Balestrand, Norway

Balestrand: A Life Among the Fjords

Cod is one of the local foods in Norway and Balestrand. It is also exported in huge quantities to Portugal.
little boats
Small rowing boats gaudy at the entrance to the Esefjord.
The Dragon House
One of the most imposing traditional architecture houses in Balestrand, Casa do Dragão.
inland Sognefjord
One of the houses served by private jetties on the Balestrand seafront.
Almost in home
Couple rows in front of the main facade of Hotel Kviknes.
The Kaiser Seat
Sigurd Kviknes, one of the owners of the Kviknes hotel, shows the chair used by Kaiser Wilhelm II when he was told about the outbreak of World War I.
faith of wood
Interior of the church of Santo Olavo, also known as English.
The English Church
The wooden church of Saint Olav, also known as "English" because it was built in honor of Elisabeth, an Englishwoman who died in Balestrand.
dragon style
Tops of the facades of traditional houses in Viking-inspired architecture "dragon".
thoughtful beauty
Bronze statue of the legendary King Bele in contemplation of the Sognefjord.
Balestrand Homes
Balestrand waterfront section with several traditional buildings
Villages on the slopes of the gorges of Norway are common. Balestrand is at the entrance to three. Its settings stand out in such a way that they have attracted famous painters and continue to seduce intrigued travelers.

The balcony of the Hotel Kviknes room reveals the deep arm of the Esefjord.

It is bordered by brown mountains with late snow. And skeins of moisture flowing through it, hovering well below the peaks, as if challenging its millenary supremacy.

Around seven on that endless afternoon, we put our faith in the mercy of weather. We grabbed the backpacks with the photographic stuff and left aimlessly.

We didn't even walk fifteen minutes. Still in the middle of Laerargata street, the same leaden clouds that we admired from the bedroom balcony, unload a whole deluge. We could barely see the street ahead, let alone the scenery and local life we ​​were hoping to enjoy.

Tired of successive awakenings and early rises, needing to recover energy and spirit, we beat a retreat.

A refreshing dinner awaited us. But not only. We still recover from the wet when the bedroom phone rings. They confirm an appointment with the hotel owner beforehand.

The Kviknes Hotel's Secular History Tour

Sigurd Kviknes identifies us. Sigurd is one of the fourth-generation descendants of the secular and prolific Kviknes family who took over the hotel in 1877. general manager business, along with his sisters Marta and Kari.

Sigurd takes on the role of guide. Take us through the historic rooms of your establishment in a museum visit mode.

The walls of Kviknes Hotel are covered with paintings. Pictures of famous painters who, at one point, stayed there or built houses in the village. Artists who crossed paths in Balestrand determined to paint landscapes for eternity.

Sigurd presents us with natures, mainly fjords, by Hans F. Gude, Johannes Flintoe and Hans Dahl. In addition to the natures, portraits of the ancestral Kviknes.

We also take a look at the Hoivik Room, named after the artisan Ivar Hoivik who created numerous pieces of furniture and decorative pieces in carved wood in the Norwegian-Viking style dragenstile, which is like who says, of the dragon.

Hoivik was also responsible for many of the moldings and works that adorn the oldest houses in Balestrand.

Sigurd continues with his presentation. Room after room, picture after picture, we arrive at an episode of the hotel's historic welcome that makes us pay attention.

The Kviknes hosted royalty, presidents and prime ministers, movie stars and other artists from the four corners of the world, including Kofi Annan, Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis.

Kaiser Guilherme II's Favorite Vacation Destination

We were particularly fascinated by the local story of William II, the last Emperor of Germany and King of Prussia. His passion for Norway and the magnificence of the fjords was such that Kaiser Wilhem became one of the most frequent visitors to the region. William II even confessed that Norway preserved the genuine and traditional charm that Germany should never have lost.

He visited Balestrand almost every year between 1889 and 1914. On these occasions he was a hotel guest, not a guest. Sigurd explains to us that William II arrived aboard his 120 meter imperial yacht Hohenzollern II and there he slept and went out to explore the surroundings.

Guilherme II was lost in love with the sea. In such a way that the total time he spent traveling on this yacht was several years.

As a rule, the emperor anchored at Balestrand in July. Used to stay until August. In the first year, he had the company of his wife. It was a unique case and it went wrong. From then onwards, he preferred to surround himself with a group of officers who he chose by hand to socialize at the parties and marches to which he gave himself.

A team of photographers recorded their evasions. William II took his role as a German leader in good esteem. He made a point of documenting himself as the stars of the movies. And he only submitted to photography when he thought the light glorified him.

That kind of glow abounds in Balestrand. Every time the sun peeks through the dense, bluish clouds, it dyes the fjords with that chromatic glow that Hans Dahl, Adelsteen Normann and painting partners or rivals longed to capture on canvas.

Adelsteen Norman lived, worked and published his paintings from Berlin. Unsurprisingly, his fjord paintings had a huge influence on Norway's popularity among Germans, starting with Kaiser Wilhelm II.

The Breakout of World War I that Ruined the Kaiser's Vacation

In July 1914, Guilherme repeated Balestrand's usual retreat. On the 25th, in the afternoon, he visited his friend, professor and painter, Hans Dahl at his property in Strandheim.

