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A spectacular railway is just the beginning of this extraordinary region



For many people, the sole reason to visit Flam, the village at the end of the spectacular, 29-kilometre-long Aurlandsfjord in western Norway, is the Flam Railway. And, to be fair, it’s a compelling one.

The 20-kilometre trip is one of the world’s steepest standard-gauge railway lines, a snaking, physics-defying ascent through 20 tunnels that skirts a scenic montage of yawning valleys, raging rivers and plunging waterfalls. Everyone from National Geographic to Lonely Planet has declared it one of the world’s most spectacular rail journeys. Even if you’re not a train buff, you should absolutely experience the Flam Railway.

Majestic mountain rise up behind Flam Station.Credit: iStock

However, we’d suggest you don’t tackle it the way most people do, which is as part of the perennially popular “Norway in a Nutshell” itinerary. This hectic day trip between Bergen and Oslo (or vice versa) includes the Flam Railway as part of a packed itinerary that also features a fjord cruise, a scenic bus trip and a train journey. Sure, you’ll tick off some of the region’s big-ticket attractions, but you’ll also miss many of its less-visited gems.

Scandinavian specialist 50 Degrees North gets this, which is why on this eight-day “Beautiful Norway Hike” itinerary, our group is spending two nights in the region. But not in Flam, which is where the cruise ships dock, ejecting thousands of passengers a day. Instead, we’re staying in Aurland, a pretty fjord-side hamlet of around 900 people located a 10-minute drive away.

From here, we’re perfectly placed to discover some of the region’s other highlights, starting with another gravity-shunning man-made structure, the Stegastein Viewpoint. Reached via a squirming, hairpin-filled road, this 650-metre-high lookout juts 30 metres out from the hillside, offering a highly Instagrammable selfie spot over the dramatic, mountain-flanked Aurlandsfjord. And this is the problem. Its popularity with tour groups means there can sometimes be a lengthy queue to reach the coveted glass-panelled endpoint.

The Stegastein Viewpoint.

The Stegastein Viewpoint.Credit: iStock

For those who like to earn their selfies, there’s another option. Towering above Aurland is Mt Prest, a 1478-metre-high peak that can be reached via a steep, but not technically difficult, hiking trail. Most Norwegians do it self-guided, kids perched on their shoulders, but for less hike-hardened visitors, it’s worth joining a tour with local operator FjordSafari. I opt for the latter and spend a delightful morning with guide Luis Lopez zig-zagging up a wildflower-sprinkled hillside with only a handful of people and a herd of goats for company. When we reach the most arresting viewpoint, a 1363-metre-high stone beacon with conversation-stopping views of the fjord plus the snow-dusted mountains beyond, we’re the only ones there.

Of course, the other excursion that’s pretty much compulsory in these parts is a fjord cruise. But again, there are lots of ways to do it. One option is to take the Norled express boat from Flam to Bergen, a 5.25-hour journey that snakes through Norway’s longest and deepest fjord, Sognefjord. This is how we finish our trip and it’s a suitably scenic finale, offering a calendar-worthy medley of towering peaks, tumbling waterfalls and islands peppered with idyllic summer cottages.

Undredal, the fishing village said to have inspired Disney’s “Frozen”.

Undredal, the fishing village said to have inspired Disney’s “Frozen”.Credit: iStock

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