For this first visit of Norwegian fjords, I chose to go through Fjord Tours to directly book a “package”. One of them raised my interest, the Geirangerfjord & Norway in a Nutshell® tour. It is an organized, unaccompanied tour which only includes transportation and covers two of the most popular excursions in Norway: a cruise on the Geirangerfjord and the famous Norway in a nutshell®, which is a beautiful trip from Oslo to Bergen (or vice versa/roundtrip) via Voss, Gudvangen, Flam and Myrdal. Moreover, a visit of Ålesund and a cruise on the Hardangerfjord, second fjord of Norway, are on my to do list. I make this trip with a friend and we stay in hotels which provide us some comfort after long days of sightseeing. We eat from time to time in local restaurants and take the opportunity to do some activities on site.
After a first day of travel on the Dovre and Rauma railway lines, we finally make our way to Ålesund. It was during the journey in train that I had the opportunity to read a few lines about the city and its history.
Ålesund is a seaport, located 230 kilometers northeast of Bergen. The city is renowned for its Art Nouveau architecture and is considered one of the most beautiful cities of Norway. Founded in 182 and situated between the sea and the Sunnmøre alps, it is one of the largest cod export harbour in the world. The preparation and exportation of this dried and salted fish has made Ålesund a prosperous and famous city, mainly in South America and southern Europe, including Portugal. Fishing, hunting, navigation and unique geographical location shared between land and sea and situated at the intersection of roads leading east, west and south has also promoted its development.
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From ashes to Art nouveau
The city is young at heart, but has a particularly dramatic story. During a night of January 1904, a devastating fire, fanned by strong winds, raged and burned down 850 houses. 10’000 people fled in the night in extreme emergency and were therefore homeless.
After the fire, only 230 houses escaped the flames. The German Emperor Wilhelm II who often spent his holidays in Ålesund learned about this disaster. Quickly, he dispatched several thousand German craftsmen and a fifty architects who rebuilt the city of stone and brick in the then very popular style called Art Nouveau (Jugendstil in German). In this architectural style, buildings have numerous turrets, spiers and facade ornamentation, which is a characteristic set and almost unique in the world.
Thanks to the prodigious work of those men and the local population, most of the city center was already rebuilt in 1907. Like the phoenix rising from its ashes, a new city was born on the ruins of the old one. Today, historic buildings house a charming town with its cafes, restaurants, shops and galleries. Along the picturesque fishing port of Brosundet are located bright colorful warehouses which were used for fish delivery and preparation. Today, these building house hotels, apartments, offices and shops. On sunny days, you can not miss the animation of nearby cafes and the constant ballet of boats in the harbor might awaken in you the desire to trade for a few hours ashore for the pure and invigorating air of the Norwegian Sea.
Finally, if you’re looking for refreshing and spectacular experiences, know that Ålesund is a natural starting point to a great amount of excursions and cultural activities. As everything is relatively close, you can discover in a very short time the beautiful coast and its islands, deep valleys, not to mention the legendary fjords and other spectacular mountains.
When we arrived to the city in mid-afternoon, we quickly joined our hotel, Rica Parken, located in the heart of Ålesund. Nice hotel and great location, I recommend it for any visit to Ålesund, especially for its gargantuan breakfast buffet! After a quick check-in and luggage droping in our room, we hit the road for a city tour.