From Bergen, it’s a hop, skip and jump over the mountains to the western fjords. The most popular initial target is the Hardangerfjord, a delightful and comparatively gentle introduction to the wilder terrain that lies beyond, but similarly popular is Voss, inland perhaps, but still an outdoor sports centre of some renown. Voss is also a halfway house on the way to the Sognefjord by train, bus or car. By train, it’s a short journey from Voss east to Myrdal, at the start of a spectacularly dramatic train ride down the Flåmsdal valley to Flåm, sitting pretty against the severe shores of the Aurlandsfjord, one of the Sognefjord’s many subsidiaries; by road, you can head north direct to Flåm along the E16 or stick to Highway 13 as it careers over the mountains bound for Vik and Vangsnes. Both of these little towns are on the Sognefjord and it’s this fjord, perhaps above all others, that captivates visitors, its stirring beauty amplified by its sheer size, stretching inland from the coast for some 200km, and including several magnificent arms, most memorably the Lustrafjord and the Fjærlandsfjord. Beyond, and running parallel, lies the Nordfjord, smaller at 120km long and less intrinsically enticing, though its surroundings are more varied with hunks and chunks of the Jostedalsbreen glacier visible and visitable nearby. From here, it’s another short journey to the splendid Geirangerfjord – narrow, sheer and rugged – as well as the forbidding Norangsdal valley, with the wild and beautiful Hjørundfjord beyond. Skip over a mountain range or two, via the dramatic Trollstigen, and you’ll soon reach the town of Åndalsnes, which boasts an exquisite setting with rearing peaks behind and the tentacular Romsdalsfjord in front. From here, it’s another shortish journey west to the region’s prettiest town, Ålesund, whose centre is liberally sprinkled with charming Art Nouveau buildings, partly paid for by Kaiser Wilhelm II.

A suggested western fjord itinerary is given in the Itineraries section, which includes several specific targets: Ulvik and Lofthus are the most appealing bases in the Hardangerfjord; Sognefjord has Flåm and Balestrand; the Fjærlandsfjord has Mundal; and further north the cream of the crop are Loen and Ålesund. Perhaps above all, this is not a landscape to be hurried – there’s little point in dashing from fjord to fjord. Stay put for a while, go for at least one hike or cycle ride, and it’s then that you’ll really appreciate the western fjords in all their grandeur. The sheer size is breathtaking – but then the geological movements that shaped the fjords were on a grand scale. During the Ice Age, around three million years ago, the whole of Scandinavia was covered in ice, the weight of which pushed the existing river valleys deeper and deeper to depths well below that of the ocean floor – the Sognefjord, for example, descends to 1250m, ten times deeper than most of the Norwegian Sea. Later, as the ice retreated, it left huge coastal basins that filled with sea water to become the fjords, which the warm Gulf Stream keeps ice-free.

Ålesund

The fishing and ferry port of ÅLESUND, on the coast at the end of the E136, about 120km west of Åndalsnes, is immediately – and distinctively – different from any other Norwegian town. Neither old clapboard houses nor functional concrete and glass is much in evidence in the old centre, but instead there’s a proud conglomeration of stone and brick, three-storey buildings, whose pastel-painted facades are lavishly decorated and topped off by a forest of towers and turrets. There are dragons and human faces, Neoclassical and mock-Gothic facades, decorative flowers and even a pharaoh or two, the whole ensemble ambling round the town’s several harbours. Ålesund’s architectural eccentricities sprang from disaster: in 1904, a dreadful fire left ten thousand people homeless and the town centre destroyed, but within three years a hectic reconstruction programme saw almost the entire area rebuilt in an idiosyncratic Art Nouveau style, which borrowed heavily from the German Jugendstil movement. Many of the Norwegian architects who undertook the work had been trained in Germany, so the Jugendstil influence is hardly surprising, but this was no simple act of plagiarism: the Norwegians added all sorts of whimsical, often folkloric flourishes to the Ålesund stew. The result was – and remains – an especially engaging stylistic hybrid, and Kaiser Wilhelm II, who footed the bill, was mightily pleased.

Ålesund is a lovely place to spend a couple of days, especially as there are several first-rate hotels, and it bolsters its charms with a couple of other mild attractions – principally the nautical comings and goings of its main harbour and the open-air Sunnmøre Museum. The town also makes a good base from which to day-trip to the bird cliffs of the island of Runde.

