Sunnhordland is where the wild sea meets quiet mountain plateaus, the weatherbeaten skerries and rich farmlands, sheltered countryside, cold glaciers and one of the country’s mightiest waterfalls, high-tech facilities and monuments from the Stone Age, Iron Age, Bronze Age and Viking Age.
Here you can go skiing in perpetual snow, swim in the sea, fish for trout in the rivers and for pollack in the sea, all in one day! From thousand of islands in the sea to the glacier Folgefonna towering to the east, Sunnhordland emerges as a diverse and challenging kingdom, where history, nature and culture blend. There are many small and large pearls here which together make up a beautiful piece of jewellery. And it’s all there for you to enjoy! In this fact guide you will find the information you need to spend your holidays in Sunnhordland.
Sunnhordland has some of the finest and most distinctive scenery in Norway. In a few hours you can travel from open waters and the dramatic ocean through a fascinating fjord landscape and end up on “Norway’s roof”. Sunnhordland’s natural beauty lies ready and waiting for those who are looking for exciting experiences and wish to explore it.
In the outermost part of the region, the landscape is dominated by the ocean and the coastline. Imagine watching the ocean waves pounding against the rocks at Bømlo or in Austevoll. Or perhaps you find it more tempting to watch the sun go down over the sea from Ryvarden lighthouse? No matter the weather, a trip to these barren but vibrant areas of our region will prove an unforgettable experience.
The fjord and the islands
As you move further inland, a fascinating island and fjord kingdom opens up before your eyes. There are thousands of large and small islands in the region - all of them marked by the friendly and hospitable character of the people of Sunnhordland. Norway’s second longest fjord – the Hardangerfjord – starts in Sunnhordland. This 179-km-long fjord, often called the ”Queen of the Norwegian fjords”, also contributes to the distinctive character of the region.
Mountains and glacier
Furthest inland in the region, the mighty Sunnhordland mountains tower heavenwards, with some peaks as tall as 1700 metres. The mountains surround Norway’s third largest glacier – Folgefonna. This magnificent glacier is “spread” over the mountains of the Folgefonna peninsula like the icing on a cake. Some of Norway’s most spectacular waterfalls cascade down the mountainsides. Folgefonna National Park, the 25th national park in Norway, was opened here in summer 2005.
Like its distinctive and varied scenery, Sunnhordland also has a varied history for visitors to explore. Sunnhordland was one of the first areas to be settled in Norway, and up through the ages the area has had a special place in the country’s history. That is why Sunnhordland is one of the areas with most ancient monuments and the richest cultural heritage, dating back thousands of years.
Fishermen, hunters and boatbuilders
Fishing and hunting have always been important when people have settled in an area. This is also true of Sunnhordland, whose inhabitants have shown great prowess in exploiting the area’s natural resources. Fish from the sea and the fjords and game from bountiful hunting grounds have always been important to people in this part of Hordaland. The people of Sunnhordland have always been a travelling people, and boatbuilding became an important activity early in the area’s history. It is still an important industry, although nowadays they build modern ships and the world’s biggest oil installations.
The people of Sunnhordland have always been god-fearing – both in old Norse times and in more recent times. It was no accident, therefore, that Olav Trygvason choose to go ashore in Moster in 995 AD in order to take over the throne and start the Christianisation of Norway. Moster is still home to one of the oldest churches in Norway – Moster Old Church. Erling Skakke built Halsnøy Monastery on the island of Halsnøy, one of the mightiest Augustinian monasteries in Norway’s history.
The Viking era and the nobility
Given its central location, it was almost inevitable that Sunnhordland would come to occupy a prominent place during the Viking era. The region became a central base for Viking chieftains who often went raiding in the west. There are many places, therefore, where relics of this era can be seen. The aristocracy subsequently made their presence felt and the building of the Barony Rosendal was completed in 1665 – the only one of its kind in Norway.
However, the most important element in any region is the people themselves. The great activity that has characterised Sunnhordland has of course created the basis for a lively folk culture, which has fortunately been nurtured and maintained throughout the region.