As winter sets in, and one long dark evening seems to stretch into another, it is tempting to batten down the hatches and reach for the remote. Commutes home in the darkness, followed by evenings spent glued to the sofa, remote in hand, can leave even the most cheerful of souls feeling lethargic and uninspired. Why not do something completely different this winter and give yourself a new lease of life with a break in the chocolate-box pretty town of Ålesund in the Norwegian Fjords?
Until now a relatively undiscovered gem, Ålesund can be reached in less than 2 hours with low cost airline Norwegian’s new direct flight from London Gatwick (from £56.20 one way including taxes).
Built on a cluster of islands stretching out into the Norwegian Sea, set against the backdrop of the magnificent Sunnmøre Alps, and a short journey from the awe-inspiring Geirangerfjord, Ålesund is the perfect base from which to explore Norway’s natural wonders – but it is also an impressive town in its own right.
Voted one of Norway’s most beautiful cities, Ålesund’s architecture stands in glorious contrast to the plain wooden clapboard houses that make up neighbouring coastal towns. After a fire devastated the town in 1904, it was rebuilt using stone and in the Art Nouveau style, and to this day it is a visual feast of colourful facades, turrets and gargoyles. Magical in any season, it is at its most fairytale-like in winter when a crisp layer of snow coats the roofs of the houses and the surrounding mountains.
As you wander through Ålesund’s narrow and atmospheric walkways, you will be spoilt for choice with things to see and do. Learn more about the history of the town at the Art Nouveau Centre or Ålesunds Museum, admire Ålesund Church’s beautiful stained glass windows, or simply gaze out at the dazzling scenery from the comfort of one of the town’s many cosy coffee-shops. Further afield, you will find the Atlantic Sea Park – one of Europe’s largest aquariums, and the open-air Sunnmøre Museum – a collection of picturesque old buildings and boats which you can explore at your leisure.
As the fisheries capital of Norway, seafood is Ålesund’s speciality. Sample the local delicacy klippfisk - a dried and salted cod dish – at a floating restaurant on one of the canals that divide the city centre. Renowned eating establishment Sjøbua, where dishes are prepared from the local fishermen’s catch of the day and kept in tanks in the restaurant for optimum freshness, is a must for serious foodies.
From rustic sea-cabins to luxury hotels, Ålesund has a wide range of places to stay. For something a bit special, try the Rica Hotel Scandinavia, which is the only hotel which is built in the quirky Art Nouveau style.
So far, so enchanting, but it is Ålesund’s breathtaking natural landscape that really brings it alive. Hop aboard a bus to visit the UNESCO-protected Geirangerford, the jewel in the crown of Norway’s famous fjords – or climb the 418 steps to the top of Mount Aksla and drink in Ålesund’s uniquely spectacular panorama of mountains, deep blue waters and rugged coastline. Such topography means there is scope for an exciting array of activities. Hiking, cycling, fishing and berry-picking in the summer give way to winter’s star of the show – skiing. Head to Stranda Ski Resort for runs to suit a range of abilities, including some of the best off-piste opportunities in Scandinavia. Adrenaline junkies might consider the rather unusual option of taking a sailing boat along the fjords and stopping off each day to tackle some of Norway’s most challenging cross country terrains with their skis. You don’t have to travel far to enjoy Ålesund’s natural delights though. Simply step out of your hotel into the crisp, clean air, and you are stepping into nature.
With so many possibilities, every day in Ålesund is an adventure that is guaranteed to rejuvenate your body, invigorate your spirits, and leave you raring to go.
● Getting there is easy and
economical. Norwegian now flies direct from London Gatwick to Ålesund twice a week, on Saturdays and Tuesdays. Flights are available from £56.20 one way including taxes. Go to: www.norwegian.com
● Discover Ålesund for yourself at www.visitnorway.co.uk/alesundwinter