Marie Peyre visits Europe’s ‘other’ Capital of Culture and finds sublime natural architecture, a charming Old Town and a varied cultural programme.
Preikestolen (pulpit rock)
This is Preikestolen, or ‘the pulpit rock’, thus named because of its shape. It’s one of Norway’s most famous sights, and the region’s most popular attraction. I came here with my family as a teenager, on my very first trip to Norway, and I vividly remember it. It was the highlight of that trip, and the reason why I wanted to revisit the area.
We started our ascent in the mist, worried that we would not be able to see much once we got to the top. And indeed when we reached the cliff, it was shrouded in thick fog, forcing us to proceed very carefully across a narrow, slippery shelf for the last few metres – with a very steep plunge to our left, and no safety railing between us and the precipice just a yard away.
An hour later, however, the fog lifts, and the sun eventually shines through, revealing a breathtaking panorama. From the summit, mountains spread out in front of us in an impenetrable rocky landscape that even the Vikings could not tame (there is still no road along the fjord). And at the very bottom, the sea, carving an opening between the two sides of the fjord.
What Preikestolen is not, however, is Norway’s best-kept secret – as many as 100,000 people come here every year, and the place at times feels busier than Oslo Central Station. But despite the crowds, the views remain spectacular.
Stavanger Old Town
Set on a hill to the west of the Vågen harbour, the picturesque Old Town, with its white wooden houses and narrow cobbled streets, is the perfect place to stretch our legs, still stiff from yesterday’s walk.
Until well into the second half of the 20th century, this was a working class area, which the men and women employed in the nearby canning factories called home. Today this part of the city, one of the largest concentrations of wooden buildings in Northern Europe, is listed, and a much sought-after residential area.
One of Stavanger’s best museums can be found in the Old Town. Granted, it does not sound all that exciting, but the Canning Museum offers a fascinating insight into the history of the city, and the industry that once brought it wealth. With no fewer than 75 canning factories, Stavanger in the 1920s exported tons of tinned sardines to the continent, providing employment for thousands of locals in the process, and the museum brings those bygone times back to life in a vivid manner.
Norwegian Petroleum Museum
Today, Stavanger is the oil capital of Norway, and its richest city. Located on the harbour, the high-tech Norwegian Petroleum Museum, built to look like an offshore platform, is both educational and great fun. There are plenty of interactive activities and games, as well as extra-large scale models, a 3D cinema, and the opportunity to take part in an emergency drill exercise.
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As European Capital of Culture for 2008, Stavanger is hosting many events throughout the year. Special highlights in September include a production of Hamlet by Lithuanian wonder director Oskaras Korsunovas, which should bring a new perspective to the bard’s tragedy; ‘A World of Folk’, a major exhibition showcasing designs for the future; and the last chance to catch Steve Bloom’s stunning photo exhibition, ‘Spirit of the Wild’, in Byparken (in front of the cathedral, until 28 Sept 2008). Visit www.stavanger2008.no for full listings.
There is a lot more to see and do in and around Stavanger. You can go on a salmon safari, and swim with wild salmon in their natural habitat. Or shop in Kvadrat, Norway’s biggest shopping centre. Those with children in tow might want to visit Kongeparken amusement park, or the much-loved Butterfly Park.
Where to eat
Save: Naree Thai, Breigata 22, Stavanger (just outside the Norwegian Petroleum Museum) serves cheap but decent Thai food.
Spend: Restaurant N B Sørensen’s Dampskipbsexpedition, Skagen 26 (second floor), serves top-notch modern continental food in a cosy, old fashioned Norwegian interior. Bølgen & Moi is another smart choice, in more modern surrounds, next door to the Norwegian Petroleum Museum.
Where to stay
Save: Solvik Campsite, Tveitavikveien 1, 4100 Jørpeland, is a good alternative to the Preikestolen Campsite which is often fully booked in high season. Great seaside location, good amenities and friendly welcome. Or try the youth hostel at Preikestolhytta, but book well in advance if you plan on staying there in summer.
Spend: Skagen Brygge Hotell, Skagenkaien, is centrally located by Vågen harbour, and close to all the attractions. For more info check www.regionstavanger.com.