Spotting for killerwhales and seals along the Aurlandsfjord, a heron landed on the rocks beneath us. We stopped and watched it for a while. It is something majestic and calm about those birds. Just like the fjord on a grey day.
FROM 400 TO 1.400.000 PEOPLE
Flåm is oh so quiet this Sunday in the end of March. It is almost impossible to understand that in only a couple of months this small village will experience the closest thing to mass tourism that you can find in Norway. It is located at the end of the Aurlandsfjord, an arm of the Sognefjord and not far from the Unesco World Heritage listed Nærøyfjord. In 2017 1,4 million people visited this small town with only 400 inhabitants. Most of these come between May through September.
Tourism to Flåm is not a new thing though. It started in the mid 19th century when English lords came here for salmon fishing in the summer and eventually for hunting in the winter. A few decades later the first cruise ships sailed into the fjords, and the Flåmsbana railway made it easy to come here by train from Bergen or Oslo when the railway between those two cities opened in 1909. There is not a lot of salmon fishing going on today. What draws people to Flåm today is mainly the Flåmsbana railway, one of Europe’s most beautiful train rides, and fjord cruises to the Nærøyfjord. There are also lots of other activities to do, and you can even learn about how life along the fjord used to be.
The grey weather put a stop to our skiing plans and there was too much snow in the mountains for a proper hike, so we parked the car in one of the several free parking lots in town and headed out for a walk along the fjord. After about five kilometers we come around a ness and see a cluster of old houses hovering above us up on the hillside.
There it was; Otternes farm. One of few original cluster farms left in the area, after most got spread out in the late 19th century. Otternes used to be a cluster of four farms, and two of them was in use all up until the 1970’s.
As you walk between the 26 buildings on the farm it is easy to imagine life here in the 1800’s;
Kettle mooing inside the barns, sheep grassing outside, children playing hide and seek, men drying hay on the steep fields and women baking traditional flatbread on a fireplace inside on of the houses
Traces of settlement all the way back to 300 a.d. have been found here at Otternes, but the oldest building standing today dates back to the 18th century.
We walked along the houses, admired the beautiful, old handicraft. Continued on through the small apple orchard. I can only imagine how beautiful it must be here in May when the fruit trees are blossoming! Sat down on a bench looking over to Flåm, the peaceful fjord and the dramatic mountains rising straight up from the water.
During summer season there is an entrance fee to visit the farm and you can join a guided to tour to get a better insight in how life used to be here. It is also possible to buy refreshments from the café on site. The rest of the year you may enter the farm for free, but note that all buildings will be closed and there is not much information to read. But hey, isn’t that the perfect opportunity to let your imagination roam free?!
HISTORIC FRETHEIM HOTEL
Walking back the same way we got there, we realise that it’s not the day for whale watching. Not seals either, for that matter. Both can, however, be seen if you are lucky. Seals more often than whales.
We check in at the historic Fretheim Hotel and get one of the ground floor rooms with garden exit were dogs are allowed. It is so nice being able to bring the furball along!
Taking in the panorama view from the glass tower, I have to admit the view is slightly more spectacular on a clear day… Like on the images above.
Soon we find ourselves in the fine dining restaurant, Arven, on the second floor. The waiter brings us a glass of malbec while we take a look at the menu. It is only two starters and three main courses to choose from, but I usually find a short menu a good sign that the chef knows what he is doing. Restaurant Arven focus on local and organic produce and purchases a lot of it’s meat from a nearby farm. Mouthwatering bread from Flåm Bakery accompany my wine. He gets some ok glutenfree bread, but soon conclude that he bakes better himself. We both choose a creamy fennel soup for starter and a Norwegian cod that is especially tasty in winter.
The soup, drizzled with olive oil, comes. Oh my… I am never 100% sure what I think of fennel, but this… This was something else. It was a perfect mix of tastes. The cod was good too, less traditionally accessorized with tomato salsa, green kale and smoked kale. It could however not match the soup.
The portions were large so dessert was out of the question. I always choose starter over dessert! I really wished I’d had space for a plate of local cheeses though…
The day in Flåm ended with an evening walk on the hill behind the hotel. Looking at the starry sky and listening to rocks and ice bouldering down the mountains above us. Next morning we awoke to a blue sky and a full breakfast buffet.
Note: I work at Fretheim Hotel, but do not get anything in return from writing this post. It was a private stay to show the place to my boyfriend, and we paid for all services.