Norways’ fjords are the stuff of legends, with steep mountains diving deep in to crystal-clear glacial blue and green waters, waterfalls plummeting from snowcapped summits even in summer, when days are almost eternal – 23 hours of light.
The best way to explore Norway’s fjords is by water – there are frequent ferries, both high speed and more leisure passages too, or Norwegian cruise ships but then you are with the throngs of tourists. We decided a sailing charter would be the best way to get up close and personal with the fjords and Norway’s amazing west coast archipelago of islands and picturesque harbors. Chartering a yacht in Norway requires gusto, serious sailing experience, research, and preparedness for all kinds of wind and weather. You need to be like a Viking essentially.
Nautic Charters provided our charter of a 40’ Jeanneau out of the Marina in Hjellestad, just a 20-minute cab ride from Bergen airport. An hour’s orientation on our well-equipped vessel and we set for the seas, having plotted our charts, Navionics app and GPS toward Hardanger Fjord. During an unseasonably cold damp June, we were delighted that the rain held off and the sun even glimpsed out as we plied the waters toward Rosendal.
Watching for passing showers, and even faster passing ferry boats, our passage was five-hours surrounded by steep lush mountains, crashing waterfalls, lighthouses and fish farms, gliding under a few bridge spans. Our sailboat “Vivace” proved trusty worthy and true. We raised the jib and motor-sailed through calm then rough white capped waters, high winds to no breeze whatsoever.
Sailing into the beautiful valley of Rosendal, the wind whipped up and rain beat us sideways, but we found the village docks and managed to bring our big boat to an inside slip, with help from a friendly Netherland sailor who quickly helped secured our lines – warning us of the big gusts at night at this mooring.
Fires blazed on shore, so we explored the village at 9pm, still broad day light. The local Norwegians were celebrating June 24 – the end of summer – just days after summer solstice. This tradition marks the end of Norway’s longest days – as you now only have 23 hours of daylight – approaching those long dark winter nights. Food, music, and toasts were shared around bonfires, a rustic party – so Norwegian. Our first night aboard Vivace the wind howled and rain poured, our dock lines squeaked and pulled but we slept cozily under fluffy down duvets.
Our full day in Rosendal we strolled the town, popped into the modern Visitors Center (for a pop of WiFi), then hiked up to the Baronial Rosendal – a beautiful 1660 palace with gorgeous gardens and fantastic views of the fjord and waterfalls. The palace tour is lovely, we’d love to be here for a summer concert in the courtyard. On our walk back we skipped the Stone Garden – wet rocks in the rain.
For lunch at the Rosendal Fjordhotel –we savored wickedly delicious fish soup was full of mussels, scallops, lobster, salmon and cod… oh my god good, with a harbor view from the elegant dining room.
We cast off Rosendal’s dock in morning sun heading to Norheimslund, further up the Hardangerfjord. A beautiful sail brought us into this protected harbor, lined with antique boats and a grand waterfront hotel. Norwegian girls on the wharf sold fresh waffles, more like crepes, with local jam.
Exploring the waterfalls of Steinsdalsfossen, a nice Norwegian couple offered us a ride when we asked for directions. Steinsdalsfossen is a spectacular waterfall, projecting tons of water out from a cliff, plummeting down hundreds of feet. You can actually walk under the fall – a most wild, wet and loud sensation.
Our dinner at Norheimslund, we dined on salmon, shrimp and mussels at the historic and gracious Sandven Hotel with a perfect view of our yacht.
Off the dock by 7am we headed to ski, that’s right – we could see the Foglefonna glacier shimmering white in sunlight across the bay and we needed to catch the ski bus in Jondal at 9:50am. Jondal is a delightful harbor, quiet except for the quick ferry in and out. We were docked, lines secured and dressed to ski (in summer) in plenty of time to visit the 1888 church during organ practice before catching the ski bus.
