The Geirangerfjord is one of the region’s smallest fjords, but also one of its most breathtaking. A convoluted branch of the Storfjord, it cuts deep inland and is marked by impressive waterfalls, with a village at either end of its snake-like profile – Hellesylt in the west and Geiranger in the east. Of the two, Geiranger has the smarter hotels as well as the tourist crowds, Hellesylt is tiny and not very interesting, but it is but a troll’s throw from the magnificent Norangsdal valley.
Any approach to GEIRANGER is spectacular. Arriving by ferry reveals the village tucked away in a hollow at the eastern end of the fjord, while approaching from the north by road involves thundering along a fearsome set of switchbacks on the Ørnevegen (Highway 63) for a first view of the village and the fjord glinting in the distance. Similarly, the road in from Highway 15 to the south squeezes through the mountains before squirming down the zigzags to arrive in Geiranger from behind, passing two celebrated vantage points, Flydalsjuvet and Dalsnibba, on the way.
There can be little argument that Geiranger boasts one of the most magnificent settings in western Norway and the village itself negotiates the steepest of hillsides, its scattering of houses built on a series of narrow shelves. The only fly in the ointment is the excessive number of tourists at the peak of the season, though, to be fair, the congestion is limited to the centre of the village, and it’s easy enough to slip away to appreciate the true character of the fjord, hemmed in by sheer rock walls interspersed with hairline waterfalls, with tiny-looking ferries and cruise ships bobbing about on its blue-green waters.
Tiny, inconsequential HELLESYLT is now little more than a stopoff on tourist itineraries, with most visitors staying just long enough to catch the car ferry down the fjord to Geiranger or scuttle off along Highway 60. For daytime entertainment, there is a tiny beach and bathing jetty (bådehus) beyond the mini-marina near the ferry quay, the prelude to some very cold swimming, or you can watch the waterfall crashing down the cliffs a few metres from the dock. Otherwise, the place seems more than a little down-at-the-mouth: the main dampener has been Mount Åknes, a great chunk of which is eroding away from the rest of the mountain, threatening to collapse into the Storfjord and create a tsunami which will hit Hellesylt in six minutes; experts are monitoring the mountain closely, but of course no one knows if or when it will go, but it’s a very real danger – as evidenced at Tafjord.