“ Palma to Soller Historic Train „
On my recent trip to Spain I wanted to spend a day out of Palma Nova and revisit Palma de Mallorca, the capital city of the island of Majorca. However doing anything with my daughter tends to lead to arguments and I have learned over the years that it's usually better to just do things on the spur of the moment otherwise she will dismiss any suggestions with a resounding "no".
So I told her we were going to go to Palma and keeping things suitably vague, took a bus from outside our hotel to the Estacio Intermodal in central Palma. From there I crossed the street to the station for the Ferrocarril de Soller (FS), a historic railway that links Palma with the town of Soller on the west coast of the island.
The railway dates from 1912 and was originally built to transport lemons and oranges from the groves on the island to the ports of both Soller and Palma, but nowadays this railway is used predominantly by tourists, although locals do use it too.
I remember being in Palma in 1998 with my husband and this pre-dated the new sleek Estacio Intermodal. We had seen the train from the old bus station and my husband had said we should take the trip up to Soller for the day but with our daughter being just a baby at the time, we reflected it might be too long a day out for her and didn't do it. Losing him has taught me life is too short so I decided this time I was doing it, whether daughter liked it or not.
~~Buying Tickets at Palma~~
I arrived at the FS station at 10.00 am and was delighted to see a train was due to depart at 10.10 am. I quickly informed my daughter we were going to take a "short" train ride, and joined the queue to buy tickets.
Fares are Euro10 one way or Euro17 return. I didn't see any child fares advertised but child fares tend to be for only the very young in Spain anyway.
The ticket office staff were pleasant and efficient and even though I speak only a very little Spanish, I was able to request two return tickets relatively easily, but of course the lady I dealt with spoke fluent English!
The resulting trip ended up becoming a tale of two train journies....
~~Palma to Soller~~
We boarded a train and found it impossible to get two seats together as the train was very busy. Some people seemed to think it was perfectly acceptable to put a bag on a seat to give themselves more room and eventually I found myself sitting beside a rather large male German tourist while my daughter was beside a young Spanish mother with her baby.
The trains are wooden and have beautifully crafted interiors. The seats are reasonably comfortable - if a little small - and the windows remain open at all times. The carriages have artwork of Soller and other towns the train passes through on display too - I found these a lovely touch and one was a beautiful pencil drawing of Soller by a Spaniard which was done when he was 11 years old just before the start of the First World War.
The train left Palma on time and rolled through the city smoothly and quickly. The terrain just outside Palma is very flat and not particularly scenic but up ahead you cannot fail to spot the mountains, and it is towards them that we headed.
I had my camera to hand but it was impossible for me to capture the beauty of the scenery that met us when we hit the mountains due to the sheer number of people on the train who all had the same idea. Ironically my daughter had a window seat, but she spent the entire journey playing on her Nintendo DS!
We passed through several small towns and eventually stopped at a vantage point for about ten minutes allowing us to get out and take photographs over the valley towns from the mountain. I managed to get a picture of my daughter sitting at the window but found it impossible to actually get out of the train due to tourists all wanting their picture taken "boarding the train". To add insult to injury when I went to return to my seat, the German tourist had assumed I wouldn't be back and had put his jacket there instead! He did move it when he saw me but with a certain amount of bad grace I am sad to say. Given the viewing halt we had stopped at wasn't actually a station, I found his attitude to be extremely rude.
The carriages are linked by open areas between one another and you are told not to go outside the carriages while the train is moving, but sadly I saw a British man and his son spend the last 10 minutes of the journey posing about here with their cameras and generally having no concern for their own safety. They seemed not bothered that the train was going through mountainous terrain and had they fallen from some of the drops we encountered the consequences would have been appalling for them. I felt a bit irked at their stupidity I must admit, and I was delighted when the train finally pulled into Soller.
From the station at Soller one can take a tram for another Euro4 return to Port de Soller, and I really fancied doing this but it was a step too far for my daughter, who was vexed and agitated from the journey in the crowded train, complaining the baby beside her had kicked her throughout the entire journey.
The Port is a beautiful part of the island but I decided to give in to her, despite the fact I was almost there, as the trams were crowded with tourists and if there is one thing my daughter struggles with, it's crowds. So instead we enjoyed watching the trams coming and going and had a refreshing drink in a little bar on the station at Soller while we waited for the return train to Palma.
~~Soller to Palma~~
The return journey was far more pleasant given the fact it was much quieter. Clearly all those tourists who had left the train at Soller for the tram were planning on spending the entire day at the Port, meaning the train we caught at 12.15 pm was far less crowded.
Being able to sit by the window and really take in the views enabled me to truly appreciate the engineering feat of this wonderful railway and breathe in the scent of pine which grow in abundance on the mountains.
I really enjoyed being able to take pictures and soak in the stunning views, and having the ability to really take pleasure in the railway journey, which had sadly been impossible due to the commuter train like ambience on the journey to Soller.
The train stops at several halts along the way, and on the return journey we had an extended halt at the town of Bunyola as we awaited arrival of the northbound train so we could continue south on the single track railway.
Bunyola station is beautiful and has been well maintained over the years. The station building has a large clock and beautiful green shutters, and a very old van sits at the station and perhaps was used to deliver goods to market stalls just after the war. It looks as if it is still used and is beautifully preserved, and the whole station and village looked sleepy in a truly nostalgic way.
Being able to see the northbound train pulling in was wonderful and there seems to be a sense of camaraderie between people who are riding these trains whether they are heading north or south, or going to Palma, Soller or somewhere inbetween, with travellers waving to one another as trains went past.
It's worth bearing in mind that while there are some stunning views to see, there are also a lot of tunnels on this line - thirteen to be precise - as the train cuts its way through the Serra de Tramuntana. As we travelled through some of these tunnels I was frequently reminded of the Glasgow subway as I could detect that similar smell of damp, which surprised me somewhat.
Finally the train made its way towards more level ground as Palma came back into view. At this point a little aeroplane flew past - the sort of turboprop that you see up in the air around the Bay of Palma advertising club nights in Magaluf - which added to my feeling we had stepped back in time for a couple of hours as we traveled on this beautiful train.
I do, however, use the word "we" loosely - by the time we were approaching Palma, my daughter was tiring of her Nintendo DS and was also getting hungry, so I had to endure her grumblings for the last part of the trip as she completely failed to appreciate the journey she had been on and repeatedly insisted it was "boring".
By the time we disembarked she was positively grumpy so being very aware of the fact it was siesta time I jumped in a cab to take us to El Corte del Ingles, which has a lovely restaurant that offers stunning views of Palma, and doesn't observe siesta!
I really would recommend this train trip if you are visiting Palma, although be prepared for very busy trains at peak times - I was there in August and the crowds spoke for themselves. If you are visiting Majorca at quieter times it would be far more pleasant.
The journey takes just over an hour and is thoroughly enjoyable. Obviously I wish I could have continued by tram into the Port, and hopefully one day I will get the chance when my daughter is a little older and can appreciate the beauty of the surroundings.
The trains themselves are a joy to ride in - the craftsmanship is evident everywhere on these working museum pieces and I reflected as I sat in a carriage just how skilled the workers were who worked with the wood that made them, and how lovely it is to see something so old still being used to this day.
So take the time to enjoy some of the stunning vistas Majorca has to offer, and breathe in the scent of pine, lemons and the past.
The website is in Spanish but has timetables and fares listed as well as a gallery showing pictures of the railway throughout its history.
It's also worth noting that the railway is closed in December and January for annual maintenance on the line.
***This review has previously been published by me on Ciao under the same user name***