An old farm in Heidal seen behind a fence surrounded by green fields
Norway

What to do in Heidal

Heidal valley is often overseen by those not keen on riversports. Read on to find out what you can do here instead of driving past.

THINGS TO DO FOR EVERYONE IN HEIDAL

Heidal is a mountainous side valley to Gudbrandsdalen in Eastern Norway, not far from Otta. It is a well kept secret for everyone not interested in white water kayaking or rafting. If you are interested in rafting, you might only have heard about the river Sjoa. I did not know what to expect on my first visit to Heidal. As my boyfriend and designated driver on this summer’s roadtrip around Norway, had talked so highly about this peaceful place I was looking forward to find the “Heidal peace”. Read on to find out what you should do in Heidal on your next roadtrip in Norway.

The listed farmstead Søre Harildstad on a cloudy summer day.
I wonder what it was like living here in the 1700’s.

LEARN ABOUT TRADITIONAL ARCHITECTURE

I was surprised to find that Heidal got the highest density of listed buildings in the country. Across 17 farms there are more than 100 listed buidlings, and 9 of the farms are fully protected. Growing up with an architect father has made an imprint – I love looking at and learning about local architecture and styles while travelling. This is definitely one of the things you should do while in Heidal. Just look up when on the main road and you will see a belt of large, old farms in typical Gudbrandsdal style along the hillside. The large building still have their natural sunburned colour, authentic to this part of the country.

We went for a bikeride in the valley and popped by the two listed farms Søre Harildstad and Kruke. We just asked the first people we met if it was OK to take a look around. It was, and usually is when you start with asking. At Søre Harildstad the older lady who sat reading outside in the sun, even welcomed us to go inside one of the 18th century houses. Next time I will book a guided tour of the farm that was listed as early as in 1924. They also offer accommodation and dinner. Kruke farm, on the other hand, was more of a collection of houses moved to todays location.

Yellow, pink, and orange flowers blooming in front of an old building in Heidal
Søre Harildstad is a well kept 18th century farmstead

Nordre Ekre is another farm hotel and restaurant in Heidal, perfect for those who want an accommodation out of the ordinary and a taste of the Norwegian mountains. At this boutique hotel you can find 7 unique rooms in a renovated barn and a restaurant offering 3-course meals based on local ingredients.

Families travelling to Heidal should plan a visit to Glittersjå Mountain Farm to meet the animals of the valley. Opt for pony riding or come along to help feed the moose. They offer homemade pastries in their on-site café.

A hand holding up a sandwhich in front of Heidal Bakery and Cafe
A lunch or a snack at Ysteriet Kafé and Bakeri is a must

GRAB LUNCH AT YSTERIET KAFÉ AND BAKERI

Another must do is a visit to Heidal’s craft bakery at Ysteriet to taste their famous red cheese and treat yourself with something sweet. The tradition of cheese making go way back in Heidal. In earlier times it was made by women on the summerfarms in the mountains. The red cheese is simlar to the typical Norwegian brown cheese, with a rich and sweet taste.

First during the 1920’s they got their own professional cheese factory, where the red Heidal cheese was made with beautiful “carvings” on the side. In the mid 1990’s the cheese production was sentralized and the factory here was closed. Not to amusement by the locals. A few years later they took their cheese back and today’s factory was born in 1999. To learn more about the cheese and production, it is possible to book guided tours of Heidal Ysteri cheese factory.

Next to the cheese factory you find the bakery and café. In a cosy, wooden building with authentic interior they sell delicious craft bakery goods and cheese from their neighbour. You can also get a bowl of the traditional Norwegian sour creme porridge, also made by original methods at the cheese factory. This type of porridge is often served at festive events all over Norway.

Two white water kayakers padling on Sjoa in Heidal during summer
Heidal is world known for white water kayaking

GET YOUR ADRENALINE RUNNING ON SJOA

The river Sjoa which flows through the Heidal valley, is the reason I went here in the first place. Not because I wanted to get on the river in any way, scared of river sports as I am. But because my white water kayaker of a boyfriend has travelled here regularly to do exactly that on the fantastic, clear river the last 20 years. Sjoa is well known world wide for riversport, and some of the locals starts kayaking at the same time as they start walking. Who said Norwegians are born with skis on their feet? Kayakers have come here for decades to take on the different sections of the river.

In the early 90’s the national slalom kayaking arena was built by Sjoa. Slalom kayaking unfortunately decreased in popularity soon after, but the arena can still be visited and used for those who are interested. Instead of competition the arena is now used for social gatherings and kayaking for fun.

If you are keen to try white water kayaking yourself, do not set out on the river on your own. Book a kayak course with Sjoa Kajakksenter who has been operating in Heidal for more than 25 years.

Six white water rafts coming down Sjoa river on a nice summer day
Get your adrenaline rushing on a rafting trip

Another popular way of getting out on the river is by rafting. Not less than three different rafting companies offer tours on Sjoa, Sjoa Rafting, Heidal Rafting, and Go Rafting. You will find tours suitable for everyone; half day and full day tours, family rating, as well as other river activties such as riverboarding and canyoning.

