TRAVEL: Fjord Fiesta; CHRIS COLLINS IS IN TUNE WITH NORWAY

Article excerpt

Byline: CHRIS COLLINS

IT MAY have spent decades in the cultural wilderness thanks, in part, to its Eurovision lapses in taste, but something is definitely stirring in Norway.

Holidaymakers have long enjoyed its bracing winter climate but now it seems that Norway's short sunny season is packing them in, too.

And you don't necessarily have to be a devotee of rafting, rock-climbing or any of the other activities that make insurance companies nervous.

Those of us who prefer self-preservation can even get away with just taking energetic walks - and at the end of every ramble, you're bound to see something to make your exertions worthwhile. When it comes to scenery, everyone gives the country douze points.

Indeed, there's actually an embarrassment of riches. It's a seemingly endless vista of green fjords and impassive mountains, with the occasional glacier thrown in for good measure.

It isn't all bare rock and cold water, either. There are tiny villages set in valleys so green they shame the Emerald Isle. For chocolate-box photography, look no further.

For anyone with an appreciation of natural wonders, the ferry journey along the Sognefjord and Fjaerlandsfjord to reach Jostalsbreen, Northern Europe's biggest glacier, is a must.

At 126 miles, the magnificent Sognefjord is Norway's longest. Shade and light shift subtly on the towering rocks that rise from glassy waters. But true perspective comes with the discovery that there is a kilometre of water below the ferry. The depth from mountaintop to fjord bottom is twice that of the Grand Canyon and the erosion which led to Sognefjord took place in only half the time. Incredible...

Balestrand, a village overlooking the juncture of the Sognefjord and Fjaerlandsfjord, was once a favourite destination of Kaiser Wilhelm II, who arrived in his yacht each summer, accompanied by a couple of battleships.

It was here in 1914 that the Kaiser received news of the assassination of the Serbian Archduke Ferdinand. The rest, as they say, is history.

The Kaiser's base at the Kviknes Hotel boasts spectacular views, wonderful public areas and an almost palpable history. Sadly, all this doesn't come cheaply but you can still take it all in while enjoying a few hours' well-deserved rest.

Once outside again, you'll soon discover that Norway is a treasure chest of natural wonders. Waterfalls, for instance, are commonplace. You can barely travel half a mile without seeing what you think is an impressive cascade. But when you've seen a real Norwegian waterfall, these trickles pale into insignificance. …