Fjord Norway: Flåm Railway, Fjordsafari and Vatnahalsen Høyfjellshotell

Undredal

Flåm, in western Norway, is a picturesque village where wooden houses nestle between the fjord and mountains. I travelled there on a four-day press trip. You can see the full itinerary here. I’ve already written about Flåm’s historic Fretheim Hotel, Norse-themed Ægir Brewpub, and the Stegastein viewpoint. While we were in Flåm, we also took an RIB (board boat) winter Fjordsafari with Flåm Guide Service, and said goodbye to the village on the Flåm Railway. En route to Bergen, we stopped at the Vatnahalsen Høyfjellshotell, where we borrowed snowshoes and went for a wander through the snow down to the railway track.

Flåm

Fishing cabins at Flåm

You can see what our day looked like in my video:

Winter Fjordsafari with Flåm Guide Service

“Winter is the best time to see the fjord”

Preparing for a winter fjordsafari is a serious business. We were told to dress warmly, for sub-zero temperatures. On top of my base layers, fleece, woollen jumper, ski pants and ski jacket, Flåm Guide Service asked me to add fleecy woollen trousers, two sets of thermal gloves and a standard issue waterproof thermal suit.

No thigh-gap there, then.

Flåm

Despite the trappings needed to brave the minus-10 degrees cold, the guide told us that in winter you have the most powerful experience on the safari. The fjord would be ours alone. We could gaze at the same mountains that loomed over passing Vikings, without the parps of cruise ships ruining the reverie.

fjord

We were a handful of passengers (the boat holds no more than twelve) huddling close to the water, which on our overcast day looked inky-black with the heavy memory of history. We gazed up at mountains from their feet, so they were even more towering than usual. And we were almost close enough to reach out and touch the school of porpoises, which swam over to say hello ten minutes out of the harbour.

The safari lasts 90 minutes, and because of the cold temperature, it isn’t recommended for children under four. So long as your child is happy to sit still for that long, though, it would be a thrilling experience for an older youngster. We sped past frozen waterfalls, and paused at the village of Undredal, which inspired the hit Disney film, Frozen. You can visit Undredal on the longer version of the fjordsafari, two and a half hours long, where you get to warm up with a hot chocolate, and try some of Undredal’s famous goat’s cheese.

Undredal

Undredal

fjord

Along the way we heard tales about life on the fjord, including the house that was owned by a farmer, which could only be reached by climbing ladders up the cliff-face. Can you spot it in this picture?

fjord

Here it is, a little closer:

fjord

Nowadays it’s owned by a Norwegian-American couple, who’ve replaced the ladders with a path blasted into the rock face. The path is reached by docking at this small jetty.

fjord

Their house is run as a B&B, which (unsurprisingly) is booked up several years in advance.

The most spectacular part of the safari was when we hit the Nærøyfjorden, a UNESCO world heritage site where the fjord is only 250 m wide in places, and the mountains loom 1800 metres above.

fjord

fjord

Although it’s not cheap, the winter fjordsafari was the sort of trip that can fuel your dreams for years.

A winter fjordsafari costs 640 NOK for adults and 440 NOK for children. It runs in the mornings from November-March, except in January, when the fjord is just too cold. Flåm Guide Service also run excursions in the summer months.

Flåm Railway (Flåmsbana)

“Flåm Railway’s magic number is 20. They began to build it in the 1920s, and it took 20 years to complete. The line is 20km long, with 20 tunnels. It cost 20m NOK, and 20 men died building it (it’s rumoured there were only 19, so they had to bump off one extra to round it up……)”

The Flåm Railway begins in the centre of the village, next to a museum devoted to the railway, and ends in the high mountain station of Myrdal. It’s a phenomenally popular line, with over 900,000 passengers cramming onto its padded red seats last year. In 2014, Lonely Planet named it the world’s most beautiful train journey.

Flåm Railway

Half of the two-hour round-trip from Flåm is tunnel, which gives an edge to the ride through mountain gorges. You round a corner, gaping in awe at the stunning vista – and then, all of a sudden, you’re plunged noisily into a dark tunnel. You never know quite what you’ll see when you emerge again, but you know it will be breathtaking.

