Go Viking in the Fjords is a new Fjord Norway concept for the season between October and April, allowing you to explore the western part of Norway in a way that is a little bit rougher, a little bit tougher, and just that bit more real. The UNESCO area of Gudvangen and the Nærøyfjord has a long, rich Viking history.
TEXT: INGRID OPSTAD | PHOTOS: FRODE HANSEN AND GEORG HANSEN
“Now that we have electricity all winter, a steady supply of water, and the roads are open 98 per cent of the time, it’s a walk in the park, really. Of course, we have our regular avalanches, but with the huge defences built, we can enjoy the snow more and fear for our homes and properties less,” says Torill Hylland, designer of Gudvangen Fjordtell, which she owns and runs along with her husband, Olav.
Inspired by the Viking heritage of the area, Gudvangen Fjordtell was designed to capture the spirit and style of the past. “The main reason why people come to visit Gudvangen is the scenery and the location, so the hotel was built with the purpose of guests being able to enjoy the fantastic views of the glorious Næøryfjord. One-third of the main building is covered in glass, making it possible to enjoy the view no matter the weather conditions. The materials chosen also reflect the surrounding nature, and the use of triangles throughout the structure mimics the shape of the majestic mountains in the area.
The chairs and tables in the restaurant are decorated with patterns from Urnes Stavechurch, and so too is the impressive blacksmith work on the staircase and the central fire in the building. Along the massive beams, the Oseberg dragons are guarding the building.
“I have a great passion for our Viking heritage, a passion that grew throughout the process of researching for and designing the hotel. Now I am fully immersed in the world of the Vikings,” says Hylland.
Fjord activities in a magical landscape
Situated in an old Viking area full of character and charm and with countless adventures waiting to be discovered, Gudvangen Fjordtell ensures that visitors are spoilt for choice, between breathtaking landscapes, fjords and historical sites. “We have everything from the impressive Flåm Railway and several ski resorts to ferry trips through the fjord, spectacular kayaking tours and a range of mountain hiking opportunities right on the doorstep of the hotel. There is something for everyone to enjoy here,” says Hylland.
But the most popular highlight, after the fjord cruise, of course, is the Viking Valley – a truly unique experience, situated only 100 metres from the Fjordtell. For the last three years, winter tourism in the fjords has really been growing, and it is easy to see why. “It’s breathtaking here in the summer, but the winter is an experience for all your senses,” Hylland continues. “The days are short and the sun is almost gone for four months, but the daylight is something special, and at the dawn of the day and in the afternoon, we have this magical, blue light. If you are lucky with the weather, the sun makes all kinds of colours on top of the snowy mountains, and when the moon shines, it all turns into a fairy-tale landscape.”
Throughout the winter, there is a bonfire outside the Fjordtell at all times, so guests coming on the Norway in a Nutshell tour can warm up before they get on the ferry. There’s one on the hotel’s terrace every evening for the guests, too. The latest addition is some heated glass pagodes by the fjordside. Here, you can sit and enjoy the fjord landscape, being outdoors yet just as comfortable as though you were inside. This is without a doubt a place to find silence and an inner calm.
During the first weekend of Advent, Hylland recommends stopping by to experience the large Christmas marked in the Viking Valley. “The charming old street spanning all the way from the hotel into and around Njardarheimr is adorned with old-fashioned, yellow Christmas lights,” she says. “We focus on creating a good atmosphere, with local food and traditional drinks as well as crafts from the area – a great way to get into the Christmas spirit.”
Gudvangen Fjordtell was built in 1991.
It is owned by Olav and Torill Hylland, fourth-generation hotel owners in Gudvangen.
Welcome to Njardarheimr in Viking Valley
The Viking Village is not a museum or an amusement park: it is a real, genuine Viking village. For 24 years now, there’s been a Viking society here, with a Chieftain elected for life.
“Unfortunately, it took us 20 years to get the permission and land to build it all, but stubborn Vikings don’t give up easily,” Hylland laughs. Together with Georg Hansen, the dream about this place was kept alive, and it is now a living, growing centre for learning about and living as in the Viking Era. “Together with Frode Tufte, we have created this place where we make history come to life,” Hylland enthuses.
Visitors get to enjoy a 45-minute guided tour called the Viking Experience. The Viking guides don’t have a strict manuscript; they tell the story about the Vikings, their everyday life and traditions from their own perspective – so even though the facts are the same, every tour is different; a land-worker telling it from their point of view will be a very different experience from a warrior telling it from their perspective.
Visitors can also try out different activities such as axe throwing and archery, visit the blacksmith or the Chieftain’s hall, or try out different handicrafts. “Most importantly, our guests can always ask questions, chat to the Vikings and even sit down around the fire with us,” says Tufte, concept developer and CEO of the Viking Valley. “In museums, everything is behind glass walls with written explainations. We don’t have any of that. We make it, use it, mend it, and also let you try it. That’s a different experience.”
The Viking Village is a 100 per cent local project, and all of the income goes back into the village, to maintain and develop it, to fund experimental archeology and education. In other words, the more visitors, the more they can work with the theme, and the better the product gets. This is a win-win situation for visitors as well as the educational prospect. “Being a private project like this gives us the opportunity to play and have fun, as well. Vikings loved having fun as much as they loved to look good and use colourful jewellery and outfits,” says Tufte. “We are very serious about the historical facts, but that doesn’t mean we have to be too serious about ourselves.”
Of course, you can also host a Viking party or another private event at the Viking Village – why not consider a Viking wedding? But it will be in real Viking style, as will the food served.
“Come visit us in the winter and experience the real Viking atmosphere with the fire and drums and rough weather, and understand how this incredibly beautiful landscape created the Vikings. Go Viking! Go real!” ends Hylland.
-The Viking Village was built in 2016.
-It consists of more than 2,000 square metres of buildings on 10,000 square metres of land.
-Open 10am to 6pm every day, all year round.
-Built and owned by the locals.