Just Back From
In the first four days of my recent trip to the Norwegian fjords I toured two lighthouses (one is now a highly coveted hotel room, the other is a museum), daringly navigated the serpentine mountain road Trollstigen, observed the beauty of Geirangerfjord, kayaked through the Art Nouveau city of Ålesund, saw the hotel that served as the haunting set of Ex Machina and visited a handful of other properties—one of which joins a short list of my favorite hotels around the world. But day five proved the most revelatory yet.
After an overnight in Bergen, I boarded a five-hour ferry to Flåm, a famous town on the banks of the Sognefjord, the second-largest fjord in the world and one of Norway’s most famous. It was a chilly, rainy, overcast morning in Norway; here, the weather can change on a dime, but today, the dreariness was unrelenting. Suffice it to say that it was not the ideal start to the day, and once we arrived in the village, I was chilled to the bone and craving a hot shower. But my itinerary dictated I was in for another boat ride, so I, not willing to miss what I’d been told was a must-do in the fjords, begrudgingly gathered my weather-worn self to the harbor and suited up in all the rainproof gear possible (a full waterproof suit, hat, gloves and goggles) for a high-speed RIB boat tour.
It took about one minute of skimming across the water’s glassy surface at 60 mph for a grin to split my face in two. First, we stopped and our driver/guide directed our gaze hundreds of feet upwards, where a white building teetered precariously on the cliff’s edge. This, our group of 10 was to learn, was a hotel that can only be reached by a one-hour hike. (Ambitious trekkers would be wise to plan ahead: there is a three-year waiting list). Next, we pulled up in front of Undredal, a town famous for its goat cheese and as the inspiration for Arendelle in Disney’s Frozen. Then, we were joined by groups of porpoise and seals that had navigated their way 127 miles from the Atlantic Ocean into this branch of the Norwegian fjords.
About one hour in, we turned a corner and suddenly were in the clouds. It was now officially pouring, and the sky had come to join us in the Nærøyfjord, a UNESCO World Heritage site and branch of the Sognefjord. Cocooned in our gear and with our shoulders scrunched up for warmth, my boat mates and I ceased all conversation, awed by the striking natural landscape that was perhaps even more mystical when shrouded in mist and fog. I’d already come to the conclusion that I had been wrong to even consider skipping this tour—an excursion that would prove to be the defining moment of my trip—but skimming across the water between 6,000-foot-high mountains, which appear as though chiseled by the Vikings who used to dominate these peaks, I was reminded of something we often speak about at Indagare: the transformative nature of travel. I was completely out of my element, tired and drenched, but having the time of my life. Our expert guide, the sheer drama of the setting and the centuries of history that belong to the fjords, which were formed during the last Ice Age, transformed my experience, my mindset and my attitude.
Related: Norwegian Fjords Destination Report
Of course, that’s not to say Norway is all about expanding your preconceived limits. Here, thrilling adventures are juxtaposed with spectacular cuisine and bucolic countryside hotels. While there are a smattering of high-end properties in the fjords, the region offers luxury in the form of untouched landscapes, secluded attractions and intimate interactions with nature. The vast wilderness beckons explorers, who could spend weeks road-tripping, stopping at architecturally striking viewpoints, embarking on hikes to oft-Instagrammed but remote attractions like Trolltunga and Preikestolen, visiting strawberry farms and sampling exquisite fjord-to-table cuisine. The major tourist sights attract crowds, but these comprise a tiny fraction of the destination; edge just a tiny bit off the beaten path and you’ll be rewarded with an otherworldly landscape that is yours to explore in near isolation.
And this region will reward intrepid adventurers, as I learned on my fated boat ride. I didn’t want to go; it took a concerted effort to gather myself in my rain gear after an already damp, ferry-filled day. But I went, because that is what we do at Indagare. We experience—the good, the bad, the uncomfortable, the jarring, the life-affirming. We see the world, stay at some incredible hotels—and, occasionally, not-so-incredible hotels—meet locals, try new cuisines, tour museums with guides and trek to stunning sights both manmade and natural. And we are better for it. We plan better travel for it. We take all the good and bad we experience on our trips, curate it and make sure our members' precious vacation time is filled with the moments that will change your life and inspire you to share the overwhelming, eye-opening, unsettling and restorative joy of travel with others.
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