Norway’s wild, breathtaking beauty is rooted in its fjords, and the Sognefjord is not only the longest and deepest but also one of the most dramatic. It is wonderfully diverse, awash in fertile parkland, glassy lakes, thundering waterfalls, and blindingly white glaciers—all of it bathed in the clear northern light. It’s also one of the most popular fjords, particularly among time-strapped visitors, owing to its accessibility from Bergen.
The petite harbor town of Balestrand, which lies about a four-hour sail northwest of Bergen along a spectacular coastal landscape, is the best base for exploring Sognefjord. A walk through town takes you past romantic 18th-century villas as well as the wooden St. Olaf’s church, built in 1897. The finest place to stay is the rambling Kviknes Hotel, which stands on a small peninsula jutting into the 127-mile-long fjord. Dating back to 1752, the hotel has been a favorite destination of everyone from poets to monarchs. Today, the fourth-generation owners maintain a casual base-camp ambience, encouraging treks and bike rides into the extravagantly beautiful countryside. Ask for a room in the original house, which takes you back in time while promising stunning water and mountain views. The hotel restaurant features a smorgasbord buffet in an elegant, historic dining room.
Well worth a day trip from Balestrand is a breezy sail up the gorgeous little Fjæsrlandfjord north of Sognefjord, to see the Jostedalsbreen (Jostedal Glacier). The melting ice from this plateau is what gives the local rivers, lakes, and fjords their distinct blue-green cast. The pretty town of Fjæsrland, lined with rustic clapboard houses and small shops, lies near the southern end of the glacier, and from here you can strike off on organized hikes in the area. Or visit the small scenic town of Flåm, which is perched on Aurlandsfjord, one of the many arms of Sognefjord. You can arrive on a Norway in a Nutshell trip from Bergen as part of an action-packed day that includes a thrilling train ride on the line connecting Myrdal and Flåm. It’s considered one of Scandinavia’s—if not the world’s—most scenic railways