Revitalizing – Norwegian-style
In this scenic part of Norway, activities include hiking in the mountains, kayaking in the fjords, mountain walking, mountain biking, climbing, abseiling, paragliding, downhill and cross country skiing and all manner of other activities directly connected to hills, mountains and fjords. It’s certainly a beautiful country to be active in and you are free to roam everywhere with no restrictions! Campsites are well organized and plentiful. I soon realized my four-day stay was far too short to do justice to what was on offer.
Norway has lots to offer anyone looking to enjoy the outdoor life. British guest correspondent Val Reynolds Brown went west to visit Nordfjord to experience what most Norwegians regard as essentials for good health and well-being – strenuous activity followed by relaxation in a modern spa.
A guided walk on the Bødal glacier was our first adventure. We set off from an alpine dairy farm after donning safety helmets, harnesses and ropes and carrying our crampons and heavy-duty gloves on our backpacks. After a 2-hour walk over the rocky moraine up to the edge of the glacier, we walked onto the icy surface with its curious blue highlights. Even with the help of our qualified guide ascending vertical surfaces using the toe spikes of the crampons was terrifying but achievable. The chances of falling into one of the large round holes called moulins were minimal but added a frisson of fear and kept us on our toes! Once back on rocky terra firma we were excited to have completed this scary but exhilarating and unforgettable experience. Not all glaciers have such an arduous approach; some are accessed by road and you can even get onto one directly from the car park! Guided glacier trips are easy to arrange and suitable for all levels of fitness from the age of 12 years.
Our round trip was just over nine miles, and after slogging back over the rocky terrain, we sank thankfully into the minibus that whisked us back to the Alexandra Hotel in Loen.
Alexander Spa Bath
The Alexandra was built and been run by the same family since 1884, with just a few changes over the years. The most recent, and so welcome after our walk, was the bath and spa center with three swimming pools. One pool is outside and linked to an indoor pool, and there are also whirlpools, a heated spa pool with 5 sets of massage jets, Finnish saunas, Turkish steam rooms and treatment rooms.
A massage was called for after that energetic walk, and it was excellent, neither too firm nor too soft. The treatment room was large and airy with tasteful decor, first class equipment and unobtrusive background music. The Alexandra also offers a Skala treatment that includes a body peel, back and neck massage, a footbath and foot massage. Other treatments on offer are not itemized on their website but you can contact them by email for further information.
We visited Norway during the week the schools reopened after the summer recess, so it hadn’t been necessary to pre-book treatments. However booking is essential at weekends as spa treatments are greatly sought after by weekenders, and the spa fully booked every single weekend of the year. Spa packages are for a minimum of two and three nights and popular with honeymooners, mothers and daughters, and celebrating friends and family groups. The spa’s philosophy is to offer something for everyone, young and old, that they will enjoy in their own way, whether it’s a restorative treatment at the end of an energetic day, or even a whole day in the spa. The hotel gym is available to everyone
Our second adventure was to Skala, the highest mountain in Northern Europe. Running up this 6,000 feet high edifice is a popular sport and culminates in a competitive event in early spring. We only managed to reach halfway, walking slowly, with just one of the group going on to about 4,000 feet. It’s even possible to spend the night in the tower at the top for free – as a member of Den Norske Turistforening (The Norwegian Tracking Association) that anyone can join. Not being super fit, our calves and knees were somewhat stiff, and trips to the hotel spa pool on our return were necessary to help ease the pain.
Long before tarmac roads were built, postal roads were created throughout Norway by Royal decree – one, the Bergen to Trondheim route opened in 1785. Over 400 miles long, it took 9-10 days on horses to complete the journey from start to finish. In June each year, enthusiasts tackle the spectacular route with ferries specially organized to ensure walkers and cyclists can complete the grueling route. On a glorious sunny day, guide Olav ( www.fjordguides.no) took me to see several sections of the route. As I struggled and puffed up some very steep inclines I felt sorry for the horses that worked so hard in the past, carrying their riders and supplies.
Trekking on the glacier View from my room at the Selje Hotel
Trekking on the glacier
View from my room at the Selje Hotel
That evening, I managed to book a facial at the Alexandra, much needed after a windy and sunny day, when my skin was desperate for some loving care and attention. The treatment was tailored to suit my skin type using Thalgo products–and was a thoroughly enjoyable experience that left my skin feeling soothed and relaxed.
