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Articles Blog

Olden, Norway

Karyn Planett

Nordfjord’s Frontier 

A web of waterways defines the bone-chilling beauty of the Nordfjord. Sixty miles of cobalt-colored waters lap the banks of jagged rocks and verdant patches wending their way from the churning strength of the chilly North Sea to its terminus at a spot called “Olden.” In fact, there are three short arms of the inner end of the Nordfjord and our destination is the southernmost. As Crystal’s white bow slices its way to Olden, farmers in the Oldedalen Valley will be greeting their summer day as did generations past. Often they don’t seem to notice they’re virtually wrapped in the arms of a Gustave Dore landscape. In fact, these hearty Norsemen might not even know that the 2004 National Geographic Traveler magazine named the Norwegian fjords the “world’s best unspoiled travel destination.” As you can imagine there was stiff competition in this class of 115 candidates! Perhaps they might also be unaware that UNESCO declared these ribbons of waterways the well-deserved distinction of a “World Heritage Site.”           

But you know, and that’s exactly why you’re here. 

Mother Nature’s Touch 

Olden is flanked by mountains that jut 5500 feet from sea level. The melting waters of the Jostedal Glacier, which covers 300 square miles, take credit for the powerful rivers that flow into Olden and Floen Lakes and also feed the pounding waterfalls nearby. Glaciers, you might remember, are those immense frozen seas of ice that scour out massive valleys as they inch along, constantly growing, shrinking, changing color though reflecting only blue light. Fjords were formed when the glaciers retreated and the seas flooded these gouged-out profiles. For the record, Jostedal is Norway’s largest glacier and is considered Europe’s last remnant of the Ice Age. 

One waterfall of note is the postcard-perfect 200-foot-high Buldrefossen Waterfall. The nearby JOL Bridge, built by hand in 1883, spans a 200-foot-deep gorge and reminds us of man’s determination to address his environment despite the formidable obstacles. 

The area of Stryn features the 9-mille-long Stryn Lake and some of Europe’s finest summer skiing. The Videseeter Hotel (videseeter means “mountain farm” in Old Norse) is famous for its osier willows, its collection of traditional artifacts, and the spectacular view the Hjelle Valley and Lodalskapa Peak in the distance. 

Briksdal Glacier is a massive shelf of ice that flows some 4,000 feet down the Briksdal Valley. In places, it measures 1300 feet deep and is said to be Europe’s largest glacier. As it registers the sun’s warmth, a crackling sound fills the air as precarious chunks break loose and tumble down to the icy fjord in a thunderous roar.   

Her Proud Citizens 

Self-sufficient, sturdy, hard working -- all terms that apply to fjordlanders who live on isolated farms called seters that dot the valleys and high plateaus. Operating, often, in a cashless society, they trade services and supplies, travel by boat, and cling to a lifestyle passed down through time. These people tend to their dairy cattle and sheep herds or pick fruit on a long summer’s day. A few still hitch stout, cream-colored fjording horses to 2-wheeled farm carriages called stolkjaerrer. Others fish or harvest nearby forests. Hiking is a welcomed pastime especially when the cloudberries are ripe. Locals enjoy them with homemade cheese, crispbread, even a sip of aquavit, Scandinavia’s distilled “water of life” beverage that packs a real wallop. 

For holidays the women sport their traditional dyed wool bunads, considered to be Europe’s most often worn national dress. Outsiders who simply visit in summertime often own hyttes, a type of wooden holiday home that’s long on rustic charm and gripping scenery. 

Poking Around The Town 

Olden, with fewer than 750 people in a 7-kilometer radius, is … tiny. You can see it in a heartbeat. But, do leave time to step into the Olden Old Church dating back to 1759. Prior to that, there was a traditional 14th-century “stave” church on this site. In fact, some of the original timber was used in the church doorposts. 

The William Singer home in Olden, known as Singerheimen, houses paintings, documents, and personal memorabilia of this American-born millionaire artist. After Mrs. Singer’s death in 1962, the home was to be a place of rest for Nordfjoreid nurses. Instead, today it’s a museum dedicated to William H. Singer Jr. (1868-1943) who first visited Olden in 1908. Many of his valuable works capture Olden’s stunning beauty and reflect his love for this area, which he visited again and again.  

Now, should you wish, you can simply pass your time in Olden searching for a can’t-leave-Norway-without-one troll to accompany you home. This extraordinarily unattractive creature is said to want power over mere mortals but, instead, is as stupid as the stump from which he was carved. All too soon, it’s time to depart this sliver of Norway, which you will probably agree is among the world’s best unspoiled travel destinations.