Anyone who knows me will tell you, I have a serious crush on Norway. I love the people, the landscapes, the food, and the towns. The Norwegian fjords are among the most famous nature-based attractions in the world and the Ålesund and Sunnmøre region of Norway has an abundance of them. On one of my globetrotting adventures, I experienced this little piece of Norway that is chock full of natural and cultural treasures.
Strolling through Ålesund’s Town Center
The Ålesund and Sunnmøre region of Norway is the gateway to the world famous Norwegian fjords. But the natural beauty of the area is only part of the story. The town of Ålesund is a cultural treasure with a tragic yet beautiful history.
On a winter’s night in 1904, Ålesund was devastated by fire leaving 10,000 people homeless and 850 homes in ashes. In a span of three years, the entire town rose from the ashes. Rebuilt in the Art Nouveau style that was prevalent throughout Europe at the time, the charming yellow, salmon, blue and rose buildings are ornamented with a myriad of turrets, spires, medieval ornaments and dragons earning Ålesund UNESCO World Heritage status. Recently voted the most beautiful town in Norway, Ålesund is an architectural art gallery. Strolling the colorful streets of the town center was one of my favorite experiences. Here are some of my other favorites.
Time Travel at the Art Nouveau Centre
Located in the former “”Swan Pharmacy” –one of Ålesund’s most characteristic Art Nouveau buildings – the Art Nouveau Centre (Jugendstilsenteret) is a trip back in time. Seriously, I stepped into the center’s time machine that shook and rumbled as it transported me back to 1904 for an up close look at the great fire of 1904.
The View from Above
The rugged coastline, deep fjords and high mountains in the Sunnmøre Alps are a hiker’s paradise. The terrain offers easy walks, challenging climbs and everything in between. There are even glacier hikes available year round.
Ålesund is one of only a few places in the world with hiking opportunities in the center of town. There are 418 steps leading up to Fjellstua at the top of Mount Aksla for an unforgettable panoramic view of Ålesund, the coast and the surrounding mountain and fjord landscape. But if hiking up 418 steps isn’t appealing, hitch a ride on the Town Train in the city center and ride up. Get up there whatever way you choose, but don’t miss this view.
Exploring History at the Sunnmøre Museum
The Sunnmøre Museum is a great experience for kids and adults and one I hope to share with my grandkids on a future visit. Wander through the open air museum to learn more about the cultural history of Norway. Historic wooden buildings with rooftops sprouting grass have been restored to show life as it was in years gone by. There is even a collection of historic Viking boats just begging for a sail. Every Wednesday during the summer, the museum hosts activity day for young and old alike with – among other things- potato cake grilling, boat building, learning to tie knots and more.
Hanging out with the Birds on a Wildlife Sea Safari
As pretty as the town is, venturing out is a must. Just a few hours after my arrival, I boarded a high speed RIB boat for a thrilling bumpy ride into the ocean. Our destination…Runde Island, population 150 humans and over 500,000 birds! The bird cliffs of Runde are the southernmost in Norway and have the widest variety of sea bird species in all of Scandinavia. Every nook of the craggy cliffs is teeming with life as colonies of great skuas, gannets and shags scramble for their nesting zones. About 100,000 pairs of puffins nest on Runde from February to August. Puffins are better swimmers than flyers and we found a flock of them splashing about in the waters as we drifted past. Runde Island isn’t only known for its massive bird population. In 1725 the Dutch ship “Akerendam” shipwrecked on the island spilling gold coins creating a “Treasure Island.”
Climbing the Artfully Decorated Alnes Lighthouse
Plenty of islands have lighthouses, but the fishing village of Alnes has a lighthouse that doubles as an art gallery displaying around 100 watercolors by Norway’s famous artist, Ørnulf Opdahl – who just happens to be a personal friend of the Queen of Norway. The top of the lighthouse yields even more magnificent views of the surrounding region. When you finish your climb and art browsing, stop by the former lighthouse keeper’s residence where young women from the village carry on the age old tradition of baking homemade cakes for guests. Don’t be surprised if the Queen makes an appearance – it happens.
Treasures to be Shared
As of yet I haven’t traveled to Norway with the grandkids in tow, but as they get a bit older, I hope to introduce them to this country that has stolen their Gigi TerBear’s heart!