Ålesund to Kristiansund

Ålesund is within easy striking distance of the next major towns north up along the coast – Molde and Kristiansund, at 80km and 150km respectively. Neither is especially riveting, but Kristiansund does boast a handsome coastal location plus a handful of mildly interesting sights recalling its heyday as a centre of the klippfisk (salted, dried cod) industry. The more appealing of the two routes between the two towns incorporates the Atlanterhavsvegen, a short but dramatic stretch of highway that hops from islet to islet on the very edge of the ocean.

Molde

MOLDE is an industrial town that sprawls along the seashore with a ridge of steep, green hills behind. Despite its modern appearance, it’s one of the region’s older towns, but was blown to pieces by the Luftwaffe in 1940, an act of destruction watched by King Håkon from these very same hills just weeks before he was forced into exile in England.

Kristiansund

Straddling three rocky islets and the enormous channel-cum-harbour that they create, KRISTIANSUND has a splendid coastal setting, but it somehow conspires to look quite dull: the Luftwaffe is at least partly to blame as it polished off most of the old town in 1940, and, although Kristiansund dates back to the eighteenth century, precious little remains from prewar days. One minor exception is the handful of antique clapboard houses that string along Fosnagata, immediately to the north of the main quay, but otherwise the gridiron of streets that now serves as the town centre – just up the slope to the west of the main quay – is resolutely modern. There is, however, a more forceful nod to the past in the klippfiskkjerring statue of a woman carrying a fish standing at the south end of the main quay. The statue recalls the days when salted cod was laid out along the seashore to dry, producing the klippfisk that was the main source of income in these parts until well into the 1950s.

Pootling round Kristiansund harbour

Beginning its journeys at the south end of the main quay, a small passenger boat, the Sundbåten (2 hourly: Mon–Fri 7.30am–7pm, Sat 9.30am–4.30pm; 20kr one-way ticket, day ticket 50kr) crisscrosses Kristiansund’s whopping harbour, linking its three islands and modest tourist attractions. The service was once crucial for getting around town, but the islands are now connected by bridge and the boats are, essentially, an exercise in nostalgia.

Åndalsnes

At the end of the splendid Rauma train line from Dombås, the small town of ÅNDALSNES is for many travellers their first – and sometimes only – contact with the fjord country, a distinction that it really does not deserve. It’s true that Åndalsnes boasts a fine setting between lofty peaks and the chill waters of the Isfjord, but the centre is humdrum in the extreme and the café-restaurant scene is really rather dire. That said, there is a first-rate HI hostel on the outskirts of town as well as an excellent campsite; plus Åndalsnes is also within easy hiking and driving distance of some wonderful mountain scenery and a charming stave church. The most popular hike hereabouts is the six-hour haul to the Romsdalseggen, from where there are panoramic views; information is available from the tourist office.

Hiking around the Trollstigen

The Trollstigen road was completed in 1936 to replace the Kløvstien, the original drovers’ track that cut an equally improbable course over the mountains. Much of the track has disappeared, but you can pick it up at Slettvikane, from where it’s a one-hour walk north across a barren mountain plateau to the Trollstigplatået. The Kløvstien then proceeds down the mountains as far as Bøsetra, passing the Stigfossen falls on the way; although this stretch only takes an hour or two, it’s very steep and exposed, with chains to assist. Both of these hikes are, of course, linear, which is one reason why most hikers prefer to undertake less demanding, circular outings among the peaks and mountain lakes to the west. By contrast, the mountains to the east are part of the Trollveggen mountain wall and remain the preserve of climbers. As usual, prospective hikers should come properly equipped and watch for sudden weather changes. It’s best to plan your itinerary in advance: hiking maps and advice are available from the tourist offices at both Geiranger and Åndalsnes.

