Flor og Fjære is a conversation starter

A Tropical Island Experience in Norway

Flor og Fjære

Photo: Mona Anita K. Olsen
A lake-like pool surrounded by some of the flowers prevalent at Flor og Fjære, a tropical island 20 minutes by boat from Stavanger. It includes the most northern palm tree garden in the world.

Mona Anita K. Olsen, Ph.D.
University of Stavanger

Visitors to Stavanger often seek out attractions in nature to experience Norway. A quick visit to the website Region Stavanger (www.regionstavanger-ryfylke.com) outlines a variety of sightseeing options that are photographed in a variety of marketing outlets, such as Pulpit Rock (www.visitnorway.com/places-to-go/fjord-norway/ryfylke/hiking-to-the-pulpit-rock-preikestolen) and Månfossen (www.visitnorway.no/listings/m%C3%A5nafossen/26715).

These top attractions are wonderful and align with a general expectation of the Norwegian outdoors. But what most visitors do not know is that the region is also home to a tropical island. The home to the most northern palm tree garden in the world, Flor og Fjære (translated as “Bloom and Feather”) is a true conversation starter after a visit to Norway.

I have been fortunate to visit many attractions in the world, from growing up as a third-culture kid to serving as an international academic and entrepreneur. I can honestly say that Flor og Fjære is one of my favorite attractions on the entire planet. While Flor og Fjære has been around since 1995, I first learned about it this past summer from a Cornell University hotelier, Leif Evensen.

I met Leif for the first time while volunteering as a host at a Hotel Ezra Cornell event while in my senior year at Cornell Hotel School in 2004. I heard him speaking Norwegian in a diverse room of hospitality leaders and students. I decided to reach out to network with him. I can still remember how he planted seeds for my journey then, how he has advised me along my way, and kept me connected to the hospitality community in Norway throughout my different chapters.

Leif’s advice was always on point. When he called this summer to let me know that he was coming to Stavanger, I was thrilled to learn about his itinerary. Leif was to be in town for the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs (www.chaine.no) event in Rogaland, and I would get to meet with him after his experience at Flor og Fjære.

A true hotelier, Leif not only described the service experience at Flor og Fjære in full detail to me, but he had photos of every element to share with me over our lunch. I was surprised that I had never heard about Flor og Fjære before. My interest was fully piqued given the location, concept, theme of family business and entrepreneurship, and my love of flowers. A tropical island in Norway? I almost did not believe it. My ticket for the trip was booked within a week of our lunch.

Photo: Mona Anita K. Olsen
With the world’s northernmost palm tree garden, Flor og Fjære offers a unique “getaway” from the typical Norwegian climate.

The Flor og Fjære website (www.florogfjare.no/en) addressed all of my questions, and booking was very simple. The island is open Mondays through Saturdays from May to September. There are specific time slots for the tickets for each day. I opted to go on a September Saturday lunch trip. It is easy to go downtown via bus, train, or car, with parking in one of the public lots before walking down to the harbor.

Everyone gathered down by the harbor to board the MS Rygerfjord. The host welcomed each guest by name, and the trip took about 20 minutes. I sat on the top of the boat, taking photos of the harbor and surrounding areas of Stavanger. As the boat approached the island of Sør-Hidle, everyone on the top deck moved to take photos. The view was gorgeous, with the flowers in brilliant color and the design of the pavilion complementing the manicured gardens.

It was a short walk after docking. All the guests broke up into tour groups. On this day, there were tours in both English and Norwegian. I went on the English tour with five other people. The tour guide was fantastic—charming, knowledgeable, hospitable, and professional. He took us around the entire gardens, explaining not only the history of the development of Flor og Fjære but each of the garden themes as well.

Photo: Mona Anita K. Olsen
Curated gardens overflow at Flor og Fjære.

The island is an entrepreneurial wonder for the area. In 1965, Åsmund and Else Marie Bryn bought the land on the northern tip of the island, a farmstead called Mangela, and built a small cottage. Due to Åsmund’s poor health, he stayed on the island and began planting different trees to block the wind and started designing a small garden. In 1995, Åsmund’s son, Olav, and his wife, Siri, opened the garden and restaurants to its first visitors. In 2019, over 50,000 flowers were planted to create an experience for thousands of visitors to Flor og Fjære.

After the tour of the island, there was a locally inspired buffet style meal served in the main dining facility. From fresh fish to lamb to vegetables, the food provides options for all. Known for their chef with a tremendous personality and some of the best fish soup, the dining experience, either with others or your own group, is memorable.

I ended up sitting with a woman from Poland, who was traveling to hike. Due to the weather, she had to cancel her plans. She was a great photography partner, as we explored the gardens with our cameras after finishing our meal.

Flor og Fjære

Photo: Mona Anita K. Olsen
You can rest on a carved-out bench to watch the views at Flor og Fjære, a tropical island a 20-minute boat ride from Stavanger.

My favorite part of the gardens was the section that they have transformed into a beach (which looked like it was out of a brochure for a tropical location). I wished the sun had been shining, that the rain had stopped, and that the weather had been warmer, yet I still enjoyed every moment. I promised myself I would come back on another trip in a different month to see the gardens at a different stage. Knowing that the gardens evolve each year from a design and planting standpoint, I knew there would be other opportunities to have a different experience of wonder on a future visit.

At the end of the time on the island, there were opportunities to buy gifts. I took the opportunity to meet some of the family that run Flor og Fjære as part of my visit before heading onto the boat. The family graciously welcomed me and collaborated with the Meeting, Incentive Travel, Conventions, and Exhibition (MICE) Course that I taught at The Norwegian Hotel School at the University of Stavanger this fall (www.uis.no/course/?code=BHO306_1&path=en).

Lise Bryn was a guest lecturer and provided students an opportunity to help brainstorm ideas for future development for the island. She showcased plans for the expansion of the services offered at Flor og Fjære and provided feedback to each student group that pitched ideas. While the last 25 years have been amazing to learn about and reflect upon from a growth standpoint, the next years will further solidify the trajectory of Flor og Fjære to be one of the top tourist attractions in Norway—forever changing the landscape of traditional Norwegian “outdoor” marketing.

Flor og Fjære opens again in May 2020 and appears to have specials offered in celebration of its 25th anniversary. It is a must-see for a visit to Stavanger from a nature standpoint, a must-taste from a dining standpoint, and a must-photograph from a social media standpoint, as visiting a tropical island in Norway will always serve as a starter for a good conversation.

This article originally appeared in the January 24, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American.

Mona Anita K. Olsen

Mona Anita K. Olsen

Mona Anita K. Olsen, Ph.D. is a British-American entrepreneurial academic based in Norway. She holds an academic appointment as an associate professor at the University of Southeastern Norway. As a Ph.D. student, Olsen was a U.S. Fulbright Grantee to Norway in 2012-2013; she continues to follow her dream in progress to make a difference in entrepreneurial education in Norway as a fourth-generation owner of Innovation Barn in Borhaug alongside her daughter and husky named Buddy Grunder. Learn more at monaanitaolsen.com.