It’s difficult to describe a place when you feel there are no words that do it justice. This is exactly the kind of effect Balestrand has on people.
For a long time I had been told by Suzel, our managing director at Taber Holidays, that Balestrand was her favourite place in the world. That’s a huge compliment from a woman who has travelled the width and breath of Norway, as well as all the other Scandinavian countries.
What makes Balestrand so special? I asked.
She spoke of a beautiful ascent into an idyllic village surrounded by inspiring nature, nestled at the foot of a magnificent mountain range and the seemingly endless Sognefjord, the world's longest and deepest fjord. But it wasn't just the physical presence of Balestrand that left her speechless every time she visited, it was the feeling of simply being there that was so rewarding.
After hearing so many stories about this small village surrounded by indescribable scenery, without visiting for myself it had begun to take on a mythological presence in my imagination. The only way to remedy this problem was to visit Balestrand myself...
Eventually the opportunity arose for me to visit and I felt ecstatic at the prospect of stepping foot in a place that had been the subject of much admiration. I was going to the Norwegian Travel Workshop with Suzel, so whilst already in Norway we decided a fast-paced familiarisation trip to the Western Fjords was a great way to see some of Norway's most popular areas and more importantly, a chance to see her Balestrand.
Would I agree with Suzel: Is Balestrand the most beautiful village in Norway?
After spending the night in Flåm we began our 3 1/2-hour journey by boat to Balestrand. Immediately I climbed up onto the deck to expose my skin to the brisk wind, and relished in the fresh air. You would think by how much I wax lyrical about the Norwegian air that I've never actually breathed in a day of fresh air before, but that's exactly how it feels in Norway. You feel 10 years younger just breathing it in!
As we approached Balestrand, the brightly painted houses came into view and it looked just how I had imagined it to be - dwarfed by enormous mountains coated in glacial remnants. Suzel was correct; it was beautiful and I couldn’t wait to step off the boat to explore its paths and trails.
From the fjord I could see Kviknes Hotel where we were staying the night, it sits just a few steps from the ferry terminal. If ever there were a hotel boasting a fjord-view then it doesn't get much better than the Kviknes. After I checked in and brought my luggage up to my room, I raced onto the balcony for the pièce de résistance!
We could hardly believe our luck with the weather, it was shorts and t-shirt kind of weather so we wasted no time getting back outside to explore the surrounding area. Over the years suzel has spent many, many weeks in Balestrand so she took it upon herself to act as my personal tour guide, taking me first to St. Olaf’s Church.
This church was completed in 1897 and is built in the same style as a Stave Church. The church was built in memory of Margaret Sophie Green Kvikne, who came to Balestrand as a mountain climber and married Knut Kvikne, the then owner of Kviknes Hotel. Margaret was the daughter of a priest in England, and the story is that she never got accustomed to the Norwegian church with its Lutheran rituals. When she passed away in 1894, her last wish was that an English church should be built in Balestrand. Her husband made this happen, and the church was completed 3 years later. St. Olaf’s Church belongs to the Church of England, and is governed by the bishop of Gibraltar.
We walked for longer, passing cute cabins, rowing boats and jetties, and stopped when I came across a beautiful white house. If there were such a thing as my dream house then this is it, hasn't it got a view to die for?
Feeling inspired by finding my dream home and being surrounded by all the beautiful scenery, it was only a matter of time before the camera came out (and would remain out for the entirety of our time in Balestrand).
Standing in front of my dream home. Ahem.
After spending a few hours outdoors exploring the area, it was now time to head back to the Kviknes Hotel for dinner - and what awaited us was a superb seafood buffet with a seat in the restaurant overlooking the Sognefjord.
To enter to the restaurant you pass through the beautifully decorated lounge rooms that are inspired by the Romantic period. All guests are free to enjoy these spaces at their leisure - we think it makes the ideal place to relax after copious amounts of food!
After dinner we took a walk out into Kviknes's garden and watched the sunset transforming the sky into various shades of pink and violet. And because Balestrand is officially the most photogenic place on earth I told Suzel to get in some of the photos. Usually she's rather camera shy but I think the wine at dinner made her a little more cooperative! :)
The following day after an extremely good sleep, Suzel and I woke up early to explore more of the area before going onwards to Bergen in the late afternoon. Balestrand is known for being an arty community and I wanted to get an impression of this, so we were recommended to walk the 2kms Heritage trail which passes a selection of unique villas, orginally built by resident artists during the years 1890 - 1900s.
I fell in love with the above cornerpiece in this wooden window frame, what do you reckon it is? I think it's a dog but I'm open to suggestions!
Some of the villas have a slight Gothic appearance, with jutting roofs, verandahs and decorated gables often with dragonhead ornaments. These were a symbol taken from the Nordic Sagas and the prechristian world of mythology. The amount of craftwork that has gone into the buildings is astonishing and the view each one of them has of the Sognefjord is what must make living here truly special. Just imagine waking up to this view every morning?
Suzel is right, beyond the beauty of Balestrand lies something more important. It's that indescribable feeling you get when you're there....
If you would like to explore Balestrand, take a look at our holiday, Norway For Beginners which connects Balestrand with Oslo and Bergen, two of Norway's most famous cities.