Breathtaking fjords, cascading waterfalls, towering snow-capped mountains, pristine farmhouses with sod roofs, blankets of wildflowers – Norway in a Nutshell is a living picture postcard that you will never forget. Traveling by train, boat and bus, this is a trip that truly lives up to its name, and it allows travelers the unique opportunity to experience some of the most spectacular scenery in the world.
Nestled on the western coast of Norway, the fjords were carved out in a succession of ice ages. When glaciers retreated approximately 12,000 years ago, plants soon appeared, animals thrived and humankind eventually made their way into this spectacular, but remote, heaven on earth. Small fishing villages were established and tiny sod roofed farmhouses quietly dotted the landscape, some situated on mountains so steep that they required a ladder to ascend the terrain. Once tax collectors realized there were people living in this isolated region, they made an annual trek to the farms, only to find that many of the ladders had mysteriously disappeared. When the first tourists arrived – primarily European aristocracy – who came to fish in this untouched paradise of crystal-clear waters, they were guaranteed all the fish they could carry. Word spread, and the fjords became the sportsperson’s paradise. Soon the rest of the world heard about them.
If your tour of today’s Norway is limited by time, Norway in a Nutshell is the way to go. There are a number of packages to choose from, ranging in time from seven to twenty-two hours. I opted for the eight-hour roundtrip from Bergen – World Heritage City and “gateway to the fjords.” If you can spare the extra time, Hanseatic Bergen boasts endless tourist attractions, and can be easily explored in 24 hours. The Bergen Tourist Card is an essential component to your tour of this historic harbor town. The price allows you free or reduce-priced admittance to the Bergen Art Museum, Fantoft Stave Church (a medieval wooden cathedral), a harbor boat tour, Bergen Castle, St Mary’s Church, and Troulhaugen, composer Edvard Grieg’s home.
If you’re lucky you might catch a concert in Troulhaugen’s intimate concert hall, discreetly built into the landscape, and overlooking Grieg’s working studio, where he wrote most of his later work. The card also allows free access on city buses, and both the Ulriksbanen Cable Car and Floibanen Funicular, which feature breathtaking views of the city. Not a bad way to start your city tour. Wander through the harbor fish market and down the wooden streets of the historic warehouses at Bryggen (the Wharf). A fish buffet should be on everyone’s list for a generous sampling of Bergen’s world-famous fish soup, assortments of smoked and cured Atlantic salmon, fish cakes, hearty breads, all washed down with the city’s own Hansa beer.
The next morning, hop on the Bergen Railway, easily one of the most beautiful railways in the world, for the journey up to mountain village of Myrdal. You could feel the excitement at Mydral as everyone hurries onto the platform in anticipation for the next part of the journey, a transfer onto The Flam Railway. One of the most dramatic and skilled engineering feats in railway history, The Flam Railway’s high-mountain railway track descends its way down virtual mountainsides. The track had to be laid out on steep inclines and in hairpin bends so that the train could slowly wind its way up and down its almost vertical slopes. Approximately 80% of the line has a gradient of 55%. The train ride between Mydral and Flam runs down (or up) the wild Flamsdalen Valley and is for many people one of the many highlights of the tour. From your carriage window see some of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring scenery in the world.
To experience the fjords helps you understand the Norwegian character, whose national identity has been formed by its passionate bond with nature. When a Norwegian goes on vacation – an average of six-weeks a year – the destination of choice is (usually) the Norwegian countryside.
The train’s final destination is the port of Flam. Feast on another buffet in the quaint village, then travel by boat out of the Aurlandsfjord and into the Nærøyfjord – easily the wildest and most beautiful part of the voyage. On the boat from Flam, you will see more waterfalls, charming small towns, a Stave church and working farms, situated on steep mountainous terrain.
Between Gudvangen and Voss, travel by bus through the Nærøyfjord Valley and up the steep hairpin bends of Stalheimskleiva with stunning, almost birds-eye views of more waterfalls. At the top of the rocky ascent there is a short stop to enjoy fantastic panoramic vistas from the viewpoints at the historic and stately Stalheim Hotel, where overnight accommodations are available. At the Fjord Pass there are also many hotels and guesthouses to choose from.
Depending on which tour you have chosen, your bus journey will continue from Voss back to Bergen. From there, you might not want to go home again. Norway in a Nutshell is available daily all year. For further information, contact www.VisitNorway.com or www.VisitBergen.com.