The fabulous Fjords of Norway are a feast for sore eyes
Glaciers, fjords, islands, the coast and the sea, you come into close contact with wild and dramatic scenery, steep mountains and waterfalls there before you, writes leading travel journalist, Kate Morfoot from lovetoeattotravel.com.
Without having to leave your bedroom or move from the top-deck Jacuzzi, the most stunning scenery gently glides by, allowing you to feast your eyes on spectacular rock formations, gleaming waterfalls and miles of crystal azure water.
I am on a Fred Olsen cruise ship from Southampton heading to Norway. The Balmoral is an impressive vessel and it is my home for a week, sold under the befitting banner of, ‘Phenomenal Fjords and Thundering Waterfalls.’
The ship is nearly 220m long and 30m wide and it’s crewed by 510 enthusiastic and attentive staff looking after 1350 passengers. Cabin accommodation is varied. You can choose a premier or superior cabin or a balcony suite, inside or outside. I opted for a superior outside cabin with a balcony, it gave us lots of comfortable space and the balcony was perfect for sight-seeing. You could easily spend the entire week just relaxing on the balcony not having to go anywhere!
However, if you don’t wish to spend the entire cruise in your room placing orders for the excellent room service and watching the view, then there is a mountain of things to keep you entertained on board.
Interesting port talks, bridge and craft classes, cooking demonstrations, guest speakers, dancing, yoga or Pilates classes, and this is all before breakfast! Aside from all the entertainment you also have to make time to enjoy all the food the chefs have prepared. At the start of the week you are watching what you eat, by the end of the holiday a full English breakfast, three course lunch and a five course supper is the norm, and you begin to wonder how you ever managed to survive with just a one course meal at home.
A highlight worth experiencing is the ‘White Glove Service’ tea time with speciality loose teas immaculately served to you in a traditional way in the Observatory Lounge on the top Deck 11. This area at the front of the ship has fabulous panoramic views and it is a special place to spend an afternoon.
Adjacent to the Observatory Lounge on top Deck 11, you will find lots of space on the sundeck to sit outside. There is a bar, a swimming pool with two Jacuzzis, together with sunbathing loungers and comfortable seating to read your book or chat to your new found friends.
After a busy day meeting new people, being entertained and what seemed like eating your body weight in delicious food, the only thing left to do is to get ready for the night’s entertainment. There are two formal dress nights and the remainder are smart casual. Most ladies visit the Beauty Salon and Hairdressers on the Highland Deck where there’s some amazing treatments to choose from. Over the week, I spent some time having my hair done, getting a relaxing back massage and also received a Collagen Facial treatment. The therapists and hairdressers are very professional and well trained.
The evening shows are spectacularly good. We were treated to a comedian, a fantastic musical production that included all the big hits as well as a specular performance of the World’s Got Talent on Water from many of the crew that proved to be talented singers, dancers and musicians. If that’s not your thing, then you can head to the Casino tables for some Roulette and Black Jack or the Library and Internet Room to catch up on reading and current affairs.
This holiday is one of Fred Olsen’s more popular routes, there’s so much to see while cruising and not too much time at sea. The on-shore trips and activities are well organised. Disembarking the ship is straightforward as I boarded one of the ship’s tenders to be transported to the quayside. My first stop was Flam, it lies on the shores of Sognefjord, at a little over 193kms/120 miles, it’s the world’s longest fjord. For the on-shore excursion I chose kayaking and I was relieved to find that our group were not doing the whole stretch! 11 of us set off in yellow kayaks on our watery adventure, past stunning waterfalls and green tree covered mountains. After 5km we pulled our kayaks up on a grassy bank where Jack our Canadian guide magically produced food, tea and lit a BBQ.
There is a lot more to do in this pretty place with the famous Kjosfossen Waterfall and viewpoint situated just outside Flam. There is an interesting trip by express boat to Bergen, from where passengers return to Flam by the picturesque railway. Also you can take a three-hour sightseeing cruise taking you to ancient churches or on a tour of the Aurland Shoe Factory. All the trips can be booked before your cruise.
The next morning I woke up in Olden, home to Norway’s largest glacier. The glacier I was excited about visiting was the Briksdal Glacier located 24km into the Oldedalen Valley. After a short coach journey, mainly through mountain tunnels, we arrived. You can walk up to see the glacier or take an electric car. Along the way you will see foaming rivers and waterfalls all the same. It’s an imposing and impressive sight where it looks like a river is set in stone at the top of the mountain.
The last two on-shore trips I did included Bergen, Norway’s second largest city and Stavanger, an architectural town. In Bergen, I soaked up the maritime atmosphere and stumbled upon a fish market selling lobster, salmon, giant crabs, whale meat and caviar. Behind each stall were tables and chairs where there was fish soup and curry on offer as well as delicious salmon and prawn salads. Being a seafood lover, I tried the fish soup which was delicious and full of meaty salmon and white fish.
After lots of retail therapy, a climb up the spiral staircase to the top of Rosencrantz Tower at the harbour and a necessary ‘expensive’ pint in the Norwegian restaurant, Egon, (£12 for ¾ litre of lager), I headed back to the ship for an obligatory three course lunch in the Spey Restaurant. Back on board, you can relax, feel at home and will be well looked after and catered for by friendly staff.
Stavanger is most impressive with windy streets and unique independent shops selling high class Norwegian goods such as knit-wear, throws and home-ware. The ‘old town’ is full of stunning timber houses, a cathedral and fabulous restaurants. This coastal town is the last stop on the cruise. From here I took a boat trip to Lysefjord, a fjord which is 42 km long.
The Lysefjord was formed by glaciers during the last ice age, about 10,000 years ago, Norway was covered with a layer of ice that was up to 2,000 meters thick. The fjord is a deep ravine between mountainous valley sides and it is there where you reach Pulpit Rock, a truly memorable sight and experience. It’s one of the most famous attractions in Norway. The top of the cliff is approximately 25 metres by 25 metres square and almost flat. Looking up from out boat, it rises vertically 604 meters above the fjord. The view from the boat was incredible; I could only imagine what the view from the top would be like.
This cruise also took in the sight of the Hengjane Waterfall, where pure fresh water plummets 400 metres down into the fjord. This combined with classical music, was one of my best Nordic experiences! En route back to the cruise ship, the boat stopped at the Helleren Fjord restaurant for cups of tea, waffles, cream and strawberry jam. Having had the ‘obligatory’ English breakfast before embarking on this boat trip, of course, I felt compelled to eat this as well!
Be warned, the fjords are a feast for sore eyes, but leave the diet until you get home!