Valdres is a romantic and wild highland region in western Oppland County, Norway. This region reaches the edge of the wild Jotunheimen and also includes more gentle and wide tundra-like highlands, while down below there are lovely lakes, great valleys and little villages all along. Valdres is also known for its food traditions as well as the picturesque churches dotting the landscape.
The municipalities which make up Valdres are Etnedal, Nord-Aurdal, Sør-Aurdal, Øystre Slidre, Vestre Slidre, and Vang. Geographically speaking, Valdres lies between Gudbrandsdalen to the north and east, Ringerike south east, Hallingdal to the south west and finally Sogn westwards. Valdres sits just beneath Jotunheimen and the Valdres valleys forms a basin at one level above the eastern lowlands and one level beneath Jotunheimen.
The local food traditions together with hundreds of mountain farms still run by the locals make the valley complex quite interesting for the tourist off the beaten track. Also, don't be surprised if you run into hotel owners from the Netherlands or Belgium. Quite a few non Norwegian families have settled in this area far away from the densely populated Central Europe.
Most of Valdres is a valley-river system that ends at Hønefoss town and Tyrifjorden lake. The lower part is Ådalen around Sperillen lake and regarded as part of Ringerike district. Begnadalen valley stretches from Sperillen lake to Bagn village and is recognised by steep rugged cliffs around the flat valley floor. Between Bagn and Bjørgo there is a valley step between the low and the high valley where the river flows through a gorge. A long tunnel on E16 (opened 2019) bypass this difficult point. The secluded Hedalen valley is an adjacent valley that joins the main valley at Nes. The road through a small mountain pass between Hedalen church and Begnadalen church offers fine panorama of the big valley.
North of Bjørgo the valley floor is frequently covered by long lakes (usually called fjords). At Fagernes village two valley branches join, Eastern and Western Slidre. The eastern branch connects to Valdresflya and the eastern edge of Jotunheimen. The western branch connects to Vang area and Filefjell mountain pass at the southern edge of Jotunheimen.
Etnedal valley is regarded as part of Valdres, but belongs the Randsfjorden river system. The road between Bjørgo and Etnedal offers fine panorama.
In the south east, lower Valdres stretches from Dokka and Ådal to Bagn. Through the Begnadalen valley the Begna river runs with lots of fishing possibilities for pike and trout. Eastwards, Etnedalen valley runs all the way up to the mountains and meets the Aurdal valley which stretches up from Bagn. Further on, from the region centre Fagernes, the valley divides into Øystre (eastern) Slidre and Vestre (western) Slidre. From Øystre Slidre the next plateau level is Jotunheimen. Vang is the westernmost district and ends abruptly in the Filefjell mountains.
- Fagernes, the regional centre of Valdres. This small town has several bus connections to and from Lillehammer, Oslo, Beitostølen/Jotunheimen and Sogn.
- Jotunheimen, Norway's largest mountain area. In Jotunheimen, you can find a large national park and the area is great for hiking. The mountain Besseggen is famous from the story of Peer Gynt, written by Henrik Ibsen.
It is virtually impossible for people travelling through the area not to notice the local food traditions. A plate of rakfisk, salted and fermented fresh water fish like trout or char, is served uncooked together with fruits from the farm - potatoes, onion, lefse and sour cream. The locals tend to eat this delicacy from November through January, peaking at Christmas time - but the local stores sell rakfisk from September on.
In this region, you can easily find several stave churches. Most of them were built in the Middle Age period spanning from 1150 to 1350. In Valdres there are 6 stave churches left today - Øye, Høre, Hegge, Lomen, Reinli and Hedalen. One of the Norwegian stave churches, Urnes, is represented on the World Heritage List from UNESCO.
As for every major region in Norway, some of the dialect words may pose a barrier for tourists not used to other dialects than the one spoken in Oslo. Several words have completely other meanings here than in other parts of Norway, and there are other words which you cannot find anywhere else. There is also a dictionary available if you already know some Norwegian. In the '90s, the Valdres dialect scored as "the most beautiful dialect in Norway" in a national radio programme.
Examples of local words
- Squirrel - Norwegian: ekorn, Valdres: ikødn
- All right (as in an all right person) - Norwegian: grei, Valdres: snodig (which in Norwegian normally means strange/funny)
- Lonely - Norwegian: ensom , Valdres: aule
- From the north:
- Road 51 Valdresflya
- From the west (Bergen and Sognefjord)
- Road E16 from Lærdal
- Road 53 from Årdal
- From Oslo and Oslo Airport, Gardermoen
- Road E16
- Road 33 from Dokka
- From Gjøvik, Lillehamer and Hedmark
- Road 33 through Dokka
- From Hallingdal and Hardangervidda
- Road 51 from Gol
- 1 Fagernes Airport, Leirin (VDB IATA) (10 minutes from Fagernes). The local airport operated by DOT with daily connections to Oslo (30 minutes)
- Oslo Airport, Gardermoen is about 3 hours by car from Fagernes.