Birdwatching on Runde island

The steep and craggy cliffs on the pocket-sized island of Runde, some 70km west along the coast by road and ferry from Ålesund, are the summer haunt of several hundred thousand sea birds. Common species include gannet, kittiwake, fulmar, razorbill and guillemot, but the most numerous of all is the puffin, whose breeding holes honeycomb the island’s higher ground. Most species, including the puffin, congregate here between mid-April and July, though some – like the grey heron and the velvet scoter – are all-year residents. A network of hiking trails provides access to a number of birdwatching vantage points, though these invariably involve a fair climb up from the foreshore. One of the more popular hikes is the stiff forty-minute hoof up to the sea cliffs on the island’s north shore from the car park at the end of the road: the island is connected to the mainland by bridge and this, its one and only road, slips along both the south and east shores. For more detailed advice about hiking routes on Runde, consult

wrunde.no. The easiest way to see Runde’s bird cliffs is on one of the Wildlife Sea Safaris (late June to mid-Aug; 2 daily; 2hr; 800kr) operated from Ålesund by 62° Nord (t70 11 44 30, w62.no). You can also drive there – allow two hours or so: Runde is itself connected to the mainland by bridge, but the journey still involves the car ferry ride from Sulesund to Hareid (every 30min; 25min; passengers 33kr, car & driver 90kr; wnorled.no).

Cycling from Finse: the Rallarvegen

Cycling from Finse is made possible by the Rallarvegen (“The Navvy Road”; wrallarvegen.com), which was originally built to allow men and materials to be brought up to the railway during its construction. Now surfaced with gravel and sometimes asphalt, the Rallarvegen begins in Haugastøl beside Highway 7, runs west to Finse and then continues to Myrdal, from where you can cycle or take the Flåmsbana down to Flåm. It’s 27km by bicycle from Haugastøl to Finse, 37km from Finse to Myrdal and another 16km to Flåm. The Finse-to-Flåm section, which passes through fine upland scenery before descending the Flåmsdal, is the most popular part of the Rallarvegen. Most cyclists travel east to west as Finse is a good deal higher than Myrdal, and the whole journey from Finse to Flåm takes around nine hours; the return trip is usually made by train, with NSB railways transporting bikes for 175kr. Locals reckon that the best time to cycle the Rallarvegen is usually from mid-July to late September. However, snow is not cleared from the route and its highest section – between Finse and Myrdal – can be blocked by snow until very late in summer, so check conditions locally before you set out. Mountain-bike rental is available from the Finse 1222 Hotel, but advance reservations are required.

Flåm to Gudvangen: sailing the Nærøyfjord

Flåm is the starting (or ending) point for one of the most stupendous ferry trips in the fjords, the two-hour cruise up the Aurlandsfjord and down its narrow offshoot, the Nærøyfjord (May–Sept 3–4 daily; 2hr 10min; 275kr one-way, 380kr return;

wfjord1.no) to Gudvangen. The Nærøyfjord is the narrowest fjord in Europe, its high and broody cliffs keeping out the sun throughout the winter, and its stern beauty makes for a magnificent excursion. This forms part of the “Norway in a Nutshell” itinerary.

Geiranger to Åndalsnes: the Golden Route

Promoted as the “Golden Route”, the 120-kilometre journey from the village of Langvatn to Geiranger and Åndalsnes along Highway 63 is famous for its mountain scenery – and no wonder. Even by Norwegian standards, the route is of outstanding beauty, the road bobbing past a whole army of austere peaks whose cold severity is daunting. The journey also incorporates a ferry ride across the Norddalsfjord, a shaggy arm of the Storfjord, and can include a couple of brief but enjoyable detours – one west along the Norddalsfjord from Linge to Stordal, home to an especially fine church, the other east from Valldal to the intriguing village of Tafjord. Yet, the most memorable section is undoubtedly the Trollstigen (Troll’s Ladder), a mountain road that cuts an improbable course between the Valldal valley and Åndalsnes, the northern terminus of the dramatic Rauma train line, though be aware that the Trollstigen closes when the snows come.

Trollstigen

The alarming heights of the Trollstigen (Troll’s Ladder), a trans-mountain route between Valldal and Åndalsnes, are equally compelling in either direction. The road negotiates the mountains by means of eleven hairpins with a maximum gradient of 1:12, but it’s still a pretty straightforward drive until, that is, you meet a tour bus coming the other way – followed by a bit of nervous backing up and repositioning. Drivers (and cyclists) should also be particularly careful in wet weather.

