Still considered to be off the beaten path for superyachts, Norway’s magical fjords provide a dramatic cruising ground. Georgia Boscawen explains why they deserve a spot on your charter hit list
The rumpled peaks of Runde – a small island lying 14 nautical miles from Ålesund – soar from the tide, embellished with a light dusting of clouds on this mild morning. The shore seems vacant but, as the boat draws near, a line of typically Norwegian white-and-red cabins shifts into focus, revealing a small civilisation cast away on one of Norway’s most westerly isles. Small islands such as Runde are scattered along the serrated coast, each boasting their own microculture and provenance, but it’s only us here bobbing among the gulls and puffins before Runde’s immense cliffs. There are no other boats in sight, and it makes me wonder why these mythological-seeming islands aren’t overrun with superyachts.
I was dressed and prepared for Arctic conditions and hellish sea states, but here in the fjords, the waters are calm and the air mild, despite Norway’s reputation for a gruelling climate. Temperatures here tend to the cool rather than Baltic and warm rather than blistering. That’s perhaps out of the ordinary for owners used to cruising in Caribbean and Mediterranean summers or even Antarctic adventures, but ideal for exploring this ethereal landscape with ease – and a boon for your air-conditioning bill.
Our boat draws alongside a lone pontoon extending from the rocky island of Skotholmen, which is big enough to accommodate a solitary wooden building, and we hop out and trudge towards it. Unassuming from the outside, this boathouse from the mid-1800s is home to Kami Skotholmen, a rustic yet contemporary seafood restaurant with exposed beams and an open-plan kitchen that overlooks the waves. With chef Magnus Bergseth at the helm, Kami is famous for its local seafood, particularly its crab soup, a creamy concoction of white crabmeat and punchy herb oil, served with crusty homemade bread. If the weather had indeed been as blustery as I’d anticipated, there would be nothing more soothing than this rich chowder. It would undoubtedly be worth a journey over treacherous seas – and even with the sun beating down, it’s obvious why many make the expedition.
I’ve discovered Norwegian food to be much in this vein: hearty and nourishing, yet sophisticated. It stems from an outdoorsy culture that can be seen across the land. And why not, with its glaciated saw-toothed highlands and fjord-indented coastline? The quality of modern Norwegian cuisine is abundantly clear at Apotekergata No 5, the restaurant connected to the Hotel Brosundet, one of 62° Nord’s illustrious properties in Ålesund. Housed in a former warehouse, Apotekergata No 5 is unquestionably chic with its industrial interior, dim lighting and exposed brickwork. On sunnier days, it benefits from a barge-like extension, so you can dine out on the water. One dish on the five-course tasting menu is grilled spring cabbage, which sounds rudimentary until a plate of caviar-dressed chargrilled cabbage, topped with crispy mussels in a butter sauce, is set down before me. Cruising down the menu, other complex courses are equally understated; white fish from Midsund and top sirloin of lamb are masterpieces of intricacy and flavour.
Conceivably, this modest approach to staggering food harks back to the humble Norwegian culture, which is perhaps why few would place Norway at the top of their “to charter” list. It hasn’t gone wholly unnoticed, however, with yachts such as the 110-metre Kaos and 73.6-metre Sherpa spotted meandering through the fjords in the past year. But, as a nation, Norway has undersold its excellence, and I’m not just referring to the food.
“You just need to make sure you don’t miss the ferry at Linge ferjekai,” says Ann Kristin Ytrevik, 62° Nord’s brand director, as she hands me the keys of a Porsche Taycan Cross Turismo. “It really is one of the best ways to explore the fjords from the land. You won’t believe the views,” she adds. Once I’m at the wheel on the mainland, tight hairpin bends hewn into the cliffs fall finally into a long, straight road that reveals Geirangerfjord, a UNESCO World Heritage Site of gargantuan, green-velveted peaks that could have sprung from the pages of Tolkien. Boats, hundreds of metres below, scatter the glass-like fjord beneath ribbons of tumbling waterfalls. Ferraris and Aston Martins join us on the snaking roads that lead to Geiranger Skywalk, where we can finally sit and admire Geirangerfjord in its entirety, as well as the challenging bends that we’ve conquered with the zeal of an F1 driver.
However, equally entrancing is the view from below – specifically, from one of 62°Nord’s yachts – which is misted by the Seven Sisters waterfall, a 410-metre cascade that tumbles between thick vegetation. “This village is continually braced for a tsunami that would measure 85 metres high – if one of the cliffs were to fall, they would have just five minutes to evacuate,” says our captain, while pointing to the small settlement of Hellesylt. Yet, the residents appear happy to take the risk and stay in the fjord. It’s not difficult to see why – it’s too beautiful to abandon.
Above all else, it’s the mythical landscape that makes properties here worth a visit, as the Storfjord Hotel demonstrates. Grass-topped cabins dot the dense woodland before the fjord, as the sounds of water and birdsong fill this lush valley. Although the air is still warm, there is a fire pit before me, if only to add to this evening’s theatre. Inside, log walls and antler chandeliers give the hotel an alpine feel – an excuse perhaps to indulge in the steak tartare and buttery monkfish that grace this evening’s tasting menu. After dinner, we return once more to the terrace, which, at midnight, is still flooded with light, a novel feature of Norwegian summers. With my own cabin calling, however, I’m happy to sink into my four-poster bed, deliberately leaving the French doors and tweedy curtains open.
Many travel the world to visit the finest wellness retreats and spas, but here in Norway, the majesty of the landscape alone instils a sense of calm in a way a massage couldn’t begin to replicate. In fact, Norway has famously refreshed and inspired many writers, composers and adventurers. Previous guests of the Hotel Union Øye include such names as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, and Karen Blixen, best known for Out of Africa. There’s a unique atmosphere here in the sequestered fjord hamlet of Øye – still accessible by yacht – and the hotel is intensely romantic, with dark, panelled walls, well-trodden flagstones and an eclectic antique collection scattered throughout the property.
Each sumptuous room is individually designed and here in the suite, my four-poster bed, silk damask wall coverings and personal collection of exploration first editions feel like a glimpse into the past, or perhaps into the psyche of Holmes himself. As I pass the hotel’s glorious Steinway, en route to the Palm Room for an aperitif, Norway’s perpetual dusk complements the hotel’s elegant yet laid-back atmosphere. Having asked for a Martini, I spy the barman in the kitchen garden seeking out a suitable garnish. “We’ll call it a garden Martini,” he says, presenting the small glass garnished with drops of emerald chive oil and pink blossom.
Sitting at the base of plunging waterfalls that echo through the valley as they crash to earth is enough to make you feel infinitesimal before this enormous landscape, but 62°Nord has an antidote for this as it whisks me up in one of its helicopters to take in the fragmented coast from the skies. From here, I spot hamlets burrowed in the clefts of valleys that run in deep folds along the Norangsfjord, each one begging for exploration via the glassy fjords.
Away from the well-trodden path, Norway combines secluded waterways with sumptuous hotels and eclectic restaurants. Few destinations present such tempting delights in one package. You could hop on the milk run and stop in at any number of luxurious hotel spas, but cruising these sylvan straits is enough to instil a sense of utter tranquillity, without a single massage therapist in sight.
First published in the December 2022 issue of BOAT International. Get this magazine sent straight to your door, or subscribe and never miss an issue.shop now