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Norway in a Nutshell - Bergen to Oslo by train

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Posted by Yvonne Gordon at 04:02 on Wednesday 04 January 2012

Yvonne Gordon takes one of the world's most beautiful train journeys from Bergen to Oslo in Norway.

The Bergen Railway, which connects Bergen and Oslo in Norway, is the highest mainline railway in Europe and has some of Norway’s most spectacular scenery. Weaving its way through the Hardangervidda mountain range at heights of 1,301m above sea level, it runs alongside fjords and through mountain tunnels, passing unspoilt valleys, rivers, forests and lakes. It’s no surprise that The Guardian voted it one of the ten best railway journeys in the world and The Society of International Railway Travellers voted it in the top 25.

NSB, The Bergen Railway. Photo Rolf M SørensenNSB, The Bergen Railway. Photo Rolf M SørensenThe train between Oslo and Bergen takes 6.5 hours, but one of the best ways to enjoy the journey is to take the ‘Norway in a Nutshell’ trip which includes a bus trip, fjord boat trip and small railway journey all on one ticket and can be done all in one day or over a few days.

View from Stalheimskleiva, Norway. Photo: Yvonne GordonView from Stalheimskleiva, Norway. Photo: Yvonne Gordon>> See all our Class Rail Journeys

I start my Nutshell journey in the old Hanseatic city of Bergen on the coast, boarding the 8.40am train for Voss. The train speeds its way out of the city and into the first of many tunnels, with a gap in the tunnel showing a tantalising glimpse of the magnificent Osterfjorden fjord, a v-shaped valley reflected in the still water below, a low cloud hanging in the v like a banner stretched across.

The track winds its way along the miles of fjord, passing colourful houses, waterside cabins, yachts and fishing boats, houses in the hills, rocky mountain slabs stretching high up to the sky, lush green forests and still rivers. The train hoots before every tunnel and stops off at sleepy little towns like Vaksdal, in valleys so deep, the smoke rises vertically from chimney pots.

The scenery gets more dramatic as we go along. Water rushes angrily through narrow spaces in the valley floor, picking its way over rocks and sandbanks as we race through forests of tall trees which seem to be stretching as high as they can for light. In the distance, puffs of clouds hanging still and low in the valleys take on a mysterious air.

Waterside houses in the Nærøyfjord, Photo: Yvonne GordonWaterside houses in the Nærøyfjord, Photo: Yvonne GordonWe arrive in Voss at 10am and transfer to a bus for the second part of the Norway in a Nutshell journey. The bus takes us into the mountains, past fields of horses, and wooden houses and churches. The driver points out the best white rivers for rafting and kayaking and slows as we pass the impressive 152m-high Tvinnefossen waterfall.

At Stalheimskleiva, we come to one of the most notable parts of the journey – a stretch of road that twists its way down into the valley around 13 sharp hairpin bends and at a gradient of 20 per cent, making it one of the steepest stretches of road in Northern Europe. The driver tells everyone to stay in their seats and we gingerly navigate the steep bends, everyone silent, nobody moving, all praying that the brakes are in good condition.

The Nærøyfjord. Photo: Yvonne GordonThe Nærøyfjord. Photo: Yvonne GordonAlong the way there are two more waterfalls before we travel across the fjord valley to Gudvangen, at the head of the Nærøyfjord. Here we transfer to a boat for the next part of the journey through two fjords, Nærøyfjord and Aurlandsfjord. We are soon gliding through the water with a steep mountain face on either side, all along the way the work of ancient glaciers in evidence with hanging valleys, waterfalls and rugged peaks. The first fjord is 20km long and the mountains reach up to 1,660m. Every so often we pass a waterside settlement on a lush patch in a sheltered valley and at Stigen, we see mountain farms perched on impossibly steep ledges, reached by the inhabitants by ladders.

The Flåm Railway, photo by Yvonne GordonThe Flåm Railway, photo by Yvonne GordonAt the end of Aurlandsfjord is the small village of Flåm. If you’re staying here, there are lots of walking trails through the fjord valley and there’s also a museum telling the story of the famous Flåm Railway. The railway runs at an altitude of 866m, with its 1:18 gradient making it Northern Europe’s steepest. We take the late afternoon train, and the carriages are beautiful, wood panelled with red upholstered seats. There is so much to look at, with views of valleys, trees, waterfalls, snow on distant hilltops and the train stops at the Kjosfossen Waterfall so we can have a close look.

When we reach the station at the mountain plateau at Myrdal, we rejoin the Bergen to Oslo trainline for the rest of the journey, arriving in Oslo later that night after a fascinating one-day adventure.

View from the Flåm Railway. Photo: Yvonne GordonView from the Flåm Railway. Photo: Yvonne GordonTravel Details: Norway in a Nutshell can be taken from Oslo, Voss  or Bergen. For more info and timetables: norwaynutshell.com or www.fjordtours.com. For information and timetables for the Oslo-Bergen railway, see www.nsb.no.

For information about travelling from the UK to Norway via Sweden, see Greentraveller's rail journey planner: Train routes from the UK to Sweden

For more holidays in Scandinavia, see: Green Holidays in Norway and Green Holidays in Sweden. See also our Greentraveller Destination Guide to Gothenburg and West Sweden.

>> See also all our Class Rail Journeys

This article was written by Yvonne Gordon

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