- Nor-Way Bussekspress (express buses). . Most express buses running through the region are operated by this company. Connections to Oslo, Lillehammer, Sogn, Jotunheimen and Hallingdal
- Valdresekspressen (express coach), ☏ , fax: , firstname.lastname@example.org. . Route (Up to six daily departures): Oslo-Hønefoss-Valdres-Sogn and Oslo-Hønefoss-Valdres-Jotunheimen.
- Øst-Vest Xpressen (express coach), ☏ , fax: , email@example.com. . Route (One departue per day): Bergen-Voss-Lærdal-Valdres-Land-Lillehammer.
- JVB (local buses), ☏ , fax: , firstname.lastname@example.org. 08-16. . Connections to Gjøvik, Gol, Lærdal and Gjende.
- The central route E16 from Ringerike through Bagn,[Aurdal, Fagernes, Vang and Filefjell mountain pass to Lærdal in Sognefjord area. E16 ends in the major city of Bergen on the west coast.
- Route 51 (county road) runs from Gol through Fagernes, Beitostølen ski resort and Valdresflya mountain pass to road 15 at Vågå in Otta valley.
- M/B Bitihorn (local boat), ☏ , fax: , email@example.com. 08-16. . Summer season, route: Eidsbugarden-Torfinnsbu-Bygdin.
- Snowmobiles (snowmobile), ☏ , fax: , firstname.lastname@example.org. 08-16. . Winter season, route: Tyin-Tyinholmen-Eidsbugarden.
- 1 Lomen stave church (Lomen stavkyrkje). A 12th century stave church in the small village of Lomen in Vestre Slidre municipality. Can be visited outdoor anytime, but the church is close to residential buildings - respect the privacy of residents. The church is without electric light and heating, and it is only used for weddings and church services during the summer season. This small wooden building has survived for 800 years. Lomen stave Church is of the most elaborate type with an elevated mid section.
- 2 Reinli stave church. A small wooden stave church from 13th century in Reinli, a village in the Sør-Aurdal municipality.
- 3 Valdres folkemuseum (Valdres museum of cultural heritage). There are 95 houses and other constructions, comprising around 20,000 items, and the museum is the fourth largest Norwegian outdoor museum.
- 4 Hedal Stave Church (Hedalen stavkyrkje) (Detour from E16 between Nes and Bagn). A 12th century stave church at the settlement of Hedalen in Sør-Aurdal district. The western portal is one of the most elaborate in Norway. The building was originally small and rectangular. In 1699 it was enlarged and changed to cruciform shape, this addition was done with log construction (horizontal planks) as can be seen inside. The tower was added in 1738 and in 1902 the wooden roof cover was replaced with slate. Hedalen valley as presumably deserted for more than a century after the Black Plague around 1350. According to a legend the abandoned and forgotten church was rediscovered by a hunter. Inside the church there is a bear fur-skin from around year 1300. The church owns a Madonna and a reliquary from the 13th century.
- 5 Høre Stave Church (Høre stavkyrkje). Wooden Church from 1180, one of less than 30 such remaining from the midle ages. Runic inscriptions refers to "recent events" in year 1179. Age of the building has been confirmed by other methods.
- 6 Slidredomen (Vestre Slidre kyrkje) (Near E16 at Slidrefjorden lake). Slidredomen ("Slidre cathedral") is a masonry romanesque church from around 1200. Presumably this was the main church for Valdres in the midle ages. The interior is from the 1700s. The wooden stand alone bell tower presumably built in 1676.
Valdres hosts several festivals:
- Norsk Rakfiskfestival, early November each year - Thursday to Sunday. This festival praises the local food rakfisk.
- Jørn Hilme-stemnet, a festival devoted to local music, named after one of the most famous fiddle musicians in Norway.
- Valdres Sommersymfoni, a European chamber music festival for talented young musicians
- Vinjerock, definitely a kind of its own. Alpine rock festival in Eidsbugarden, Jotunheimen
- 1 Beitostølen ski resort (Road 51 from Fagernes). Cross country ski tracks and alpine slopes. Relatively long season from November to late April. Beitostølen is a small village with lots of holiday homes.
- Valdres Gjestegard (the old prison), Aurdal (between Aurdal and Leira), ☏ . Beef restaurant: Friday and Saturday nights. This building is a former prison - the cellars still with the prison cells intact. In the beef restaurant you can enjoy a good steak with wine or beer, the tables actually set in the prison cells themselves. Candle lights are lit - and privacy is enforced with the 1 meter thick stone walls.
- [dead link] Fagerlund Hotell, Fagernes, ☏ . Local foods, great beef and a chance of dining outside if weather and temperature allows.
- Valdresporten (E16 at Nes). Traditional cafeteria targeting drivers on main roads
Generally, the rural areas of Norway are among the safest places in the world. Except from an occasional pub fight, police are not often exposed to major crime. Expect the police and local authorities to be very helpful to tourists as long as they don't drink and drive.
- Gudbrandsdalen - Valdres' big brother in the east
- Sognefjord - the great fjord just west of Valdres
- Geiranger or Stryn - nice drive across Valdresflya to Ottadalen valley
- Hallingdal - the parallel valley to west/south
- Ringerike and Hønefoss at Tyrifjorden lake
- Gjøvik and Mjøsa lake to the east