The Flåmsbana, or Flåm Railway, is regularly named of the most beautiful train journeys in the world. And not for nothing. From fjord-side lowlands to steep river gorges and waterfalls, its unwavering popularity is testament to Norway’s staggering natural beauty.
Our journey begins on the Fjord-side floodplain at the small village of Flåm.
The Aurlandsfjord, possibly of the most picturesque fjords in the world (another well earned superlative), marks the bottom of the line. This vast majestic branch of the Sognefjord waterway is protected by 5000 foot peaks and World Heritage status. The steepness of the terrain is reflected by the train: the 12 mile line climbs 2800 feet, and no other standard-gauge railway in Europe is as steep.
As we follow the river higher into the mountains, past farming outposts and rich green fields surrounded by impossible peaks, we’re reminded of how closed off the region was to the world over a century ago. It’s hard to understate the importance of the railway line. Planning began on the Bergen to Oslo line in the early 1870s, and the full route was opened in 1909. Whilst a branch line connecting the Bergen line with the Fjords at Flåm was part of a conversation from the beginning, it would take a further 30 years for the Flåmsbana to be completed and opened during Nazi German occupation in 1940.
The historic atmosphere of the journey is maintained with our beautiful 1960s wood panelled carriages, complete with arched roofs, simple warm styling, and timber and chrome detailing. We ease our noses through the sliding windows, close our eyes, and breathe in the moist country air. A mist descends over the valley, adding mystery to the already captivating atmosphere.
In the third act of our journey, the severity of the landscape is revealed. Waterfalls plunge into the valley in every direction - ice melt from the highlands above. Our carriage bursts in and out of each tunnel like a photographers flash. The vista is revealed in short glimpses, like a landscape striptease; a second here, a moment there. Horseshoe tunnels wind in and out of the mountainside, testimony the engineers’ audacity and skill. The route includes 20 tunnels - 18 of which had to be carved out by hand.
We exit our last tunnel, and the train sighs relief as the landscape flattens. Where merely weeks ago thick snow blanketed the tundra, green grass soaks up the afternoon rain. As we pull into the terminal, adventurous types find their bicycles and make their way to the switchback trail the descends back into the valley. On a sunnier day I might be tempted to with such an option, but today I’m happy to sit in the quiet comfort of the Flåmsbana, and relive the wonder as we wind back down into the mist.
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