Son is called Norway's "northernmost southern town". It is easy to understand. Small white wooden houses along twisting streets is a characteristic feature of this coastal gem located along the sunny side of the Oslo fjord. In addition to its idyll, Son is also offering much history and exciting coastal culture. Did you know that the entire Oslo fjord was once named after little Son?
Visit Son – stay at Larkollen during your visit in Norway
Son is a densely populated place (6,000 inhabitants) by the Oslo fjord in the southern part of Vestby municipality in Akershus county. It is especially known for its old buildings from the Dutch period, with wooden houses and narrow alleys that give a distinctive look that one might associate with towns along the coast of southern Norway. It is therefore only natural that holiday makers multiplies the population in the summertime. And the numbers of visitors will probably not be any less in the years to come. The hotel Son Spa, which last winter was named 'Best Quality Resort 2010 in Scandinavia', has atrracted lots of tourists and other visitors to Son since its opening in 2008. The new spa facility is situated where Jack M. Iversen built his famous sailboats in the period between the two world wars.
Paradoxically bad economy was the reason why Son is one of the Oslo fjord's best preserved towns. Earlier they simply could not afford to demolish the old wooden houses. Today 200 houses are registered as preservable.
Three old trading houses are situated along the harbor. One of them is Thornegården from 1640. It is the second oldest building in the Oslo fjord and has an architecture characterized by both Renaissance and Barocque. If you go into the backyard you can see that it is a half-timbered house, clearly influenced by the Dutch style. Strolling along the Strandgaten you will find eccentric artists' houses and Little Skaugum. The latter house is rumoured to be a miniature copy of Skaugum before the fire. Spinnerigården, Stoltenberggården and Wollegården, all from the 1700s, are other listed buildings bearing witness of prosperity in Son's heyday. You can also admire imaginative reconstruction of old outhouses and barns.
Down by the harbor is Son Coastal Culture Center scattered in several buildings. Here you can visit an old fisherman's house and learn about faith and superstition among fishermen. The Center also has a forge house, seaside cottage, a museum pier for old wooden boats and a boat yard. The Coastal Culture Center also owns a fishing net dryer, one of the very few remaning ones in the fjord.
Son is a favored port and natural stopover for boaters. There are almost half a million recreational boats in Norway, and no country in the world has more boats per capita. In Son's harbor are more than 1,000 boats of different types and sizes, and there are also particularly many guest spots here. In other words, the port represents a large part of Son.
Son Seilforening (Son Sailing Association) has asserted itself for a long time as one of the Oslo fjord's most active sailing associations. It became famous after one of its members, Siren Sundby, won the gold medal in the Summer Olympics in 2004. Son Marina was also used as location for the TV series “Båtliv (Boat Life), which aired on NRK (Norwegian Broadcasting Corp.) in 2003. An important feature of the port in Son being one of the most attractive harbors in the Oslo fjord, is that it is relatively deep. This makes it easy to dock large sailboats at the pier in Son center.
On the town in Son
If you're going out to eat, Son is definitely the place. Son has several restaurants and eateries, art galleries and shops. From my stay in Son last summer in connection with collecting background material for this article, I still remember, 10 months later, that I should remind myself to recommend Son Kro in this article. When a restaurant offers the very best of service and food experiences, it is only proper to salute Son Kro. It is especially nice when food and service are top-notch, which is exactly what it was on this warm summer evening at Son Kro's terrace.
Artists love Son
Early in the 20th century Son became an artists' town. Celebrities like Nils Kjær, Ludvig Karsten, Herman Wildenwey, Ronald Fangen and the eccentric painter Karl Dørnberger were among those who settled here. Even today a number of famous artists live in Son, and there are several galleries here.
Beach lovers’ paradise
Son is a paradise for those who love the beach life. Son Beach is 200 meters from the town square and has rocks, a diving board, swimming ladders and a kiosk.
The Brevik bay is located in a particularly wonderful recreational area south of the spa hotel. Here are polished rocks facing south and west, excellent for sunbathing, a beach volleyall court, parking and toilets. Nordre Sauholmen is an excursion islet (located in the sound outside the spa hotel) with child-friendly sandy beaches. Nordre Sauholmen has many fine rocks with great fishing opportunities. If you throw out the line here, you run the "risk" of catching a fjord mackerel or a whiting. On the islet are several well-preserved sea sheds and old tan equipment for the preparation of fish nets. Here are good anchoring opportunities (no public pier) with mooring possibilities on the west and east sides of the islet.
Trips in Son
With a rented horse and carriage, or a with a rowing boat, you can take a trip to the old lading site at Hølen. This trip is called a truly exotic experience. Or you could try the coastal culture trail to Hølen and Vardeåsen with a view of the fjord from Oscarsborg fortress to Færder lighthouse and four counties.
North of Son is the public area Kjøvangen with a small pebble beach, rocks, grass areas and a pier with fishing opportunities. Widely used by locals. A Bronze Age burial mound is also in the area. Kjøvangen is a great hiking area; go past the ice dam Stamnestjernet and all the way to the top of Vardeåsen. From here you can see everything from Drøbak in the north to Bolærne (Sweden) in the south. After you have passed the golf course on your way to Kjøvangen, you'll be walking along one of the most beautiful avenues in the region. The hike to Kjøvangen is alone worth the experience of this vigorous avenue. Come visit when it is at its most beautiful in late May or early June.
