This is a guest post by Nell Heshram, a travel writer and blogger who lives in London with her partner and two young children. She gets away whenever life, and school holidays, allow. The family also enjoy exploring territory closer to home, in London. You can read more about their adventures on Nell’s blog the Pigeon Pair and Me.
Flåm is a traditional Norwegian town, two and a half hours from Bergen. It’s accessible from the country’s second city by car, bus or train. If you opt for the latter, the Flåmsbana Railway line is one of the most picturesque in the world. It connects with the Bergen line at the high-altitude station of Myrdal, then curls down along mountain passes and past scenic waterfalls, down to Flåm.
Visit Norway invited me on a trip to explore Flåm, and its neighbouring attractions. Flåm is a small place, nestled into the side of the Aurlandsfjord. It gives easy access to the rest of west Norway’s spectacular fjords, including the Nærøyfjorden, a UNESCO heritage site where the fjord is only 250 m wide in places. Little oxblood-coloured fishing huts line the side of Flåm’s harbour, and porpoises often swim close to the shore. As well as the fjords, the town is a good base for exploring the towering mountains that remain unchanged since the days of the Vikings.
Flåm’s population of 300 is vastly outnumbered when the cruise ships bring their hundreds of passengers, in the summer months. We visited off-season, and several of Flåm’s inhabitants told us this was the best time to see the town, and the fjord.
Fjordsafari board boat trips run from Flåm to the Nærøyfjorden, stopping along the way at Undredal, the town that inspired the hit film Frozen and a place where you can sample local goat’s cheese. Children as young as four can go on the fjordsafari in winter, and it’s suitable for all ages in summer. The town’s small museum is devoted to the railway, and there are hiking and biking trails to suit all levels.
Flåm has a handful of places for overnight stays, including the elegant 19th-Century Fretheim Hotel, where we spent the night. Another option is the Flåmsbrygga Hotel, part of the Viking-themed Ægir Brewpub, which hosted us for dinner.
The Ægir is a craft brewery, set in a replica Stave church, typical of the region. It’s a cosy, welcoming place, with plenty of dark honey-coloured wood, a roaring open fire if you visit in winter, and the smell of yeast and hops lingering in the air.
What did the Vikings eat, in days of yore? Reindeer, pork, shellfish and chocolate, according to the Ægir Brewpub. With beer. Plenty of beer. Ægir brews 21 different types, which are on sale as far away as Australia, and which draw coachloads of locals on trips to stock up with crates of the stuff. In the restaurant, beer is used in all the cooking, and as an ingredient in marinades and sauces.
I tried the Viking plank menu: five dishes, paired with five different beers. The meal arrived with the five mini-dishes ranged on a long platter, from a seafood starter to a chocolate ganache. Behind the platter sat a wooden plank, with five small glasses of beer to match each mini-dish. This looked pretty, with the gold, amber and earthy colours of the different beers winking behind their respective dishes. The only downside was that the delivery of all five at once meant that it was best to eat the main courses first, while they were still hot, before the cold starters. In reality, though, we picked at the dishes in no particular order, ooh-ing and aah-ing at the range of powerful, hearty flavours.
I usually prefer to drink wine with food, but the Viking plank meal was so well-balanced it would have seemed wrong with anything other than beer. A light, orange-scented Witbier drew out the delicate flavours of crayfish and mussels. Smoked reindeer was set against a malty amber ale. A complex, spicy Belgian-style Dubbel ale complemented the meaty pork shank stew, and the ganache dessert was washed down by a dense, chocolatey Sumbel Porter.
Unlike the Vikings, Ægir catered for non meat-eaters. The vegetarian plank featured felafel, quorn and salad. A basic children’s menu offered locally sourced meatballs. Kris, the brewpub’s tall, Viking-like manager, told us that the restaurant could also prepare smaller, children’s portions of most dishes. There were lots of fun-sounding things to eat, like ‘Harald Hårfagre Viking burger’ and ‘Odin salad’. No doubt the place would appeal to most youngsters. Non-alcoholic beverages were, of course, also on offer.
Value for money?
A Viking plank, of five mini-dishes with accompanying beers, was NOK 495. The vegetarian version was NOK 425, and a steak burger (without beer) was NOK 245. Like most places in Norway, prices were on the steep side, but given the quality of our meal, I didn’t think it was extortionately expensive.
I loved the Ægir Brewpub. It was difficult to know whether the creators of the place were completely in thrall to the Norse gods – or if they were knowingly hamming it up. Either way, the place was an awful lot of fun. The food was exquisite, which was surprising given the heavy nature of the ingredients. The relaxed, pub-like atmosphere made it good for families, but couples – and groups of adventure travellers – could have slotted very nicely into the Brewpub’s many nooks and crannies.
The only thing missing was a few more items on the children’s menu. I’m sure the meatballs would be popular, but something like a designated burger for children, and a kids’ veggie option, would also have been good.
The closest airport to Flåm is Bergen, with regular international flights, including direct flights to UK cities.
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Disclosure: Nell was a guest of Visit Norway on this trip.