KONGSBERG is one of the most interesting towns in the region west of Oslo towards the fjords. A local story claims that the silver responsible for its existence was discovered by two goatherds, who stumbled across a vein of the metal laid bare by the scratchings of an ox. True or not, Christian IV, his eye on the main chance, was quick to exploit the find, sponsoring the development of mining here – the name means "King's Mountain" – at the start of what became a seventeenth-century silver rush. In the event, it turned out that Kongsberg was the only place in the world where silver was to be found in its pure form, and there was enough of it to sustain the town for a couple of centuries. Indeed, by the 1750s Kongsberg was the largest town in Norway, with half of its 8000 inhabitants employed in and around the 300-odd mine shafts that littered the area. The silver works closed in 1805, but by this time Kongsberg was also the site of a royal mint and then an armaments factory, which still employs people to this day.
The silver mines themselves, the Slvgruvene, are open for tours and make a pleasant excursion, especially if you have children to amuse. They're hidden in green surroundings 8km west of town in the hamlet of SAGGRENDA – drive along the E134 in the Notodden direction and look for the sign leading off to the right.
The HI hostel at Vinjesgate 1 (Tel:32 73 20 24, Web: www.kongsberg-vandrerhjem.no ) is the place to stay, with both dorm beds (195kr) and comfortable en-suite double rooms (Price: Kr350-600) in an attractive timber lodge close to the town centre. As for central hotels, there is just one appealing option, the QualityHotelGrand, down near the river at Christian Augusts gate 2 (Tel:32 77 28 00, Web: www.quality-grand.no ; Price: Kr1200 and above/Price: Kr800-1000), which also has a first-class restaurant. If the weather's good, head for the pleasant riverside terrace of the Gamle Kongsberg Kro café-restaurant below the church.