The 120 km long Hardangerfjord is known as "the fertile fjord" thanks to the hundreds of thousands of apple trees lining its hillsides. Its eastern extremity, where it breaks up into several smaller fjords, is probably the most spectacular: the villages of Utne, Ulvik and Kinsarvik are among the most popular destinations.
One of the best times to explore the magnificent fjord country of the west coast - and Hordaland county in particular - is in the spring, when a pink and white symphony of apple blossom serves as a dramatic backdrop against the green hills and snow-capped mountains.
Bergen, Norway's second city (and for many travellers the most attractive), is a natural starting point for exploring this magnificent county. The city centre is itself surrounded by seven mountains, forming a spectacular amphitheatre in which the Bergensers more than live up to the proud seafaring, mercantile and cultural traditions of the city. Ever since 1070, when King Olav Kyrre gave this Viking harbour town status, Bergen has been open to the world, an ancient city with an eternally young outlook.
Most visitors already know - or soon learn - about the architectural remnants of Bergen's Hanseatic past, the leisurely stroll the length of Bryggen to the old fortress of Bergenhus, the fish market and the splendid seafood restaurants, the funicular and cable car rides to glorious vantage points, the easy walks through beautiful wooded terrain, Edvard Grieg's home at Troldhaugen, the Old Bergen open-air museum....
What's more, there always seems to be some sort of festival or celebration going on in Bergen: "any excuse for a party!" is the unofficial motto. Quite apart from its acclaimed international music festival each year, Bergen rejoices in a professional ballet company, an exciting jazz and blues milieu, repertory theatres and exuberant revues. One of the world's oldest symphony orchestras, Harmonien, performs regularly in Grieg Hall.
Inland, to the northeast of Bergen - midway between Norway's most famous fjords, Hardangerfjord and Sognefjord - the tourist centre of Voss offers something for everybody. Voss is a pleasant lakeside town; primarily a premier winter sports centre, it is also a good place to organize the famous "Norway in a Nutshell" tour, featuring a 50-minute ride on the astonishing Flåm railway (in neighbouring Sogn og Fjordane county), one of the steepest in the world, and one of the world's unmissable tourist experiences.
The town is also host to an annual Extreme Sports Week, a spectacular international event, featuring competitions in kayaking, rafting, mtb-bmx, kiting, skydiving, paragliding, hang gliding, multisport, freeride, big air, climbing, BASE jumping and longboarding... plus a music festival.
In the old days, farmers rowed enormous distances through a coastal landscape of countless islands, narrow straits and inlets, branch fjords and open stretches of sea to the marketplace in Bergen. Inns were dotted along the length of the coast, a day’s journey between them. Some have survived and are well worth a visit: Glesvær in Sund, Færøysund in Fitjar, and Fedje in Nordhordland, for example.
It is a fairly safe bet that any tour of Hordaland’s coastal com-munities and islands − from Bømlo and Austevoll south of Bergen, via Sotra and Øygarden to Halsnøy, Radøy and Fedje to the north − will be an eye-opener and a delight, especially for fishermen.
Just inland, Hardangervidda national park is a 3,430 sq km mountain plateau of unearthly beauty and a paradise for long-distance hiking. Visitors with no head for heights have an easy consolation prize: the mainline route between Oslo and Bergen is considered one of the great railway journeys of the world.