Read about two and a half days on the road in picturesque Hardanger, Norway. It is spring, the fruit trees are in blossom, the snow has still not melted on the mountain tops, and the sun is shining.
The Hardanger fjord opens into the North Sea to the west and ends at the bottom of Hardangervidda, the large mountain plateau in southern Norway, to the east. The fjord is 179 km long, making it the world’s third longest fjord. As with many Norwegian fjords there are several arms, the longest being Sørfjorden stretching all the way to Odda.
This fjord is at the heart of Norwegian national sentimentality and provided a basis for the building of a modern, independent nation-state in the 19th century. Read about that and more in my account from a road trip on the northern side of the fjord, back in 2012. This time we wanted to explore the southern side, driving around the Folgefonna peninsula. The Folgefonna is Norway’s third largest glacier and reaches a height of 1650 metres above the fjord. The glacier is up to 375 metres thick.
Map of this road trip
This is the map showing our trip. Zoom in and out and expand to a new tab as you like.
Stavanger to Halsnøy
Stavanger is the main town on the south-western corner of Norway, and is your gateway to the fjords if you’re arriving from the south. We were northbound this afternoon and, transportation-wise, met the old and new Norway in a single day. We crossed two fjords in a ferry, and two more fjords through underwater tunnels. Of course, the latter kind is far more efficient, whereas the remaining ferries are, well, more picturesque.
We live in Stavanger and viewed the first part of the afternoon more or less as a transportation stage. For others the leg from Stavanger to the first ferry crossing of the Boknafjord, and then on to the island of Stord is very worthwhile. The road (E39) passes a few villages and for the most part farming country. Norway is a scarcely populated country, we are only five millions, but there are people living almost anywhere. Passing grazing animals, cultivated land, heather moors, lakes, farm buildings, and churches is what this stretch is about.
On the southern end of the island of Stord we turned off the E39 road which continues on to Bergen and ended up on the ferry landing at Skjersholmane. Here we had to wait in the setting sun for half an hour. Our second ferry this day arrived and we settled down for another relaxing 45 minute crossing. Ranavik on the other side of the Hardanger fjord has not much to offer the casual visitor heading elsewhere, but the countryside is very picturesque. The fjord is wide, the landscape consists of low rolling hills adorned with high snow-capped mountains in the east. That is where we were heading the next two days.
We had booked our first night at the Rosendal Turisthotell in beautiful Rosendal in the southern part of Hardanger. Rosendal is a tourist magnet, but there was one stop on our way we would recommend others to follow suit: The Halsnøy Abbey.
The Halsnøy Abbey
This former Augustinian monastery was founded around 1163-64 by Erling Skakke in connection with his son, Magnus Erlingsson, being crowned King of Norway. Erling needed to secure support from the Archbishop. During the Middle Ages the monastery prospered and became one of the wealthiest monasteries in Norway.
Later on Norway was united with Denmark, in practice becoming a colony under the King of Denmark. The King played his cards well and joined Martin Luther’s Reformation. The result was the confiscation of all church properties and treasures, and the abolishment of monastic life. The monastery at Halsnøy met the same fate and was in the mid 18th century sold to a wealthy, royally appointed civil servant.
The Juul dynasty tore down the remains of the inner parts of the monastery and set up a new brick manor in 1841. Today the surrounding farm land is still run by descendants of the Juul family, but the rest is owned and run by a museum trust. The ruins we see today are remains of the ancillary buildings as they were built around the year 1300. The central part of the monastery, the church and chapter house and more, has almost disappeared.
The regional museum of Sunnhordland is now in charge of the former monastery, farm house buildings and park. They are active in promoting cultural activities in and around the site. There is a Viking path being set up to some ancient burial mounds, there are artists resident in the villa and there are exhibitions and concerts taking place throughout the summer months.
Continuing on to Rosendal
Stavanger is less than 200 km from Rosendal, but we had started in the afternon and due to road conditions and ferries this comparatively short distance amounts to 4-5 hours on the road. In addition we had to wait for one of the ferries and made a stop at Halsnøy. Now it was getting late and we were getting hungry. A Thai restaurant in Sæbøvåg offered a boring meal but at least we got something to keep us going for the last stretch. We crossed another fjord (part of the Hardanger fjord) in an underwater tunnel.
Fortunately Norwegian summers are bright. Our trip was made in the first half of May and the sky was almost cloudless – a rare privilege in these parts. We arrived at Rosendal just in time for the last glimpses of daylight.
Rosendal Turisthotel is full of tradition. The present owners have gone to great lengths to keep the historic atmosphere while adding details of modern design. There was a mini-concert in the restaurant when we arrived. All in all a very fine start of a weekend trip. We were looking forward to the continuation – and it became a success. (Don’t confuse this nice little hotel with the larger, modern Rosendal Fjord Hotel nearby.)
Tourist information on Hardanger is poorly organised and thinly spread over several information portals. Some websites have a nice layout and poor content, like the museums. Some are geographically limited, like Hardangerfjord.com. Others are messy in every respect, like the national Visit Norway.
This is the story of a road trip in the southern part of the region of Hardanger, in Western Norway. Read the articles:
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