Paradise for mountain-climbing beer-lovers?
Cynthia Elyce Rubin
The Norwegian American
I picked up the Travel section of the Sunday New York Times on Jan. 13 and read the front-page title of the section, “52 Places to go in 2019.” No. 35 was Vestlandet, Norway; the opening sentence read, “Rural Vestlandet, in western Norway, home to some of Scandinavia’s most beautiful landscapes, is piquing the interest of outdoorsy types, especially those who take their beer seriously.”
That struck me as odd, since I know Bergen is the largest city in the region, and there is so much more to that city than beer. I don’t like beer, but I certainly like Bergen. Author Evan Rail, on the other hand, has a beer lover’s bio. Researching his credentials on the internet, I found he was born in California but now lives in Prague. In 2006 he wrote a guidebook, Good Beer Guide: Prague and the Czech Republic. He is also a poet and essayist who has taken a beer bath in an episode on the Discovery Channel, guided Anthony Bourdain through a decrepit Czech brewery, and in 2012 published a Kindle book entitled Why Beer Matters and a follow-up, In Praise of Hangovers.
To learn more about Vestlandet, I turned to Visit Norway and found a trove of information about farms in the region.
High on the hillside with a panoramic view over Hylsfjorden lies Li, a steep climb straight up from the fjord. This is the Ryfylke Museum (ryfylkemuseet.no). There are 13 buildings at this farm, all dating to the 1700s and 1800s and containing many original objects. The landscape surrounding Li is characteristic of western Norway with tiny fields, dry-stone fences, and Viking burial stone mounds. Norway’s directorate for cultural heritage listed the farm in 1974.
During opening hours, the hosts welcome you and serve coffee and waffles. If you are visiting when the museum is closed, there is an area where you can enjoy your own sandwiches while enjoying the view.
The road up to Li is between Sand and Suldalsosen. Leave Rv13 when you see the sign to Valskår. Drive up this narrow road until you see the sign for Li. You can also visit by boat, mooring at Li’s boathouse on the fjord. It is a very steep path to walk from there up to the farm, so wear rugged walking shoes.
One of the museum’s main charges is being a collective memory base for the community. This is done by means of collecting, documentation, research, and conservation. Ryflkemuseet has been assigned a special obligation for building the folk music archive for Rogaland, a task that involves the entire country.
Today Ryfylkemuseet oversees about 80 antiquarian buildings, which makes it the largest such museum in Rogaland County and among the largest in the entire country. Most of the buildings preserved by the museum are still located on their original sites and in their proper settings, still connected to their roots.
The museum owns 12 small boats and two ships: Brødrene af Sand, built in the mid-1800s, and Suldal, popularly called the Suldal Steamer. Built in 1885, it was in service until 1978. When the museum took possession in 2014, it set up plans for restoration. Brødrene was purchased for the museum in 1997 and was completely restored in 1999.
The collections, totaling around 20,000 objects, mostly include tools and equipment from farming, fishing, industry, and construction, as well as household artifacts. They convey knowledge about daily life in Ryfylke during the past 300 years.
Cooperation with sites and volunteers has led to the creation of a gem of a museum farm with a historic fruit orchard at Viga in Hjelmeland. There are numerous burial mounds on this site with finds dated to the Viking Age. Written sources about the farm reach back to the 1500s. Ryfylkemuseet established the orchard with more than 100 heritage varieties of apples, pears, and plums native to Ryfylke. When Viga was vacated in 1955 and then taken over as a museum farm in 1970, the former owner left a substantial part of the original furnishings and equipment in the buildings. Thus, a visitor can understand the rural lifestyle, farming activities, and working farm methods of its time.
Of particular interest to me are the photography archives. A growing number of photographs have been digitalized and published on the website, digitaltmuseum.no. An enthusiastic amateur photographer who took many local images was Alice Archer (1855-1936). She vacationed in Suldal with her family from the United Kingdom every summer from 1884 until World War I in 1914. They loved to fish for salmon and built a large home named Rophaug in Sand. Her collection of 633 black and white photographs is a local treasure.
Another interesting location is Henjatunet, one of the few remaining cluster-building hamlets still in operation in Vestlandet. Eggjagarden is one of six farmsteads comprising this hamlet. The family farm is based on sheep and orchards in addition to tourism. Inga and Marit Eggjagarden offer interpretive tours, concentrating on historical aspects of everyday life in this hamlet, as well as contemporary farming practice. Wander along Viking-period grave mounds or stroll through orchards while enjoying a splendid view of the majestic Sognefjorden. At the same time, the family guides recount exciting tales from bygone days and contemporary life. These interpretive rounds include a taste of locally produced cider, along with the traditional local snack “vestlandslefsa.”
Meals are served to private groups in Eggjastova, a building erected in 1765. The ingredients are produced locally, and are mostly organically grown. During the season, products from the farm’s orchards are for sale—apples, pears, and plums. You can even choose to press your own fruit juices.
Inga and Marit welcome you to taste locally produced beverages while enjoying magical summer moments encircled by mountains high above Sognefjorden. They are licensed, so I’m sure they serve beer, too!
Cynthia Elyce Rubin, Ph.D., is a visual culture specialist, travel writer, and author of articles and books on decorative arts, folk art, and postcard history, who collects postcards, ephemera, and early photography. See www.cynthiaelycerubin.com.
This article originally appeared in the February 22, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.