Most people experience the Norway‘s fjords—steep, ice-carved valleys that stretch like watery arms from land to sea—from the deck of a cruise ship. But, thanks to the newest itineraries from Norway’s innovative, family-owned tourism company 62˚ Nord, travelers can take in the country’s geological marvels on skis, bikes, and behind the wheel of an electric Porsche Taycan Cross Turismos. If you time things just right, it’s possible to combine all three while staying at 62˚ Nord’s collection of cushy hotels along the way. I’m here to explore Scandinavia by bike.
It’s the first day of a week-long cycling trip and I quickly learn that when you live in a country carved from glaciers, your idea of flat is slightly skewed. Our “Norwegian flat” warmup ride of nearly 60 miles includes 20 miles of climbing with nearly 2,000 feet of elevation gain. Luckily, the region’s natural scenery is so epic that the uphill slogs miraculously yield more pleasure than pain. Waterfalls become my dangling carrot. Each hairpin turn promises a thundering cascade more spectacular than the next, compelling me onward. The real challenge is keeping my eyes on the road.
Earlier that morning, our group of six was outfitted with top-of-the-line bikes from Norwegian brand Fara. We were gathered at Storfjord—a log-clad, grass-roofed hotel straight out of a Tolkien novel—named for the glacial waters below. Michiel, or “Mich,” our lanky, soft-spoken Dutch guide, led us down the gravel driveway and a support van, driven by Antoine, a boyish Frenchman who doubled as our group photographer, followed. After around 8 miles, we boarded the public ferry to make our first crossing to the town of Sykkylven. That would be the only pedestrian part of our day.
After being hosted for lunch at a 1,000-year-old, family-run apple farm in the hamlet of Stranda, we cycled down to a dock where we changed into survival suits and goggles for a thrilling 35-minute RIB ride past dozens of dead-drop waterfalls. Antoine has our bikes waiting at the dock. We continue riding, each at our own pace, nearly two more hours along mostly flat road winding through pristine Norangsdal Valley. Towering rock walls draped in patches of snow hug glacial-fed rivers so clear you can see every pebble lining the bottom.
British mountaineer William Cecil Slingsby once said, “The wildest alpine valley I ever saw was not in the Alps, it was in the valley of Norangsdal.” I whole-heartedly agree.
I skip the photo stops and grind out the final few miles until the valley spits me out in the edge-of-the-world village of Øye and at the doorsteps of Hotel Union Øye. This storied 19th-century mountain retreat in the Sunnmøre region on Norway’s northwest coast once welcomed royalty as well as legendary writers and outdoorsmen. Recently renovated by 62˚ Nord, it would be our home for the next two nights.
I must admit, I felt slightly awkward entering the hotel’s opulent hallways in spandex and bike shoes. A pianist played a baby Grand in the sunroom and a suit of knight’s armor stood guard near the fireplace in the reception. I wasn’t expecting Old World elegance in such a remote, wild setting, but the meticulously restored design is a nod to an era when exploration was a pursuit of high society. Individually designed rooms and suites are decorated with canopied beds, antique furnishings, and brocade wallpaper. Each is named after esteemed former guests, such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and William Cecil Slingsby, the region’s pioneering mountaineer.
Slingsby was one of the first men to summit Mount Slogen and the path to what many consider the most challenging hike in Norway begins just steps from the hotel. Mariann Øur, the general manager of Union Øye, tells me her great grandpa, one of the first professional mountain guides in the area, used to smoke a tobacco pipe while he hiked Slogen. And the hearty oatmeal porridge on the breakfast menu, she shares, is her great grandma’s recipe.
“It tastes more like a dessert, but it provided sustenance for great grandpa’s hikes,” she explains. “The mountaineers all loved it. We had to bring it back.”
The hotel’s well-curated library could double as a mountaineering museum, boasting the only full collection of the Alpine Journal in existence, as well as the Climber’s Book, a local hiking log dating to 1893 with entries from lauded climbers like Charles Watson Patchell on everything from the weather to their gear. Norway is far better known for its tough-as-nails alpinists than its Tour de France stars (a Norwegian has yet to win the Tour). The country’s nascent cycling scene is just starting to attract international attention, but our guide Mich believes it has huge potential for tourism.