From Valldal, the southern end of the Trollstigen starts gently enough with the road rambling up the Valldal valley. Thereafter, the road swings north, building up a head of steam as it bowls up the Meiadal valley bound for the barren mountains beyond. Now the road starts to climb in earnest, clambering up towards the bleak and icy plateau-pass, the Trollstigplatået, which marks its high point. Beyond the Trollstigplatået, the sheer audacity of the road becomes apparent, zigzagging across the face of the mountain and somehow managing to wriggle round the tumultuous, 180-metre Stigfossen falls. Beyond the hairpins, on the northern part of the Trollstigen, the road resumes its easy ramblings, scuttling along the Isterdal to meet the E136 just 5km short of Åndalsnes.

The Hardangerfjord

To the east of Bergen, the most inviting target is the 180km-long Hardangerfjord (whardangerfjord.com), whose wide waters are overlooked by a rough, craggy shoreline and a scattering of tiny settlements. At its eastern end the Hardangerfjord divides into several lesser fjords, and it’s here you’ll find the district’s most appealing villages, Utne, Lofthus and Ulvik, each of which has an attractive fjordside setting and at least one an especially good place to stay. To the east of these tributary fjords rises the Hardangervidda, a mountain plateau of remarkable, lunar-like beauty and a favourite with Norwegian hikers. The plateau can be reached from almost any direction, but one popular starting point for the extremely fit is Lofthus, with this approach involving a stiff day-long climb up from the fjord.

The Battle of the oranges

The Germans invaded Norway on April 9, 1940, and during the next couple of weeks, before the Norwegians threw in the towel, there were several naval skirmishes in the Hardangerfjord. In one of them, the so-called Battle of Ulvik, the German navy shelled the centre of the village to smithereens after being shot at from the shore. During the battle, the Norwegian navy, seeing the way things were going, scuttled the Afrika, a German merchant ship they had previously captured; the wreck remains in Ulvik harbour today. They also scuttled a neutral ship, the San Miguel, which had taken refuge here, thereby – in a true Whisky Galore moment – releasing the ship’s cargo, thousands of oranges, which bobbed around the harbour, much to the amazed delight of the locals, for whom fresh fruit was a real treat.

The Trolltunga

Much less well known than other, similar vantage points, the Trolltunga (troll’s tongue) is a narrow ledge of rock that projects out from the mountainside no less than 700m above Lake Ringedalsvatnet. Needless to say, the views fair take your breath away. To get there, take Highway 13 north from Odda to Tyssedal, where you follow the signs for the 7km journey up into the mountains to Skjeggedal, where you can park. The hike starts here in Skjeggedal beside the (currently defunct) funicular Mågelibanen. The path begins on the right-hand side of the funicular, is marked with painted red Ts, takes between eight and ten hours there and back, and involves an ascent of around 1000m. This is tough terrain, so you will need to come properly equipped, and you should check weather conditions at Odda tourist office before you set out – the path is closed when the snows come and is usually open from mid-June to early October. There is no mobile phone coverage along the route.

Nordfjord and the Jostedalsbreen glacier

The inner recesses of the Nordfjord (wnordfjord.no), the next great fjord system to the north of the Sognefjord, are readily explored along Highway 60, which weaves a pleasant, albeit tortuous, course through a string of little towns. Among them, Loen is easily the best base for further explorations, though humdrum Stryn is larger and more important. Stryn is also where Highway 15 begins its long journey west along the length of the Nordfjord, with the road dipping and diving along the northern shore in between deep-green reflective waters and bulging peaks. It’s a pleasant enough journey, but the Nordfjord doesn’t have the severe allure of its more famous neighbours, at least in part because its roadside hamlets lack much appeal – end-of-the-fjord Måløy is unappetizing, though you can loop south to the much more agreeable coastal town of Florø. That said – and all in all – you’re much better off sticking to Highway 60.

High up in the mountains, dominating the whole of the inner Nordfjord, lurks the Jostedalsbreen glacier, a five-hundred-kilometre-square ice plateau that creaks, grumbles and moans out towards the Sognefjord, the Nordfjord and the Jotunheimen mountains. The glacier stretches northeast in a lumpy mass from Highway 5, its myriad arms – or “nodules” – nudging down into the nearby valleys, the clay particles of its meltwater giving the local rivers and lakes their distinctive light-green colouring. Catching sight of the ice nestling between peaks and ridges can be unnerving – the overwhelming feeling being that somehow it shouldn’t really be there. As the poet Norman Nicholson had it:

A malevolent, rock-crystal

Precipitate of lava,

Corroded with acid,

Inch by inch erupting

From volcanoes of cold.

