TRAVEL STYLE Scandinavia's Sunny Secret; Chris Higham Spent a Weekend in Bergen, One of the Newer European City Break Destinations, and Found Glorious Weather in the 'Gateway to the Fjords'

The Birmingham Post (England), June 20, 2001 | Go to article overview

TRAVEL STYLE Scandinavia's Sunny Secret; Chris Higham Spent a Weekend in Bergen, One of the Newer European City Break Destinations, and Found Glorious Weather in the 'Gateway to the Fjords'


Byline: Chris Higham

The omens for a weekend trip to Bergen weren't particularly promising. A straw poll of friends placed Norway's second city variously in the heart of industrial Germany, 'somewhere in the Baltic' or several miles away in lowland Denmark.

Only one got it spot-on and he gave me an old-fashioned look before recommending the swift purchase of an umbrella.

I wasn't amused, but later, basking in the third consecutive day of perfect sunshine, I allowed myself a self-satisfied smirk. Reading a newspaper, the smile broadened as I discovered that it was raining back in the UK.

Bergen has recently figured in the news as a base for high-powered meetings of the G7. Before that it was known, if at all, as a centre for debate on international fishing policy. Now it is being marketed as a city break destination and with good reason. Bergen has one of the most perfectly preserved medieval centres in Europe, a compact centre easily explored on foot, and a location close to Norway's greatest natural asset - the fjords.

Go now and you'll find a city refreshing for its lack of gentrification. Bergen has none of the gloss of some of Europe's better-groomed tourist capitals and is all the better for it. Like Sheffield and Rome, it claims to be built on seven hills. The Floibanen - a 1000ft high funicular - takes you from the waterfront to the top of one of the highest of these, on a clear day providing arresting views of the harbour and sea beyond.

Below, all but the main thoroughfares are paved in perfectly-preserved cobbles. Harbourside, the city's most famous landmark is the Bryggen, a water frontage of wooden warehouses, little changed in 200 years and with high wooden walkways leading from building to building. Most have been converted into smart little shops, restaurants and bars but one has been preserved as the Hanseatic Museum, an illustration of life in the days when Bergen was Europe's salt-fish capital.

The Norwegians like their buildings wooden and colourful, painted in bright - often clashing - colours. Clinging together in a higgledy-piggledy fashion on the hills behind the harbour, they are a photographer's dream, reminiscent of the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm. The fact that every shop boasts a motley collection of trolls only serves to heighten that image.

Trolls are to Norway what leprechauns are to Ireland. They come in all sizes, the uglier the better, with huge noses, pot bellies and twisted teeth. They are the souvenir from hell.

However, this is a minor gripe compared with the pleasures to be derived from a short stay in this overgrown fishing village. There are the usual clutch of churches and monuments to explore - The Rosenkrantz Tower and the Hakon's Hall are particularly interesting, together forming Bergen's ancient harbour fortress. Nearby, the Mariakirchen boasts some splendid medieval paintings as well as a wildly opulent altar with a gold tryptych.

But these take second billing to Bergen's main attraction: its boat-filled harbour. As soon as the sun shines its citizens make straight for the open-air bars and restaurants lining the quay. …

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TRAVEL STYLE Scandinavia's Sunny Secret; Chris Higham Spent a Weekend in Bergen, One of the Newer European City Break Destinations, and Found Glorious Weather in the 'Gateway to the Fjords'
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