What makes Åndalsnes so special for adrenaline junkies with a lust for great food and drink? Start with the hikes. Add icons like the Trollveggen wall and the mighty Trollstigen road, and finish off with tasty local food and even local wine. And that’s just some of what we experienced in a couple of days.
Text: Karl Eirik Haug
Stumbling out of the platform area in the tiny town of Åndalsnes, the final station on the renowned Rauma railway, we are more than ready for what’s ahead. Hilde Gråberg Bakke, head of tourism in Rauma, welcomes our group of 30 people with a big, reassuring smile.
“During only two days you will be able to tick off surprisingly many different vistas and views that you only get to experience here”, she promises.
Surrounded by mountain tops, the river, and the fjord, we feel an instant appetite for getting started. So here we go.
Hey, look at us now! We are cycling about as easily as you would in a city like Amsterdam, whilst world famous mountain tops are passing by on both sides. How on earth is that possible?
“Turbo mode”, explains our biking guide Ragni Klokkerstuen Odeen. “When you go uphill you simply switch from ‘Eco’ or ‘Normal’ to ‘Turbo’ mode.” Twelve of us are riding powerful, solid electric bikes, following our guide uphill and downhill, along roads, through forests, and over bridges that cross the Rauma river.
It’s a great and easy activity for building an appetite. It gives a quick overview of the area that we’ll soon get to know even better.
Stop! Time for a mandatory photo session. We can choose between some of the most scenic backdrops in the world. We all agree that our biking trip of about an hour is a smart start on our two-day stay here, and wow – it already shows on social media.
Let’s put it this way: from Åndalsnes you can go hiking in any direction, so why not start with the nearest top?
Actually, our hike to the newly built Rampestreken viewing point at 580 metres above sea level is classified by the local tourist office as, well, moderate. But wait a second: Our group of city slickers will climb from practically sea level.
After about 75 metres uphill the huge cruise ship anchored at the harbour by the Norsk Tindesenter seems like a toy. At 100 metres, all we hear is our own breath. And as we ascend, the sound only gets heavier. “Are we soon halfway there?” ask some of us who are sweating the most. The answer comes quickly on a wooden signpost: There are 300 metres back down and 200 metres upwards to our goal. The last part of the climb is the steepest, with stone stairs recently hand made by Nepalese Sherpas. The stones are huge. Those men must be very strong.
Suddenly we hear laughter. We have reached the promised Rampestreken viewpoint. “It looks like a little bridge that sticks out in the air”, someone says. Down there is our base Åndalsnes flanked by the mighty Rauma river that ends in the calm fjord. And all around us are massive mountain tops.
Dining at Hotel Aak
Hotel Aak is said to be the first Norwegian tourist hotel and is now run by the enthusiastic couple Kristine and Odd Erik Rønning. The food is hearty and flavourful, made with great local produce and nicely finessed.
Wine producer Johan Setnes
Johan Setnes of the nearby renowned winery at the farm Tuen began making local wine in the 1980s. His wine is developed by using the finest hand reaped berries, flowers and even tree sap, all harvested from the wild nature of Romsdalen. ”I harvest many of the ingredients myself. My wines taste of nature”, Setnes says.
A fresh meal at Sødalhuset
Sødalhuset is an organically oriented eatery praised for its local food based on the region’s fresh ingredients.
Local food to go
Several restaurants and shops in Åndalsnes offer local produce, like the recognised cheeses of Tingvollost, amongst them Kraftkar blue cheese which was awarded World’s best cheese in 2016.
Norway is a country of outstanding natural beauty, with dramatic waterfalls, crystal clear fjords, majestic mountains, and spectacular glaciers. Preserving this landscape, its communities, and the way of life is essential for locals and visitors alike.
Conservation is everyone’s responsibility. Enjoying nature and the outdoors is considered a national pastime, and this is reflected in our attitude towards the preservation and use of the wilderness.
Try to leave as small a footprint as possible. Leave it as you would like to find it is the mantra, regardless of whether you are a guest in nature or in a small fishing village.
Some of the group have the courage to continue the about 20 minutes extra hike to the very top of the mountain of Nesaksla, at 715 metres above sea level. The reward: A 360 degrees view.
From there, it is possible to continue on to the Romsdalseggen ridge, one of Norway’s most famous hikes. But for now it’s all downhill for us.
”Oh gosh, look down everybody”, shouts one of us excitedly. “No, don’t look down”, he quickly corrects himself as our broad bus slowly zigzags its way up the narrow Trollstigen road.
The rest of us just hold on to the armrest a bit tighter than usual. A rock wall like this may be a normal hangout for creatures like mountain goats and eagles. But for our motorised hippopotamus?
Our driver Torstein Dahle is in fact routinely exploiting every inch of the edge of the road surface, also to let other vehicles of highly various sizes pass by.
“How I manage? Well, you know, I started early. Ever since 1968, I have been bringing tourists up Trollstigen … and safely down again”, Dahle laughs whilst effortlessly steering the bus through one of the sharpest bends.