Flåm Railway

As we spiralled upwards through the mountain tunnels, landmarks were pointed out in 17 different languages on the overhead monitors. Roads were few and far between; instead, there were hiking and cycling trails, like the Raller route you can see zig-zagging in the middle of this picture (it’s described as the most picturesque cycle route in Norway).

Norway

We stopped in a light flurry of snow, to visit the frozen Kjossfossen waterfall. If you’re lucky, in the summer months you might catch a Norse goddess there, dancing in the spray.

Kjossfossen waterfall

The terrain became wilder and more snowy, until we reached the Vatnahalsen Høyfjellshotell, a family-run mountain lodge that you can only reach by rail, foot or bike. The train carried on to Myrdal, but we alighted for a lunchtime pit-stop, and to meet the lodge’s owners.

Flåm Railway

A round trip on the Flåm Railway is 480 NOK for adults, and 240 NOK for children aged 4 to 15. It’s included in the Norway in a Nutshell ticket, where you can tour the region by train, bus and boat.

 

Vatnahalsen Høyfjellshotell

Vatnahalsen Høyfjellshotell

After the 40-minute train journey from Flåm, and our slippery walk from the train platform up to Vatnahalsen, the sweet smell of waffles that greeted us was achingly welcome. Jannet Aksnes, part of the family that own and run this 40-room mountain lodge, explained that there’s a steady tide of loyal visitors, including a man from London who comes three times a year to just sit on the balcony, 820m above sea level, and just gaze at the view.

Vatnahalsen

Vatnahalsen Høyfjellshotell

A room at Vatnahalsen Høyfjellshotell

Vatnahalsen Høyfjellshotell’s rooms are furnished comfortably but without fridges or televisions. The owners want guests to socialise. There was indeed a buzz about the kitsch, comfortable living area, where a family with small children tucked into waffles after a spot of ice-fishing, and a couple of grizzled cross-country skiiers in their fifties lounged with dogs in front of the communal TV.

Vatnahalsen Høyfjellshotell

Vatnahalsen HøyfjellshotellAnd those waffles….. They’re made by hand by Jannet’s mother, who has a ‘waffle muscle’ from stirring all the batter needed to feed 40,000 cruise passengers over the summer. They were light, melt-in-the-mouth, and complemented perfectly by the cream, berry jam and sweet goat’s cheese we used to smother them.

Vatnahalsen Høyfjellshotell

Vatnahalsen Høyfjellshotell

Vatnahalsen Høyfjellshotell’s lounge

We were tempted by Vatnahalsen Høyfjellshotell’s sauna, which opens out onto the snow in winter, or a plunge pool in summer. Sadly we had to leave to catch our connecting train to Bergen, but we did have time to borrow some of the lodge’s snowshoes, and go crunching through the still scenery, so quiet you could hear flakes of snow as they fell.

Flåm Railway

Prices at Vatnahalsen Høyfjellshotell vary according to the season.

We were guests of Visit Norway and Fjord Norway. All views are my own.

You can find more information on the Visit Flåm website.

If you liked this post, you might be interested in:
Fjord Norway: Flåm, Stegastein, the Fretheim Hotel and Ægir Brewpub
What to expect from Bergen, Norway
Bergen: Troldhaugen, the Edvard Grieg Museum
A walk in Oslo’s Nordmarka Forest
Seven relaxing things to do in Oslo, Norway

  • Flåm
    Flåm, Stegastein, the Fretheim Hotel and Ægir Brewpub

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30 Comments

  1. March 13, 2017 / 8:17 am

    Every time you post something about this beautiful town, I’m drawn in more and more! It’s so adorable! I hope I can make it to this region when we visit Norway one day! #MondayEscapes

    • Nell
      Author
      March 22, 2017 / 8:52 pm

      You really should. It would be right up your street x

    • Nell
      Author
      March 22, 2017 / 8:51 pm

      Oh Tanja it’s amazing!

  2. March 13, 2017 / 10:05 am

    I am sooooooo jealous. I am a real sucker for a stunning view. What beautiful scenery. The waffles sound fabulous. Lol at the layers. Could you have got anymore on?

    • Nell
      Author
      March 22, 2017 / 8:51 pm

      Possibly. But then they’d have had to roll me into the boat!

  3. March 13, 2017 / 12:42 pm

    People talk about the Fjords being pretty but they are so beautiful aren’t they. I’d love to do it all one day and just gaze at it all!

