The mountain roads of Norway are some of the most melodramatic in Europe, but the wildest of them all is perhaps the Sognefjellsveg (Highway 55; wsognefjellet.com), which runs the 110km from Skjolden, a dull little town at the head of the Lustrafjord, over to Lom. Despite the difficulty of the terrain, the Sognefjellsveg – which is closed from late October to May depending on conditions – marks the course of one of the oldest trading routes in Norway, with locals transporting goods by mule or, amazingly enough, on their shoulders: salt and fish went northeast, hides, butter, tar and iron went southwest. That portion of the road that clambers over the highest part of the mountains – no less than 1434m above sea level – was only completed in 1938 under a Great Depression “make-work” scheme, which kept a couple of hundred young men busy for two years. Tourist literature hereabouts refers to the lads’ “motivation and drive”, but considering the harshness of the conditions and the crudeness of their equipment – pickaxes, spades and wheelbarrows – their purported enthusiasm seems unlikely.
Beyond Skjolden, the Sognefjellsveg weaves its way up the Bergsdal valley to a mountain plateau which it proceeds to traverse, providing absolutely stunning views of the jagged, ice-crusted peaks of the Jotunheimen Nasjonalpark to the east. En route, the most obvious stopping point is TURTAGRØ, just 15km out from Skjolden, which is no more than a handful of buildings – including a hotel (see Hikes from Turtagrø into the Skagastølsdal valley) – but as good a place as any to pick up one of the several hiking trails that head off into the mountains.
Beyond Turtagrø, the Sognefjellsveg cuts its wild and windy way across the plateau before clipping down through forested Leirdal, passing the old farmstead of ELVESETER. Here, about 45km from Turtagrø, a complex of old timber buildings has been turned into a hotel-cum-mini-historical-theme-park, its proudest possession being a bizarre 33-metre-high plaster and cyanite column, the Sagasøyla. On top of the column is the figure of that redoubtable Viking Harald Hardrada and down below is carved a romantic interpretation of Norwegian history. Dating from the 1830s, the column was brought to this remote place because no one else would have it – not too surprising really.
From Elveseter, it’s a short hop over the hills to Bøverdal, which runs down into the crossroads settlement of Lom. On the way, you’ll pass the start of the narrow, 18km-long mountain road that sneaks up the Visdal valley to the Spiterstulen lodge.