Take a road trip along Norway's Atlantic Road – one of the world's most beautiful drives – for stunning scenery and fascinating history
At the edge of the
The colourful town of Kristiansund is an ideal starting point for any Atlantic Road adventure. But don't be too eager to set off on your road trip – the town and surrounding area are packed with interest and merit a day or two of exploration.
There are plenty of stopping off points along the route, including several viewing platforms that offer a different perspective on the road and surrounding landscapes. At the Averøy Tourist Information Centre you can walk around a meandering metal walkway, suspended above the wet marshland of Eldhusøya island, for superb views of the ocean.
Kristiansund straddles a small group of islands, connected by bridges. The centre of town consists of a grid of modern buildings flanking the vast harbour – there's not that much to see here, but there are plenty of shops and restaurants.
The nicest way to get around is to take the little Sundbåten ferry. This passenger boat criss-crosses the harbour between the main islands, and is a great way to get your bearings.
The Sundbåten claims to be the world's oldest public transport system still in operation – it's been transporting passengers around town since 1876 – and offers a fun trip that gives visitors a unique perspective of the town.
Take the Sundbåten to Innlandet, the smallest and most interesting of the town's islands, and home to Gamle Byen – the old town.
Here wooden houses – some dating back to the 17th century – clamber up the side of a hill, which you can climb up for fantastic views across town.
There's one essential day trip you must take while staying in Kristiansund. 14km out to sea – a 45-minute boat ride from Kristiansund with Gripruta – is the tiny, rocky island of Grip. As the mainland recedes and you head out towards open sea (next stop is Iceland, some 1300 km away) a scattering of tiny islets appears on the horizon. As you approach, one of these begins to appear more textured than the others, more colourful.
This is Grip. Once Norway's smallest municipality (it's now part of Kristiansund) this diminutive place used to be a thriving fishing village. Since the 1100s, fishermen were lured here by the abundance of fish, in particular cod, in the surrounding seas.
Standing on the north-facing harbour wall, surrounded by the turbulent Atlantic Ocean and with a biting wind whipping the waves into a foamy frenzy (even in summer), it's hard to imagine how anyone could live here year-round. It feels like the edge of the world.
And indeed, Grip has had its fair share of catastophes – not least a ferocious storm in 1796 that caused almost 100 of the island's houses to be washed into the sea by enormous waves that swept right across the island. This harsh environment, especially challenging in winter, means there are no full-time residents anymore – the last family left for the mainland in the 1970s.
Several of the houses are decorated with strange, white, parasol-like ornaments – these were the lids that were once used to protect barrels of klippfisk (dried, salted cod) from inclement weather.
In the centre of the village is one of Norway's smallest stave churches, believed to date from the 14th century. If you take the guided tour (included in the cost of the boat trip) the guide will unlock the church so you can see inside. The interior is fascinating and beautiful, with ancient paintings – in faded red, white, yellow and green – adorning the walls.
Grip is also home to the world's smallest fire station as well as numerous sea birds, including guillemots and Arctic terns.
Often touted as one of the world's most beautiful drives, the Atlantic Road (Atlanterhavsveien) is a unique stretch of road on Norway's west coast that clings to the land at the edge of the ocean.
Of the eight bridges along the route, the most dramatic – and, at 260m, the longest – is the Storseisundet Bridge. It bends and slopes sharply upwards, and seems to disappear into the sky – giving it the nicknames of “the drunk bridge” and “the road to nowhere”.
Because the Atlantic Road is so short, you may want to drive along it two or three times – you get a completely different perspective travelling east to west than you get travelling in the opposite direction.
When you're tired of driving, make for Molde. Famous for its annual jazz festival in July – and picturesquely situated along the northern shore of Romsdalsfjord – a night or two in this pleasant town is the perfect way to complete your Atlantic Road adventure.
If you're feeling energetic, a wander through Moldemarka – a recreational area north of town that's criss-crossed with woodland nature trails – is a lovely way to spend an afternoon. Climb to the Varden overlook for panoramic fjord and mountain views – around an hour's walk form the centre of Molde.
Nevertheless, Grip is an extraordinarily atmospheric and pretty place. The village consists of narrow lanes, flower-filled gardens and brightly painted wooden houses. These rarely come up for sale, but are passed down through generations of the same families – who use the properties as summer retreats. Because everyone knows each other here, there is a convivial atmosphere, with neighbours getting together for impromptu gatherings or enjoying leisurely chats over garden fences.
At Vevang, the tourist route continues along Country Road 663 to Bud. Halfway along this stretch, at Askevågen, is another viewing platform. This rather bizarre glass structure, at the end of a concrete breakwater, allows 360-degree views and a close encounter with the Atlantic Ocean – the glass walls protect against crashing waves and sea spray.
This may be an exciting experience when the wind is up, but on a calm day it's only just worth the bumpy detour from the main Atlanterhavsveien route. It's an undeniably pretty spot, though, with panoramic views to distant, rugged mountain peaks inland and yet more good views out to sea, where the tiny islets of the archipelago are dotted in the ocean.
An eight-kilometre stretch of the Rv64 between Kristiansund and Molde that was opened in 1989, it's a roller coaster ride full of switchback bends, soaring slopes and breathtaking vistas. The route twists and turns from island to island, across bridges and causeways – sometimes high above the water and sometimes level with the ocean.
It's not uncommon for waves to crash across the road during high winds or storms – and during winter the route can be treacherous, with unpredictable weather bringing high winds or sudden blizzards.
Where to stay
The Atlantic Road is bookended by two marvelous hotels. The Thon Hotel Kristiansund is housed in a converted warehouse on the pretty, historic island of Innlandet. Rooms are beautiful and full of character, with stylish furnishings and original features, such as beamed ceilings.
In Molde, the friendly and welcoming Thon Hotel Moldefjord offers attractive, comfortable rooms – some of which have wonderful mountain and fjord views. The service here is top-notch, with superb attention to detail. The hotel is conveniently located in the centre of town with easy access to shops, restaurants and the Moldemarka.
Another worthwhile detour along the Atlantic Road is the stave church at Kvernes, on the island of Averøy. A short, scenic drive around the island's coastline brings you to the church, built around 1300 on top of a little hill overlooking the fjord. It's a tranquil spot for a rest and a picnic. Look out for the grass-roofed bus stops along the way – in summer you'll see wild flowers growing on top of these little wooden structures, as well as in the grass verges that flank the roads.
Green Adventures February 2017