ALESUND, on Norway's western coast, was almost entirely ruined by a large fire on 23 January 1904. It left many without homes and, sadly for the town, one woman and one cat fewer. Ironically, the date has become something of a local celebration, most probably due to the town's stunning redevelopment in an art nouveau style.
Well worth a long weekend or stop-off on a coastal tour that takes in nearby spots such as the Unesco world heritage site of Geiranger, lesund is a shining example of how a more rural setting doesn't have to trim the cultural delights that can be found in larger cities. Now there are direct flights to Oslo, Bergen, and Stavanger from several Scottish destinations, what better time to hop over and enjoy a historical journey through Norway's west coast and Peterhead's twin city, sometimes referred to as the Little Venice of the North?
Although not accessible directly from the UK by plane, lesund can be easily reached from within Norway by flying from Oslo, Bergen or Trondheim, or by taking a bus from Bergen.
From the top of the Aksla Hill utsiktspunkt (viewpoint) on a clear day. A fine example of what buildings looked like before the fire and after can be found on the same street as the town's main church, also a building worth seeing for its decorative style. On one side of this street lie houses constructed after the fire, mostly in stone, while across the road you can see the older wooden buildings. The consistent architecture has been greatly aided by the rapid redevelopment of the town after the fire; most buildings being completed between 1904 and 1907, when the Art Nouveau style was most prominent across Europe.
BEST place to study Art Nouveau style
While a walk through lesund's streets reveals the buildings' unique touches, to study it in depth, visit the excellent Jugendstilsenteret (Apotekergata 16 6004), the Art Nouveau centre of Norway.
BEST time to go
Winters are tough in Norway, but spring and autumn are pleasant times to visit. For those more interested in a cultural adventure than a relaxing weekend getaway, the 23 January celebration is well worth being in town for.
BEST Art nouveau place to eat
The compact centre is historically fulfilling but you can also find many cafes and restaurants alongside the shops and art galleries to satisfy your interest. Thanks to local innovators such as architects Sandbakk & Pettersen and the creative entrepreneurs at Invit, (Apotekergata 9, 6004), a cafe, design studio and shop, the town has added subtle layers that maintain a historical charm while competing for style and culture with Norway's biggest cities and beyond.
For eating out, the Brosundet restaurant (Apotekergata 5, 6004) takes some beating, but you can always check out Ove Fjrtoft's authentic Sjbua Restaurant (Brunholmgata 1, 6004) a short walk away. There you will see the catch of the day coming in via boat and can choose live lobster fresh from the tank. Ove is a something of a well-known local character and is arguably one of the best chefs in town when it comes to the thing lesund is best known for – fish.
BEST Art nouveau hotel
Previously an old Art Nouveau warehouse where, 100 years ago, a person leaning out of the window would have been waiting for a fishing boat to deliver the catch of the day, the Hotel Brosundet (www.brosundet.no) hasn't changed externally. However, enter the building and you are transported to another place. The interior was designed by the renowned Snohetta architecture studio, which has also designed Norwegian landmarks such as the Oslo Opera House.
Dotted around the cobbled streets of the centre you can find busy bars teeming with locals and curious visitors, especially at the weekends. Reminiscent of Scotland's west coast fishing village pubs, they are cosy and traditional, and filled with a friendly mix of customers. Theatre and opera can be enjoyed in the form of national shows on tour. If you're keen to drink in Art Nouveau surroundings, the compact Hotel Brosundet bar provides an impressively designed interior and one of the better selections of malts.
• This article was first published in the Scotland on Sunday, May 9, 2010