Jotunheimen (which means 'home of the giants') is one of the best places in Norway for lovers of the great outdoors, with magnificent mountains and beautiful lakeside trails to explore
Giants of Norse mythology once roamed the icy peaks of Jotunheimen, Norway's highest peak district. From Oslo, it's just a three-hour drive to this famous mountain range, where beautiful Lake Bygdin makes a perfect starting point for exploring this wild and wonderful national park.
The tranquil mountain lake (the highest lake in Norway) is popular with fishermen, whose main catch is trout. It is also a favourite with hikers staying at Bygdin Fjellhotel, the only hotel in Bygdin, which is a traditional-style wooden building, dating back to the early 20th century. We found the atmosphere warm and welcoming on arrival, and opted for a basic room with ensuite shower and toilet for our two-night stay. More luxurious rooms were available and reasonably priced. There were spacious communal areas, with live music playing in the bar on the evenings when we stayed there during August.
The hotel cafeteria, Fjellkro, is a popular coffee stop, with a large variety of home-made cakes. It also offers over 20 different hot dishes, including traditional Norwegian cuisine such as trout from the lake and reindeer fillet. We had good meals in the hotel, and flasks of tea or coffee and packed lunches from the breakfast bar were available before residents set off to explore the great outdoors each morning.
What to do
Twice-daily boat trips run between Bygdin, Torfinnsbu and Eidsbugarden, at the far end of the lake. A vintage boat, M/S Bitihorn (named after a landmark mountain in the range), stops close to the hotel. We caught the morning ferry to Torfinnsbu - a great experience, as the old ferryboat chugs along the lake, surrounded by a backdrop of majestic peaks and craggy hillsides.
In Torfinnsbu, you'll find marked trails near the Tourist Lodge - follow one to the Svartdalen Valley, where reindeer can often be spotted in the wild. You can return to Bygdin by the later ferry or, if you intend to walk further, spend the night at the lodge.
Alternatively, you can walk back to the hotel following the marked lakeside trail (13kms), as we did. Take a packed lunch and water with you (you should be able to buy refreshments at the Tourist Lodge). The signed hike back to Bygdin took us about six hours with breaks, walking through wonderful mountain scenery and along the lakeside beach on a pleasant summer’s day.
Walking boots were essential, as the well-trodden trail was wet and boggy in places, drenched by water running down from the snow-capped peaks above. It is important to stay on the marked track on this route or you may find yourself confronted with bare rockfaces to navigate, as we did, after unintentionally straying off the path when we avoided the puddles!
Described as ‘an easy family walk’ in local literature, it is certainly not for the faint-hearted, although experienced Nordic trekkers may disagree. We thoroughly enjoyed the challenge and enjoyed a wonderful evening meal of reindeer steak that awaited us back at the hotel.
For a longer boat trip, stay on the ferry when it stops at Torfinnsbu and enjoy a scenic ride on to the western end of the lake. Disembark at the mountain tourist centre of Eidsbugarden, where a rock festival is held over the first weekend in August each year. Don't forget to check the return time of the ferry back to Bygdin.
Bygdin can be reached by road in summer on the National Route 51. There are buses from Oslo or Bergen. Visit this website to plan your route: www.fjord1.no/en. The road to the hotel is closed during the winter months, when the only access is on ski or snow tractor from Beitostolen (about 15kms south).
The Norwegian Trekking Association (DNT; www.turistforeningen.no/english/) provides advice and guides to hikers. Mountain cabins are available around Lake Bygdin and can be booked in advance (advisable at busy times).
Where to eat and sleep in Oslo
From Bygdin, we drove back to Oslo via Beitostolen (a skier's paradise in winter), where we stopped to enjoy the view. In Oslo, we stayed at the Hotel Bondeheimen, a reasonably priced place in the centre of the city, close to the Oslo Fjord. It was refurbished in 2008, and our double room with ensuite bathroom was clean and comfortable. There was free Internet access in reception and a varied selection available at breakfast from the buffet bar.
We chose to eat out for dinner, as we felt the hotel dining room lacked the intimate ambiance of a smaller restaurant. Vaertshusen (+ 47 67 80 02 00, http://english.vaertshusetbaerum.no), the oldest restaurant in Norway (it was built in 1640) is a timeless and classic venue, where we enjoyed a family celebration in the renovated barn. It's a memorable place with delicious home-cooked gourmet meals. Mamma Rosa (+ 47 57 85 21 50; www.mammarosa.no), an Italian restaurant that was the first of its kind in Oslo, became a firm favourite of ours during our short stay.