Ålesund and Geiranger, Norway

We had a weekend in Norway and visited a few of Norway’s most beautiful sights: Geirangerfjord, Trollstigen, Dalsnibba, and the Gamle Strynefjellsvegen

We flew into Alesund Vigra airport, which was easy and quick from Oslo. There are also direct flights from Amsterdam and Bergen. We got nice Toyota rental car from Hertz (also quick) and headed toward town, starting with a stop at the Rema 1000 grocery store. We knew we needed to stock up on snacks for the drives!

We needed to visit Aheim on the way, so we headed south to Ulstein and checked in at the Quality Hotel. There we were introduced to the Norwegian idea of a ‘King’ bed – two single beds pushed together, each with their own duvet. Interesting. Ulstein is a very small town, so we had a choice between the hotel restaurant, a hole-in-the-wall Italian place called Mama Mia, or Willy’s, a sushi-pizza place with an outdoor deck. We opted for Willy’s, and got burgers, pizza, and sushi, friendly service and a great deck. We did enjoy the sun setting behind the ridge and the nice evening.

The next day (after our stop in Aheim) we drove the Gamle Strynefjellsvegen, which is the old road from Videseter to Grotli. If you drive straight from Alesund to Videseter, it’s about 3 hours, but a good stop along the way is Stryn. We had a nice lunch there at Stryn Vertshus Cafe, where we had salad and pizza.

We had mapped Videseter as a stop, and then Grotli as the destination, but as we were heading along the river we realized that it had routed us on the new road, not the old road – we would have missed it! Fortunately we saw the turn off in time, and started up the winding road. You can easily see it on the map just south of the main road (15), but don’t make the mistake we did!

The road winds up switchbacks along the river, offering glimpses of beautiful cascades and waterfalls. The valley begins to level out, with a profusion of colors along the meadow floor. The mountains rise steeply on either side, providing a stunning backdrop. There are plenty of places to pull off and stop for an incredible picture.

At the top is the Stryn Summer Ski, which in September is an empty building and a lonely ski lift. The lake is spectacular, though, and you can see the Tystigbreen glacier and other snow fields in many of the high valleys. On our way down we stopped at a hiking trail that supposedly leads to a couple of WWII planes that crashed during the war. We ventured as far as the swaying cable bridge, but we didn’t go find the planes.

Soon we dropped down into Grotli and admired the living roofs on many of the cottages. We turned onto the main road and headed back towards Dalsnibba for our next adventure!

Dalsnibba is a stunning viewpoint high on the top of a mountain that overlooks Geirangerfjord. The cost is fairly steep at NKR300, but we thought it was worth it. Book your ticket in advance and use the QR code to sail through. We tried to buy at the gate but there was nobody there, and no cell service, so we just drove to the top where we got 5G and bought it there. We could have gotten away without paying, but we are good citizens :-).

The drive up is another switchback road with careful passing of the various RVs and cars coming down. The weather gets colder and the wind cuts more as you approach the top. Soon you see the impressive structure jutting out from the cliff side – do we really dare to walk out on that?

We found parking easy at the top, and started at the easy part, where the rail seemed sturdy and the rock underfoot solid. The views were forever in all directions, but especially amazing down toward Geiranger and its fjord. After a bit we mustered our courage and walked out onto the cantilevered section – holy cow it’s a long way down! I could see between my feet a drop of several thousand feet. Definitely a bit scary.

We walked around and explored among the rocks, admiring the many stone cairns constructed by tourists over the years. The cafe was closed, and inexplicably the restrooms were closed also – guess we’re going to wait a bit longer.

Like most viewpoints this one captured our attention for a half hour or so, but then we started to get cold and wondered what it was like to drive down that crazy road we could see into Geiranger. So we got back in the car and headed down.

In Geiranger we stayed at the Grande Hotel, just outside town overlooking the fjord. Highly recommended, and well worth the extra few kroner to get a fjord view room. The food at the restaurant was excellent, and the views unparalleled.

In the morning we decided to hike up to Storsaterfossen, a waterfall you can actually walk behind. The trailhead starts fairly high up on the mountain, so although you can hike (or e-bike) up from town, we drove. There’s parking at Hole, but we opted to drive the narrow gravel road to Vesteras and pay NOK100 for parking there.

The trail starts through a gate into the sheep pasture, where the sheep watched us curiously as they munched on the grass. Soon we started up through another gate and began climbing on the stone steps. They are not exactly normal stair placement and height, so watch your step, but they are much nicer than the muddy trail that they probably replaced. Apparently they were constructed by Sherpas in 2014 – go figure. 