    • Nell
      Author
      March 22, 2017 / 8:47 pm

      They’re out of this world. Like nothing else!

  4. March 13, 2017 / 2:36 pm

    The Fjords look like something out of movie set. Almost unreal due to their sheer beauty. I love the look of the cabins too! #mondayescapes

    • Nell
      Author
      March 22, 2017 / 8:37 pm

      There were lots of them, dotted around. They’re so evocative of the country!

  5. March 13, 2017 / 10:05 pm

    Wow, so beautiful. I can totally see why they say it’s better to see the Fjords in Winter, I love the idea of having them to yourself instead of sharing them with tourists!
    Nat.x

    • Nell
      Author
      March 22, 2017 / 8:37 pm

      I know. Once we were out of the harbour, we saw nobody else at all. Magical.

  6. March 14, 2017 / 2:57 am

    Amazing! The frozen waterfalls are beautiful, and I love the photos of the colourful houses on the water. Also chuckled at your no thigh gap comment…! Hope you were warm though!

    • Nell
      Author
      March 22, 2017 / 8:36 pm

      I was pretty warm, until I took my gloves off to take a few pictures!

  7. March 14, 2017 / 4:41 am

    This is such a picturesque place. I love the little, colorful houses and the wild landscape. Well, I thought I bundled up when i visited New York on December but I see Flam in winter is way colder. I have hope I will be able to endure the cold in a place like this. #MondayEscapes

    • Nell
      Author
      March 22, 2017 / 8:35 pm

      Flåm was cold, but it was the windchill on the fjord that meant we had to wear so many layers. I could barely walk!

  8. March 14, 2017 / 9:22 am

    I have had a real calling to visit Norway ever since the Hairy Bikers travelled around the Baltic. I am also a big fan of the Viking legends and it just really appeals to me. Lovely photos! Sarah #MondayEscapes

    • Nell
      Author
      March 22, 2017 / 8:18 pm

      The legends are so earthy and interesting, aren’t they? You could really feel their influence in the lands around the fjords.

  9. March 14, 2017 / 7:35 pm

    Your pictures are just stunning. It sounds so magical – I loved that you could hear the snowflakes! Flam is definitely on my list now, it is just so out-of-the-ordinary. Wonderfully written and your time is just so well captured #mondayescapes

    • Nell
      Author
      March 22, 2017 / 8:16 pm

      Thank you. I enjoyed writing about the trip. A great way to re-live the experience.

  10. March 15, 2017 / 12:28 pm

    The safari looks so beautiful, and it’s something now very firmly on my list. I love Norway, it’s somewhere I would happily move to if I could master the language! The waffles sound incredible too! 🙂 #mondayescapes

    • Nell
      Author
      March 22, 2017 / 7:01 pm

      I’d like to move there too, especially as some good friends of mine now live in Oslo. I’d have a hard time convincing the family to leave London though! 🙁

  11. March 17, 2017 / 11:34 am

    Its been on my list for so long, as I studied Fjords whilst at school. Amazing images, I felt like I was there.

    • Nell
      Author
      March 20, 2017 / 9:09 pm

      That must have been an interesting lesson. Better to see them for real, though!

  12. March 18, 2017 / 4:11 pm

    What a fantastic trip Nell. I’d love to do the Fjordsafari but I think it would be a bit cold and a bit too long sitting down for our girls. The train journey sounds much more their type of thing #MondayEscapes

    • Nell
      Author
      March 20, 2017 / 9:08 pm

      It would be hard-going for little ones, but I think the tip with the stop-off at Undredal would be fun. Apparently you get to stroke the goats!

  13. March 20, 2017 / 11:52 am

    I love Flam and this area of Norway – one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. Loved looking at your photographs! Can’t wait to go back! #mondayescapes

    • Nell
      Author
      March 20, 2017 / 9:07 pm

      It’s a special place, isn’t it?

  14. Nat
    April 15, 2017 / 10:34 pm

    Hi there! I just stumbled upon your Norway posts and I’m here in Bergen right now. Why didn’t I see these earlier?? But anyway I love the way you write and the complete descriptions and history / fun facts you add to your accounts. Will keep reading! 🙂

    • Nell
      Author
      April 16, 2017 / 6:00 pm

      I’m so pleased you’re enjoying the posts! Have a great time in Bergen. It’s a beautiful part of the world.

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