In the words of Stavanger-born Alexander Kielland, a celebrated 19th century writer, the people of Rogaland “live their whole lives facing seaward. The sea is their companion, counsellor, friend, enemy, livelihood and graveyard”.
In fact, the lucky visitor to Rogaland has so much more to choose from: on the one hand, a deep fjord, a windblown island, or an endless white sandy beach under picturesque skies of the enchanting region known as Jæren; on the other, Stavanger, the cosmopolitan capital of Norway' offshore oil industry and the beating heart of the county.
Stavanger is the region’s capital and Norway’s fourth largest city. As the largest wood-built city in northern Europe, Stavanger was chosen as a pilot project during the European Architectural Heritage Year in 1975. Since then Old Stavanger has received two Europa Nostra awards. Old Stavanger, comprising more than 150 timber houses built in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, is a world-class historical monument, preserved by law. For visitors, there are no fees to pay here, no cars to worry about, and plenty of places to sit down and enjoy fresh shrimps bought from the old fisherman down at the harbour.
In addition to being a thriving cultural centre, the Stavanger region is a gateway to some of Norway's most magnificent natural scenery: nestled between mountains and fjords.
One of Rogaland’s - and Norway’s - most famous sights is the “Pulpit Rock” (Prekestolen) an awesome flat rock formation standing out almost 600 metres above the Lysefjord, whose sheer rock walls rise as high as a kilometre in places. At the head of the fjord is a road dropping 950 metres through 27 hairpin curves.
A drive or bus trip along the coast road from Bergen to Stavanger via Haugesund is a good way to get the feel of this ancient landscape, scoured by glaciers into a labyrinthine web of islands and fjords: in addition to Lysefjord, the less famous but equally fascinating Høgsfjord, Hidlefjord, Årdalsfjord, Jøsenfjord, Erfjord, Jelsafjord, Sandsfjord, Hylsfjord and Saudafjord are well worth a closer look.
Each has its special features, even its own personality: open skies bathed in light, improbably steep valleys flanked by naked cliffs, water so still that it is hard to see where the vegetation ends and its reflection begins. Every turn in the road brings a new revelation.
A more comprehensive tour of the entire fjord country logically begins at Sandnes, where you can follow the Fjord Road into the idyllic Ryfylke district, past Pulpit Rock and north to Hardanger, Voss and the Sognefjord, ending at Moskog just before the town of Førde. The Norwegian government has recognized the importance of such routes by creating a system of National Tourist Roads.
The rural district of Sokndal is the southernmost municipality in the county, with a 48 km long coastline boasting no fewer than seven fjords, innumerable lakes and wide stretches of moorland. Sokndal is also the first Nordic member of the extraordinary “Cittaslow” (“Slow Cities”) movement.
Based in Italy, where it grew out of the better known “Slow Food” project, this most exclusive of clubs describes itself as an “international network of cities where the living is easy”. Sokndal is a great place for salmon, trout and sea fishing, or leisurely rambles in search of berries or mushrooms.
For a change of pace, Kongeparken amusement park offers a magic chocolate factory, where children are invited to make their own, and a teddy bear hotel... not to mention Norway’s biggest merry-go-round and highest Ferris wheel.