Bergen is buzzing with culture and charm

Sailing the fjords... Bergen
Sailing the fjords... Bergen

There’s a saying in Norway - “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.”

In a country with more than 230 days of rain a year in some places such optimism is to be applauded - and it definitely pays off.

Bergen... old meets new

Bergen... old meets new

For in spite of the weather, not despite it, - which can range from a minus three in the cities to as high as 18-20C in summer, the Norwegians live a very healthy outdoor life.

Never was that more evident than the day I arrived in Bergen, after graciously accepting an invitation to a very special baptism at Liverpool’s John Lennon Airport.

No, not the newborn of a friend or relative, but of the inaugural Wideroe flight to Bergen.

Showering the first flight with a quick burst from a fire hose is custom, apparently, in aviation circles.

And so began my brief visit to Norway’s second city - literally, it took just one hour and 20 minutes from take-off.

Although I had visited Oslo many years ago, I did zero research on Bergen to avoid forming any preconceived ideas of what to expect.

The modern airport was very clean but busy. After a slight delay in the baggage hall (isn’t there always?) we boarded a shuttle bus and made our way the short journey to town.

During this time all thoughts of the heatwave which I had left behind were obliterated. It rained - and my, how it poured.

Regardless of the gallons of wet stuff bouncing off the pavements, the city centre was awash with people strolling along - locals, sight-seers, dog walkers and even babes in arms.

Boats bobbed in the harbour, which cuts through the city centre, and water rolled down the streets as life just carried on.

After checking in to the Clarion Collection Hotel we joined the masses out in the rain and were very thankful that, much to our surprise - and delight, instead of handing out fliers, the restaurants here have a stash of waterproof ponchos in little baskets on the side for passers-by.

This pretty city, known as the gateway to the fjords, oozes chocolate-box charm helped by a clever mix of old and new development.

The main centre is compact but is heaving with historic monuments and boasts a World Heritage site dating back to the 12th Century.

Incredibly, although chunks of the ancient centre, Bryggen, have been ravaged by fire over the years, many of the wooden buildings and streets are still intact. In fact, work is slowly underway to restore some of the buildings fronting the harbour using age-old traditions and tools.

Our first taste of the colourful history was courtesy of lunch at the Bryggen Tracteursted, a traditional restaurant housed in an 1708 building across former stables, complete with stone floors and the only fire place in the area - and a superb selection of local beers and ciders.

Bergen is an absolute treasure trove. Museums, places of interest and quaint shops sit comfortably among modern hotels, restaurants bars, art galleries and designer stores.

If it is modern culture you are after then make for the Kode galleries which include a fabulous collection by Munch

A UNESCO acknowledged gastronomers delight, there are no shortage of places to eat from the VERY expensive to burger bars. Obviously, fish is the favoured dish but most places offer other options, though vegans may struggle.

The harbourside, and the stunning boats , are a clue to what else there is to do here. A short cruise provided a glimpse of some of the most incredible scenery I’ve ever seen and with a different picture at every turn is a definite must.

Back on dry land, or not, a short ride up the funicular in the middle of the city centre whisks you up to Mount Floyen. The city mountains, as the area is known, is an expanse of country walks, woodland, forests and inland lakes where the locals flock at weekend to enjoy the fresh air and nature. Amazing. No cars, no noise.

The weather, good or bad is something the Norwegians embrace fully and the higher valleys of Voll an hour or so from Bergen are a skiers delight in winter while just a 40 minute drive to the coast found us in the picturesque Steinsland area where we enjoyed the tranquillity of the Panorama Hotel and Spa resort nestled on the coast of Sotra Island.

Besides the hotel’s wellness facilities, this area offers a host of activities from cycling to kayaking or a rib boat ride to the Marsteinen Lighthouse - a must for thrill seekers.

One thing you don’t see much of in Bergen is cash. The paper stuff is a rarity as Norway is very much a cashless society, be it paying for a coffee or a taxi fare and, with prices twice that of the UK maybe that’s for the best.

Buying a Bergen Card when you arrive affords free or discounted access to a host of attractions from museums and the funicular railway to the theatre and philharmonic concerts.