If you’re the kind of person who likes to take things nice and slow on holiday, then the venerable old train that runs from Palma de Mallorca to Sóller is clearly for you.
It takes over an hour to travel just 27 km/16.7 miles, from coast to (almost) coast, so this is clearly a line where nothing happens in a hurry.
That’s partly because the ancient locomotives (and they are ancient!) have to tackle the formidable barrier of the Serra de Tramuntana mountains, which bar the way between Palma and Sóller. That involves much slow and steady climbing, with innumerable twists, turns and tunnels on the way.
The railway began life more than a century ago, a single-track, narrow-gauge line built to connect the capital with the orange and lemon growing area around Sóller. The line was electrified in 1929, and both the locomotives and carriages haven’t changed a great deal since.
There’s plenty of well-varnished wood, brass lamps and leather seats on show. When you board the train, you clamber up iron steps to a traditional outside platform at the front and back of every carriage, the kind you last saw in the closing credits of a western movie.
And as the train chugs out of Palma station, there’s plenty of old-school hooting, whistling and clankety-clank noises.
So what’s to see?
The train rattles along through the suburban streets of Palma and out into the countryside, past the Hippodrome (trotting races are a big thing in Mallorca) and through fields of fruit trees.
Soon enough, you leave the flat coastal strip behind and the mountains of the Tramuntana take up most of the view. The tram stops at the little town of Bunyola at the foot of the Serra Alfàbia, and then the ascent really begins
There are 13 tunnels along the line, which must have taken some serious engineering. The big daddy is a seemingly endless three kilometre long tunnel at the highest point of the line, 200m above sea level. That delivers you through the mountain and out into the Sóller valley on the other side.
The train stops for photo opportunities at the Pujol d’en Banya mirador and there’s plenty to look at. To say the mountains are spectacular is kind of an understatement.
Then it’s a leisurely trundle down the valley and into the little town of Sóller itself. Take in the Sant Bartomeu church which dominates the main square, its striking modernist facade designed by one of Gaudí’s disciples, We joined the tourist crowds to grab an ice cream and have a bit of a wander.
El Puerto de Sóller
For more rail-related adventure, head on down to the coast on the Tram de Sóller. It’s another piece of railway history, built around the same time as the line that brought you over from Palma. It’s owned by the same company and the trams depart right next to the train station.
Ironically nicknamed Red Lightning (well, it is red, at least!), the tram rumbles very slowly past the shops and ice-cream toting tourists for the five-kilometre run downhill to Puerto de Sóller.
Stand on the open platforms at the end of the carriages for the best view as the tram trundles along the Puerto de Sóller seafront (on the left on the way down, on the right on the way up).
The bay is stunning – it has a narrow entrance from the open sea and it’s hemmed in by mountains on all sides, so it sits in a huge natural bowl. Puerto de Sóller is relatively unspoiled, and it’s a great place to grab a beer and/or a bite to eat and enjoy the view.
A group of investors tried to take over the line in 2019. With around a million passengers a year, somebody clearly thought it was a smart move. But they reckoned without the small shareholders of Sóller itself.
Lots of local families owned stock in El Ferrocarril de Sóller, dating from the time when money was raised to build the line in the first place. According to this piece, most of the 172,000 shares are owned by around 800 locals.
And a majority said no. So that was that. Result!
Booking your ticket
You can reserve up to 7 days ahead of time online here. Recommended to avoid on-the-day queues.
Buy a combined return ticket for the train to Soller and tram to Puerto de Soller for €32. Pricey but well worth it.
If you want to travel same day, you need to buy a ticket in person at the station booking office. The platform does get crowded ahead of departure, so get there in plenty of time if you want to sit together with friends or family.
© Guy Pelham
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