The Angel Town
Drøbak has Santa Claus, Son has the angels. Its not just in the summer that Son buzzes with people and activity. The Lucia procession on December 13 is one of the biggest events in Son during the exciting Advent packed with activities. The summer town of Son offers lots of enjoyment for the whole family around the harbor area - even in winter: Cafes and restaurants have Christmas and angel menus. How about doing your Christmas shopping in Son? Angels in all shapes and sizes adorn the streets, square, shops, and restaurants.
The name Angel Town has its basis in Gallery Son's annual angel exhibition, which the gallery's owner, Marianne Helle, started 12 years ago. It is an exhibition with angels in all varieties; sweet, small, large, and angels full of character. When you arrive at Son in the winter you will now be greeted by angels with candles and with live lanterns outside shops and cafes. Amazingly evocative!
Zoon, Zoen, Soon or Son?
Did you know that the entire Oslo fjord was once named after little Son? The first maps of Norwegian coastal waters are of Dutch origin. There were several reasons for it. Firstly, the Dutch were skilled cartographers. Moreover, they imported large quantities of timber from Norway with their own ships.
One of the maps that has been preserved from this time is drawn by Lucas Janszon Waghenaer from Enkhuizen. It is reproduced in "Spiegel der Zeevaerdt", a sea atlas published in 1583. The map is small scale and covers the coast from Merdø via "Zoen Water" to Uddevalla (Sweden). Zoen Water was the Dutch name for the Oslo fjord. It was probably named after Son, which was an important lumber port. Lucas Janszon's map provides a rough simplified picture of the waters and only includes the largest islands and fjords.
The name Son is not verifiably explained by official place name research.
A prevailing view is that it has a river affiliation. The name is assumed to come from the river Saanen which runs through the neighboring parish Saaner, then to Hølen, further on to Son before it empties into Sonskilen with the name Hølenselva. The name has also been linked to the verb (to) sow, used for fish spawning and in this case meaning "spawning river". It has also been attached to the verb svona - svinne inn, minke (shrink, dwindle), so that the meaning becomes "the river that dwindles greatly when drought". In earlier times Son was also written Soon, Zoen, Zoon and Sogn. The latter spelling is considered to be based on a misunderstanding that the name stemmed from the word "sogn" (parish); it doesn't seem to have been used locally. "Son" became official spelling in 1891. Earlier "Soon" seems to have been used most often. Several businesses in Son use the spelling Soon if it is part of their company name.
Son is an ancient seaport by the Oslo fjord, between Hvitsten and Moss. The town had 586 inhabitants in 1920. Son was used as a harbor for Christiania (today Oslo) when the inner parts of the fjord was covered by ice. Son's heyday as a commerce center and shipping harbor started around 1550. First through the export of lumber, and until 1900 large quantities of wood materials were exported from Son, especially to England, the Netherlands and Denmark. Zoon Water is used as the name of the Oslo fjord on old Dutch maps. Shipowners opened business in Son. Many other businesses were established at the same time; lumber trading, tobacco spinnery, and licquor distillery. They all contributed to Son's prosperity in the late 1700s.
The town was an important lumber harbor already during the Dutch period from the end of the 1500s until well into the 1700s. The town received its customs rights in 1604. Customs revenues were large, and Tønsberg, Fredrikstad and later Moss tried to incorporate Son. In the 1670s Son had twice as much customs revenues as Moss. The population naturally grew in line with the prosperity growth. Several of the buildings in the city are from the glory days that followed, including the brick building Thornegården from 1641 and the timber buildings Stoltenberggården and Spinnerigården. The latter was named after Ove Meyer's Tobaksspinderi. Ove Meyer lived here from 1750. Son's growth stagnated after 1720, when Moss became a town. One could float timber to Moss from a far wider area around Vannsjø and Moss were thus able to offer somewhat better conditions.
During the last half of the 1800s the export of ice was also an important commodity for Son. Son got its own fleet of schooners in the 1800s, and 23 ships were domiciled there in the 1890s. However, by 1905 Son was no longer home for proud sailing ships. The fact that Son Sailing Association is one of the most active in the Oslo fjord today, is kind of a maritime continuation of history.
Early in the morning of April 9, 1940, after the German fleet heading for Oslo had been forced by Oscarsborg fortress to turn back, the ferry "Oscarsborg", also known as "Borgen", which shuttled between Son and Oslo, was hijacked by the cruiser "Lützow". Around 300 soldiers and officers boarded the ferry which docked at Son. Thus, the town square in Son was the first place where German soldiers set foot on Norwegian soil during the invasion, with the exception of those who had swum ashore from "Blücher". A total of about one thousand German troops were put ashore in Son during the day. On April 28, 1940 the Royal Air Force tried to bomb the fuel stockpiles at Laksa with phosporus bombs. They missed their target and no buildings were damaged, either. The town center was evacuated during the attack.
Hvitsten is the Norwegian "equivalent" to Positano, Italy, where brick houses are virtually stacked on top of each other on the hillside seemingly diving into the ocean. The difference is that the houses "stacked upon each other" here are white wooden houses.
Hvitsen is located midway between Drøbak and Son. The village has two popular beaches, Hvitsten beach located in the Hvitsten's harbor bay, and Emmerstadbukta a couple of kilometers south of the village center.
Around the early 1900s Hvitsten and Emmerstad were popular among the Christiania Bohemians in the capital Oslo. Today the village has a mixture of locals and holiday home owners.