Everyone knows that person who spends weeks sniffing around travel blogs, going deep into Tripadvisor rabbit holes, collecting Google docs from friends of friends, and creating A Beautiful Mind–style spreadsheets to come up with the best vacations and itineraries possible. In this recurring series, we find those people who’ve done all the work for you and have them walk us through a particularly wonderful, especially well-thought-out vacation they took that you can actually steal.
In late summer, writer Chantel Tattoli, her husband, and their toddler flew Norwegian Air from their home in Paris to the Hardangerfjord region of Norway, which is known as the orchard of the country. (The trio did have their fill of fresh-picked plums, pears, and apples.) The main draw, the fjord itself — which is the country’s second-longest — is located south of Bergen and stretches from the Atlantic some 110 miles inland. Tattoli and her family ferried across it to explore hiking trails, hang out with a flock of sheep, and gaze at a James Turrell Skyspace. Here, she shares how they spent their six-day respite, from sautéing reindeer to taking in the mesmerizing landscape, braving icy harbor swims, and spotting one wild mink.
5:15 p.m.: Fly from Paris to Bergen, drive to fjord-facing Airbnb
We grab a cab at the airport to get to our Toyota Yaris, which we’d rented via Getaround. We then negotiate wet coastal roads the 60ish miles — a 1.5-hour journey in the best of conditions — to our Airbnb in Fosse. We make a pit stop at a gas station for bottles of Cocio, a Danish three-ingredient (milk, cocoa, and sugar) chocolate milk that I count as the world’s best.
Our Airbnb is a two-story, three-bedroom wooden house on an old trading site that includes a former post office and general shop. My husband had wanted to pick a wilder location, deeper into the fjordland, but I was intent on the spacious white house with history that obviously had been appointed by an artist with an eye. (The owner, Ida — who has a studio and her own house on the grounds — has painted some walls and certain parts of the ceilings in abstract folky motifs, for example.) We could occupy the two bedrooms upstairs, one of which was set up for children with single beds and a crib. That was ideal, as we could be loud downstairs (where the kitchen and bathroom are) while the child was counting dream sheep above.
9 a.m.: Paint like a prodigy
My husband has packed brushes, watercolors, and acrylics for the kiddo, and she paints on this morning and every morning of our trip thereafter. The kiddo is clearly on an artist’s retreat from the city.
11 a.m.: Grocery run
Ida had fed us some reindeer in a cream sauce the night we arrived: It’s venison, basically, and tasty, and when we inquired for the whereabouts of the butcher — to get more — she pointed us to the frozen food aisle at the only grocer in the area (5 Tangeråshagen, Strandebarm 5630). So now we stock up on basics and regional delights like fish cakes, remoulade, and the reindeer.
3 p.m.: Trek into Holsete
Holsete is a nearby hamlet of historic herder cabins, all painted in the typical barn red, mustard yellow, and snow white, and prettily roofed with slate (60°19’12.8”N 6°00’17.6”E). There is no electricity or plumbing. To get there, we parked where the road gave out and hoofed it in our rain boots a quarter of a mile over hypergreen and waterlogged but relatively flat terrain. At the cabins, no one is around except for us and the “bah”ing black-and-white sheep with bells around their necks. Ida also has a cabin in Holsete, and we borrow it to relax by candlelight and make hot cocoa with water from the storybook stream.
10 a.m.: Hit the road to make the ferry
We drive south for a half-hour to Gjermundshamn and then ferry with the car across the fjord to the village of Rosendal, which boasts Scandinavia’s smallest castle (60 Baronivegen, Rosendal 5470). The 17th-century manor house is flanked by a rose garden, and there’s a tea room for cake and coffee as well as a dining room for full-on repasts.
3 p.m.: Hit the road, again
We continue north by car (still along the shoreline of the fjord) — we’re taking in the God’s-country vibes of the mountains and chasing waterfalls (they gush hard after it rains and sound like yogi exhalations). Ultimately, we catch the ferry back to the opposite bank at Jondal. The landscape is sublime and tranquilizing.
6 p.m.: Supper at home
My husband instinctually sautés the reindeer, which is precut into slivers, and we have it with barley and helpings of the plum chutney that Ida cooks and keeps stocked for guests in the freezer. Maybe we could live in Hardanger like the elves and mermaids that are surely hereabouts?
10 a.m.: Score fresh produce
This is the fruit belt, so plum, pear, and apple trees are hanging ripe in the yard. But about ten minutes by car from our Airbnb, a farm operates an excellent produce stand on the honor system (Tangavegen, Tørvikbygd 5620). We leave the cash and take beets, cabbage, carrots, snap peas, various lettuces, potatoes, onions, Swiss chard, Little Gem lettuce, and more.
4 p.m.: Snoop around town
I fall for a brass pie wheel for decorating crusts and a wooden egg cup at an antique shop called Mo Antikk (40 Grova, Norheimsund 5600), and we buy cider, hunks of whey cheese, and moose sausage from a speciality épicerie called Sjuragarden (225 Hardangerfjordvegen, Norheimsund 5600).
