Every time someone said it, they blushed a little.
“We call it the Happy End,” said Susanne. She was very quick to point out that it was meant to describe the happiness you find at the end of the road – not ‘the other’ happy end.
I smiled. I wondered if they were aware of what the translation and urban meaning was when they came up with the name. Likely they did not. But despite that – the name was really correct; I was pretty damn happy to be here exploring this little unknown corner of Norway.
When we turned off the Trollstigen National Tourist Route (Highway 66) in Eidsdal, we didn’t really know what to expect. The one lane road ran along the fjord winding around tall cliffs for about 4 miles. Suddenly we were deposited in Norddal – the end of the road; a very happy end of the road.
You’ll first be stunned by the views of this sheltered tiny community, but soon you’ll be enamored with the culture there too.
The Best Small Towns Try
I adore small towns when I travel, but small towns are like a living organism – you always have to think about how to keep it alive. Some communities are successful at it and some don’t give it enough care and thought and it eventually dies off with generations. Just like a child or business – you always have to be thinking ahead, changing, adapting and trying new things to survive as a small town these days. I’ve seen so many just fall over and die. But then again I have seen my share of ones that are trying. And you might as well try, because you have nothing to lose.
That’s why the little community of Norddal captured my heart – they were trying. It was like fishing, they were throwing a line out to the main road and seeing who they could catch. They were also succeeding thanks to a strong community and working together. This really was one of the best small towns in Norway.
“We realized that instead of laying down and dying we had to try something. No one else was going to do it for us – so we had to take charge. ” –Susanne of the Happy End Collective
The Happy End Collective
The Happy End Collective was created in 2004 with the mission is to contribute to the social and economic growth, activities and work places, in the village, built entirely on local resources. It was made up of various people in the village who wanted to try to keep it alive; farmers, business people, and elders. They applied for some governmental funding and brought in some outside consultants to help them build up their tourism offerings and get people to turn off the main highway and have a real rural Norway experience at the end of the road.
The Happy End is a business organization and also a social entity for the entire village. They create meeting places, host larger and smaller social events, employ the village youngsters, giving them their first working experience and so on.
“We live in a small place with 120 people and in the winter it’s very quiet, and why don’t we invite the rest of the world to visit us. We can give people something safe, quiet, and real,” Susanne explained.
Petrines Guest House and Inn
Besides a little campground, Petrines Guest House is one and only hotel in town; and it’s charming. It used to be the town retirement home but now it has been turned into a little guesthouse with incredible views of the fjords and it serves up delicious meals highlighting the local farm to table dishes.
The rooms were small but beautifully decorated in a simple cottage way. Ours had a view of the Fjord and mountains. The guesthouse is also the only place to eat in town! They highlight the local food, so be prepared to eat goat products! I had a goat burger as well as a number of dishes with goat cheese and all were fabulous. It was surprised at how refined the food was for such a small town.
Authentic Norwegian Experiences in Small Town Norddal
“All tourism is a bit of an illusion, but we try to be as real as possible.”
I couldn’t agree more with local farmer Jostein Sande on his statement. However, I think Norddal had ‘real’ as nailed as possible! Every one of these experiences I had were at operating farms that you can visit. At the farms you can do some great hands-on activities giving you a good idea of what the farming culture and history is all about in Norddal as well as all of Norway.
I wasn’t able to do all of these experiences in my short day there, but here are a few of the authentic Norwegian experiences you can have in the little town of Norddal.
Melchior Farm Visit
Visit the working farm of Petter Melchior and Torunn Ljøen and learn all about goats, and what it’s like to have 200+ goats to care for! You can even take a Goat Safari and get a more in depth look at milking and bringing the goats in from the pasture. I was lucky enough to even get to take the baby goats out to pasture on my visit!
In order to survive in a small community or a family farm, you cannot think volume, you have to diversify. Most farms in the area do multiple things. At the Melchior Farm you can also taste other items they produce such as organic pear and apple juice, raspberry juice, raspberry jams, pear jam, goat cheese, and soft Snofisk cheese. Petter also runs the only pub in the village selling local craft beer. The Melchior Garden is open Wednesdays, on big football matches, special village occasions and whenever Petter feels like it. It is a small town after all!
