I don’t know when it happened. Whether it was London, or getting old, or both. But somehow the years of city-living have turned me into a bonafide yuppie.
The smell of wet concrete sets off far more memories than freshly mown grass.
Never mind visiting the actual countryside, when I’m back in my home town I've become one of those loathed Londoners bemoaning the lack of craft beer on tap, no public transport on demand, and of course - where's the decent coffee?
A city break, where you’re never far from a chilled glass of wine or a flat white, is my usual holiday destination of choice.
But then Norway’s fjords came calling. With its mix of stunning scenery, chic design and reputation for good food, Scandinavia in general sounded like my kind of outdoors-y holiday. So I decided to step out of my comfort zone, into some hiking boots, and see what Norway had to offer.
The country’s most impressive fjords lie on the south west coast, between the cities of Bergen and the art deco town of Alesund further north.
The first thing you need to know is that this stretch of Norway is by no means the land of ice and snow. The Gulf Stream means it can actually get pretty hot in summer, even when you’re up in the mountains so you need your sunnies - as well as your hoodies - at the ready.
We eased our way into nature by starting out in the city of Bergen, historically the fishing capital of Norway. Wandering around in late June you would be forgiven for thinking you were somewhere along the Med: Outside terraces with a view of the harbour and nearby hills crammed with locals grabbing an early dinner and a beer.
But the tell-tale design shops and quirky artist studios root this city firmly in Scandinavia, as does the stunning Sky:Skraperen restaurant with beautiful views overlooking the city and the sea.
You can get there by cable car, but owners have also installed a shower downstairs so that hikers with an appetite can get involved: The food may be gourmet, locally sourced, with edible flowers - but the dress code gives a thumbs up to fluorescent lycra.
With the midnight sun setting over the hills, and a glass of prosecco in hand, nature did a pretty good job of winning me over on my first night.
THE SOCIAL MEDIA BRAG
It’s midnight, I’m watching the sunset from the top of a mountain with all the wine. #win
From Bergen, we hopped on a five-hour ferry to Balestrand on the north of the Sognefjord, the largest fjord in Norway. The main village in Balestrand only has a few hundred residents, but caters for thousands of travellers and tourists, who use it as a base to explore the nearby land and sea.
Staying in the historic family-run Kviknes hotel, right on the shoreline, we hopped out on a RIB boat to see the fjord and nearby waterfall close up. But just as I was getting into the whole “outdoor activity” thing - I even donned an all-in-one padded jump suit - I found myself leaning over just as the boat was hitting a wave and of course, wrecked my back.
Cue a very slow journey back to shore, as I struggled to breathe and tell the terrified captain that really, I would be fine after a lie down. Great Outdoors: 1, London journo: 0
Luckily, a tour and a taste at the local Cider House managed to put the wind back in my sails, along with a cultural walk packed full of ancient Norse legends from the area and local history.
Exactly 100 years ago last month, Kaiser Wilhelm II was kicking back in Balestrand just before the start of the first world war. But this area was also favoured by many a British traveller back in the day, and was the backdrop to author Edna Lyle’s hit 1890 novel A Hardy Norseman. Oo er.
Next up we wound our way through ridiculously picturesque snow-capped mountains to the Unesco World heritage site, Geirangerfjord, stopping off at the Dalsnibba viewpoint and wooden throne made for Norway’s Queen Sonja, who is a fan of hiking in the area.
The best way to see this fjord is from above and below - and we did both. After squeezing myself into a kayak, we had the fjord all to ourselves and paddled around for a few hours with our charming water-side tour guide.
Next up was a hike up to a waterfall followed by a three-course lunch, including homemade waffles and ice-cream at the local Westerås Farm. This is my kind of “Great Outdoors”.
The village of Geiranger gets a few cruise ships coming in every day during the peak summer season, and the cafes, chocolate shops and restaurants down by the water have the prices to match. But stay there overnight and it is easy to get away from the crowds: the spa at Hotel Union, with saunas overlooking streams and an outdoor pool, is perfectly placed to ease aching limbs post-exercise.
A meal overlooking the best of the fjord at Hotel Utsikten was the perfect end to the day, and we drifted off to bed with this same near-perfect view peeking just behind the curtain.
Another bus ride took us to the pretty coastal town of Alesund. It was rebuilt after a major fire in 1904, and has the detailed art deco architecture to prove it.
Alesund is actually a collection of small islands - it’s almost like someone just tossed sand from above, leaving the islands to spring up wherever it landed androck pools to collect around the land.
The sea is key to the town’s attractions, and even the hotels have got on board. Clarion Collection’s Bryggen hotel gives ground floor guests fishing rods to use out their window, while a tiny lighthouse on the pier has been made into a luxury boutique room by Hotel Brosundet.
Alesund has all the attractions of a city - we munched on delicious salads, sandwiches and cakes on the outside terrace at Invit - but from the main harbour, you can also tour the town on a kayak or hop on a boat for a few hours fishing.
After five days on the fjords, I was practically skipping onto the boat, and was feeling pretty smug reeling in my catch. Sadly, it turned out to be a bunch of seaweed, weighed down by rocks - and that was the highlight of my fishing endeavours.
IN A NUTSHELL
I may have come away from our fishing trip empty handed. But the adventure holiday in the wilds of west Norway managed to reel me in.
It’s a place where the landscape alone puts your tiny work-a-day worries into perspective - but that also has enough luxury spas, gourmet cuisine and local culture to keep any city lover sweet.
Norwegian Air runs flights direct from Bergen and Alesund to London.
British tour operator Taber Holidays creates tailor-made package holidays to the Norwegian fjords. A seven-night trip for two people sharing, including flights, accommodation, tours, meals and a ride on the world-famous Flam railway, starts at £1,995pp.
Kviknes Hotel, Balestrand: rooms from £131 a night, summer offer
Hotel Union, Gerainger:
Hotel Rica Parken, Ålesund:
Cider House, Balestrand: lunch, cider and tours
Hotel Brosundet, Alestrund