swimmers than flyers and we found a flock of them splashing about in the waters as we drifted past. RundeIsland isn’t only known for its massive bird population. In 1725 the Dutch ship “Akerendam” shipwrecked on the island spilling gold coins creating a “Treasure Island.” www.62.no
Plenty of islands have lighthouses, but the fishing village of Alnes has a
lighthouse that doubles as an art gallery displaying around 100 watercolors by Norway’s famous artist, Ørnulf Opdahl – who just happens to be a personal friend of the Queen of Norway. The top of the lighthouse yields even more magnificent views of the surrounding region. When you finish your climb and art browsing, stop by the former lighthouse keeper’s residence where young women from the village carry on the age old tradition of baking homemade cakes for guests. Don’t be surprised if the Queen makes an appearance – it happens. www.alnesfyr.no
The Fjord Experience
I’ve been to some beautiful places in my life…places of jaw-dropping beauty. But cruising through the fjords of Norway truly took my breath away. I boarded a small boat in Ålesund for the first leg of the journey through the majestic Hjorundfjord. World class glaciers – still frozen in late July – crowned the mountain peaks. At every turn there were endless ribbons of waterfalls cascading down dramatic cliffs to the water below. Moss topped farm houses painted red and gold dotted the landscape while sheep grazed precariously perched on the steep hillsides.
Arriving at the tiny village of Oye, the trip continued by bus. In Hellesylt I transferred to a ferry for a cruise through Geirangerfjord to the town of Geiranger. At this point it was hard to imagine Mother Nature could produce anything more beautiful than I had already seen, but she did.
As the ferry cruised along, sea gulls kept pace. More waterfalls unfolded and even more dramatic cliffs emerged. One of the highlights was the Seven Sisters Waterfall – seven streams of water plunging into the deep fjord below. Legend says the waterfall across the fjord desperately tried to convince at least one of the sisters to be his bride. Rejected he turned to whiskey – and the waterfall clearly outlines his whiskey bottle.
The spectacular journey concluded in the town of Geiranger where I found not only the cutest little chocolate shop in the world, but also a group of rowdy Vikings. I love Norway.
For more information visit www.visitnorway.com
Terri is a freelance writer with regular columns on travel, chocolate and bar reviews. She is busy each month visiting new places to bring unique travel destinations and events to you. Yes, it is a sacrifice – but she is willing to do that for her readers! You can see more of Terri’s writing at www.examiner.com where she is the National Chocolate Examiner and at www.barzz.net. Also, check out her blog atwww.trippingwithterri.com. You can contact Terri at email@example.com.
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