A cruise with a view

Chris Hurley enjoys a week on board Fred Olsen’s Black Watch cruising the Norwegian Fjords

 Cruising ticks many boxes for many people.  No flying, no fuss, no luggage restrictions, entertainment and fabulous food included in the price are just a few that spring to mind.   However, after a week sailing through the magnificent Norwegian fjords aboard Fred Olsen’s Black Watch, I think I can tick a few more. 

The first penny dropped, quite literally, when we picked up the bill after enjoying a drink during a shore excursion.  The equivalent of £14 for a pint of beer suggested that holidaying in Scandinavia is not a cheap experience. But, fortunately, this wasn’t something  that bothered us, as the cost of our food and accommodation had already been taken care of.  In an instant, the cocktail of the day back at our floating hotel for less than £4 seemed a real bargain. 

One of the best bits though was having a room with such an amazing and constantly changing view. Cruising alongside such spectacular scenery and waking up to the sight of snow capped mountains reflected in the sparkling fjords was a welcome contrast to miles of open sea. It was rather like being on a riverboat but with all the facilities of a big ship. 

Admittedly, getting here had been less than plain sailing. But the stormy North Sea crossing was the price that sometimes has to be paid for the no hassle departure from Dover, where luggage is whisked from quayside to cabin and the holiday atmosphere starts well before the white cliffs are out of sight. 

Our first port of call was picturesque Bergen, the ‘Gateway to the Fjords’ and Norway’s second largest city. The waterfront area, The Bryggen, which is a World Heritage site, is the heart of Medieval Bergen and has been burnt down and rebuilt many times over the last 600 years.  These days, the pretty coloured wooden houses that line the cobbled seafront are mainly craft shops and cafes but there’s plenty of the flavour of local life in the fish market with its stalls piled high with cured salmon, shellfish and even whale meat. 

We took a coach tour through the city before calling in at the summer residence and resting place of Norway’s most famous composer, Edward Grieg. Exhibits in the enchanting house include his Steinway piano and you can see the wooden cabin where the composer worked, no doubt inspired by the idyllic views of the lake. There’s also a concert hall where we were treated to a recital of his works. 

Next day we docked at Olden – a very appropriate place to celebrate my husband’s birthday.  As our coach made its way up through winding roads to explore the hinterland, the scenery was breathtaking.  It was straight from a picture book with white wooden houses dotted over the mountainsides, lush green banks, cascading waterfalls and shimmering lakes.  We were even lucky enough to catch a rare sighting of a fjord horse with its distinctive black stripe from nose to tail. 

Getting to the Briksdal Glacier involved a 45-minute steep hike crossing a turbulent river and ascending over a thundering waterfall but for those not inclined to walk there was a shuttle truck. No matter how one got there, getting up close to the glacier with its bright turquoise tongue of ice glistening  in the sunlight was something not to be missed. 

Any hopes that the exercise had burnt a few of the calories that are the penalty of cruise cuisine were soon dashed when we were greeted back at base with coffee and home-made gingerbread and pastries which were all included in the excursion price.   I made a mental note that today I really would visit the ship’s gym and maybe even sign up for that pilates class. 

If my husband hadn’t found all this enough of a birthday treat, the waiters made sure it wasn’t an evening to forget when they clustered around our table at dinner with a cake and a rousing chorus of happy birthday. And as we were paying onboard rather than Scandinavian prices, we could afford to push the boat out with some very reasonably priced bottles of Bolly. 

Next day, nursing our hangovers, we travelled inland from the port of Flam where we went with a small group to find out about life on the remote Holo sheep farm that’s perched some 470 metres above sea level. The farm dates back to 1752 and I wondered whether much had changed as the farmers, Lil and Per Dale proudly showed us around the old smoke house where meats were cured and the small brewery where, in true hair-of-the-dog fashion we couldn’t resist sampling a glass of the potent wheat beer. 

Inside the cosy farmhouse, which reminded me of the woodcutter’s cottage in Sleeping Beauty (complete with spinning wheel) we were invited to try the local specialities. There was reindeer sausage, cured hams, homemade flat bread, goat’s cheese, smoked reindeer and smoked lambs leg.  As we emerged after our feast, the mists had cleared to reveal a wonderful view of the Flam valley.

The cruise provided a variety of ways to appreciate the fjords.  You could see them from the road, from the railway or on a hike and those feeling particularly active could follow our example and get very up close and personal to the fjords by paddling through them in a Kayak from the port of Eidjford 

Now I will admit to being a little afraid – well very afraid – as my husband and I took to the water in our tiny craft. From the very beginning the kayak seemed to have a mind of its own and veered off in the wrong direction taking us underneath the towering bows of Black Watch moored nearby. Although we had clearly got the kayaking equivalent of a supermarket trolley with a wonky wheel we somehow managed to get back on course.  As we paddled past banks dotted with pine trees, the water was as still as a millpond, mirroring the majestic mountains above us.   Just us drifting in tranquil silence,  with the only sounds coming from the abundant bird life  and gently lapping water, I felt really at one with nature.  Yet another of those magical travelling moments! 

From that highpoint it was homeward bound. On the return journey the North Sea was as calm as the fjords themselves and a day at sea was a relaxing way to round it all off. Not that there was any shortage of things to do, whether it was enjoying a swim, indulging in a massage, joining a craft class or simply curling up with a book from the ship’s library.  Black Watch, like all of the Fred Olsen fleet, is more country house than big hotel and with only 800 people on board, it’s very friendly and there’s always someone around to have a chat with. 

Friendliness is very much the hallmark of Fred’s ships. Passengers return year after year, form friendships with each and get to know the crew.  It’s also popular with solo travellers being one of the few cruise lines offering single cabins.  And once on board there are welcome receptions for singletons and dance hosts to make sure that nobody feels like a wallflower. 

At fifty something, we were probably at the lower end of the age scale and, while no-one stayed up much after the midnight buffet, there was plenty of opportunity to have a good time.  There were cabarets and entertainment every night, the karaoke proved a great source of amusement and I even learnt to dance.  

As I said, cruising ticks lots of different boxes for different people but for me the real joy of this one was getting as close as we possibly could to the beauty and nature of the fjords while enjoying the luxury and relatively low prices on board our reassuringly big ship.

 

 

Fact File

Chris sailed to ‘Bergen and the Fjords of Norway’ on Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines’ ship Black Watch. A similar cruise is W1212, also on Black Watch, departing from Dover on 2nd September 2012 and calling at Bergen, Flǻm, Eidfjord and Stavanger, returning to Dover on 9thSeptember 2012.This cruise is one of several currently being offered at a discounted price. The prices for this seven-night cruise start from £629 (brochure price is £819) per person, based on two adults sharing an inside twin-bedded cabin, and include all food and entertainment on board, and port taxes.

Shore Excursions

  • Grieg’s Bergen. Four-hour excursion, priced at £56 per person
  • Briksdal Glacier. Four-hour excursion, priced at £62 per person
  • Flam – Holo Farm. Three-hour excursion, priced at £95 per person
  • A kayaking experience with FlatEarth Adventures is approximately £30 per person

For further information on this cruise, and all Fred. Olsen cruises, visit www.fredolsencruises.com, call Reservations Department on 01473 742424, or see your local ABTA travel agent.

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