A woman and a man drinking beer outside Banken in Heidal
When the food, beer, and company is too good to remember to take pictures…

BEER TASTING AND DINNER AT BANKEN BRYGGERI & SPISERI

An idea on a Christmas party in 2017 was the start of a new restaurant, bar and brewery concept in Heidal. Banken Bryggeri & Spiseri opened their doors in 2018 and has become a popular place to stop by for locals as much as for people passing through the valley. The restaurant is open between 14:00 – 20:00 in summer, and their a la carte menu has just enough choices for everyone to find their favourite. If you only go once, try their mouthwatering stone baked pizzas – named after local places. Like Gråhøe a local mountain and a tasty pizza topped with cured ham, parmesan cheese and ruccula.

After 20:00 their bar comes to live with a wide selection of beer, coctails and some wine. No matter what time you stop by, try a glass of their own beer. Produced in their own micro brewery in the restaurant’s basement. The beer available are listed on the board behind the bar, and you should ask the bartender for more information. As long as you like beer, you will find something that suits your tastebuds!

A red and orange white water kayak with stickers in Strie Strømmer in Heidal

DO SOME SHOPPING AT STRIE STRØMMER

Okey, I admit. Heidal is not the place for a shopping spree. If you are not into riversports, off course. On a roadtrip around Norway however, you may need to extend your holiday wardobe with some wool underwear, a warm hat or other clothes or items suitable for hiking. Or maybe you are surprised by good weather and need an extra t-shirt or shorts? Drop by the kayak shop Strie Strømmer while you are first here. The store is located between Banken Bryggeri & Spiseri and the local Kiwi supermarket. They got everything you need for white water kayaking, but also got a good selection of casual daywear and outdoor equipment.

As an honour of my original 2020 summer plans, I got a Nile Special t-shirt here. Instead of gorilla safari in Uganda, I chilled out with old buildings, pasteries and views of a beautiful river in Heidal.

Heidal Church seen behind Bjølstad Chapel on a summer day

VISIT HEIDAL CHURCH AND BJØLSTAD CHAPEL

Heidal Church is not very old, it just looks that way due to the sunburned wood and the traditional style. Today’s was finished in 1941 as the fourt church in Heidal’s history and as a true copy of the previous from 1754 which burned in 1933. It was not open this summer due to the special precautions to avoid spread of a certain virus, but we admired the solid structure and beautful slated roof. I have not seen this kind of rust-coloured square slates anywhere else than the upper parts of Eastern Norway.

The first church of Heidal was a stave church built in the first half of the 11th century. The stave church was moved once during the 16th century, but soon became too small. Bjølstad Chapel, standing next to today’s church, was then built. Partly by material from the old stave church. Due to harsh years, Bjølstad Church decayed rather quickly and was sold on an auction in 1723 together with the field around it. After being used as a barn for a while it was taken down, and not until 1933 (the same year the third church burned down) the materials where given to the community. In 1969 the Bjølstad Church was re erected in its original format, next to the new church. You can now see the two churches, the second and fourth in Heidal’s Christian history, standing next to each other.

Heidal seen from Kruke farm on a cloudy summer day
Heidal is an ideal destination for getting out in nature

GO HIKING

Due to its location, tucked in between the three national parks Jotunheimen, Rondane, and Dovrefjell, it should not come as a surprise that Heidal is a great destination for hiking. Within short driving range in either direction, you find fantastic hiking options. One popular tour is Besseggen from Gjendevassbu in Jotunheimen. In Rondane you can set out to climb Rondeslottet in Rondane.

There are off course also hikes that you can do in Heidal too. Explore more local architecture by walking to some of the mountain farms, or take on the longer tour to Heidalsmuen 1745 masl.

Do you want a hiking experience like no other, book a guided musk ox safari in Dovrefjell. This is the only place in Norway one can find these spectaculare creatures, and the experienced guides can bring you as close to them as 200 metres.

The best way to plan your hiking is to ask a local. If you are staying at Nordre Ekre Farm Hotel, that is a great place to start. If not, ask when you drop by Strie Strømmer.

Women with sunglasses taking a selfie on some rocks with a black dog on leash
Two of us chilling by the river waiting for the kayaker

ENJOY THE CHILLED OUT ATMOSPHERE

Peaceful athmosphere was what I had heard been said about Heidal several times before visiting. Did I find it? Yes, it is most definitely a peacful and chilled out place to be. It is not crowded, just quiet woods, mountains, old farms and a river. The locals seem like they have taken a step back from stress and the busy lifestyle many of us experiences at home. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that it is a rather small place where everyone almost knows everyone. Maybe it has to do with the calm dialect, where “p’s” are replaced with “f’s” and they call bread for kaku (cake)? When I think about it, it is no wonder they have a great bakery!

Heidal is the place to go if you would like to lower your sholders while mixing culture, architectury, history, a rush of adrenaline, and good food and beer.

2 comments on “What to do in Heidal

  1. Love Nordic Architecture, especially the rooftop lawns. After things open up, I’m planning a visit around the Baltic Sea – Oslo, Stockholm, Helsinki, Talinn and Riga. Your pictures are stunning and is getting me excited.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! Sounds like you have a good plan for when things open up. I have a few posts of Riga on here if you are interested in more information, something about Oslo will come soon. And got a small hope I will be able to visit Helsinki and Tallinn this autumn…

      Like

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