For centuries, the glacier presented an impenetrable east–west barrier, crossed only at certain points by determined farmers and adventurers. It’s no less daunting today, but access is much freer, a corollary of the creation of the Jostedalsbreen Nasjonalpark in 1991. Since then, roads have been driven deep into the glacier’s flanks, the comings (but mostly goings) of the ice have been closely monitored and there has been a proliferation of officially licensed guided glacier walks (breturar) on its various arms (see Hikes from Turtagrø into the Skagastølsdal valley). If that sounds too energetic and all you’re after is a close look at the glacier, then this is possible at several places, with the easiest approach being the stroll to the Bøyabreen on the south side of the glacier near Mundal. On the west side of the glacier, narrow side roads lead off Highway 60 to two more vantage points, the Briksdalsbreen, the most visited of the glacier’s nodules, and the Kjenndalsbreen, which is much less crowded, far prettier and an easy twenty-minute walk from the end of the road–a delightful way to spend a morning or afternoon. By contrast, the Nigardsbreen, on the east side of the glacier, requires more commitment, but the scenery is wilder and, to many tastes, more beautiful.

Guided glacier walks on the Jostedalsbreen

Most guided glacier walks on the Jostedalsbreen are scheduled between late June and early September, though on some arms of the glacier the season extends from May until October. The walks range from three-hour excursions to five-day expeditions. Day-trip prices start at 500–600kr per person for a four- to six-hour gambol, rising to 700–800kr for six to eight hours. Booking arrangements for the shorter glacier walks vary considerably. On some of the trips – for example those at the Nigardsbreen – it’s sufficient to turn up at the information centre an hour or two beforehand, but in general it’s a good idea to make a reservation at least a day ahead. Sometimes this is best done through one of the information centres, sometimes direct with the tour operator. In the case of the overnight trips, however, you must reserve at least four weeks beforehand. In all cases, basic equipment is provided, though you’ll need to take good boots, waterproofs, warm clothes, gloves, hat, sunglasses – and sometimes your own food and drink too.

Jostedalsbreen Nasjonalpark information centres

A comprehensive leaflet detailing all the various walks in Jostedalsbreen is widely available across the region and at the national park’s three information centres, (wjostedalsbre.no). These are the Norsk Bremuseum, on the south side of the glacier near Mundal; the Breheimsenteret on the east side at the Nigardsbreen; and the Jostedalsbreen Nasjonalparksenter (daily: May & Sept 10am–3pm; June–Aug 10am–6pm; exhibitions 80kr; t57 87 72 00) in Oppstryn, 20km east of Stryn on Highway 15. Each of the centres has displays on all things glacial and sells books, souvenirs and hiking maps.

Norway in a Nutshell

Of all the myriad excursions organized by fjordland tour operators, the most trumpeted is the whistle-stop Norway in a Nutshell, which can be booked at any tourist office in the region or online at wnorwaynutshell.com. There are several possible itineraries to choose from, but the classic round trip from Bergen takes eight and a half hours, and is an exhausting but exhilarating romp that gives you a taste of the fjords in one day. The tour begins with a train ride to Voss and Myrdal, where you change for the dramatic Flåmsbana branch line down to Flåm. Here, a two-hour cruise heads along the Aurlandsfjord and then the Nærøyfjord to Gudvangen, where you get a bus back to Voss, and the train again to Bergen. You can pick up the tour (and shave an hour and a half off) in Voss for an affordable 705kr: the full excursion from Bergen costs 1045kr.

The Sognefjord

Profoundly beautiful, the Sognefjord (wsognefjord.no) drills in from the coast for some 200km, its inner recesses splintering into half a dozen subsidiary fjords. Perhaps inevitably, none of the villages and small towns that dot the fjord quite lives up to the splendid setting, but Balestrand and Mundal, on the Fjærlandsfjord, come mighty close and are easily the best bases. Both are on the north side of the fjord which, given the lack of roads on the south side, is where you want (or pretty much have) to be – Flåm apart. Mundal is also near two southerly tentacles of the Jostedalsbreen glacier – Flatbreen and easy-to-reach Bøyabreen.

