Although most visitors on the “Norway in a Nutshell” itinerary continue their journey directly from the train to a ferry, we opt to spend a few days in the area to explore Flåm.
The “tourist” village of Flåm is centered around the train station and the docks. Apart from some scattered farmhouses and homes lining the road, a small museum, a bakery, and a supermarket, tourist shops and the information center dominate the village.
A few hotels and guesthouses are available. Perhaps the most luxurious of these is the Flåmsbrygga Hotel situated on a pier with views of the Aurlandsfjord just 50 feet away – until a massive cruise ship (shades of Venice) moors in front. Fortunately, these behemoths (which are several stories higher than the hotel) are only there during the day, restoring your view in the evening and early morning.
The hotel with the best view straight up the fjord is the Flåm Marina and Apartments, on the other side of the harbor. This is also where we enjoy our best meal in the area.
The natural beauty of the area, however, almost defies description and is best experienced by fjord cruises, drives, and long walks along the shores of the fjord and into the hills.
Clad in goggles, hats and thick Arctic survival suits, we climb into a rib boat for a two-hour trip through Aurlandsfjord and into the Nærøyfjord. Both are arms of the mighty Sognefjord, Norway’s largest and deepest fjord.
Of course, there is a bit of showmanship involved and much storytelling. There is a tale about almost every one of the few villages that cling to the cliff sides and the fjord.
For example, the village of Undredal, an idyllic community on the edge of the fjord, served as the inspiration for the movie “Frozen,” although our guide assures us that Elsa doesn’t live there anymore.
The village consists of about 100 people and 500 goats. Until 1988 it could only be reached by boat, but the construction of the new road has greatly increased the number of visitors who stop here.
It is famous for its brown goat cheese “Undredalsosten,” which you can find at the cheese shop, “Undredalsbui.” (It is an acquired taste). The Eldhuset cheese museum has an extensive exhibit about the product.
The Stigen Bed and Breakfast is another storytelling stop. Stigen means “ladder” in Norwegian. Years ago the only way to reach the farm was by hiking up a very steep cliff, so arduous that a ladder was required to traverse part of the mountain. Whenever he saw the taxman coming, the farmer would pull up it up to prevent him from reaching the farm.
The farmer eventually tired of eking out a living from his small plot of land, so he sold it. The new owner has turned it into an exclusive Bed and Breakfast that has an 18-month waiting list for accommodations. And, yes, you still have to hike up the cliff face although luggage is transported on a zip line.
The landscape is dramatic. As the glaciers withdrew at the end of the last Ice Age, they gouged out deep gorges that were quickly filled in by the sea, forming the fjords, one of the world’s natural wonders.
Steep, granite-faced mountains drop straight into the water. Waterfalls flow down the face of the rock. Perhaps one of the highest and most impressive is the Sagfossen. It tumbles 1,200 feet into the Næroyfjord, one of the narrowest in Norway. You will only get to see this waterfall from a boat. Nearby is a striking mountain, the Beitelen, which marks the intersection of the three fjords – the Nærøyfjord, the Aurlandsfjord, and the Sognefjord.
The fjords are home to a few marine mammals. On the rocks near the waterfall, we find a family of seals sunning themselves. A pod of porpoises delights in swimming in circles around the rib, popping up periodically. Our guide relates how killer whales have also been spotted in the fjords. Alas, we do not see any.
RENT A TWIZY
Without a car, it requires an effort to reach the stunning viewpoints near Flåm, although there is a bus. So we rent a Twizy to take us around. And what exactly is a Twizy? It is a cute, two passenger, French Renault, electric car that you can lease to explore the area. The battery has enough power to take you around several preplanned routes depending on how long you want to drive. It comes equipped with a talking navigation system so you can’t get lost – or so they say!
After contorting ourselves into a pretzel to climb into the car, one behind the other, we set off for Aurland, a secluded mountain village in the heart of the fjord, just 20 minutes away. The village on the edge of the fjord consists of simple frame houses decorated with window boxes filled with geraniums and other colorful flowers.
To get to the top of the mountain, we drive up behind the village through a series of hairpin bends to the Stegastein viewpoint overlooking Aurlandsfjord.
A panoramic viewing platform juts out over the fjord over 2,000 ft. above the water. At the end of the elegant, smooth, wooden pine walkway, there is only a pane of glass to stop you from falling off the end. From here you can see as far as Flåm on one side and as far as Beitelen Mountain, marking the edge of the world heritage site, on the other.
HIKE TO THE OLD VILLAGE OF FLÅM
The main village of Flåm is a few kilometers away along the river. Small farms and collection of houses line the route. The main attraction is the Flåm Kyrkje, a wooden church built over 350 years ago. Start from the Flåm station, follow the railway line and the river. After 3 km you will find the church, dating to 1667 and surrounded by an immaculately kept cemetery
You can also hike to the Brekkefossen waterfall. Starting from the station, cross the bridge and walk along the Flåm camping site. Continue straight ahead at the road crossing. After 1.5 km follow the sign for Brekkefossen. Walk through the gate and follow a red T-marking on the path. The terrain is quite steep, and you need to be cautious as the rocks on the hillside are very slippery.
Spending a few extra days to explore the area around Flåm provides us with many unique opportunities to photograph the fjords, mountains, and villages of the area.
IF YOU GO
To rent a Twizy just walk over to the office on the far side of the harbor. You will need a driver’s license. (www.emobflam.no/en/)