I basically haven't stopped raving about how beautiful the Norwegian countryside is since I first moved to Bergen, but I have been holding out on you - I haven't yet shared one of my favorite places in the country with you which also happens, at least in my humble opinion, to be the most beautiful fjord in Norway: The Hardangerfjord!
While I had stopped by the Hardangerfjord once on a road trip in the beginning of my stay in Norway, it wasn't until my very last week in the country that I finally made the trek there again. And despite the fact that I still had way too many pages to read for my upcoming exams, it was one of those perfect days that leave you so obnoxiously happy that you cannot help, but go to the bed with the biggest grin on your face. I really couldn't have chosen a better place to say goodbye to Norway!
We went on a Fjord Cruise with Norled, the company that seems to operate pretty much every single ferry that I have ever been on in Norway. While the company does advertise sightseeing tours and operates the boats for Norway in a Nutshell, their main purpose is still to provide public transportation along the Norwegian coast which makes it a good fit for those of us that are a little bit allergic to tours.
The Hardangerfjord Cruise starts in the little town of Norheimsund that is located about 90 minutes away from Bergen by car, but you could easily take the bus if you don't want to drive yourself. Tickets for the tour are available online (and luckily hefty discounts apply for children, seniors and students!), but at least when we went, we were also easily able to pay for the bus and the ferry as we went along.
Rationally speaking, I probably shouldn't consider the Hardangerfjord to be my favorite fjord in Norway. The fjord is not quite as mysterious as the Nærøyfjord and neither are the mountains quite as steep as at the Geirangerfjord. But the Hardangerfjord did have one thing that the other fjords - at least at certain times of the day - seemed to be lacking and that was a certain sense of peacefulness. You are able to drive along large sections of the fjord and there are plenty of little villages strewn along the shore, but somehow the Hardangerfjord still made me feel so much more connected to nature than many other places in Norway did.
That is not to say that the other fjords were not impressive or not very much worth a visit as well - we're really talking in superlatives here - but there was just something about the Hardangerfjord that touched me especially deeply and I blame it on the lack of crowds: While the Hardangerfjord is certainly no secret, off-the-beaten path location, it just isn't quite as busy as certain other places. (I'm looking at you, Nærøyfjord!)
Granted, it helped that it was an absolutely gorgeous day. Don't be fooled by many of the pictures on my blog: Sunshine is the exception, rather than the rule, at least when it comes to life in Bergen which happens to be one of the rainiest places in Europe! But with a perfectly blue sky and the sun shining so brightly that the water of the fjord sparkled, Norway showed itself from its very best side.
As we cruised along the fjord, we passed many idyllic orchards and while they unfortunately were not in bloom anymore, it was easy to understand why the Hardangerfjord has attracted so many people, especially artists, to its shores in its time. Who could not be inspired by such natural beauty?
After a few hours, we reached the tiny town of Eidfjord at the very end of the Hardangerfjord. And since it wouldn't be a proper Norwegian fjord without a cruise ship present, we were met with the sight of one of those large ocean liner that - compared to the grand dimensions of the mountains - almost looked small. We had a few hours to spend on port and so we picked up a map at the small tourist office and set off to explore the area a little bit.
We quickly settled on a short, leisurely hike that would take us to some of the points of interests in the area, without being too time-consuming or hard. The view of the fjord with its deep blue water and majestic snow-capped mountains was so serene that it convinced me once again that I'm really a country girl at heart. I had to pinch myself to remember that I wasn't dreaming of a mythical land far, far way, but visiting a place that was very much real. And as if I wasn't feeling elated enough already, coming across a small flock of Scottish High Land Cows - just some of my favorite animals ever - just did me in completely.
We found a glacier lake eventually and just relaxed by its shores, enjoying the sun, walking into the water to cool down and reading, before we noted the time and slowly started to head back along a river that was tumbling with whitewater. The ferry took the same way back to Norheimsund, but I finally conceded that I should probably get some work done already and so I spent some time reading my Legal Philosophy textbook - well, there could definitely be worse places to study! It had been a truly magical day that definitely made the thought of leaving Norway again extra hard, but also left me feeling grateful for all the experiences - good and bad - that I had been able to make while studying abroad in Bergen.
What's the most beautiful place that you have ever been to? And, Norwegians, what is your favorite fjord?