The mad bustle of Gatwick, with its shopping malls, restaurants and crowds, felt a million miles away as we stood waiting for our luggage and ski gear to appear on the single carousel at Alesund airport.
This small provincial airport, just two and a half hours from London, is the gateway to the stunning Sunnmore Alps, and Alesund itself, a beautiful Western Norwegian sea port between the Hjorund and Geiranger fjords and the mountains.
Many of the 45,000 people who live here have Viking roots, and Norse cultural traditions are still strong.
What makes the town even more distinctive is the abundance of art nouveau architecture. One winter’s night in 1904, a fire ravaged Alesund, leaving more than 10,000 people homeless. It was rebuilt in a style unlike that of anywhere else in the region.
Our first night was spent in a former packing house for the busy klipfish trade, now transformed into the chic boutique Hotel Brosundet, made up of 47 modern, minimalist rooms.
A highlight was dinner at Maki, the hotel’s restaurant, cooked by chef Ole Johnny Hjelmeseth, who explained that he prefers to keep his fish on ice for a few days to deepen the flavour.
We feasted upon fresh crayfish that melted in the mouth, served with mussels, crab and crispy potato skins, followed by krea, a local dish of meaty cod on a bed of creamy mashed potato, with ox and truffle jus, celeriac and caramelised onions.
The freezing temperatures in this region, Hjelmeseth told us, provide added intensity for the taste buds. “Fish, for instance, grow more slowly, so develop a better flavour,” he said. “And if you try Norwegian berries, you’ll really notice the difference.”
Soon after, I was tucked up in bed in our wooden-beamed bedroom, listening to the howling wind and dreaming of pristine fjords, unfurled sails and perfect fall lines.
Nothing beats a Scandi breakfast: a healthy mixture of rollmop herrings, delicious smoked salmon, rye bread, cucumber with eggs, and a fresh coffee (the Norwegians, I’m told, are among the biggest coffee drinkers on earth).
Through the arched windows of the restaurant, we could see our boat, the MS Granny II, docking alongside the hotel’s jetty. It was certainly a novel experience to board a boat in ski wear, and carrying skis. Our destination was Hjorundfjorden, renowned for its lovely hotels, and often voted one of the most beautiful places to ski in the world.
The salty air, bitter winds and waves crashing on deck made for a bracing introduction to the day, but the sun on the snow-capped mountains that rise from the shore more than made up for it.
After a couple of hours sailing in waters that our captain told us were as deep as 610 metres in places, we reached Saebo, a sheltered marina and location of the Sagafjord Hotel.
It was the dream Norwegian mountain ski lodge. The wooden walls built from logs and weatherboarding are, in parts, 200 years old and topped with a roof covered in grass. The remote location ensured a peaceful atmosphere that no alpine resort I can think of could ever hope to acquire.
After a warming lunch of roasted cauliflower soup at the hotel, it was time to head out with our guide, Oscar.
This area is renowned for ski touring, particularly on such peaks as Slogen, Randers Topp, Kolastinden and Skarasalen, which are snow-covered from November until May. Visibility was poor and the wind was tearing through the valley but off we headed, trekking deep into the landscape laden with skis, skins and rucksacks.
When the snow became deeper underfoot, we skinned up and soon, with Oscar leading the way, got into a good rhythm as we climbed onwards and upwards, with not another person in sight and the only sound that of skis on the soft snow.
Just before the summit we stopped, de-skinned, and began our long and thrilling descent on a steep slope through fine white fluffy powder, zig-zagging through trees, hopping in and out of the dips and hillocks, and eventually reaching the pass at the bottom.
Back on board the Granny, our lungs full of fresh air, our bodies buzzing with adrenalin and our cheeks burning from the icy wind, we wolfed down sandwiches — wrapped the Norwegian way in parchment paper — then a local chocolate called Kvikk Lunsj (or “quick lunch”, which is, apparently, what every serious Norwegian skier packs for a day) and a slug of Aquavit, a spirit traditionally drunk after fatty meals.
Replenished, we headed out into the cold again, this time to try our hand at cod fishing. There’s a specific method to this, we were taught: having let the lure sink to the bottom, you have to reel in, every now and then jerking the line to try and hook the fish.
My mouth watered at the thought of freshly caught cod but we had no luck. No matter. Supper was tasty local venison back at the Sagafjord Hotel, followed by whisky nightcaps with our new friends on the boat moored next door. I couldn’t have slept better.
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Next on the itinerary was another Norwegian winter experience: a snow spa.
Having waved goodbye to Granny, we hit the road and took several car ferries before arriving at the famous Geiranger Fjord, a Unesco World Heritage Site, and the Hotel Union. In summer months, this area is a haven for hikers, but in winter it is quiet and restful.
With its spectacular views, the hotel’s spa was a great place to relax after an energetic morning of ski touring. As well as having a sauna, after which I was given ice to rub on to my body to cool down, I had my first ever hammam, which involved lots of bubbles, scrubbing and buckets of water thrown over me, leaving my skin feeling soft and squeaky-clean.
Our whistle stop tour continued as we moved on to the Juvet Landscape Hotel, set in a forest wilderness by the River Valdolla and another destination beloved of ski-tourers.
The main hotel building was a former cowshed set on the river bank, built from birch, aspen and pine, and designed to complement the beauty and tranquility of the surroundings.
There were just nine rooms, each a wooden hut on stilts, with a designer wooden interior that was dimly lit, and wide glass walls.
Knut, the owner of the hotel, urged us not to use electric lights, but to let our eyes adjust to the natural light and to enjoy simply sitting there, taking in the views and appreciating nature fully. He was right; surrounded by the forest, with wintry light seeping through the trees, this was a wonderful place to wind down.
Dinner, cooked by Knut, was served on a large communal table in the cowshed, creating a wonderfully convivial atmosphere.
We dined on smoked whale carpaccio (which tastes similar to smoked salmon but looks more like venison carpaccio), followed by a signature rustic Norwegian dish of salted cod in tomato, with hunks of fresh homemade bread to mop up the sauce.
We made our way back to our designer pod in the dark, anxious not to ruin our closeness to the natural world by putting on the lights. Luckily our room key had a torch attached...
Overnight it snowed and we awoke to miles of whiteness, with every branch, leaf and feather blanketed in snow – fortuitous, given that our destination that day was the Stranda Ski Resort in the Sunnmore Alps.
The snow was fluffy, the pistes quiet and virgin powder easy to find. A quick lunch of meats, cheeses and local beer, and then we headed back to Alesund.
I was determined, though, not to leave without another attempt to hook my first cod. Having been introduced to a local fisherman, I was handed a rod and an extra-large fisherman’s onesie and put to work.
Ten minutes in, with a bit of line-jerking here and there, I had a large flabby cod on my line. It was a heavy job reeling it in, but worth the effort: at the end of the day my fisherman friend had chopped it into fillets for us to enjoy.
Never could I have imagined catching a cod on a skiing trip. But then, here in Norway winter activities aren’t restricted to those most of us have grown up with. There are few places where, in four days, you can experience sailing, ski touring and skiing, and even squeeze in some spa time — with incredible views and surroundings a given.
The fjords and Sunnmore Alps are breathtaking in winter, but I was told, over and over, “Come back in summer”, when a different beauty takes hold.
A popular hike is up Slogen mountain, which William Cecil Slingsby, the renowned English climber, said was one of the “proudest” in Europe. “Nowhere else,” he said, “will you see views like this.” But no words will do Slogen justice. It is a place to which, if you love the outdoors, you’ve simply got to go.
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This article was written by Pippa Middleton from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.