Norway and all it has to offer
PUBLISHED: 13:03 25 November 2013 | UPDATED: 13:03 25 November 2013
It may be better known as a winter destination, but Norway's Midnight Sun means summer holidaymakers get to make the most of every waking minute.
Having arranged a trip to Norway, I was expecting three things – Christmas jumpers, polar bears and frost bite. At this point I would like to stress that my knowledge of all things Norwegian was loosely based on improbable stereotypes and the Philip Pullman His Dark Materials trilogy. There are in fact polar bears in Norway, but they are much further north than Tromsø airport (which, handily, has a new direct route from Gatwick, with Air Norwegian).
The first thing that struck me about the country was not the frost bite or the wildlife, but the sun. I arrived in the early evening, and it felt like midday. Having unpacked, eaten at a superb local fish restaurant (all the fish is fantastic in Norway), and taken a cable car to survey the scenery from above the town, it was gone midnight, and it barely felt dusky. Locally they call this the ‘midnat sol’, as it doesn’t get dark at all in Tromsø between May and September. Through the winter, there are only two hours of shady sunlight in the day. The midnat sol takes some getting used to, the hardest part being persuading your body that it’s bedtime, and it certainly didn’t lose its novelty during my stay.
The next day, I was to board the appropriately named Midnat Sol, part of the Hurtigruten fleet, in Tromsø, but, as there was so much sunlight between getting up for breakfast and embarkation that evening, I managed to fit in some kayaking on the fjords (the water is freezing, don’t fall in), and a visit to a Husky farm. The latter was quite surreal, as the only snow to be seen was up on the mountain peaks, but it certainly brought home the fact that through the winter, these dogs are a viable way to get around. I was also shown the best place to watch the Northern Lights – a huge draw for tourists during the winter months. The sky is so clear that you can’t imagine they’d be anything but spectacular.
Having listened to a concert in Tromsø’s Arctic Cathedral, which is shaped more like a piece of modern art than a cathedral, and had a glass of wine in a local bar (the prices are sky high), I boarded the Midnat Sol at 1am. The boat was actually on a 12-day round trip from Bergen, heading north, then down the coast and back up to its starting point. Passengers can book for the whole trip, or join and leave at a pre-arranged point. There are around three stops each day, but also masses of excursions on offer. I opted for a sea eagle safari, which didn’t disappoint, as I counted 12 of the magnificent birds swooping in to catch a fish, mere metres from my vantage point. In the winter, the most popular of these excursions is the whale watching, which looked incredible. I was told that it was unusual to see any whales in the summer, but was delighted (almost to the point of excitable tears), when a pod of around 50 orca whales swam past the ship one evening.
I can’t possibly continue without paying homage to the scenery – take your pick from breathtaking, awe-inspiring and jaw-dropping. The mountains are spectacular, the water is emerald green, and there are waterfalls around every corner. As you pass through the Arctic Circle on the trip, the weather is understandably cold, even in the sunshine, so in midwinter I’d imagine it’s pretty bracing.
My one regret was that I couldn’t do it all – the summer is superb for its kayaking, sightseeing and sea eagles, but the winter would be equally so, with its whale watching, husky sledding and Northern Lights. I would be hard-pushed to pick a preferred season, but this I do know – I would go back in an instant, and a Hurtigruten ship is a fantastic way to see everything that you could want, in comfortable, friendly surroundings, with the best tour guides the country has to offer.
A 12-day round trip from Bergen with Hurtigruten costs £3,031 per person, including return flights from Gatwick, with full board (0844 272 8961; www.hurtigruten.com)