For one second it feels like the front end of the bus is hanging outside of the road. The next moment Dahle has turned the giant 180 degrees, and the teeth of the bus grill nearly kiss the rock wall.
In the sharp and uppermost turn called Bispesvingen, the driver stops the bus, and the guide Ivar Brennhovd from Friluftslek invites us to get out. We are told to look to the very top of the Bispen mountain. “At what?” we ask. “Well, look again.”
There we suddenly zoom in on the tiny silhouettes of a couple of men. A hair-raising sight, indeed. Suddenly, one of the men jumps off the cliff like it was the most natural thing in the world, dressed in a bird-like outfit. To everybody’s big surprise he flies right over our heads, changing our hairstyles. When we realise what is happening, the brave man has already landed at the parking lot in the valley at the start of the Trollstigen road.
“He flew in about 240 kilometres an hour”, explains our guide in a rather dry manner. Well, if you don’t think humans can fly, come to Åndalsnes and witness the unusual sport of base jumping.
In the bus is also Edmund Meyer with the nickname Mr. Trollstigen, owing to his many decades of running visitor centres here, Trollstigen gjestegård at the bottom and Trollstigen kafé and Visitor Centre by Reiulf Ramstad Architects at very top of the famous winding road.
Mr. Trollstigen tells us that he and his team is handling over one million visitors a year, and, stop the press: this site is also Meyer’s birthplace.
“I’m proud of the fact that I was born 50 meters from Trollstigen”, he says whilst grabbing a microphone and acting as a spontaneous guide to Trollstigen and the story of his own life: Meyer’s family settled here already in 1875, and in 1936 his grandfather was amongst the men who opened the then brand new mountain pass road with the presence of King Haakon VII of Norway.
“You know what? I love my life. After all, I’m undoubtedly the person in the world who have travelled up and down Trollstigen most frequently. Believe me, I never get tired. Because of the beauty of the constantly changing weather and light up here, two days are never alike. What keeps me going is all the happy faces of the visitors.”
Well, we are happy in these heights. And very hungry. Trollstigen has indeed built an appetite for dinner at Hotel Aak.
“When our guests are happy,
we are happy.”
Odd Erik Rønning, Hotel Aak
Seriously, forget all that talk about finding the right balance in your life. It’s much more fun to put on a wetsuit and place your feet on a board in the Rauma river – and try the best you can to keep on standing.
After only a few minutes we learn something about ourselves, like that if we fall into the water, we can easily get up on the board again. Just remember to maintain your firm grip around your paddle. If you don’t it will go with the flow. And, yes, we fall. At least some of us do.
Our guides are the most patient people ever. No stress. We quickly learn to trust ourselves. No more shivering legs. We get to inhale the beauty of the surrounding nature, even though it’s from a fish’ eye view. And as we’re while paddling like professional locals, we’re growing more and more proud of ourselves. No kidding! We did it!
If just every day could be this uncomplicated. We jump into a bus at our base in the small town of Åndalsnes and drive a short tour through beautiful scenery. We could have stayed in our comfy seats forever, so impressive is the changing landscape, but we have already reached our goal and are gently told to get out.
Hiking shoes on our feet. Water and chocolate in the light backpack. And sun glasses, oh yes. Today the weather conditions are unusually good. The experience that awaits us will be stunning, but is still one of the easiest hikes in the area. After only 21 minutes of walking and a lot more chatting, we reach the top of the Litlefjellet mountain.
“The view from here gives you almost the same impression that professional mountaineers get from the highest tops in the area”, says our guide. This surely helps boosting our self-esteem. We get to spot both Romsdalshorn and Vengetindene, as well as Trollveggen – the vertical mountain wall that is next on our list.
OK, so where are the Trolls?
In fact, they are very present in and around Åndalsnes, especially in the naming of the most dramatic amongst the must-see attractions. Standing in front of Trollveggen, our guide tells us that this mountain wall is measured to be the tallest vertical rock face in the whole of Europe – impressive 1,000 metres tall. Oh, well. If you say so. To us it just seems vertically … endless.
Trollveggen is a part of Trolltindene, a nice bunch of mountain spikes that peak as much as 1,700 metres towards the sky. With a prohibition against base jumping from 1986, Trollveggen is as dangerous as it looks like. At the Trollveggen Visitor Centre we get to see a film about the history of this cradle of extreme climbing. It’s all very … tall.
And after? Well, we simply feel … taller. Two days with loads of fresh air will help us sleep well.
Return to hike another day
Norway is an incredible place to explore, with untamed mythical landscapes, mountains, valleys, and fjords. Before you enter the outdoors, get familiar with the nine simple rules of the Norwegian mountain code to help you stay safe.
1. Plan your trip and inform others about the route you have selected.
2. Adapt the planned routes according to ability and conditions.
3. Pay attention to the weather and the avalanche warnings.
4. Be prepared for bad weather and frost, even on short trips.
5. Bring the necessary equipment so you can help yourself and others.
6. Choose safe routes. Recognize avalanche terrain and unsafe ice.
7. Use a map and a compass. Always know where you are.
8. Don’t be ashamed to turn around.
9. Conserve your energy and seek shelter if necessary.
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