Half the joy of the Sognefjord is the many charming and eye-catching villages along the 204 km long fjord – such as Balestrand, known for its ornate Swiss-style houses. At the end of one of the innermost fjord arms lies the wonderfully preserved village of Lærdalsøyri. Rather than tearing down their old buildings in the 1960s and 1970s, the people of Lærdal established a new town centre, which could grow at its own pace. One of Norway’s most famous salmon rivers flows right through the centre of town. For many cruise passengers, the Nærøyfjord is the climax of western Norway. There is a real danger of getting a stiff neck from peering up toward the tops of 1200 metre high mountains along the narrowing fjord. Railway buffs consider Flåmsbana one of the most exciting train rides in all of Europe. The 20 km long railway, which passes through 20 tunnels, took 20 years to build. It is a masterpiece of engineering.
Inner life of the glacier
A perfect place to learn about the inner life of the glacier is Fjærland, home to the Norwegian Glacier Museum. Afterwards, you can accompany an experienced guide for a walk on the nearby Jostedalsbreen, the largest glacier on continental Europe. The glacier arms have been making marked advances in recent years. There are other scenic fjords in this county, such as Nordfjord, winding inward toward the fantastic landscape Stryn and Olden. For skiers and snowboarders, summer is no hindrance; at Stryn you have access to snow year round.
Testimony to ancient craftsmen
On a small headland with a beautiful view over the Lustrafjord, stands Urnes stave church, one of the world’s foremost cultural memorials. Its excellent condition is fine testimony to the skilled craftsmen who built the church over 800 years ago. The portals facing west and north are adorned with beautiful carvings of intertwined animal figures that clearly stem from old Norse culture. There is also a remarkable similarity to Celtic ornamentation found in manuscripts like the book of Kells. Five of the 28 stave churches still standing are in Sogn & Fjordane county , Borgund, Hopperstad, Undredal and Kaupanger.
The autumn and spring storms that sweep against the Norwegian coastline have Stad as their favourite meeting place. Many sailors stopped at the monastery of Selja, considered the womb of Christendom in Norway, to wait and pray for storms to pass. Not everyone was that patient; some seafarers actually pulled their boats across the peninsula of Stadlandet at Dragseidet, despite a distance of 5 km and a strenuous climb up to 240 metres.