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Bergen and Beyond

The interior of the place is just as winning as its façade—frescoed parlors feature oiled ceilings, huge leather chairs, an ancient piano, even a few gramophones. My tiny room looks out on fields of grazing cows. Since I have nothing to unpack, I immediately head back downstairs and discover a small café on the premises that also specializes in used mystery novels. The whole town, it turns out—population 300—is known for its 15 secondhand bookshops. These are in cafés, garages, roadside shacks. One is nothing more than a freestanding bin with a collection box where customers deposit the equivalent of $2 to buy a paperback.

Evidently, in the late 19th century, Fjaerland—as the area encompassing Mundal is called—was a major destination resort for Scandinavian and, later, British travelers. They came by ship (the only way to get here until 1986, when a road finally linked the area to the rest of Norway) and stayed for several weeks.

"In the old days, the farmers took visitors to see the glacier in horse-drawn carriages," says Marit Orhein Mauritzen, the hotel's owner-manager, whose grandparents opened the place in 1891. "So they helped my family finance the hotel because it was good for their business too. Everything at the hotel is pretty much the same as it was a hundred years ago. Even the meals, which are mostly my grandmother's recipes."

Breakfast here is the pièce de résistance. It's one of the most amazing spreads I've ever seen (Grandma would definitely be proud): salmon, herring, shrimp, fish mousses and pâtés, six varieties of cheese, ham, salami, compotes, cereals, yogurts, beets, tomatoes, eggs sprinkled with caviar. Where to start?Worse, when to stop?

Over a huge platter of food, I wind up chatting with a Norwegian couple, Børge and Karen. I mention that I was slightly disappointed by my peek at the glacier. "Where the bus takes you is not so good," Børge tells me. "There are much better places to see it from, but you have to walk a little." As it happens, they are headed to one of these spots in their car after breakfast and they offer to take me along.

The little walk, however, turns out to be a major trek, making my ascent of Mount Fløyen look like child's play. Fit Norwegian family that they are—they go hiking every weekend—my new friends are bounding up the steep slopes effortlessly. I manage to keep up, but just barely, as the fjord and Mundal get smaller and smaller below us. Ultimately, it takes more than two hours to reach the top, where we come upon a hut selling soft drinks on the honor system. We also meet a group of adventurous backpackers, all wearing crampons for an actual walk on the glacier ahead.

Børge leads our party out along a narrow path atop the mountain's spine. At the end of this trail, there's just enough room for one person to stand, so we take turns ogling the view. This time, no disappointment—only awe—as I stand alone on the edge of the precipice, looking down on a blue garden of shimmering crystals. I take a deep breath and indulge in a Titanic moment, flinging my arms wide. Now this is a glacier!

Back in Bergen the next day, I'm so stiff from my climb at Jostedal that I can barely walk. But never mind. For one memorable moment, there I was, King of the Fjord, on top of a magnificent mountain in the middle of Norway. No umbrella required.

RICHARD ALLEMAN is a contributing editor for Travel + Leisure.

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