During the conversation, he received news of the political-diplomatic worsening between Austria-Hungary and Serbia, triggered by the murder of the Prussian Archduke Franz Ferdinand, almost a month earlier.

“I was sitting in this same chair” informs us Sigurd Kviknes and lifts his seat to show us a script in Norwegian at the base of the seat that proves it. “My family managed to buy the chair at an auction.

And there it is. In the past few days, weary by the prospect of interrupting his sacred retreat, the Kaiser had done everything possible to despise the worsening of events. When Austria-Hungary turned the conflict into a military one, he was even forced to leave back to Germany.”

Four years of World War I followed and, in November 1, the defeat of Germany, the abdication of the Kaiser and exile in Holland and Greece. William II would not return to his beloved Balestrand.

A few moments later, Sigurd, too, called the tour over. We say goodbye. Even if we stayed at his Kviknes Hotel until mid-afternoon, we wouldn't see him again.

Here and there, through the streets of Balestrand

That same night we dined, if not like emperors, at least like kings, in the grand dining hall of the Kviknes Hotel. During the meal, we are introduced to Sandra, a compatriot from the vicinity of Corroios who worked in the kitchen.

The new day dawned ready to make us forget the day before, sunny as we no longer thought possible in those parts.

We took advantage of the blessing to complete the walk that the previous evening's rain had frustrated. We start by walking along the Kong Beles Veg path.

We admire the imposing wood of its colorful houses, the eccentric Dragon House by Hans Dahl and the much more conventional ones on the Balestrand seafront.

Most of them are equipped with private anchorages that project into the Sognefiord Sea. Some of them are enriched by the incredible lacework created by Ivar Hoivik or, at least, inspired by his work.

They include elements recovered from Viking times, their sagas and mythology.

The “English” Church of St. Olav

A few meters above, the Anglican church of St. Olav stands out from the houses, the king of Norway between 1015 and 1028, responsible for the Christianization of the nation.

This medieval looking church is also known as The English Church. This, because it was built by Knut Kvikne in honor of his English wife, Margaret Sophia Green Kvikne. Margaret was the daughter of an English priest, one of the many British tourists who visited Balestrand in the late twentieth century.

In 1894, a mere four years after marrying Knut, Margaret fell ill with tuberculosis and died. In her honor, Knut Kvikne fulfilled the dream his wife had confessed to seeing an English church in Balestrand.

Today, during the summer, the elegant Igreja Inglesa hosts services every Sunday, including weddings. It also received us and welcomes all the newly disembarked strangers who are spying on it. In other seasons of the year, religious services are only held when Balestrand residents reach an agreement.

Ciderhuset: Balestrand Cider For Every Taste

In the absence of mass, we climbed the steep Sjotunsvegen pointed to a cider tasting provided by one of the main local producers, Ciderhuset. Like the Kviknes hotel, this company is managed in a family way, in this case, by the Høyvik Eitungjerde family.

With all the care and patience in the world, the host Age presents us with his cider in little glasses lined up, paler or golden depending on the fermentation time and a series of other factors that dictated the intensity of flavor, acidity, all this with good way of any wine tasting, only made from cider.

We left Ciderhuset around two-thirty in the afternoon. A little below, again on the verge of the bay, we find the imposing statue of Bele, a Viking king with legendary status in Norway and who, not knowing where he came from, remains in the imagination of the Norwegians as having lived in these rutted and mountainous confines. .

Fridtjof the Bold, Bele and the Imaginary Viking of Norway

The statue rivals that of King Fridtjof the Bold, commissioned by Kaiser Wilhelm II to an artist friend and erected in 1913 in the village of Vangsnes.

At Balestrand, the majestic bronze King Bele resists, on a granite base, contemplating the distant point of Vangsnes and the bifurcation of the sogneford that settles there.

Little by little, step by step, we approached the riverside vertex where we had landed in the village and where Balestrand faces the various fjords that welcomed it. We skirt the Norwegian Travel Museum and enter Holmen Street. On the way to the ferry dock, we came across an ice-cream mobile home run by teenagers trying to liven up the boredom they've been given over with thunderclaps.

A little way up, behind the Sognefjord Aquarium, among a cluster of red houses, we find cod drying on a drying rack. It boasts the salty look that is so popular to us and that Norway has been renewing in Portugal for centuries.

Several rowboats serve this housing nucleus. One is painted in a psychedelic color palette but matching the little Norwegian flag that waves over the stern.

By then, the morning weather lull had already given way to the bluish, stormy atmosphere that almost always darkens the maze of fjords around it: the Esefjord to the northwest, the shortest of them all.

To the south, the Sognefjord, the longest and deepest in Norway, faces both west – where it meets the North Sea – and east. To the north, the Vetlefjord, a mere six kilometers long, almost parallel to a much longer one, the Fjaerlandsfjord.

At five in the afternoon and the ferry from Flam approaching, we rushed back to the Kviknes Hotel, grabbed our bags and ran back to the harbor we had been walking through. Moments later, we embark for the Sognefjord navigation below.

We would only disembark at nine o'clock in the evening, at the Norway's large ex-Hanseatic port: Bergen.

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