In less than two hours from the UK you can be in Oslo, for Bergen, gateway to the glorious Norwegian Fjords aboard a Hurtigruten ship – as iconic as the astonishing geographic landscape you are about to enter, says Anna Gizowska
From the moment the MS Richard With cruises into the navy crystal waters of the Hjørundfjord – a 22-mile long fjord that slices through the Sunnmøre Alps – the ship is so perfectly at home in its magnificent Alpine surroundings that it bobs about like a child’s paper yacht on a boating lake. Park yourself on one of the ship’s seven decks and let the coastline float by – real life doesn’t get prettier than this.
Between the mountains, glaciers and the fjords is a hidden Norway aching to be discovered: fishing villages, farm settlements and barely accessible inlets tucked away along its west coast.
So after a delightful morning cruise in the Hjørundfjord it’s time for our first stop. A small boat ferries passengers to land for lunch at the historic Hotel Union Øye – a luxury hotel for aristocrats and royalty since 1891 and a celebrity favourite today. Try pancakes and ‘geitost’ – a caramelized goat’s cheese like a slab of peanut butter, and just as sweet.
With its fleet of 11 iconic ships, Hurtigruten has made it possible to visit every nook and cranny of this coastline, from Bergen to Kirkenes, in the pampered confines of its working ships. For most settlements Hurtigruten is the only lifeline, with a 120-year history as a postal, delivery and transport service. They even have a prison cell on board – but it’s only for those who don’t pay their bar bill.
And the joy of a cruise like this, is that you can design your own itinerary – you can choose whether you hop on and off, do a five-day cruise or go all the way to the last port.
The MS Richard With, named after the cruise line’s founder, makes room for 634-passengers, but with a restaurant, bar, cafés, Jacuzzi, sauna, gym and viewing decks, the voyage never feels crowded once cruisers disperse around the ship. And don’t be alarmed if you hear the ship’s horn in the early hours – it just means it has docked in one of the 35-ports it serves, 365-days-a-year, in all weather. It adds to the experience when you are tucked up in your comfy cabin watching the liquorice coloured sea, waiting for sunrise.
Expect to be pampered like a five-star guest and fed like a Viking (bring elasticated clothing). Glorious, bountiful Norwegian feasts; there’s so much fresh and plentiful produce, that it’s difficult to not feel like a marauder as you devour the buffet. Salmon, potato salads, meats – hot, cold, roasted; relishes, garnishes, baked breads, pastries; butters, creams, sauces, pastas, smoked delights, every type of fish from salt cod to herring, vegetables, fruit and dessert options. It’s heaven on a never-ending plate.
But you can walk it off around the beautiful Art Nouveau city of Ålesund, the main shipping town in the Sunnamøre Alps region and the prettiest city in Norway. Once largely built of wood, the city was almost entirely destroyed by fire in 1904. Some of the wooden houses still remain and can be seen along the waterfront. To this day its architecture remains protected by the European Art Nouveau Network, which the city is a part of. And if you don’t fancy walking – grab a bicycle. They’re everywhere, neatly lined up around town like modern art installations.
And then another walking tour, this time in Trondheim, the third oldest city in Norway, founded in AD 997 by Viking King Olav Tryggvason – St Olav, the patron saint of Norway. The 11th century Nidaros Cathedral was built on his grave and is Scandinavia’s largest medieval building. The city tour guides speak such excellent English that it’s impossible to tell they are Norwegian. They say English shows and films are never dubbed, which helps them perfect the accent.
By the next morning, between Nesna and Ornes, the ship crosses the Arctic Circle, the must-have tick on everyone’s wish list, symbolized by a globe on a small, floating islet. Each passenger gets a certificate, but not before Neptune (a man in a wig), and the Captain propel ice cubes down passengers’ backs in an Arctic crossing ceremony held up on deck before landing for the next adventure.
If you are travelling between autumn and early April, don’t be surprised if you see the famous Northern Lights once you have crossed the Arctic Circle and arrived in Tromsø.
The ship also docks in Bodø for a bone-shaking RIB boat thrash across the strongest tidal waves in the world, in Saltstraumen, known for its ferocious whirlpools that can span 35-feet and are too dangerous for boats to cross. Dressed in yellow safety gear and goggles, it’s a two-hour thrill ride.
This isn’t just a cruise – it’s an indulgence. But as with all good things, let’s just keep it to ourselves.
GETTING THERE: A seven-day voyage from Bergen to Kirknes with Hurtigruten starts at £936pp, based on two people sharing, and includes full-board. Flights are extra and can be booked via Hurtigruten. For more information visit hurtigruten.co.uk.
Whether you’re looking for a cultural holiday or relaxing break, find your perfect cruise here.