Prior to the outbreak of Covid-19, I visited Bergen, known as the gateway to the fjords, which nestles between seven mountains and is Norway’s second largest city, located in Hordaland, on the western Norwegian coastline. This charming World Heritage City instantly captivates visitors with an abundance of natural beauty, a fascinating history and it’s the ideal spot for a Scandinavian adventure.
Founded by King Olav Kyrre in 1070 and only four years after the end of the Viking era, Bergen rapidly developed around its bustling harbour and became a major centre for trading seafarers. Prior to Oslo emerging as Norway’s capital in 1814, Bergen was the Norwegian capital in the 13th century and it prospered greatly due to maintaining exclusive rights to negotiate European trade.
The Hanseatic League (the German medieval guild of merchants) dominated Baltic maritime trade along the northern European coastline and in 1360 opened an administrative centre on Bryggen’s wharf. At that time there would have been around 30 timber buildings with each one housing several trading firms over two or three stories. Each property provided living quarters, business premises and storage areas and outside, high above the roofs, tall cranes hovered over every building ensuring that the vessels docked on the waterway could be unloaded and loaded with ease.
For a deeper understanding of Hanseatic life take a stroll along to the Hanseatic Museum which opened in 1872 and is housed in one of Bryggen’s oldest wooden buildings. Furnished in the style of the 18th century, it has retained its original interior and provides an intriguing insight into the life and work of the Hanseatic merchant.
For those seeking the highest level of comfort and service, the ideal place to stay is the Opus XVI, a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World. Located on the quiet plaza of Vagsallmenningen, the property is owned by the descendants of Edvard Hagerup Grieg, the renowned Norwegian composer and pianist. This grand, historic building dates back to 1876 and once housed Bergen’s largest bank. The spacious main floor features granite walls and soaring marble columns and the many decorative details demand the utmost admiration.
Accommodation options include classic, superior and deluxe rooms and a choice of suites. The double-storey Peer Gynt suite, named after one of Edvard Grieg’s masterpieces, measures 69 square metres and reflects a fusion of contemporary style with classic elements. The living room includes a large dining area with comfortable seating and elegant drapes and the bedroom features a king size bed swathed in luxurious linens and plump pillows.
The spacious bathroom offers under-floor heating and an excellent rainfall shower, which, for those of us who take a while to recover from a deep slumber, is just the ticket. Hotel amenities include complimentary Wi-Fi, an in-room tablet for guests to use, and an impressive mini-bar crammed with drinks and snacks. Following a hearty buffet style breakfast and with most attractions within walking distance I set out to explore the city.
In 1979, Bryggen was recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site and today the vast majority of Bergen’s visitors flock to the brightly coloured wooden houses along the waterfront. These days painters, weavers and craftsmen toil away in their workshops enticing passers-by to stop and admire and purchase their artistry. There are also a number of quirky boutiques, trendy cafés and busy restaurants dotted along the wharf.
Consider stopping off and sampling Fårikål; Norway’s national dish, which is a delicious mutton stew layered with cabbage and served with potatoes or you may prefer the Stekte Pølser, which are fried sausages accompanied with a selection of vegetables. For those who love seafood, head for Enhjørningen, a unique fish restaurant located on Bryggen. Housed in a narrow 18th century building, which has been restored, it offers a wonderful view of the waterfront, excellent service and the menu features some truly mouth-watering dishes.
Norway is the world’s second biggest exporter of fish and a visit to Torget fish market, a three minute walk from Opus XVI, is not to be missed. Visitors are encouraged to admire the display and sample the products, which includes fish cakes, salmon, calamari, seafood salads and, of course, fish and chips.
Wander around the harbour and you will spot the Bergenhus fortress, which is one of the best preserved castles in Norway. Be sure to visit the royal hall, known as Haakon’s Hall after King Håkon Håkonson. The hall dates back to 1260 and is Norway’s biggest medieval building now used for official functions and banquets.
Another popular attraction is the defence tower, known as the Rozenkrantz Tower, which was built in 1270 by King Magnus VI. In the 1560s, Erik Rosenkrantz, the commander of the castle, integrated the tower into a larger structure and today it is recognised as the most important Renaissance monument in Norway. Wander around the foreboding dungeon, which, it is said, was used from the 1400s until the 1800s and as you climb up the dark ominous stairwells, imagine those unfortunate enough to be incarcerated in such a place.
After this experience you may wish to take a breath of that fresh Scandinavian air. Take a short stroll along to Øvregaten Street, which is Bergen’s oldest street. The Fløibanen, the city’s funicular railway, which dates back to 1918, is Bergen’s top attraction and you’ll be rapidly transported to the top of the Floyen mountain; 1050 feet above sea level. Passengers are richly rewarded with spectacular sweeping views of the city below and it’s the perfect spot for hiking along the marked paths. Or take the vintage shuttle bus from the fish market and then hop onto the cable car and soar to the top of Mount Ulriken, where you can admire the panoramic views of the city, the surrounding mountains and the stunning views of the fjords.
For those who prefer to view the scenery at ground level, make your way to Zachariabryggen, adjacent to the fish market. Board the White Lady for a leisurely cruise around the harbour or embark the catamaran, which offers a three-hour cruise to Mostraumen, where the fjord narrows and the vessel is surrounded by steep mountains. On the return voyage the vessel sails around Osterøy and pauses at Heskjedalsfossen; a beautiful waterfall. Passengers are presented with a sample of the water, which the crew collect. This experience is by far the most leisurely and comfortable way to view and appreciate the beautiful surroundings savouring every moment of your Scandinavian adventure.