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A trip to Norway’s land of midnight sun, mysterious beasts & myriad waterfalls

Norwegian fjords cruise holidays open up a magical land of majestic waterfalls, soaring rocky peaks and adventure aplenty – Sailawaze’s Editor went to Norway to try it out for herself.

Words by Harriet Mallinson

The Norwegian fjords and turbulent romances have more in common than you might think.

Sometimes, all is peaceful – the silken waters part easily beneath our ship’s bow like a shimmering curtain pulled back from a stage, rivers twinkle a gentle Lucozade blue as they snake through the valleys, and a joyful sun illuminates the mountains’ emerald flanks.

But on other occasions, all hell is let loose; waterfalls charge furiously out of mountains – foaming white horses at full gallop – as their thunderous roars drown out everything around before thick blankets of fog roll in and the world is lost from view.

Yes, Mother Nature is undeniably putting on her finest show across Norway’s west coast (although her love life is perhaps unenviable) as we sail the fjords on Ambassador Cruise Line’s flagship Ambience.

It’s not just a spectacle to be admired from on deck, however. In Eidfjord – on Hardangerfjord, one of Norway’s longest and most picturesque fjords – we sign up for an excursion to get up close to the region’s wonders and pile into kayaks, dwarfed by not only the looming ship but also the forested mountains like life-jacketed hobbits.

Our guide dishes out snippets of history as we work up a sweat paddling past rocky banks, abandoned farms and even bikini-clad Norwegians partying on the shoreline – but cooling off with a dip is not an option. I learn the water is not only freezing but as deep as the mountains are high – and I dread to think what mysterious beasts might lurk in the hidden depths.

Of course mythical beings are a Norwegian speciality. Legend has it trolls make up the majestic rock formations lining the beautiful waterways – the result of being turned to stone when struck by the sun (had they tried SPF 50?).

To “see” some for yourself, hop on the Mount Fløyen funicular during your cruise port of call at Bergen (Ambassador’s excellent city excursion includes tickets) and explore the Troll Forest at the summit.

The scenery here is straight out of a storybook as the sun striates through the pines illuminating moss-strewn rocks, and it’s easy to think a pair of curious eyes could be peering back at you from the undergrowth.

Troll souvenirs are plentiful back in historic Bergen but be sure to get your hands on some fresh seafood, too. Bergen Fish Market hawks fish, shellfish, crabs, lobsters and prawns but is particularly famous for its high-quality salmon. Did you know, Norway introduced salmon sushi to Japan?

More fun facts are to be had from our guide over at the 14th-century Bryggen Hanseatic Wharf, one of the city’s most iconic landmarks and a UNESCO World Heritage site.

I’m both horrified and fascinated to hear that during the city’s 200 or so years of flourishing stockfish trade the German bachelors who lived in the wooden buildings weren’t allowed to heat their rooms in winter due to the fire risk… and apprentices couldn’t leave at all for 10 years! I can see why Scandi knitwear has had such success…

Mercifully, I am permitted to return to the comfort of my (warm and gender diverse) Ambassador ship which whisks us off the next day to what most guests I speak to consider the highlight of the holiday – Flåm.

­ This little Norwegian village is most famous for its railway, Flåmsbana, considered one of the most beautiful train journeys in the world. The 20km journey between Flåm and the mountain station of Myrdal takes around one hour – and lives up to the hype.

We make the most of an Ambassador shore excursion which includes both the fare and a guide, but however you do it, try to sit on the right-hand side for the best views from Flåm.

Our whole carriage is agog with wonder as we take in the idyll unfurling outside: waterfalls cascade through vibrant greenery like a troll’s overflowing bubble bath, and cows are herded along dancing blue rivers – have we inadvertently stumbled into a Norwegian postcard?

At Kjosfossen waterfall our train stops for photo ops, and as I soak up (literally) the clouds of droplets pluming from the charging pack of icy wolves at the crest twinned with the magical effect of the sunlight slicing through, I half expect to snap an Angel of the Lord emerging from the folds with my camera.

As we progress from Myrdal to the village of Voss by rail (top tip: sit on the left for this section) lighter waterfalls shimmying through the birch trees take on new forms – ethereal snowy dancers leap elegantly downwards, ghostly archers unleash a volley of blanched arrows – before we are plunged into the darkness of yet another tunnel, the advert break to Earth’s dazzling documentary.

Back on the ship, man-made entertainment proves pretty great too. Dance, Dance Dance, choreographed by Anton du Beke, is one of my favourites (although the daily programme’s boast that the famous twinkle-toes features is somewhat misleading given he only appears on a screen). The dancing is top-notch, as is the speed at which the talented troupe change costumes while pirouetting through the ages – the high kicks! The splits! The spins!

Enchanted Garden is another popular show among passengers but alas I arrive late and, much like a viewer starting Love Island two episodes in, I miss who has coupled up with whom and the romantic ballads and longing looks are rather lost on me.

Sea days serve up theatre during the day which is very pleasant – a modern retelling of Dorian Grey nicely breaks up an afternoon – and the same venue also hosts lectures on the the Vikings and Ibsen so holidaymakers can do some swotting-up ahead of arrival.

Occasionally I dip into various musical vignettes taking place across the floating hotel or head to a pilates class, but when seeking a spell of dolce far niente I take refuge in The Observatory – the best spot onboard for a moment of sunlit sanctuary and home to high-backed armchairs, where guests in the know can be found reading, playing games and napping.

For the best food onboard pull up a (window-side if possible) pew in speciality restaurant Sea & Grass where I overhear a diner declare the feast “smashing” and the “best meal she’s had in ages.”

Here dishes are ’acts’ rather than courses and are accompanied by dramatic flourishes. My scallops emerge from a bloom of smoke beneath a bell jar and my (not one but two types of) asparagus soup are poured with flair from a brace of teapots simultaneously; Ambassador is nothing if not committed to All Things British. Wine “pairing” is well worth splashing the extra fiver on but note there are only two included despite the seven ‘acts’.

Simpler repasts are to be had in fellow speciality joint Saffron or (free) buffet restaurant Borough Market – and if you secure a spot at the back of the ship you’ll be treated to nature’s very own cinematic display to relish at your leisure.

I dine here as we leave Bergen and am spoiled with marvellous views of barren islands bathing in the rays of midnight sun like half-submerged alligators, diminutive red houses perched on craggy outcrops and dainty boats topped with white sails zipping across the placid waters.

Nature’s own cast of lovers is calm today, it would seem – sweet nothings reign as scorn is silenced and rage restrained – and so our ship carves onwards through the fjords in peace, the next scene afoot.

Set Sail

Springtime Norwegian Fjordland with Ambassador Cruise Line

Duration: 11 nights

Where: London Tilbury, UK | Haugesund, Norway | Bergen, Norway | Flam, Norway | Eidfjord, Norway | Stavanger, Norway | Hristiansand, Norway | Oslo, Sweden | London Tilbury, UK

Ship: Ambience

Price: From £899 pp

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Published 21.08.23