This is the point in the story where I start to catch my breath.
Let’s just say the best introduction is visual:
Waterfalls, fables and vertigo: about the fjord and its town
Geiranger (pronounced Gehr-RAN-ger – both gs are hard) is both a town and a fjord, and in fact the two seem inseparable.
The grandeur of this particular fjord – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – is like a nine-mile red carpet flung down by Nature to land precisely at the toes of a town regally framed by steep, snow-capped mountains.
Geirangerfjord, considered one of the best fjords in Norway (meaning the prettiest), is famously narrow and sheer with a tight bend, and is adorned with lacy waterfalls – each sporting a name and a fable. The most photographed is called “The Seven Sisters,” but to me the most compelling is directly across from that one: The Suitor. After being rejected by each of the seven sisters, the suitor turned to the bottle for comfort:
Supposedly, this is the rule of thumb: a fjord’s depth is typically the same as the height of the cliffs surrounding it. However, I think that’s a tale told to wide-eyed tourists. The Geirangerfjord’s tallest flanking mountain peaks at 5,575 feet (sometimes above the clouds), but its depth only reaches 1,970 feet.
Still, that’s deep enough to give the waters that vivid emerald-blue hue usually reserved for deep sea. Accented by white mountaintops and the shifting greens and grays of slopes illuminated between cloud breaks, it’s what makes up the million-dollar views from Geiranger and places like the vertiginous Flydalsjuvet lookout, seen in the introductory photos.
It is also deep enough for large cruise ships to traverse, which assumedly makes for crowds during the summer months (700,000 tourists visit this town of 300 permanent residents each year).
**Tip: Luckily, if you visit right after tourist season when the Norway weather is still nice, like we suggested in our overview of this itinerary, ships tend only to arrive midweek. On other days, you’ll be blessed with a ship-free view.
In winter, the only land route to Geiranger is often impassable. The other two routes include ferries, which leads to one of my favorite quotes from our Norway trip:
Ropes, avalanches, and frustrated tax collectors: about life on the fjord
At one time, there were over 100 farms dotting the Geirangerfjord. Their owners have been described as stubborn survivalists, who carved out their subsistence while perched precariously on cliffs.
This is the kind of place where you’ll want to buy a talkative local a beer, just to hear the tales – both true and tall – about the farms. (This is also the kind of place where you might still be considered a newcomer even after living here most of your life, so I use “local” in the loose sense.)
At one farm, the lady of the house gave birth to a whopping ten children (as if life weren’t already difficult enough). Another used ropes to lift and lower supplies (and livestock!), and rope ladders for access at certain times of the year. To avoid the tax collector, they would simply haul up the ropes. The precipice was so steep that children were also tied to ropes, to avoid them tumbling over the edge.
Unfortunately, these farmers suffered a number of natural disasters in the form of rock slides and avalanches – a harrowing scenario in any occasion, but doubly frightening, and unequivocally lethal, when the direction of these slides pushed the residents over such vertical drops, into such deep and icy waters.
Though now vacant, several farms still exist and can be visited by car or foot. Their renovation by the townspeople demonstrates not only the respect that modern-day residents have for the “stubborn survivalists,” but how Norwegians willingly sacrifice individual time and resources for the betterment of the community. I’ll talk more about that in upcoming posts.
Chocolate, cheese, and watersports: What to do in and around Geiranger
The entire country of Norway is an outdoors sporting mecca, so it’s not surprising that there’s plenty of ways to exercise on or above a fjord. Hiking trails abound, kayaking and river rafting beckon (adventure tour operators have a short season, so do your research before arriving), and skiing in front of one of the world’s best views is a snap. While we were there, a Norwegian bicycling magazine was charting a route along the Geiranger-Trollstigen National Tourist Road in this area, including its eleven hairpin turns and scaling elevations. Crazy-but-true.
As I’ve mentioned previously, the tourism offices throughout Norway really have their act together. The answer to anything you might want to know – from optimal views to lesser-known hiking spots to the best place for a local brew – is available with a smile. The local office facilitates a narrated, hour-long tourist cruise of the fjord (with a snack shop that serves hot waffles – yum) that is full of interesting tidbits about the farms and waterfalls.
Don’t leave town without eating at Brasserie Posten, a reconverted post office offering farm-to-table goodness. Before this foodie experience, I had no idea that potatoes could burst with such flavor … in fact, I had no idea that water could! What I’m trying to say is that their raw ingredients are phenomenal, and such care is put into the flavor pairings that every dish is exquisite. No, we didn’t try every dish, although it was tempting, but I would be surprised to be incorrect. Start with the salted cod soup paired with whichever regional microbrew they recommend, and you’ll see what I mean.
It’s also worth stopping into the gorgeously designed Fjordnaer Sjokolade for handmade chocolate confections flavored with olive oil and salt or the national staple of geitost, brown cheese, a sweet goats’ milk variety tasting something like dulce de leche, usually thinly sliced and served at breakfast. (Apparently this is what every Norwegian expat requests from their visiting relatives.) You can even visit the Herdalssetra Mountain Farm nearby to see how it’s made.
Just one word of caveat emptor about the nutrition-packed, lovingly prepared food and confections in this special country: they might lead you to feel unusually bold, and empowered to do something like this:
**Special thanks to Gwen at the Geiranger tourist office (Destinasjon Geirangerfjord) for invaluable suggestions and help planning this trip. It wouldn’t have been the same without you.
- If you flip Norway over, it reaches to Rome.
- According to @qualityhunters, Norway has about 25,000 kilometers of coastline, but if you unravel that, it stretches to about 100,000 kilometers. If it weren’t for the fjords and bays, the coastline would be 2532 kilometers.
- There are more Norwegian descendants living in the United States than there are Norwegians in Norway (until a couple years ago, I was one of them).