Highway 55 hugs the Sognefjord’s north bank for much of its length, but at Sogndal it slices northeast to clip along the lustrous Lustrafjord, which boasts a top-notch attraction in Urnes stave church, reached via a quick ferry ride from Solvorn. Further north, a side road leaves Highway 55 to clamber up from the Lustrafjord to the east side of the Jostedalsbreen glacier at the Nigardsbreen nodule, arguably the glacier’s finest vantage point. Thereafter Highway 55 – as the Sognefjellsveg – climbs steeply to run along the western side of the Jotunheimen mountains, an extraordinarily beautiful journey even by Norwegian standards and one which culminates with the road thumping down to Lom on the flatlands beside Highway 15.

Balestrand

BALESTRAND, an appealing first stop on the Sognefjord, has been a tourist destination since the middle of the nineteenth century, when it was discovered by European travellers in search of cool, clear air and picturesque mountain scenery. One of the visitors was Kaiser Wilhelm II, who became a frequent visitor, sharing his holiday spot with the tweeds and bustles of the British bourgeoisie. These days, the village is used as a touring base for the immediate area, as the battery of small hotels above the quay testifies, but it’s all very small-scale, and among the thousand-strong population farming remains the principal livelihood.

An hour or so will suffice to take a peek at Balestrand’s several low-profile attractions. Lining up along the harbour are the old post office, which features temporary displays on the town and its environs; a brace of art galleries; and an aquarium, the Sognefjord Akvarium.

Hikes from Turtagrø into the Skagastølsdal valley

One tough hike from the Turtagrø Hotel is the six-hour, round-trip haul southeast along the well-worn (but not especially well-signed) path up the Skagastølsdal valley to DNT’s self-service Skagastølsbu hut, though you can of course make the hike shorter by only going some of the way. The valley is divided into a number of steps, each preceded by a short, steep ascent; the hotel is 884m above sea level, the hut, a small stone affair surrounded by a staggering confusion of ice caps, mini-glaciers and craggy ridges, is at 1758m. The terrain is unforgiving and the weather unpredictable, so novice hikers beware – If you’d rather have a guide, the Turtagrø Hotel is a base for mountain guides, who offer an extensive programme of guided mountain walks as well as summer cross-country skiing – the hotel will help to sort things out; the season begins at Easter and extends until October.

Norwegian Book Town

Mundal has eschewed the crasser forms of commercialism to become the self-styled “Den Norske Bokbyen” (Norwegian Book Town; wbokbyen.no), with a dozen rustic buildings accommodating antiquarian and secondhand bookshops. Naturally enough, most of the books are in Norwegian, but there’s a liberal sprinkling of English titles too. The main bookselling season runs from May to late September and the bookshops are usually open daily from 10am to 6pm, though one or two places do hang on into the winter.

The Sognefjellsveg

The route

Beyond Skjolden, the Sognefjellsveg weaves its way up the Bergsdal valley to a mountain plateau which it proceeds to traverse, providing absolutely stunning views of the jagged, ice-crusted peaks of the Jotunheimen Nasjonalpark to the east. En route, the most obvious stopping point is TURTAGRØ, just 15km out from Skjolden, which is no more than a handful of buildings – including a hotel (see Hikes from Turtagrø into the Skagastølsdal valley) – but as good a place as any to pick up one of the several hiking trails that head off into the mountains.

Beyond Turtagrø, the Sognefjellsveg cuts its wild and windy way across the plateau before clipping down through forested Leirdal, passing the old farmstead of ELVESETER. Here, about 45km from Turtagrø, a complex of old timber buildings has been turned into a hotel-cum-mini-historical-theme-park, its proudest possession being a bizarre 33-metre-high plaster and cyanite column, the Sagasøyla. On top of the column is the figure of that redoubtable Viking Harald Hardrada and down below is carved a romantic interpretation of Norwegian history. Dating from the 1830s, the column was brought to this remote place because no one else would have it – not too surprising really.

From Elveseter, it’s a short hop over the hills to Bøverdal, which runs down into the crossroads settlement of Lom. On the way, you’ll pass the start of the narrow, 18km-long mountain road that sneaks up the Visdal valley to the Spiterstulen lodge.

