Often the most magical places are a little tricky to reach. But if you make that extra connection, wind a little deeper into lesser-known terrain, the rewards can be significant: the feeling of discovery, a comforting dose of tranquility, and in the case of Fjærland, more books and pine trees that people – and the people are mighty nice.
Fjærland is a village in the Norwegian fjords, and this particular fjord is called the Sognefjord. It can be reached by two ferries from Bergen (or a long bus from Oslo, which was our onward journey – there is a big, modern info centre down at Bergen Harbour which will point you there and sell tickets). This charming town is a drawcard for two reasons – one is that it is the gateway to the vast Jostedalsbreen glacier – the largest glacier in continental Europe that spans a staggering 487 square kilometers! The arm that people come to see is called Bøyabreen. The other, which had my heart aflutter and was my main purpose for the visit, is that it is Norway’s official book town! Being a literature lover from way back (I worked in book stores for years and started my career in book publishing), the thought of books colliding with nature, fjords, a little village, well, there’s not much more to say really.
STAY: Fjærland Fjordstove Hotel
This is one of my favourite hotels I’ve ever stayed in. In Norway. In the World. Period.
I was lured there (pictured below – the above is Hotel Mundal – also gorgeous) when I was searching for hotels to stay at in Scandinavia and stumbled on this book room and I almost died. I mean, my own bedroom has a mountain of books in it, but this was different. It was in the fjords of Norway! It was such a divine experience that it deserves its own post, which is coming soon so hang in there! In the meantime, you can check it out (and I know you’ll consider booking!) on their suitably beautiful website.
Legit Book town
So, a book town – what does that even meeeaan!? Essentially, this very brilliant initiative was thought up by the founder of Wales’ Hay on Wye annual book festival, Richard Booth. I’ve never met him, but he sounds pretty rad. More than twenty such towns exist in the world, in far flung locales (OK, there’s quite a few in Europe) like Spain, Malaysia, the Netherlands, South Korea and even one in Clunes, Vicitoria, here in Aus. These villages have a high concentration of second-hand or antiquarian bookstores, and by becoming a little reading nook within the country, they help attracted tourism to otherwise quiet destinations.
In the case of Fjærland, this translates to 10 second-hand bookstores in a town that has just under 300 inhabitants. Most of them stand silent and unattended, so you creep through on the floorboards, browsing spines of titles from local folk tales to mass-market fiction, to bizarre, outdated craft books that border on the creepy. It’s glorious! Many operate on an honesty system, including a bookstore in an old, slanting bus stop complete with moss dripping from the roof, and a garage-conversion in a local’s driveway.
The first bookstore you are likely to discover is the Kaffistova Book-cafe, which is right where the ferry drops you off as you enter town. It also served a homely selection of soups and cakes, cheese toasties and coffee and the service is friendly like you would expect from a small little village.
Another place to grab a bite and have a mooch is Hotel Mundal, which was build in 1891 and is run by the original family that founded it. I adored the fading maps and old photographs of Fjærland and it’s people from times past. The hotel has 35 rooms and the restaurant serves dinner here at 6:30pm each evening. We arrived here famished after a hike and made a bee-line for Kafe Mikkel, that serves sandwiches and tea. Each were delicious to our rumbling tummies!
Eager to meet the mouth of Europe’s largest glacier, we caught one of the two daily glacier bus services. For 132 NOK (or around AUD $21), it weaves you up to the Glacier Museum, and then on to Bøyabreen, an arm (Ok, not mouth) of the mighty Jostedalsbreen glacier. The Museum is an unexpectedly modern structure, which shows a (kinda hilarious) film of the glacier, and has lots of interactive exhibits that explain some of the science behind it. A guide then takes you on to a couple of different outposts to see the real thing.
It’s immense. At a distance, especially in photos, it appears small, but these towering chunks of ice are nothing short of massive. The part that is most mindbending is that it continues on for 487 square kilometres. For dayssss, basically.
Bard (pronounced bored), the wonderful owner of our hotel, recommended an ‘easy’ hike nearby, which he does most mornings. I can even see him in my mind, running up there effortlessly. So, we set off with a small bottle of water each and no food quite late in the day, and started to climb a fjord mountain – like idiots.
Don’t get me wrong, it was beautiful and #noregrets. Weaving up into valleys among wildflowers, past an old hikers hut, with some epic fjord views at the peak – as well as a tin containing a well-wishing note and a cigar that delighted Phil – but we were annoyed at ourselves, because the golden rule of hiking is to go prepared. It took us a lot longer than we expected and we hadn’t even really eaten lunch. We also had to ration water as it was a lot steeper in parts than anticipated, and the weather was moving its clouds through the fjords, which was not only blocking some of the views, but it made us a bit nervous given our aforementioned lack of planning. We only saw two girls the whole time, who were descending past the hut, because they too came up in a state of ill-considered spontaneity. So, be smart when you hike folks, and know that Bard is fitter than you! Ha, OK, maybe not you, but us. I would love to return and do more hikes in the area though.
We spent two nights in Fjærland, this quiet realm of kayaks and antiquarian novels, sleeping in a white, picket fence hotel on the shore.
Next time I take the book room.
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Take a listen to my Scandinavia special of Wanderlust on Bondi Beach Radio, featuring an interview with Bard from the Fjærland Fjordstove Hotel!