Visit Herdalen Summer Farm
Follow the little gravel road past waterfalls, abandoned farmhouses, mountain streams, and bridges to the top of the valley to the Herdalen Summer Farm. This green pasture where goats roam high in the mountains has been in the family for over 300 years. Take a step back in time and learn how a small-scale dairy farm still survives in Norway.
“When I was a young milkmaid up there some years ago, there was no road, so we had to hand milk and bring the milk in rowing boats to the other side of the lake,” explained Åshild Dale. The road was built in 1960 and they got modern milking machines. The farm now operates as a cooperative barn where all of the animals are put together from various farmers in Norddal.
The farm only operates in the summer months when the goats are taken to the higher mountains to graze. Farmers Åshild Dale and Jostein Sande will give you an idea of what it’s like to raise goats in this environment and give you a taste of the products they produce. In addition, there are a number of hikes you can take from the parking lot of the farm for a little adventure!
Learn How to make Norwegian Brown Cheese
Åshild and Jostein also have a winter farm in Norddal village. They have operated their farm since 1983 in the village and have been community leaders in trying to keep the landscape in Norddal the way it was for her grandparents. If you arrive in the winter months or off-season you can visit them at this farm and learn the history of the village, farm and dairy, and participate in a brown cheese-making experience!
Åshild grew up in Norddal born and raised in the same house. She inherited the farm, but when she was 17 she wanted to see more of the world and went to Seattle for a year to stay with relatives. “However, I learned that the grass was greenest here in Norway so I went back to Norway!”
Åshild starts in the morning with the fresh morning milk from the goats, and starts to make cheese. She uses her family’s 130 year old basket to make white cheese by pressing it in the old woven basket. The white cheese sort of tastes like feta.
Then she uses the whey from the white cheese as the main ingredient for famous Norwegian brown cheese. The brown cheese is actually quite sweet because the lactose caramelizes and browns in the slow baking process. Norwegians eat it with everything – including on pancakes! She shows us the entire cheese making process, and then of course we get to do some tasting.
Visit the Norddal Church
“Do you want the key to the church?” asked Susanne as we talked to her about what to do in the town, “It has the best view in town when you open the front doors.” I had heard of getting the key to the city before, but I had never had anyone offer me the key to the village church before! Of course I accepted the offer, took the key, and off I went to go view the best view in town.
The octagonal Norddal church was built in 1782. The church was built in nearby Valldal and moved to Norddal in the 1620s. It is a beautiful little community church, and it was even more special that we had the key and could explore it and photograph it on our own.
Kayak, Bike, Fish and Hike
The Fjord and mountains around the village are begging to be explored! There are numerous hikes ranging in difficulty that you can take out of the village. If you want a guided hike, there are no certified guides in the village, but if you ask at Petrines Guest House ahead of arrival, they will help you find a skilled and competent local that can take you wherever you want to go!
You can cover more ground with two wheels. Petrines offers a simple biking guide and a lot of local knowledge on where to go. They have some bikes for rent, or you can bring your own.
Or you can get out on the water by renting a kayak at the local grocery store! And don’t forget the fishing…you are staying right on the Fjord after all! Bring, or borrow simple fishing gear in the village. You can fish from shore or rent a boat. Easy catches are cod, pollock or even monkfisk!
Norddal really is a hidden gem; a happy end of the road. I think every Norway itinerary needs a little rural, real experiences included in it and Norddal is the perfect place to see what the real, rural Norway is like. The people of Norddal had to be pioneers and come together to get visibility. And it’s working, so get there before everyone starts turning off the highway and heading to the happy end of the road!
How to Visit Norddal and Book Your Norweigan Experiences
The best way to organize your Norddal holiday is to contact the Petrines Guest House and talk to Sussane. She is the head of the Happy End Group and she runs the guesthouse; you are in good hands! She will give you an idea of all of the various activities in the area and you can customize a trip for your adventure level!
Petrines Guest House Website
I was a guest of Visit Norway during my time in Norddal, however all opinions shared here are my own.