Norway’s roads less traveled: Ålesund, hidden gem of the west coast

Photo: Terje Borud / Visitnorway.com
Ålesund is known for its architecture and natural beauty yet is often overlooked by first-time travelers to Norway.

Christine Foster Meloni
Washington, D.C.

This is the eighth article in our series “Norway’s roads less traveled.” The author is Paul Anderson, Honorary Consul General for Norway to Illinois.

The previous articles in this series are “Spitsbergen: A place out of the ordinary” by Ambassador Aas (April 15, 2016), “Ulvesund lighthouse is calm yet wild” by Elin Bergithe Rognlie (May 20, 2016), “Halden, an idyllic small border town” by Eivind Heiberg (July 1, 2016), “Tree-top adventures at Høyt og Lavt” by Lise Kristiansen Falskow (July 29, 2016), “Hvaler highlights the sun and the sea” by Hilde Skorpen (September 23, 2016), “Hiking between east and west” by Morten Paulsen (November 18, 2016), and “Gallery Cylindra features the cylindrical” by Inger-Torill Kirkeby (December 16, 2016).

Consul Anderson suggests that you visit the unique town of Ålesund, and he offers several convincing reasons:
Ålesund is often overlooked by U.S. tourists planning a trip to Norway and by many Norwegians as well. Those traveling to Norway, particularly for the first time, typically include Oslo, Bergen, Stavanger, Trondheim, and Tromsø—or combinations of these cities—in their itineraries. Ålesund is not frequently considered when planning that dream excursion.

However, Ålesund is not totally out of the way or an undiscovered destination, as some of the more exotic locations covered in this “Norway’s roads less traveled” series have been. Since Ålesund is one of my favorite Norwegian places to visit, it is my pleasure to describe this beautiful, unique, and somewhat off-the-radar part of Norway.

Located on the west coast of Norway, Ålesund is a town made up of seven islands that are connected by tunnels. The downtown area is widely known for its unique and beautiful Art Nouveau or Jugendstil architecture. After being completely destroyed by a massive fire in 1904, the city was rebuilt in this new style. Therefore, it has a dramatically different appearance, architecturally speaking, from most other Norwegian cities.

It is a perfect town to take long walks and admire the architecture, to frequent the ubiquitous shops and boutiques, and to have a coffee or drink at a café located along the water. Because the city is made up of islands, the water is a constant presence and dictates much of the activity in town.

Aside from shops and restaurants, I would highly recommend that those who are adventurous enough should climb the 400 plus steps to the Fjellstua viewpoint on Aksla Mountain. The climb will be energizing (or worse), but, when you arrive at the top, you will discover the very nice and recently remodeled Fjellstua Restaurant with its tasty cuisine and spectacular view of the town. The walk down the mountain, of course, is significantly easier—but be careful not to trip!

There are many wonderful restaurants in Ålesund in all price ranges and cuisines. Seafood is certainly excellent here and many places specialize in seafood delicacies. Bacalao, a form of dried and salted codfish, is a popular seafood dish and is delicious. It is a major export of the Ålesund area, particularly to Portugal and Spain. In fact, the Norwegian word bacalao comes from bacalhau, the Portuguese word for cod.

Ålesund itself is fascinating and one could walk around town for quite some time without becoming bored. But another reason I am so fond of Ålesund is the many activities found in close proximity. It is easy to take day trips to nearby scenic areas.

It is located in the heart of fjord country and stands near the gateway to the Geiranger fjord. A UNESCO-protected site, this is one of the most scenic and probably the most famous of Norway’s fjords. It has two stunningly beautiful waterfalls, the Seven Sisters Waterfall and, across the fjord, the Suitor Waterfall. (The suitor is apparently watching the seven sisters dance!) Hotel Union is a perfect place to stop for lunch with its traditional Norwegian atmosphere and food. In good weather, you will want to make sure you have lunch outside on the terrace; you may never want to leave because of the awe-inspiring view of the fjord.

If you have not had the opportunity to view the fjords in person, I can only say that you must make time to do this at some point in your life. The fjords are perhaps the most magnificent natural sites in the world and really should not be missed. The only natural formation I have seen in person that could compare to the fjords is the Grand Canyon.

I have always been partial to casting a line in the water for a little fishing, and the smaller fjords around Ålesund are a perfect opportunity for this. Ålesund has many day and half-day charters for fishing. Try your luck and you might even catch your limit of torsk (cod)!

Another popular quick trip is to drive out to the Alnes Lighthouse located on the island of Godøya. The drive alone is breathtaking and, once you have arrived in Alnes, there are wonderful views to be enjoyed.

Also close by is the Atlantic Sea Park, an excellent aquarium. It is first rate and is reputed to be one of the finest aquariums in the world.

I must also add that the people in Ålesund seem to be among the friendliest in Norway, and they are eager to show off their beautiful town to all visitors.

The next time you plan a trip to Norway, make a point of including beautiful Ålesund in your plans.

Paul Anderson has served as Honorary Consul General for Norway to Illinois since 2000. He was promoted to the rank of Commander, Royal Norwegian Order of Merit, in November 2011. He is a member of the Norwegian Pioneers Social Club of Chicago, the Norwegian American Chamber of Commerce, Sons of Norway, Vesterheim Museum, Torske Klub of Chicago, North Park University’s Center for Scandinavian Studies, the Consular Corps of Chicago, and the Executive Committee of the Consular Corps. He also participates in services and activities at the Norwegian Memorial Lutheran Church in Chicago.

Christine Foster Meloni is professor emerita at The George Washington University. She has degrees in Italian literature, linguistics, and international education. She was born in Minneapolis and currently lives in Washington, D.C. She values her Norwegian heritage.

This article originally appeared in the Jan. 13, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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