Within sight of Ålesund, the Giske archipelago is often missed by tourists. That's a shame, especially for those interested in cultural heritage.
The islands of the Sunnmøre region have been dedicated to fishing and trade since records began. If you believe the local legend (and the family tree in Giske church), Rollo the Viking, who went on to become the first ruler of Normandy, was born on the islands.
Why visit Giske, and how to get there
From Godøya, which resembles one giant piece of rock, to the nature walk of Valderøya to the grassy residential paradise of Giske itself, each island has its distinctive character and appeal.
Each island also has its own burial grounds revealing the cultural and historical importance of the area. There are Roman and Iron Age remains on Valderøya and Vigra, while the Mjelthaugen burial ground on Giske dates back to the Bronze Age.
Access to the islands, which lie immediately north and west of Ålesund, really requires a car. That's because you're likely to want to make multiple stops on a tour rather than spend several hours in one place.
However, local bus routes are available from Ålesund bus station. They take approximately 20 minutes depending on your destination, but services are limited so touring each island will be tricky. Walking to the archipelago from the island is not possible, as pedestrians are not permitted in the undersea tunnels.
Alnes lighthouse & cultural centre
Tucked away on the island of Godøya is Alnes lighthouse and cultural centre, known in Norwegian as Alnes fyr og opplevelsessenter. It's one of Norway’s most famous lighthouses because of its proximity to Ålesund. Getting there is just a 20-minute drive using the excellent tunnels and bridges to hop across the islands of Giske.
There have been lighthouse operations at Alnes since 1852. There were constant complaints that the height of the lighthouse’s beam was too low, and in 1937 funds were granted for a new 18-metre-tall angle iron tower with exterior plating.
The lighthouse is still in operation (automated since 1982), and since 1993 the facility has also functioned as a local and regional cultural center in a unique countryside setting.
Dug into the ground so as not to distract the visual focus from the lighthouse, the local cultural center is open during the summer months as an art gallery. The weekend lighthouse café is renowned for its homemade cake, the ingredients for which are kept a closely guarded secret.
On the grassy residential island of Giske, the 12th-century Giske church (Giske kyrkje) is a pleasant five-minute detour from the tunnel to Godøya along the narrow roads that circle the island.
What’s not immediately obvious because of the chalk coating is that the church is built of white marble. That makes it Norway’s only marble church.
A stroll around the small graveyard reveals many graves with the surname Giske, hinting at the importance of the family to the island of the same name. Inside is a family tree showing the ancestry of the islanders stretching back to Rollo. The Mjelthaugen burial ground on Giske dates to the Bronze Age.
Hiking trails in Giske
Many locals head to Giske for the walking opportunities. Whether you want a simple stroll to enjoy the scenery or a more challenging hike to a stunning panorama reward, Giske has something for you.
Experienced hikers should contact the Ålesund Tourist Information office for information on more challenging routes. Some trails can be slippery and muddy, especially after overnight rain, so proper walking boots are recommended.
The culture trail (kulturvegen)
As a nice stop-off to or from the Ålesund airport, the 3km (1.9-mile) culture trail (Kulturvegen) is a marked nature trail on the west coast of Valderøya island. Park at the Valdervoll sports ground, which is found by taking the first right after you emerge from the undersea tunnel onto Valderøya. Bathroom facilities are available at the car park.
White-tailed eagles are commonly sighted soaring overhead, while along the path you can find rock formations, caves, and monuments to the area’s cultural history. The most popular spot to explore is the ancient Skjonghellaren cave, which, despite being created by seawater, lies 187ft above sea level.
Traces of human life during the Neolithic age and wildlife stretching back more than 30,000 years have been found here. The cave stretches more than 300 feet into the steep cliff and is found toward the end of the trail.
The entire Giske archipelago is perfect for hiking, although walking through the road tunnels is prohibited. For a more demanding hike, head to Godøya island’s Godøyfjellet peaks, from where you can enjoy terrific views across Ålesund to the Sunnmøre Alps.
Several routes are available. At 497m (1,630ft) the tallest peak on the islands, Storhornet appears as an imposing wall when seen from the town, but the peak has a perfect cone shape when viewed from the west and is not as difficult as it first appears.
You can take on the hike from Alnes village (park at the supermarket and pick up the trail through the neighbouring farm) or from the school at Gjuv village on the south side of the island.
The ascent takes 1.5-2.5 hours depending on your route (up to 3km one-way). However, you won't miss out on the great views if you don't make it all the way. They're available throughout the trails, so tackling the trail’s steepest inclines is not necessary to get the reward.
On Giske island in early July, the free one-day festival Sommerfesten showcases mainly Norwegian artists. Although there is also a smattering of talent from the United Kingdom and occasionally farther afield. The family-friendly event is Ålesund’s most established and eagerly anticipated summer festival.