The Flåm railway – the Flåmsbana

The lonely railway junction of Myrdal, just forty minutes by train from Voss, is the start of one of Europe’s most celebrated branch rail lines, the Flåmsbana, a 20km, 900m plummet down the Flåmsdal valley to Flåm – a fifty-minute train ride that should not be missed if at all possible; it is part of the “Norway in a Nutshell” route. The track, which took four years to lay in the 1920s, spirals down the mountainside, passing through hand-dug tunnels and, at one point, actually travelling through a hairpin tunnel to drop nearly 300m. The gradient of the line is one of the steepest anywhere in the world, and as the train squeals its way down the mountain, past cascading waterfalls, it’s reassuring to know that it has five separate sets of brakes, each capable of bringing it to a stop. The service runs all year round, a local lifeline during the deep winter months. There are ten departures daily from mid-June to late September, between four and eight the rest of the year; Myrdal–Flåm fares are 260kr one-way, 360kr return.

The athletic occasionally undertake the five-hour walk from the railway junction at Myrdal down the old road into the valley, instead of taking the train, but much the better option is to disembark about halfway down and walk in from there. Berekvam station, at an altitude of 345m, is the best place to alight, leaving an enthralling two- to three-hour hike through changing mountain scenery down to Flåm. Cycling down the valley road is also perfectly feasible, though it’s much too steep to be relaxing.

Voss

With a population of just 14,000, VOSS, 100km from Bergen, is a small town with an attractive lakeside setting and a splendid thirteenth-century church. It is, however, best known as an adventure-sports and winter-skiing centre, with everything from skiing and snowboarding through to summertime rafting, kayaking and horseriding. Consequently, unless you’re here for a sweat, your best bet is to have a quick look round the town’s central shops and cafés – it takes just five minutes to walk from one end of town to the other, though this is still something of a treat if you’ve been stuck in the tiny hamlets and villages further north – and then move on. There is a caveat, however: Voss is the ideal base for a day-trip by train east up the Raundal valley, an especially scenic part of the Bergen–Oslo rail line. The most popular target on this stretch of the line is the Myrdal junction, where you change for the dramatic train ride down to Flåm.

For centuries, Voss has been a trading centre of some importance, though you’d barely guess this from the modern appearance of the town centre. In 1023, King Olav visited to check that the population had all converted to Christianity, and stuck a big stone cross here to ram home his point, and in the 1270s another king, Magnus Lagabøte, built a church in Voss to act as the religious focal point for the whole region – and this church, the Vangskyrkja, survives today.

Outdoor activities around Voss

Every summer, hundreds of Norwegians make a beeline for Voss on account of its watersports. The rivers near the town offer a wide range of conditions, suitable for everything from a quiet paddle to a finger-chewing whitewater ride. In winter, skiing around Voss starts in mid-December and continues until mid-April – nothing fancy, but good for an enjoyable few days. From behind and above the train station, a cable car – the Hangursbanen – climbs 700m to give access to several short runs as well as a series of chairlifts that take you up another 300m. In January and February some trails are floodlit. There’s a choice of red, green and black downhill ski routes, and among the greens is a long and fairly gentle route through the hills above town; cross-country skiing here is limited to 20km of tracks.

Summer sports operators

Mjølfjell Fjellstove t56 52 31 50, wmjolfjell.no. Up in the hills about 30km east of town, Mjølfjell Fjellstove specializes in mountain horseback riding with guided excursions from one day to a week; a week-long trip costs 4300kr per person.

Nordic Ventures t56 51 00 17, wnordicventures.com. This operator offers all sorts of kayaking excursions (a day-long trip costs 975kr per person) as well as tandem paragliding and parasailing.

Voss Rafting Senter t56 51 05 25, wvossrafting.no. Among several rafting operators, this one sets the benchmark. Their whitewater-rafting trips venture out onto two rivers – the Stranda and Raun – with prices beginning at 600kr per person for a 3hr excursion, half of which is actually spent on the water. Other options with the same operator include river boarding (4hr; 1150kr) and waterfall rappelling (4hr; 850kr).

Winter sports operators

Voss Ski School t47 00 47 00, wvossresort.no. Full equipment for both downhill and cross-country skiing can be rented by the day from this ski school at the upper Hangursbanen station. They also offer lessons in skiing and snowboarding techniques.

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Rough Guides Editors
8/29/2020
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