379km (235 miles) W of Oslo; 140km (87 miles) E of Bergen

Our favorite spot in the Hardanger district is sleepy Lofthus, once the haunt of Edvard Grieg and other artists. Resting on the fjord, the resort is enveloped by snowcapped mountains, farms, and orchards. Hovering in the background is the Folgefonn Glacier.

Lofthus is actually the collective name for several groups of farms -- Helleland, Eidnes, Lofthus, Opedal, Århus, Ullensvang, and Pedal -- extending from north to south along the eastern coastal slopes of Sørfjorden, 6 to 8km (3 3/4-5 miles) south of Kinsarvik Bay.

The discovery of a runic stone at Pedal in the 19th century established that the area has been populated since about A.D. 600. Cistercian monks came to Opedal 7 centuries later and pioneered a fruit-growing industry. Their footpaths are still used, and many visitors have benefited from the 616 steps, the Monks' Staircase, that make their way up the steep gradient to the Vidda.

The church and buildings of Ullensvang lie around the mouth of the Opo River. The Gothic stone Ullensvang church was probably built at the end of the 13th century, and the builders may have been Scottish masons. Although the church has irregular hours, it's usually open during the day from May to mid-September. Ullensvang was the name of the ancient farm where the prestegård (church farm) stands facing the church. It is now the name of the church, the hamlet, the parish, and the kommune (county), and the site of Hotel Ullensvang, the most famous hotel in the region.