Stalheim is a place in Voss Municipality in the western Norwegian
province of Vestland. It originally consisted of the farms of
Stalheim, Sivle, Brekke and Solheim, as well as their day laborer
Stalheim is located above a ravine that separates Haugsvik by Lake Oppheimsvatnet at about 330 meters above sea level from Nærøydalen at about 100 meters above sea level. The river Stalheimselvi flows past Stalheim and forms the 126 meter high Stalheimsfossen below Stalheim. The origin of the name Stalheim is not clear, but it could come from Old Norse staðall, which can be translated as "standing upright" or "the stander" and can possibly go back to the almost vertical waterfall. North of Stalheim, the Brekkedalen valley branches off, leading to Vikafjellet and from there to Vik i Sogn on the Sognefjord.
“Den Bergenske Kongevei”
Since the Middle Ages, the most important route between eastern Norway and western Norway has led from Voss via Stalheim to Gudvangen and from there by boat to Lærdal. In 1647, the Danish governor of Norway, Hannibal Sehested, established the first Norwegian postal system. The old route between East and West thus became the “Royal Postal Route” (Den Bergenske Kongevei) between Oslo and Bergen. The farmers along the way were responsible for the maintenance and transport of the mail on this route. In return, these "postal farmers" received privileges such as being exempt from military service or from transporting royal or spiritual travelers.
Mail and travelers were rowed down the Nærøyfjord and brought to Gudvangen. From Gudvangen the trail led through Nærøydalen to the steep climb to Stalheim. Until the 1840s, the path up the Stalheim Gorge consisted only of an unpaved mountain path. The Stalheim farm above the gorge became a post farm in 1647, and about 100 years later the number of travelers on the post route had increased so much that a skysstasjon, a simple hostel for travelers and a stable for changing horses, was built. This first accommodation in Stalheim can now be seen in the local open-air museum.
By the 1840s, the volume of mail had become so high that a safer and faster connection between Gudvangen and Voss was needed. In 1842, officer and road engineer Henrik Christian Finne (1762–1870) was commissioned to build a road up the steep Stalheimskleiva (kleiv - ravine). The construction work, which was mainly carried out with dynamite and by hand, lasted three years before the road could be opened in 1847. The road, which is almost two kilometers long and also known as Stalheimskleiva, overcomes around 270 meters in altitude in 14 hairpin bends and was part of European route 16 until the opening of the Stalheims and Sivle tunnels in 1980. With a gradient of up to 1:5, it was considered the steepest country road in Northern Europe. From 1936 it was possible to drive on buses and trucks, some curves were widened and in the 1980s the Stalheimskleiva was asphalted. Otherwise, the street is largely in its original condition and protected as a cultural monument. As of 2012 it was only possible to drive the road uphill, after an avalanche in 2020 the road was finally closed to traffic and is now to be restored to its original form.
The place became one of the first tourist destinations in Norway and in 1885 the coaching inn was replaced by the first hotel. This burned down in 1900 and was replaced by another that burned down in 1902, as did its successor, which was destroyed in the worst fire to date in 1959. The current hotel was built in 1960 and, due to fire protection measures, is the first to be built not primarily of wood but of concrete.
Since 1865 the town of Gudvangen could also be reached by steamboat, and Stalheim became important for mass tourism. Horse-drawn carriages brought the tourists to this very scenic place. The most famous guests in the hotel are the German Kaiser Wilhelm II, who spent 25 summers at a time here, and the Swedish-Norwegian Union King Oskar II, each of whom is commemorated by a memorial stone.
Many painters from the National Romantic era chose Stalheim as their
motif. The most important work is the picture "Fra Stalheim" painted in
1842 by the Norwegian painter Johan Christian Dahl. It is considered one
of the central images of Norwegian national romanticism and is on
display at the National Gallery in Oslo.
The poet Per Sivle grew up on the Brekke farm in Stalheim and immortalized the area in several of his works, including his best-known work, Berre ein hund (English: Just a dog). A memorial stone was erected in his honor in 1909 at the entrance to Stalheimskleiva.
A film adaptation of Berre a dog by Norwegian state television NRK was filmed in and around Stalheim and premiered as a Christmas film on Christmas Eve 1975.