The 16-km bus ride to Fonna Glacier ski resort is amazing itself, you climb from the sea up 3,500 vertical feet, past waterfalls, charging rivers, lush green farms to grand boulders balancing on pinkish granite plains. Fonna’s one lane road with hairpins at every turn is closed in winter, too treacherous with 30+ feet of snow pack. Fonna Ski Resort is only open mid-June to mid-August – for the best glacier skiing and to allow the town of Jondal to share the same bus (quite luxurious) that the school kids ride September to June.
After a long twisting incredibly scenic ride, we were efficiently outfitted with rental equipment and lift tickets from Fonna’s humble chalet. The second modest lodge here serves as a day lodge, with homecooked food. It was a perfect blue-sky ski day and Fonna was packed with race teams from all over Scandinavia and Eastern Europe.
Riding Fonna’s only T-bar we found the alpine racers were relegated to one big trail, while park skiers hit the terrain park, leaving the other 4 ski routes on the wide open glacial plateau to us.
The views from atop Fonna Glacier are spectacular, the monstrous glacier – the northern most of four in Foglefonna National Park, was wide open and covered with sparkling fresh snow. Dropping thousands of feet to the east, we could see the fjord we sailed that morning – strikingly blue in contrast to the winter wonderland glacier. For non-skiers, guided glacier tours depart from Fonna’s base lodge as well. We were delighted by the excellent winter-like conditions, despite the sunny summer temperatures… after all it was June. Sunscreen was a must, as we skied 14 laps on the T-Bar stopping for an outdoor picnic of Norwegian cheese and fruit. The only bus back is 3:50pm, one trip a day, and the descent was as jaw-dropping as the approach. We were back to our boat in Jondal harbor by 4:30 to see local kids launching off the ferry ramp in to the icy cold fjord for a “refreshing” swim on this summer ski day.
Sailing wing on wing down Hardanger Fjord, with an unusual northerly wind pushing us we began our return to voyage toward Bergen. A long splendid sail, down just a fraction of Hardanger’s 68-mile fjord, entertained us with more waterfalls, soaring mountains, views of the glacier we skied the day prior, birds, porpoise, fish farms and colorful fish houses that cling to the otherwise green and granite shores.
Following a Pirate Ship to Bekkjarvik, after a brief swelly passage across the North Sea, we docked in the well-protected harbor on Selbjorn Island.
Bekkjarvik is a mix of modern docks, condos and a shopping mall with a more historic waterfront with quaint cafes. The Bekkjarvik Gjestgivieri is a highlight, formerly a barrel factory this hotel has a great bar and extraordinary dining with Norway’s top chefs twin brothers Ørjan & Arnt Johannessen. That night was a special treat for us as crew.
Our final two days of sailing brought glorious sun and good wind, my Captain had another treat in store … docking at the swank Panorama Hotell on Steinsland – a beautiful modern resort and quiet docks – just an hour’s sail away from our marina the next day. After sailing, we enjoyed stretching our sea legs on a long hike around the peaceful island, followed by a luxurious hot tub on Panorama’s rooftop with a panorama – just as the name promises. Next morning, we rented bikes to explore more of this outlying island near Bergen, (sail, ski, kayak, hike, bike). Lupine filled hills and bridges brought us a spectacular vantage looking west to the North Sea, and east to the gorgeous Fonna glacier in the distance. Our Norway weather had progressed from cold and wet to warm and summertime sunny, so it was time to swim in the fjord as our grand finale.
We sailed (reluctantly) back to Hjellstad on a swift close haul, 8 knots. At the docks, Nautic Charter’s Fridtjov greeted us warmly. A quick inspection that we’d returned Vivace in perfect order, and we toasted to a most epic sailing adventure in Norway. We highly recommend setting sail with Nautic Charter.
To charter your own sailboat in Norway, you should have sailing experience, courage, strong knowledge of Norwegian charts and a voyage plan… and bring plenty of Kroners (or credit cards) and warm clothing. See our Top 10 Tips on traveling to Norway, and two Norwegian warnings.