Explore the picturesque town of Longyearbyen. Credit: Shutterstock

Cruise review: Land of the midnight sun

Author: Lucy McGuire

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Sailing close to the Norwegian coast on a small ship offers not just a glimpse of local wildlife but a deep dive into the Scandinavian country’s culture, says Lucy McGuire

High up in the Arctic at a latitude of 78° north, the Norwegian village of Longyearbyen – distinguished by its pristine wilderness, glassy fjords and looming glaciers – may sound like an unreachable point on the map.

However, spirited travellers can easily explore it – along with Norway’s other remote corners – on expertly curated excursions with Hurtigruten.

Reimagined from a route it launched in 1968, Hurtigruten’s signature Svalbard Express itinerary takes inspiration from historic voyages that have spanned Norway’s coastal route for generations.

It guides travellers from Bergen – the ‘City of Seven Mountains,’ also known for its Unesco-listed lanes – to the northern islands of Svalbard, home of edge- of-the-world villages.

Spots such as Hjørundfjord provide a series of soul-stirring landscapes thanks to the 1,700m peaks of the Sunnmøre Alps, while towns such as Brønnøysund, on the 6,500-island Vega archipelago, are ripe for kayaking and cycling.

The itinerary also features some of the mainland’s most northerly towns including Tromsø – a former stopover for Arctic explorers, often nicknamed the ‘Paris of the North’ – and Honningsvåg, located just 994 miles south of the North Pole.

Experience the midnight sun with Hurtigruten. Credit: Canva.

The Svalbard Express

With 130-plus years of experience sailing the Norwegian coast, Hurtigruten is a pioneer in Nordic adventures.

And on the Svalbard Express – a 16-day voyage that operates between May and September – there’s a ‘slow travel’ approach, giving passengers ample time to explore each of its 16 stops.

You also experience the midnight sun, a phenomenon unique to these summer months when the sun constantly hovers just above the horizon.

Ms Trollfjord

Named after a spectacular fjord in the Vesterålen archipelago, the 500-passenger MS Trollfjord breaks the cruise mould in many ways, its smaller- than-average dimensions allowing it to navigate compact ports and glide beside the stilted houses of the seemingly hidden Lofoten archipelago.

The onboard ambience is informal yet professional, with the ship’s coastal experience team placing authentic exploration of Norway’s culture, heritage, geography and nature high on the agenda.

One day, you might listen to a lecture on the heritage of Norway’s coal-mining communities.

The next, you could join an on-deck guiding session on the Arctic Circle’s native fauna, learning about the whistles of the white beluga whale or the conservation efforts in place to protect the region’s increasingly elusive polar bear.

While on deck, a Coastal Experience Team point out sea eagles hunting for fish, and tell you about all the migratory birds that cross the skies, while sharing fascinating stories of their own thrilling wildlife encounters.

MS Trollfjord features tasteful Scandi-inspired design. Credit: Hurtigruten

A sense of nostalgia

Thanks to its tasteful Scandi-inspired design, the ship evokes a sense of nostalgia, enabling Norway’s cinematic scenery to provide the entertainment.

That’s not to say that MS Trollfjord is devoid of creature comforts: from its two-storey lounge (the perfect setting in which to sip a Nordic aquavit) to the saunas that deliver panoramic sea views, a quiet luxury permeates throughout.

Farm-and-fjord-to-table flavours

Fine-dining enthusiasts will find themselves among like-minded souls as MS Trollfjord’s three elegant restaurants are helmed by exceptional talent such as the Norwegian-born head chef Øistein Nilsen, who champions sustainable, locally sourced ingredients and authentic flavours.

Depending on what’s in season, you might taste the complex, gamey flavours of reindeer stew at Brasserie Árran, which pays homage to the heritage of the indigenous Sámi people, or sample tender cod from Vesterålen at Røst, a venue acclaimed for its clever use of ocean ingredients including seaweed, urchins and roe.

Then there’s Flora, which shines a light on Norway’s farm-grown kelp and trove of edible herbs.

Like the small-scale ship in which it sits, everything here is delivered thoughtfully and responsibly, with a deep respect for historic communities and the Arctic’s fragile ecosystem – leaving a lasting impression long after your voyage

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