If you are having difficulty pronouncing “Åndalsnes” don’t feel bad, so did I. I won’t share how I was calling it but it ended in “sneeze”. We found this little underrepresented (in our opinion) gem by scouring the railway maps in the Nordics. We have been on trains for so many days, I’ve lost count of where we are & my bum is sore from sitting for so long. At the beginning of our European leg we picked up the EURail Pass & while the jury is still out on whether this will prove its worth, it allowed us to take advantage of this little side trip that may have been too costly on its own. Looking down the long list of Norwegian towns we knew nothing about, a quick google images search of Åndalsnes & we were sold.
The Rauma Railway & Romsdal Valley
Getting to Åndalsnes by rail is half of the attraction. The Rauma Railway opened in 1924 & is one of the main “things to do in the area”. People legitimately just take the train for the scenic views which are some of the best in all of Norway. Between the towns of Dombås & Åndalsnes a restaurant in Bjorli Is a popular spot for people to train to, enjoy dinner overlooking the Romsdal Valley, then pop back on the train to finish their journey home.
When we say tourist attraction, we mean it. Onboard the train you get an automated narration of the sites on either side of the train (not something we’ve had before) & an informational pamphlet on the area’s history. Nifty though I assume your average commuter on the train probably finds this a bit annoying after you’ve heard it 100 times. Nevertheless, as the train snakes alongside the river, you cannot help but be awed by the staggering glacial mountains that spring up around you. Dozens of waterfalls beginning hundreds of feet up the mountains rush through the steep rocks to the rapids below; the icy cold glacial waters run a deep earthy green picking up the lush forest greens which surround them.
Trollstigen & Trollveggen Wall
“I think we accidentally found Narnia” Ben whispered to me as we stepped off the train & trudged our way through the small town to our hostel. Completely encircling the town were half a dozen mammoth mountains, still dusted in snow & glaciers. We were used to seeing one or two show stoppers in an area, but rarely as many as the Trolltindene mountain range to which we couldn’t name a favorite. It was obvious what made this place the mountaineering capital of Norway.
Given that we were not stocked with equipment for full fledge mountain trekking, we had to settle for a few day-hikes & site seeing, but the area gives you more than enough options. Trollstigen is actually “Trolls Road”, a massive mountain road that winds you back & forth & crosses the Stigfossen waterfall. The roar of the waterfall is deafening & even now in late June, heavy snowfall remained packed at the top. The peak’s lookouts offer some of the best shots of the valley, overlooking the Romsdal fjord.
Trollveggen is Europe’s largest vertical wall, also called the “Trolls Wall” (seeing a trend in troll names?). Unfortunately, in typical Norwegian style, we had a spot of bad weather & didn’t ascend the wall’s less rigorous trails. But even without doing so we could still appreciate its height & grandeur. Apparently base jumping used to be very popular until a couple of bad accidents forced them to make it illegal.
Driving back & forth between these beauties and along the fjord, we crossed through several of the longest & most incredible tunnels we’ve ever been in, one being 6km (over 3.5 miles) long. Rather than passing through well-groomed concrete walls you pass right between raw, jagged rocks. So much so at first, I panicked we had entered a construction zone; I was convinced we would either come up onto mining equipment or Smaug himself though lucky for us we did neither.
The town of Åndalsnes itself is very quirky. Only roughly 3,000 people live here & yet it is a top cruise line port. Though we recommend the railway as the optimal way to view the Valley, the fjord & many of the mountains are quite a site from the ocean.
There’s been dozens of articles & suggestions written about Norway’s coastline & vast number of fjords but we still found surprising this area has not been talked about more. But perhaps that’s what lends it more charm, the fact that even as a cruise port, it’s not overrun with unmindful tourists but only those who truly want to seek out the mountains in their element & the fjords for all their natural beauty. While we’re sure more will discover this peaceful spot as time marches forward, we pray it never loses its raw exceptionality.