OSLO, Jan 21 — What’s the best way to see the most beautiful parts of Norway? What’s the best way to travel between Oslo and Bergen, the two largest cities in that country?
The answer to both questions, fortunately for us, is a one-day trek across mountains and fjords — taking in breathtaking scenery along the way — via train, boat and bus. The nearly 500-kilometre journey is known to locals as “Norway in a nutshell” and is perfect for those who are short on time.
For those who aren’t in a rush, however, stopping midway for hiking and mountain biking or simply lingering in one of the tiny, pastoral towns in the river valleys can be another adventure altogether. The Old English name for Norway, Norþweg, means “the northern way” and that’s what we plan on experiencing.
We begin our trip in the capital, taking the westbound Bergen Railway train from Oslo towards Myrdal. Here is some of the most rugged mountain terrain we’ll experience; even in the heart of summer, some of the peaks are crowned with a thick layer of white powder.
One such snow-capped stop is Finse on the Hardangervidda Plateau, the highest rail station in Norway. Many passengers get off, some with their mountain bikes, eager to explore the Hardangerjøkulen Glacier and Old Navy Trail in the surrounding wilderness.
Finse, apparently, was featured in in The Empire Strikes Back as the icy planet Hoth. (Amazing how Star Wars trivia turns up in the least expected places, no?)
The fact we are travelling along the highest stretch of railway in Northern Europe means there is plenty of unpredictable, sometimes harsh weather. Covering up in layers means the strong winds feel like a wake-up jolt rather than a freezing kiss.
We cross the Langfjellene (“Long Mountains”), through ice and stone, until we reach Myrdal.
At Myrdal, we get to stretch our legs a bit as we disembark and await a change of trains. Probably Norway’s most famous train journey, the Flåmsbana (Flåm Railway) is a 20-kilometre ride between Myrdal station and the village of Flåm that promises non-stop photo opportunities.
We pass through 20 tunnels that weave in and out of the mountains (18 of these tunnels were unbelievably built by hand, rather than machinery). We spot windmills, all in a row like daisies. We are astounded by ramshackle farmhouses that pepper the slopes of ravines. Life finds a way, to quote Dr Ian Malcolm.
Our train halts briefly at the Kjosfossen waterfall. We hear the roar of the water, the thunder, before we even see it. The spray wets our faces even as the sun bakes us. With a fall of 225 metres, Kjosfossen is an impressive sight. Everyone rushes out of the train for a selfie. It’s hard not to smile as we join in.
When we reach picturesque Flåm, we find ourselves already deep in the glorious Aurlandsfjord (itself an arm of the larger, 204-kilometre-long Sognefjord). This is where we board our boat, for our fjord cruise. As we make our way along the Aurlandsfjord, we pass by other small villages such as Aurland (which gives the fjord its name) and Undredal.
Once we arrive at the mountainous Beitelen, we officially switch from the Aurlandsfjord to the 20-kilometre-long Nærøyfjord (a Unesco World Heritage site). This where we feel like dwarves escaping Mirkwood in wine barrels, surrounded as we are by steep mountain slopes and towering waterfalls in this narrow fjord (barely 250 metres between each bank at its narrowest).
What a thrill!
At the end of our fjord cruise, we arrive in the quaint village of Gudvangen. Time to ditch the boat in favour of a bus ride through the scenic Nærøydalen valley. But this is only the beginning of our exhilarating drive on four wheels. Once the bus reaches the end of the valley, it starts its steep and winding ascent to the peak at Stalheim.
This zig-zagging, 1.5-kilometre-long stretch is called the Stalheimskleiva Road. Certainly, its 13 hairpin bends aren’t for the faint of heart. Sharp as razors, these – every time the bus turns a corner, we fear we are in danger of toppling over on one side. But thankfully, our driver is an old hand at this; he only grins each time all of us passengers whoop and cheer.
We go up a slope between two waterfalls — Sivlefossen to the north and Stalheimsfossen to the south. The sun breaks on the spray of the waterfalls just the right way and we see a rainbow — no! a double rainbow!
At a gradient that goes as low as 20 per cent, Stalheimskleiva is one of Northern Europe’s steepest roads. But what incredible views! The scarier the ride, the more sublime the scenery, perhaps. We’ve survived it to tell our tale, so that’s a nice bonus.
By late afternoon, our bus arrives at Voss where we complete our journey by train, returning to the Bergen Railway towards the city it’s named after. In just a single day, we’ve seen rivers deep and mountains high, cascading waterfalls and death-defying ravines. Snow and ice, stone and water, fields and forests — all the wonders of Nature that is, truly, the northern way.
Fares vary for Oslo to Myrdal (Bergen Railway), Myrdal to Flåm (Flåm Railway) and Voss to Bergen (Bergen Railway)
Fjord Cruise Nærøyfjord (includes Aurlandsfjord)
Fare: From 335 NOK (RM166) onwards (varies depending on season)
Bus from Gudvangen (Gudvangen kai) to Voss (Voss Stasjon)
Fare: 100 NOK (RM50) one way