While it doesn’t have the high-altitude ascents of the Dolomites or Pyrenees, Norway does have car-free, test-your-mettle roads set against dramatic landscapes full of cascading falls, roaring rivers, and bucolic hamlets. The biggest hurdle, admits Mich, a former adventure racer, is the fickle weather. I’ve arrived in June and Freyr, the Norse god of sunshine and fair weather, has thankfully blessed us with blue skies.
The next two days, we ride 30 to 40 miles, around two to three hours, along undulating roads, taking in cow-dotted pastures, stone bridges, and mirror-like fjords that reflect the surrounding snow-capped mountains. Elderflowers perfume the air, and the sound of cowbells and bleating lambs give way to the rumble of rivers and waterfalls. We don’t see another cyclist and rarely a car on the roads. Lunch is always a local stop, often reached by a James Bond-worthy vessel, like the Raven RIB that whisks us to Christian Gaard, a no-frills, family-run spot known for its venison burgers, Viking-inspired décor, and sparkling fjord views.
In the late afternoons, we returned to Union Øye, where options include hopping back on our bikes to log more miles, hiking one of the half-dozen or so local trails, taking an electric Porsche for a spin, or swimming. With summer’s never-ending sunshine, I’m able to go for a drive and take an evening polar plunge into the invigorating glacial waters of Norangsfjord just across from the hotel.
Mother Nature’s version of an ice bath was exactly what my saddle-sore muscles craved. Post-swim, I dashed straight back to my room, the Queen’s Suite, and filled my oversized tub with steamy water and bubbles. While soaking, I notice the ingenious Champagne button, which I’m now firmly convinced every hotel bathtub should have. Except this isn’t merely a button. It’s a golden lion’s head. After pressing down on the tongue, Kim, the barman, appeared moments later at my suite’s door with a bucket of ice and a bottle of Champagne in hand. Brilliant.
Most mornings, Mich shared an overview of the day’s ride via Strava. On day four, however, we load a helicopter and get a bird’s-eye view of our route. Dubbed the Queen’s Stage, the 37-mile ride ascends Trollstigen, Europe’s tallest vertical rock face, and involves 6.5 miles of climbing and nearly 3,000 feet of elevation gain. The heli bumps us to a farm where Antoine has our bikes waiting and locals come out to snap photos, though seem slightly disappointed to see cyclists rather than celebrities.
A road surrounded by wildflower fields winds past the touristy Troll Museum and a kitschy troll RV resort dotted with oversized statues I’m certain would leave me sleepless. Mich teases to watch for trolls leaping into the road, and I start to pedal faster. A snaking line of bumper-to-bumper cars signals the start of the climb up Trollstigen. The towering 3,608-foot rock has the ominous presence of the Wall from Game of Thrones. Mich is out to beat his Strava record and I watch as his manbun bobs up the first of 18 switchbacks and then out of sight. I was worried I might start to get waterfall fatigue, but every turn reveals a fall more impressive than the last. As tempted as I am to stop and snap photos, I worry if I stop I might not be able to start up the steep incline again.
I’m in my lowest gear, grinding it out, and the look of strain on my face yields honks of encouragement from the slow-moving drivers. The blue skies give way to clouds and the summer landscape reverts to winter by the time I complete the climb. Snowbanks tower above my head and locals skin up surrounding peaks. You’d have to be superhuman to follow the Trollstigen climb on bike, then pop on a pair of skis, but it’s an option. After our heart rates steady, we begin our 25-mile descent back to summer weather. The snow gives way to rapid-filled rivers lined by lush forest and the strawberry fields of the village of Vadal, where another tricked-out 62˚ Nord speed boat awaits to drop us back at Storfjord Hotel.
We recover from our big day with massages, wild swimming, and sauna and hot tub sessions overlooking the fjord. Only half the group joins the final ride the next day, a mellow 24-mile loop straight out the hotel door. I’d gladly risk the weather again if it meant returning for another week of riding sea to summit and summit to sea. The pristine setting is a cyclist’s dream, and the wow-factor touches orchestrated by 62˚ Nord turned the average bike trip into a next-level adventure you could only replicate in Norway.
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