The bath and spa area had its own cafe where salads and light meals and refreshments were available throughout the day. The buffet meals at the Alexandra were first rate. The evening menu included hot and cold dishes, and lots of desserts, including different flavors of fab ice cream. An a la carte menu was also available.
Our next stop was Selje, a small town on Vestkapp, the most westerly point in Norway and a two-hour drive from Loen. The Selje Hotel is a charming hotel built of wood and stone with 49 rooms. It stands on the edge of the inlet with a wonderful sandy beach that we could access immediately from our ground floor rooms … bliss.
We took a trip out to a small, local island that had been the refuge of an Irish princess Sunniva in the 10th century. She was later made a saint, and the island has been a pilgrimage site since.
The spa at Selje Hotel specializes in thalassotherapy, a treatment using seawater, medicinal mud, algae, sand, and other substances from the sea. With the sand, sea air, coastal climate, view, sea birds and light it is perfect for marine therapies. They offer several treatments and you can book a three or six-day stay, which includes thalassic treatments suitable for both men and women. The philosophy of the spa is to provide a place to unwind and de-stress – to provide treatments and support from personal trainers, and if desired psychologists, to help you re-energize ready to go back to work. The spa is usually full in June, July and August, so it’s important to book as early as possible. The majority of guests are women on their own.
My two-hour session was so welcome, I was able to calm down and relax into the experience. The long process started with an extended soak in the salty water with jets playing on all the important areas – back, neck, legs, and arms. This was followed by a rest before a water jet session. The jet is sprayed on the body by a therapist who tells you how to stand so she can direct the jet onto the appropriate muscles. Another rest, wrapped up in a warm blanket, follows this. The next phase of the treatment was on a couch; mineralized mud was smoothed all over me. I was then wrapped in polythene and enclosed in a thicker plastic covered blanket and left for about 30 minutes for the minerals to work their magic.
Once showered off, I had another rest followed by a full body massage. The masseuse was excellent, her thumbs finding all the areas that needed work. I felt so much better after the treatment, aches and pains had faded away, and after my meal I went to bed and slept like a baby.
Others in the group swam in the sea and walked on the beautiful sandy beach.
We had a very early start the next day. The ferry left for Bergen at 6.30am so I had to miss a swim in the sea. The journey took five hours and gave a fascinating glimpse into the numerous small villages that populate the wiggly coast.
After the peace of the sea and mountains, Bergen felt busy, with tourists and inhabitants swarming around us when we disembarked. We had a meal booked at a restaurant at the top of a nearby mountain, Mount Ulriken, with cable car access, and we regained the peacefulness we had come to expect from Norway.
Bergen’s fish market was a place to buy tasty and relatively cheap eats. Most of the tables had the same sets of sandwiches, ranging from cold and hot smoked fish to crab and shrimp on delicious rolls. Preserves of all kinds of berries were on sale including the specialty multer cloudberries. While obviously a tourist centre, Bergen doesn’t feel touristy and was more cosmopolitan and interesting than I had expected. If you only have a few days to spare, the city is worth a trip on its own as it provides a taste of Norwegian culture and outdoor life. From London you can fly from Heathrow or Gatwick and it is also easy to access from Newcastle, Edinburgh and Aberdeen with low price flights available.
If you go:
We flew with SAS from Heathrow to Oslo www.flysas.com
From Oslo we flew to Sandane and then minibus to Hotel Alexandra in Loen www.alexandra.no
From Loen we took a minibus to Selje where we stayed at the Selje Hotel www.seljehotel.no
We took the ferry from Selje to Bergen with Fjord1 www.fjord1.no
and returned to the UK with SAS from Bergen to Gatwick www.flysas.com
Other useful sites when planning a trip to Norway include:
www.fjordnorway.com/no/ and you are interested in hiking, joining the Norwegian Trekking Association www.turistforeningen.no/english/ would be a good move, as it gives you free access to the hundreds of huts on the hiking routes throughout Norway and beyond.
For information on Nordfjord and Bergen see www.fjordnorway.com/no/