After a good 40 minutes of climbing – with a couple brief rest stops – we got a great view of the falls, and a few minutes after that we emerged into a beautiful meadow. A few other folks were sitting and taking photos. We started down along the water to find the passage underneath, but found just a fence and a lovely view of the cascade. Ah, over to the right is a different staircase, that leads down to the wet and slippery passage.

We read the warning sign that told us the rocks were slippery and to stay away from the edge – good advice. Then we ventured down the narrow path, ducking under the rocks and holding tightly to the chains. A few meters down we came out behind the waterfall – so cool! We only got a little wet from the splashing.

The view is just as spectacular from here, made more amazing by the rushing water falling right in front of you. The power when it hits the stone on the bottom is incredible – how can the stone resist that? I remember something about irresistible forces and immovable objects – is this the answer?

We took some photos and then crawled back up the narrow passage to the steps and the safety of the meadow. There we rested a bit and enjoyed the absolute beauty of Geiranger and the fjord, listening to the sound of the cascade beside us.

Soon it was time to head back down the stone steps, stopping occasionally to rest our knees from the pounding down. The sheep looked at us again as we invaded their pasture, and then we were back at our car and off to our next adventure – Trollstigen!

The drive up from Geiranger toward Trollstigen starts with a set of switchbacks that reminded us of Lombard Street in San Francisco. Back and forth and back and forth. Near the top there’s a cool view point that again has a cantilevered deck – this seems to be a theme. For this one they diverted a small nearby stream to go over a glass platform and then spill down in a man-made waterfall just below the deck. A little unusual, but it seemed to work, in a funky Norwegian way. We got a couple final photos of the Geirangerfjord and the beautiful valley, then headed up and over the pass to the next fjord.

We passed a beautiful lake in a valley, then headed back down another set of switchbacks to a ferry. This is a very civilized way to travel – every hour or two you get to wait a few minutes, then drive your car onto a ferry. Then you have 20 mins to stretch your legs, use the bathroom, and admire the views. A perfect way to break up the long drives.

At the other end we drove along the fjord for a bit and stopped in Sylte for lunch. We found a lovely table at a small park overlooking the water, and ate a feast from our provisions in the car. We watched a group of people go in the water – it looked cold!

Back in the car, we headed up again into the valley up to Trollstigen. As we climbed, we followed another beautiful glacial river with lovely cascades dropping through colorful mossy fields, framed by towering mountains. After a bit we drove by the Gudbrandsjuvet, and pulled in to see what it was all about. We were surprised and delighted by yet another amazing waterfall, with a viewing platform worthy of architectural awards.

As we continued up, we stopped a couple places for amazing views, just to take it all in. There were a number of RVs camping along the way – several had the same vignette: an older couple sitting on lawn chairs reading books and enjoying the beautiful day. Toward the top we pulled over thinking maybe we were there – there were beautiful views in both directions – but a few km further on we found the actual place. There’s a huge parking lot, and there were tons of people, along with an iconic wedge-shaped building. We felt a little silly thinking we might have missed it.

The cafe in the wedge-shaped building was still being constructed, but the gift shop was open and filled with little miniature trolls. The river had been modified with some terraces, maybe to control the water flow a bit? There was also a swimming platform and a couple of brave guys who had taken a dip. I stuck my fingers in – brrr! I wouldn’t last 30 seconds.

The path leads out to the first overlook, which is right at the top of the falls. The view is yet another one that defies words, looking thousands of feet down the switchbacks, with the waterfall thundering underneath you and another one just across the valley. After a few pictures, we ventured along the path to the main viewpoint.

This is a marvel of Norwegian engineering, a steel and glass structure cantilevered out over the cliff. There are glass rails and some slots to look down through if you’re not afraid of heights. They have some nooks to sit in, and of course, incredible views. From here you can look back at the main waterfall and see the whole majesty of the falling water. You are also closer to the smaller, but higher waterfall to the east. There’s a trail that leads up some stairs that will eventually take you to the top of the valley – the place we had stopped earlier.

We sat and took in the view for a bit, then walked back to the cafe area. The walk is not far but it’s up and down a ways, some people were huffing and puffing a bit. Definitely worth the effort, though.

The afternoon was getting late, so we climbed back in the car for the 2 hour drive to Alesund, and the start of our trip home. After the usual beautiful drive along fjords and through tunnels, we checked in at the Quality Hotel. Alesund was hopping with people, and after trying several places, we finally ended up eating dinner at Nonna Lina, which was excellent.

The next morning before our flights out we walked up to Fjellstua, all 418 steps to the top. The restaurant was closed but the view was terrific and there were only a few other folks up there. A nice reward for getting our workout in.

We had an amazing couple of days, completing 2 of the 14 official scenic drives of Norway, and adding in a waterfall hike to boot. We can’t wait to go back!

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