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If any one feature defines Norway for most visitors, it is a fjord, the mighty inlets from the sea that stretch deep into the heart of the countryside. Carved by the action of ice and sea, the fjords have a majestic, impressive quality of their own, from the mountains rising above them reflecting their snowy caps in the dark waters, to the sheer cliffs either side, that both protect and slightly intimidate at the same time.
The best way to see the fjords by far is by boat, either a ferry or a coastal cruise that will take you from the coastal sea cliffs into the relative clam of the inland ends, green and dotted with flowers in spring, while the mountains still refuse to take of their snowy capes just yet.
Waterfalls tumble from the mountains above to fall as white cascades into the fjord below, creating rainbow refractions in the sunshine. Immaculate ferries, as white as any seaman's uniform, make their sedate way along the dark inlets, their decks resounding with the clicks of a thousand camera shutters. Small fishing boats bob in impossibly pretty safe harbours made from stone while the fjord-side homes remind you that summers here can be idyllic.
Perhaps the most famous fjord of them all is the Geirangerfjord, not the biggest, not the longest, but thanks to its snaking shape and gorge-high walls above a narrow strip of water, probably the most photographed. South of the Jostedalsbreen glacier that separate this fjord from its southern counterparts lies the Nordfjord, and its parallel cousin the biggest of them all, the Sognesfjord. Along its shores, pretty village bask in available sunshine. The Hardanferfjord is closest to Bergen, but many prefer to take the enchanting Flåmsbana mountain railway down to the Aurlandsfjord, which joins the mighty Sognefjord.
There are plenty of opportunities to, quite literally, paddle your own canoe along the fjords, Only when you have left the noise, diesel and crowds of a ferry or cruise ship behind do you realise just how monumental these fjords are. Below you is water so deep that while not actually bottomless, you certainly can hide a few submarines down there and not even notice. Forest rise from the water's edge and spread over the valleys, like so many soldiers guarding the ancient landscape. In between, in spring, green fields stand out like lurid patchworks, a moment of flatness in a normally vertiginous world.
If you get the chance for a moment's stillness and quiet, take it relish it, let your paddles rest and drift in this timeless space. Then, moor the boat and walk or hike, to fully appreciate the sheer scale of this area. If that doesn't make you feel like a mere dot in the face of creation, nothing will.
© 2009 Kirsty Young
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