Diary of a Guidebook Writer: A few reasons to fall in love with Ålesund

Waterside walks are a popular pasttime for the city’s residents, and showcase the city’s Art Nouveau influence. Photo by David Nikel

Waterside walks are a popular pasttime for the city’s residents, and showcase the city’s Art Nouveau influence. Photo by David Nikel

David Nikel
Trondheim, Norway

Ever since I first moved to Norway back in 2011, friends and family have asked me what my favorite part of Norway is. Sometimes I say Tromsø for its lively pubs, surprising number of festivals, and access to the northern lights. Other times I say Røros, a delightful living museum in the middle of nowhere.

But more often than not, my answer is Ålesund. This small town, home to fewer than 50,000 people, is in the northern part of the region known as Fjord Norway. It’s built on a series of islands, and there can be few more picturesque settings even in a country with as much natural beauty as Norway.

So without further ado, here are a few of the many reasons I’m in love with Ålesund.

The architecture
Art Nouveau is considered a “total” art style, embracing architecture, graphic art, interior design, and most of the decorative arts. By this definition, Ålesund can be considered the “total” Art Nouveau town. Turrets, spires, and ornate carvings adorn buildings across the town like something out of a fairytale.

The reason? A fire in 1904 destroyed much of the original town. It was rebuilt with the help of Kaiser Wilhelm, an admirer of the town, who sent four ships from Germany packed with building materials. The popular style from Europe at the time was Art Nouveau, which heavily influenced the team of young Norwegian architects who designed the new town.

A visit to the Art Nouveau Museum (Jugendstilsenteret) is an absolute must to fully appreciate the remarkable story of how the town came to be.

The view from Mount Aksla is beautiful at any time of day. Photo by David Nikel

The view from Mount Aksla is beautiful at any time of day. Photo by David Nikel

The views from Aksla

From the town park, 418 steps take you up to the top of Aksla, a hill that offers stunning views across the town and surrounding islands. Improved pathways and steps have made the walk easier, but it’s still an exhausting climb.

Reward yourself with a coffee and (rather expensive) ice cream from the Fjellstua café and restaurant. Alternatively, you could always drive up and battle the tour buses on the narrow mountain road. The best time for photographs is early in the morning, although the sunsets can be very impressive. If you choose the evening, consider a meal at Fjellstua at one of the tables that overlook the town below.

The Giske islands

An island municipality to the north and west of Ålesund, Giske consists of four main islands connected to one another with bridges and tunnels. Each island has its own unique characteristics, with most offering great recreational opportunities from hiking trails through nature reserves to quiet beaches.

Most travelers rush through Giske to the busy regional airport but take some time to explore the municipality’s highlights, including the Alnes Lighthouse and the chalk-covered marble walls of the 12th-century Giske Church.

Giske Church dates back to the 12th century. Photo by David Nikel

Giske Church dates back to the 12th century. Photo by David Nikel

Access to the fjords

Two of Norway’s most naturally beautiful fjords, the Geirangerfjord and the Hjørundfjord, are within a couple of hours drive from Ålesund. The town makes a terrific base to explore the region.

Day trips to the Hjørundfjord by boat are popular for those without their own transport. By car, take the slightly longer “Royal Route” (Ålesund-Ørsta-Sæbø) to explore the landscape surrounding the Hjørundfjord, something many travelers miss. Stop by the historic Hotel Union Øye, a beautifully preserved 19th-century building with its own resident ghost who regularly plays with light switches and tips lamps off tables.

Direct flights link Ålesund Airport Vigra (AES) with Oslo, Bergen, Stavanger, and Trondheim. The Hurtigruten stops at Ålesund on its northbound and southbound route, while train travelers can reach Ålesund via Åndalsnes thanks to the number 681 bus.

I hope you’ll love Ålesund as much as I do!

David Nikel is a freelance writer based in Norway. He runs the popular www.lifeinnorway.net blog and is the author of the upcoming MOON Norway guidebook.

This article originally appeared in the Oct. 7, 2016, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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