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05·JUN·2015

Ferrocarril de Sóller

This narrow gauge railway connects Palma de Mallorca in the south with Sóller in the island's northwest, but also offers a journey back into the Belle Époque thanks to its restored wooden carriage interiors and quaint old stations. And of course, as you wind through a mountainous landscape the views are absolutely breathtaking.

A bit of background

In the late-19th Century the remote town of Sóller was doing a roaring trade in oranges and lemons, and was booming despite its unfortunate setting, penned in against the coast by the Serra de Tramuntana mountains that make up much of northern Mallorca. If Sóller were to continue to thrive then there needed to be a way to make it more convenient to get there from the capital. 

The only road to and from Palma, a mere 27 kilometres away, entailed an onerous and time-consuming trip across the Sóller Pass, more than a thousand metres above sea level. Naturally, the idea of a railway gained traction, despite the obstacles - physical and figurative - that stood in the way.

For starters the line would need to pass under the Serra de Tramuntana mountains, requiring thirteen tunnels, the longest of which would be almost three kilometres in length. After initial plans were rejected in the 1890s a revised study was approved in 1904 and construction began in 1907.

The line was inaugurated on the slightly inauspicious date of 16th of April 1912, the day the world first learned of the sinking of the Titanic. Yet, more than a hundred years later the line is still in service, though more as an exciting piece of heritage than a practical mode of transport. In 1929 the railway was electrified and in the intervening years very little about the experience of riding the train has changed.

The trip

People holidaying in the south of the island will catch their train from the Palma terminal, which is just opposite Plaza de España at the heart of the city and on the boundary of the old town. If you're driving to get there you can park beneath the square.

Safe to say that the city has expanded around the railway, and for a few minutes the train trundles along urban streets before the city thins out and high-rise apartment blocks give way to a more bucolic scene of almond orchards and cabins.

Slowly you'll pull into the foothills of the Serra de Tramuntana, and the stop at Bunyola marks the transition from the plain to the mountains. From here you'll see craggy limestone rock formations, citrus groves and pines.  Not long after Bunyola you'll enter the three-kilometre-long Túnel Major, which was a truly impressive piece of engineering for its day and made the whole route possible.

Emerging from the tunnel you'll be rewarded with a chance to stretch your legs and admire the stunning views provided by the Mirador Pujol de'n Banya. Here you'll be able to look out over Sóller and see the town framed by the formidable mountain peaks in the background. From there the railway begins its rickety descent to Sóller a handsome old town of tapered streets and squares shaded by plane trees. You can stop to see the sights or continue your trip back in time by continuing on to the Mediterranean coast by tram.

Since you've come this far

Sóller needn't be the end of the line, so to speak. You can catch the tram that links the heart of the town with its beautiful little port a couple of kilometres away. This route was opened in 1913 and initially served the dual purpose of getting people as well as natural produce to and from the harbour. The cars are just as carefully preserved and are full of turn-of-the-century features. Keep an eye on the tram number, as 20-24 were all formerly in service in Lisbon before being imported to Mallorca and converted to fit the local track gauge.

And so you've made it to Sóller's beautiful port, most likely in time for lunch by the crystalline waters of this naturally-sheltered harbour.

You can get to this attraction within 20 minutes of the Drivalia car rental depot at Palma de Mallorca Airport (PMI).