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On her first visit to Europe’s northernmost country, Val Reynolds Brown discovers a healthier more natural lifestyle.  When tied into modern day living with all its speed and proximity to other people, it is easy to forget or be unaware of a more natural way of living, of being more in...

Revitalising Norway

On her first visit to Europe’s northernmost country, Val Reynolds Brown discovers a healthier more natural lifestyle. 

When tied into modern day living with all its speed and proximity to other people, it is easy to forget or be unaware of a more natural way of living, of being more in touch with our planet.

This contrast was brought sharply into focus on my short trip to Nordfjord in West Norway. I revelled in the fresh clear air, amazing scenery and the ease of accessing outdoor life activities. My brief stay pushed work pressures to the back of my mind, restored my equilibrium and my spirits. I felt refreshed and revitalised with a deep desire to return to experience more of what Norway has to offer.

Nordfjord’s outdoor activities include hiking in the mountains, kayaking in the fjords, mountain walks, mountain biking, climbing, abseiling, paragliding, downhill, cross country skiing and all manner of other activities directly connected to hills, mountains and fjords. It’s a beautiful country to be active in and you are free to roam everywhere without restriction! Campsites are well organised and plentiful. I soon realised my four day stay was far too short to do justice to what was on offer. 

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 long walk over the very rocky moraine up to the edge of the glacier – which took about 2 hours – we walked on 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 really 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 glacier immediately from the car park! Guided glacier trips are suitable for all levels of fitness and can be easily arranged, the age limit is 12 years.

Our trip to the Bødal glacier turned out to be a 15 kilometre round trip. After slogging back over the rocky terrain we sank thankfully into our seats on the minibus that whisked us back to the Alexandra Hotel in Loen. 

The Alexandra was built and has been run by the same family since 1884 and has benefited from a number of improvements in the intervening years. The most recent – and so welcome after our walk – was the bath and spa centre, comprising three swimming pools including an outdoor pool linked to an indoor one, whirlpools, a heated spa pool with five sets of massage jets, Finnish saunas, Turkish steam rooms, and wellbeing 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. 

We visited Norway in the quiet week after the schools reopened following the summer recess and as it was mid-week, hadn’t pre-booked our spa treatments. At weekends, booking is essential, as the hotel and spa are always busy and the spa’s treatments are fully booked every weekend of the year. Spa packages are for a minimum of two and three nights and very popular with honeymooners, mother and daughters, celebrating groups for example. The spa’s philosophy is to offer something for everyone, young and old, so they can relax in their own way, whether with a restorative treatment at the end of an energetic day, or perhaps by spending the 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 1,848 metre high edifice is a popular sport and culminates in a competitive event in early spring. We only managed to reach 900 metres, walking slowly, with just one of the group going on to about 1,200 metres. You can even spend the night in the tower at the top for free – as a member of Den Norske Turistforening – which is open to anyone. Not being super fit, my calves and knees were somewhat stiff after my exertions and a dip in the hotel spa pool was needed to help ease the pain. The Alexandra also offers a Skala treatment that includes a body peel, back and neck massage, a footbath and foot massage. Other treatments are available but are not itemised on the website, so email the hotel for further information.

Long before tarmac roads were built, postal roads were created throughout Norway by Royal decree – the Bergen to Trondheim route was opened in 1785. With a distance of 700 kilometres, it took horses nine or ten days to complete the journey from start to finish. Every year in June, enthusiasts tackle the spectacular route with ferries specially organised to ensure walkers and cyclists complete the gruelling trip. On one gloriously sunny day of my visit, mountain guide Olav showed me several sections of the route. As I struggled and puffed up some very steep inclines, I felt sorry for all those horses in the past, having to work so hard to carry their riders and supplies.

I managed to book a facial that evening at the Alexandra, much needed after a very 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. A thoroughly enjoyable experience leaving my skin feeling soothed and relaxed.

The bath and spa area has its own cafe where salads and light meals and refreshments are available throughout the day. Our buffet meals at the Alexandra were all first rate. The evening menu included hot and cold dishes, and lots to choose from on the dessert table, including different flavours of delicious ice cream! An à la carte menu was also available. 

Our next port of call was Selje, a small town close to Vestkapp, Norway’s most westerly point and a two-hour drive from Loen. The Selje Hotel is a charming 49-roomed hotel of wood and stone situated on the edge of the inlet with a wonderful sandy beach that we could access immediately from our ground floor rooms … bliss. 

The hotel spa at specialises in thalassotherapy, spa treatments using seawater, medicinal mud, algae, sand and other substances from the sea. With the sand, sea air, coastal climate, views, sea birds and light, the surrounding environment is perfect for this marine therapy. Several treatments are offered and you can book a three or six day stay that includes thalassotherapy and is suitable for both men and women. The spa aims to provide a peaceful sanctuary where you can thoroughly de-stress – not only with wellness treatments but also with support from personal trainers and if desired, psychologists, to help you re-energise ready to go back to work. The hotel is generally fully booked June, July and August, so an early reservation is advised. The majority of guests are women on their own. 

My two-hour spa session was so welcome! I was able to calm down and relax into the experience. It was a long process, starting with an extended soak in the salty water with jets playing on all the important areas – back, neck, legs, 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 followed – wrapped up in a warm blanket. Then I was covered all over in thick mineralised mud, wrapped in polythene, enclosed in a thicker plastic covered blanket and left for 30 minutes for the chemicals to work their magic. 

Once showered off I had yet another rest followed by a full body massage. The masseuse was excellent, her thumbs finding all the areas that needed some work. I felt so much better afterwards, my 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. They could have taken the Pilgrim route north by bike, or walked.

We had an early start the next day, the ferry left for Bergen at 6.30 am, so I missed a swim in the sea. The journey took five hours and gave a fascinating glimpse into the numerous small villages that populate the wiggly coastline.

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 Mount Ulriken, a nearby mountain with cable car access. Here, we regained the peacefulness we had come to expect from Norway. We lunched with the organiser of some interesting and energetic activities in the area, including climbing, abseiling, archery and hiking with GPS visit ( for further details).

Bergen’s fish market was the 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 local specialty, multer – cloudberries. While Bergen is obviously a tourist centre, it doesn’t feel touristy and was more cosmopolitan and interesting than I expected. If you only had a few days’ to spare, a trip to Bergen alone could provide a taster of all you might want, both culturally and activity-wise. The city is easily reached from Newcastle, Edinburgh and Aberdeen with low price flights available. From London you can fly from Heathrow or Gatwick. 

Now I’m back home, going through my notes and reading the literature, I’m really eager to visit Nordfjord again … very, very soon! We want to explore on our bikes and will be planning our trip using, which has a huge amount of information on what’s available. If you are interested in hiking in Norway, joining the Norwegian Trekking Association visit would be a good move, as it gives you free access to the hundreds of huts on the hiking routes throughout Norway and beyond. 

Val’s Travel ItineraryWe flew with SAS from Heathrow to Oslo and returned from Bergen to Gatwick From Oslo we flew to Sandane and then minibus to Hotel Alexandra in Loen From Loen we took a minibus to Selje where we stayed at the Selje Hotel We took the ferry from Selje to Bergen with Fjord1 Mountain guide Olav’s website is www.fjordguides.noFor maps and further info on Norway

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