7 p.m.: Return home for a cozy, lazy night
For dinner, I fix a stew with the farm produce and rich moose and wash it down with too much Aquavit (my husband bought a bottle when he ventured off alone at some point), which I take to calling “fjord moonshine.” No wonder they’ve been making this stuff since the 1400s! It’s distilled from potatoes or grains and accented with dill or caraway, as well as other herbs. Have I mentioned this charmingly appointed house has an upstairs and a downstairs fireplace and a barrack’s worth of vintage woolen blankets? Or that our daughter thinks we are in Arendelle, of Frozen fame?
11 a.m.: See art!
James Turrell has one of his more than 80 Skyspaces in Øystese (619 Hardangerfjordvegen, Øystese 5610), right on the waterfront. You get the key from the front desk of the adjacent Hardangerfjord Hotel. The chamber undergoes a light display at sunrise and sunset, but you can, as we did, just go inside to peer through the aperture at whatever the sky is doing. Even over the course of just 20 minutes, it cycles through so many shades of blue: I wished I had an old cyanometer to measure the blueness. Afterward, we splash around in the cold, crystalline harbor before heading to Kunsthuset Kabuso, the art center across the street, to see more modern art and have a quickie lunch at the café of quiche Lorraine and carrot cake (626 Hardangerfjordvegen).
4:15 p.m.: Eat again
We wander around on wheels while daughter naps, and by the time she wakes up, we’re ready to pull over for open-faced sandwiches, beers, and a whole apple pie to go at Steinsto Frukt og Kakebu (768 Fyksesundvegen, Steinstø 5612). The roadside shop and cafeteria feels like a family-friendly motorcyclers’ stop, and is part of a nine-generation-old fruit-and-berry farm that you can tour. We didn’t because our child was so content in the sandbox in the picnic area.
12:30 p.m.: Lunch at Strandebarm Marina
The nearby marina has an adorable, fully enclosed — and pretty much kitted out (with a grill, firewood, coffee maker, etc.) — BBQ hut (60 Tangeråsneset, Strandebarm 5630). We cook out with burgers and baked potatoes and heat up the remainder of the apple pie on the embers. We see zero other humans!
3 p.m.: Race a rain cloud home to stream movies
The rest of the rainy afternoon and evening gets spent at home watching Frozen, Frozen 2, and the Marilyn Monroe noir Niagara (no, a waterfall did not write this). There hasn’t been much in the way of shops, but I’ve coveted blankets by the heritage Norwegian brand Røros Tweed for a while — and our daughter has been loving snuggling and snoozing under the Airbnb’s wool covers — so later that night, online, I buy one to have back in Paris.
10:45 a.m.: Row, row, row your boat …
Merrily, we take out the Airbnb’s rowboat on the calm fjord. There are no orcas this time of year (the best time to see them is November to January). But back on land, we see what we believe is a baby otter scurrying around the deck; it turns out to be a non-native mink (Ida ID’d it) that manages to give me Free Willy feelings. (Liberate the marine-park orcas! Liberate the furrier minks!)
2 p.m.: Sunbathe with fiction and fresh fruit
While the kiddo naps, my husband and I sun on the lawn with Beowulf and a back issue of Wired and plums plucked from the yard trees.
4:30 p.m.: Do last-minute local sightseeing
We visit Steinsdalsfossen Waterfall (Mo ved Steinsdalen, Norheimsund 5600), which was created in 1699 when the river here changed its course,
where we finally meet with other tourists. It’s among Norway’s most visited, in part because the water drops 164 feet and in part because you can walk on a footpath right behind it. We also stop to get a gander at the rock art at Vangdal. The petroglyphs were chiseled into the cliffside 6,000 years ago, and show the forms of a moose, a deer, and a human.
2 p.m.: Begrudgingly return home to Paris
Chantel’s Fjord Packing List
The fjord region is defined by water, so wandering around requires rain boots even when it’s not raining: Streams and brooks thread through the landscape, and the ground is often sodden. I traded in my Hunters years back for these Plasticana Wellies, a comfy French version that’s caramel-colored and also ecofriendly.
I’ll say it again: Alpaca wool aces out sheep wool because it is silkier and better at wicking away moisture. This pair hit higher at the calf and are ultrasnug with Wellies.
Beowulf was written in Old English and its characters were Danish and Swedish, but just being in the realm of Scandinavia was excuse enough to revisit Maria Dahvana Headley’s 2020 gobsmacking feminist translation of this Nordic epic (Headley turns the heroes into bros).
I bought this thermos while working in an office where the AC was set to arctic. The Stanley kept Genmaicha tea piping-hot all day long, and now I always tote it on colder-weather jaunts, when a warm cup of coffee or chamomile equals instant luxury.
This is my holy-grail bandana because it’s very thin and very soft, and thus perfectly cut out for layering. In Norway, I’d get too hot moving around outdoors, but after stripping off a sweater or shawl, I still wanted to gird my neck with this thing.
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