Here’s Why Steve McCurry was “Utterly Captivated” by Flåm, Norway
Mist-dappled mountains. Spellbinding fjords. Majestic waterfalls. A former home to the legendary seafaring Vikings. Welcome to Norway, the longest country in Europe with 63,000 miles of coastline. Its human history dates back almost 10,000 years, while nature has been shaping its spectacular geography for eons.
Fresh from a quest to capture the cultural essence of Denmark, master photographer Steve McCurry traveled to Norway to unlock its breathtaking natural beauty through his award-winning camera lens. He arrived to find a country framed by rugged mountains along its eastern border with Sweden, and a western coastal landscape dominated by a network of pristine inland waterways. These include the country’s most renowned geographic features, its iconic fjords, which flow through ancient river-eroded valleys that have been further sculpted by the scouring effect of glacial action over the ages.
Norway’s Coastline Is Among the Most Dramatic in the World
As McCurry observed, “The Norwegian coast is one of the most dramatic landscapes on the planet. The steep mountain fjords offer great vantage points that allow the photographer to capture aerial-like shots of the valleys, waterfalls, and coastal islands that seem to magically emerge from the water below.”
Interestingly, what lies beneath these waterways is equally enchanting, but certainly not as well known. When we think of coral reefs, tropical coastlines usually come to mind. Yet, Norway’s fjords are home to some of the world’s largest coral reefs. These cold-water reefs thrive in the very deep water at the bottom of fjords, and host an array of sea anemones, plankton and other marine life.
The Norwegian fjords, which number more than 1,000 across the country, offer plenty of wide-open space from which a photographer can capture nature’s scenic drama and wild weather as it unfolds. According to McCurry, “The rapidly changing weather which toggles from sunshine to fog and mist, creates some of the most otherworldly and dramatic lighting I’ve ever seen. Add to that the glaciers which descend from the fields of ice and are among the world’s largest.”
Flåm, Norway: Postcard-Perfect
This virtuoso of visual storytelling, who believes the best pictures are the ones that take us on a journey, further noted, “Among these impossibly beautiful landscapes nestle small villages which are picturesque and charming. I was utterly captivated.” Unsurprisingly, he chose the postcard-perfect village of Flåm, situated in a valley at the end of the Aurlandsfjord, as a base camp for his photographic expedition.
Full Steam Ahead on the Flåmsbana
During his visit to Flåm, McCurry discovered that this sparsely populated speck of a town is home to one of the world’s great rail experiences, the Flåm Railway, or Flåmsbana. The iconic rail service traces a steep 12-mile journey winding through tunnels and wilderness, past rivers and waterfalls, to connect with the Myrdal mountain station, perched at 2,844 feet above sea level. The route showcases some of western Norway’s most storybook-gorgeous scenery.
Exploring Norway’s Viking Heritage
Yet more compelling visual stories were waiting to be revealed by McCurry’s camera in another town a short distance from Flåm. Think waterfall-draped mountains, mystical white caves, and wooden stave churches with intricate Viking carvings. This is Gudvangen, also known as the place of the gods. It was here that McCurry was able to explore the former Viking village of Njardarheimr to experience how Vikings lived in Northern Europe 1,000 years ago, and photograph modern-day Vikings who have adopted the ancient Viking era as a lifestyle.
One of the best ways to reach Gudvangen from Flåm is to take a cruise through the narrow and beautiful Nærøyfjord, a UNESCO-listed natural treasure. The stunning Nærøyfjord is surrounded by towering mountains with snow-dusted peaks that stretch nearly 6,000 feet above sea level. In this glacier-carved wonderland, deep-blue waters, dazzling waterfalls and farm-dotted green meadows complete nature’s canvas.
Fortunate travelers who visit Norway are left wishing they could take home a piece of its magical landscape. Thanks to the extraordinary talent of Steve McCurry, some of that magic endures in the evocative images captured by his lens on a trip to Flåm.