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Hoggorm, a pizza bar in Bergen, is named after Norway’s only venomous snake, the European viper. Like Bergen itself, “he’s rock star, but not too rock star,” says owner Annette Tveit. “Really, I just like having a viper coiled around a slice of pizza on our logo.”
Tveit’s boyfriend, Christopher Haatuft, is the chef-owner of Lysverket, a block away. With a résumé that includes Blue Hill at Stone Barns and Per Se, Haatuft is the poster boy for Bergen’s culinary ambitions. Scandinavia’s penchant for all things fresh and foraged has finally reached western Norway; here they call it New Fjordic.
Haatuft taps into his network of purveyors, including a rancher who raises free-range boar. Lysverket is a laboratory where he plays, and although he never intended it to be so tourist-facing, it’s become a necessary stop for those not only interested in the region’s compelling landscape but its culinary bounty as well.
You could say the same about Bergen. Once a bustling trading hub for the Hanseatic League, the city was never particularly poised to be a tourism show pony—especially with its 230 days of annual downpour—but its undeniable merits (namely a dramatically sited urban core that inspired the setting for Disney’s Frozen) have turned it into the official jumping-off point for the country’s trademark fjords.
With fewer than 300,000 people, Bergen, founded on a Viking settlement in the year 1070, is perhaps the world’s only second city without an inferiority complex, garnering as significant a following as big brother Oslo. Seven massive berths can accommodate an armada of cruise ships, spilling tourists each morning into the cobbled-stoned streets of the UNESCO-protected Bryggen Wharf, where just ten minutes away the stately Grand Hotel Terminus (rooms from $115) has been beckoning travelers since 1928.
The hotel’s owner also recently opened the stylish Hotel Bergen Børs (rooms from $150). The neighborhood is the starting point of the legendary Hurtigruten, Norway’s mail ship–cum–passenger line, which shuttles visitors in search of the midnight sun during summer and plumes of neon aurora in winter.
Lysverket is the reward for those who stick around, a star in a mini-constellation of promising dining venues. Cornelius takes a similar tack, presenting a menu of still-flopping seafood on the Isle of Holmen, 25 minutes away by boat. Colonialen Litteraturhuset feels like a cool Copenhagen import with its blond wood tables and elegant twists on bistro-style fare.
Hoggorm, however, is different, with far fewer tourists at its tables. Tveit’s hangout, teeming with post-hipsters and their tattoos, is a hot spot for a culture of creativity that’s as important to Bergen as its tourist trade, such as the thriving fashion scene at T-Michael, an internationally recognized tailor known for men’s suits, unisex rainwear (essential in Bergen), and a line of mod kimonos. Todd Saunders, the acclaimed architect of Canada’s Fogo Island Inn, is also headquartered here. Much of Hoggorm’s furniture was custom-built at Aldea, a vibrant design collective and gallery space where makers collab on mixed-media sculptures—visitors can even stop by for private workshop sessions to construct small-scale projects from Norwegian wood.
Bergen’s also home to some of the world’s biggest death metal acts. Apollon, a record store with a liquor license, is an important late-night pit stop for visiting devotees, as is Galleri Fjalar, a cozy exhibition space in the Bryggen run by black metal icon Kristian Eivind Espedal (commonly known by his stage name, Gaahl). “He’s a total sweetheart,” says Tveit. “Don’t worry, he’s not too rock star either.”