To the east of Bergen, the most inviting target is the 180km-long Hardangerfjord (whardangerfjord.com), whose wide waters are overlooked by a rough, craggy shoreline and a scattering of tiny settlements. At its eastern end the Hardangerfjord divides into several lesser fjords, and it’s here you’ll find the district’s most appealing villages, Utne, Lofthus and Ulvik, each of which has an attractive fjordside setting and at least one an especially good place to stay. To the east of these tributary fjords rises the Hardangervidda, a mountain plateau of remarkable, lunar-like beauty and a favourite with Norwegian hikers. The plateau can be reached from almost any direction, but one popular starting point for the extremely fit is Lofthus, with this approach involving a stiff day-long climb up from the fjord.
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Much less well known than other, similar vantage points, the Trolltunga (troll’s tongue) is a narrow ledge of rock that projects out from the mountainside no less than 700m above Lake Ringedalsvatnet. Needless to say, the views fair take your breath away. To get there, take Highway 13 north from Odda to Tyssedal, where you follow the signs for the 7km journey up into the mountains to Skjeggedal, where you can park. The hike starts here in Skjeggedal beside the (currently defunct) funicular Mågelibanen. The path begins on the right-hand side of the funicular, is marked with painted red Ts, takes between eight and ten hours there and back, and involves an ascent of around 1000m. This is tough terrain, so you will need to come properly equipped, and you should check weather conditions at Odda tourist office before you set out – the path is closed when the snows come and is usually open from mid-June to early October. There is no mobile phone coverage along the route.
The Battle of the oranges
The Battle of the oranges
The Germans invaded Norway on April 9, 1940, and during the next couple of weeks, before the Norwegians threw in the towel, there were several naval skirmishes in the Hardangerfjord. In one of them, the so-called Battle of Ulvik, the German navy shelled the centre of the village to smithereens after being shot at from the shore. During the battle, the Norwegian navy, seeing the way things were going, scuttled the Afrika, a German merchant ship they had previously captured; the wreck remains in Ulvik harbour today. They also scuttled a neutral ship, the San Miguel, which had taken refuge here, thereby – in a true Whisky Galore moment – releasing the ship’s cargo, thousands of oranges, which bobbed around the harbour, much to the amazed delight of the locals, for whom fresh fruit was a real treat.