Forget Rome's seven hills. Bergen is a city where seven mountains fall into the sea – or, rather, the network of fjords – houses cling to the mountain sides and an intricate pattern of land and water is everywhere. Bergen has topography that's as spectacular as any city in the world.
In the medieval days of the Hanseatic league, Bergen built its fortune on fish: in particular, the export of stockfish – fish that was caught in the Lofoten archipelago in the far north of Norway and brought here for drying, processing and distribution. The trading houses of Brygge still make for a colourful sight on the waterfront, and the Hanseatic museum gives a real feel for the city's history.
Nearby, the 750 year old Håkon's Hall is worth a visit for the sheer scale of its giant banqueting space – although the 750 years is a moot point, since the hall has had to be restored several times as a result of fires, of which Bergen seems to suffer an awful lot. The latest – the blowing up in World War II of a German ship carrying explosives – took out large chunks of Håkon's Hall and indeed of the rest of Brygge: it remains a matter of debate whether the cause was accident or sabotage.
If you're reading Bachtrack, you'll most probably want to know about the music, and it won't surprise you that this is centred round Bergen's most famous scion (and, indeed, Norway's only really internationally famous composer), Edvard Grieg. The museum that bears his name is in Troldhaugen, 20 minutes or so outside the city centre. Its attached concert hall was thoroughly refurbished in 2012-15. Sitting in the audience, you look past the piano over the fjord, past the hut where Grieg gained the inspiration for many of his compositions. It may just be the most beautiful place in the world to hear piano music, and there's plenty of opportunity to hear both established and up-and-coming pianists, with over 400 concerts a year. These mainly take place in summer, which is when you're most likely to be visiting: Bergen comes to life during the Bergen International Festival in May and anyway, you will want the best chance of seeing the city and the surrounding fjords in sunshine.
Back in the centre of town, the brutalist Grieghallen can't match Troldhaugen for beauty, but it's comfortable, generously proportioned and has an acoustic well suited to large scale symphonic music. It also happens to be home to a world class orchestra: the Bergen Philharmonic, currently enjoying life under the tutelage of Chief Conductor Edward Gardner (back in the day, Grieg served a spell as Artistic Director).
This year, Bergen National Opera is celebrating its tenth anniversary. They hope to have their own opera house one day, but for the moment, they share Grieghallen with the Bergen Philharmonic (who also serve as their orchestra). In a country of relatively conservative operagoers, Bergen National Opera try hard to put on varied repertoire, and current Artistic Director Mary Miller clearly has an eye for the visually spectacular: the production of Il turco in Italia that we saw and photographs we saw of the earlier productions – most notably Rimsky's Golden Cockerel – were true feasts for the eyes.
Lovers of the visual arts will head for a set of four museums in the city centre, straightforwardly entitled KODE 1, 2, 3 and 4 (note that the same organisation runs the Grieg museum and two other composer museums, and that KODE 1 and 2 are closed at time of writing, to reopen in May and November 2017 respectively). KODE 3 has an exceptional collection of Norwegian art, with wonderful pieces by their top landscape painter Johan Christian Dahl and a superb collection of Edvard Munch. Shown here is a self-portrait made when he was in a clinic recovering from a nervous breakdown: he is clearly on the mend and in a rather ebullient mood.
Amongst the items on show in KODE 3 is a wall covered in the most extraordinary decoration, made from painted, embossed leather and richly gilded. This photo shows just a small detail of the wall (what you're seeing is about 30cm square).
Both composers and visual artists here could not fail to draw their inspiration from the landscape, and you'll want to do the same, preferably on a fjord cruise. March isn't the best month for this – Bergen can be a very rainy place – but even in March, we couldn't help but be moved by the awesome beauty of the headlands and farmsteads shining through shifting mists.
For when you get hungry, the gastronomic scene in Bergen has been growing up in leaps and bounds, but be warned: eating out here is an expensive pastime. We were tipped off by the locals to head to Bare Vestland, which serves tapas-sized dishes based on humble ingredients to which enormous amounts of skill and care have been applied; they also have excellent beer from a variety of local microbreweries. A treat.