Our last big stop on our 2nd day of our road trip was Balestrand. This was probably the one I was most excited about. We arrived it was quite late, so we did a little bit of wandering around. My daughter had also become very unruly, so we ended up spending a couple hours before retiring for the day at our apartment in Førde. I did really like Balestrand and happy we trekked this far to explore this small town.
The village of Balestrand is in the Balestrand municipality, in the Sogn og fjordane region. It is located on the northern shore of the Sognefjorden and the mouth of Esefjorden. This town has been a major tourist stop since the 1800s. It is also known as the Art village and has inspired many artists from England and Germany. These travellers have also influenced much of the architecture.
Some points of interest include Sognefjord Aquarium (Sognefjord Akvarium and Gallery Munken), Golden house Gallery (Det gylne hus), Kviknes Hotel (Private collection of art mainly from the national-romantic period), King Bele Statue and Balestrand Viking Barrows, St Olaf’s Angelican Church and the Norwegian Museum of Travel and Tourism (Norsk Reiselivsmuseum).
To get to Balestrand from Vikøyri, we had to take a ferry from Vangsnes (15 min drive), which takes about 36 mins and then its a short drive to Balestrand. All up it took about an hour and a half, with all the waiting. It was a bit confusing when we got to the ferry, as we didn’t know which line our car needed to go in. However, once the ferry arrived the staff were really helpful in directing us. Below are some photos we took on the way across the fjord and once we got on the other side.
Finally we reached Balestrand, which was so picturesque and very quiet. However, we did see a lot more people then our last stop walking around and enjoying the sun. We arrived a bit late to visit the Norwegian Museum of Travel and Tourism (Norsk Reiselivsmuseum), but we did get a chance to visit the Golden House.
The Golden House
The large yellow building with the glass dome roof that you see in the picture above is the Golden House. This house was built in 1928 and was originally a general store. After it was left vacant and and in decay it was bought by artist couple, Bjørg Bjøberg and Arthur Adamson in 2004. They not only restored the old house but they also created two galleries, an art store, art cafe, art installation, conference/school room, small cinema and the glass dome roof.
When we arrived to the Golden House we had a quick look at the menu of the Art Cafe. It looked really great and offered many local Norwegian dishes. It was very quiet, so Marco though we shouldn’t bother booking and we would come back when we were hungry. Then we visited the Golden Moments Art Store and met Bjørg. She was very lovely and gave my daughter this lovely card, which had a print of one of beautiful paintings. She is really very talented. I had a look in her Gallery on the ground flour and I was really impressed with her amazing watercolours. Marco asked her about places to eat and she highly recommended their restaurant. I really wanted to see the Glass dome roof, so she told me to go up stairs and I would find it. It is not free to visit, you need to leave a donation upstairs. We had no cash on our holiday at all, so I went up anyway and thought I would buy something from the shop instead. First I came across Arthur Adamson’s gallery. His work is very different to his wife’s and he is also very talented. Next I came acorss the Golden Memories art Installation and School Room. It is filled with an eclectic collection of antiques and is really interesting to look through. I tried to get to the third floor to see the Crystal Dome, but I could not find it. I could hear Octavia screaming downstairs, and found her rearranging the art store. I had to physically remove her and that was the end of our visit. We did return later to the Art Cafe, however it was apparently booked out. I was unsure if they were really booked out or just overwhelmed, since they didn’t have many tables occupied and only had the two artists were working. I am not sure, but I really regret not booking the restaurant, since it has fantastic reviews.
After we went down to sit on the grass to look out at the fjord. This frame you see below was installed by the “Balestrand Art Village” to pay homage to the early art colony (1837-1937). The view through the frame illustrates the landscapes that inspired so many artists who travelled here. The Kviknes Hotel is just behind this area, and looks out to the fjord. It is quite an impressive building and very different to the architecture we had seen so far in Norway. Marco wanted to relax here with Octavia and I wanted to see the St. Olaf Church and Viking Barrows. I tried to follow the shore line and came to a dead end and had to walk back. I was annoyed a little exhausted to keep going so we decided to have dinner and then make our ways to see our last stops before we had to go.
For dinner we went hunting for something open and reasonably priced. We came across Gekkens Restaurant, which is a family owned establishment offering Norwegian food. We had no issues getting a table luckily and the service was quite quick. Marco went with the Meatballs with vegetables and lingonberry jam. I ordered the set menu which included a creamy seafood soup and Salmon with vegetables. To be honest the food doesn’t look that amazing, it looks like a home-cooked meal. However, it was all pretty tasty and the proteins were cooked perfectly. The only thing I didn’t like was the salad, which was a bit bland.
King Bele & Balestrand Viking Barrows
After dinner we headed to see our last sights before making our way to our apartment, which was still quite a drive. We didn’t’ stop in at St Olaf’s Angelican Church, since it was already passed 7pm by now. Instead we went straight to the King Bele Statue and Balestrand Viking Barrows.
The statue of King Bele, was located on top of one of the viking barrows. It’s quite impressive and is low enough that you can see it well. It was erected by the German Emperor Wilhelm II in 1913. He was actually a regular summer guest in the area until WWI. In the other mount he also erected a statue of the hero Fridtjov, which is no longer there. These to two ancient characters are depicted in popular romantic epic “Fridtjovs saga” written by Swede Esaias Tegner in 1825. They were based on the old Icelandic family saga, which was set in Sogn in the early 1300s. It story describes the love affair of King Bele’s daughter, Ingebjørg the Beautiful and Fridtjov the Bold from Vangsnes. These’s people probably didn’t exist. However, since Tegner’s story was translated into many European languages, the statues and the landscape attracted many artists and tourists.
Originally there were five Viking Barrows and in the 1820’s they were excavated. The largest, the Bele Mound, contained a stone chest and a man from the Migration Period (400-550 AD) in the early Iron Age. The second grave had another buried man with a sword. These two graves were restored in 1886 and there is a stone monument on the second mound. The other three graves mounts were removed. One had a buried woman, with a key, whetstone and loom weight. There was also an oval size grave that contained a man with a boat, a sword, arrowhead, axe, hammer, ladles and scissors. There was a workshop name on the sword, showing it was made in France in 850-900AD. The last mount has no record of what was inside. The Vikings that lived in this area would have been farmers and chieftains, but not a king, like King Bele.
So that brings us to the end of day two. After this we drove too our Airbnb, which was another 20 mins from the town of Førde. In my next post I will show you our lovely accommodation and our last day in that area, before leaving Norway.