A cruise that will leave you giddy

BREATH­TAK­ING LAND­SCAPES, SUMP­TU­OUS LUX­URY AND SER­VICE – AND A FEW WON­DER­FUL DRAMS THROWN IN FOR GOOD MEA­SURE. WHAT’S NOT TO LIKE ABOUT A NORSE CRUISE? LOUISE CAHILL SETS SAIL TO FIND OUT

The Herald on Sunday - Sunday Herald Life - - Contents -

IT was time for a taste of Scotch whisky. But alas not time for the $299 shot at a tast­ing ses­sion on­board Kon­ings­dam, Hol­land Amer­ica’s first Pin­na­cle Class ship. My hus­band Ron and I are en­joy­ing the seven-day Norse Leg­ends cruise from Am­s­ter­dam, sail­ing to Eid­fjord, Har­dan­ger­fjord, Åle­sund, Geiranger, Ber­gen and Am­s­ter­dam.

We find ‘Notes’, an il­lu­mi­nated bar and seat­ing area, show­cas­ing more than 120 bot­tles of whisky, of which 69 are Scotch. Among th­ese is the $299-per-shot one – a rare bot­tle of 36-year-old Royal Lochna­gar, one of three owned by the ship.

Bev­er­age man­ager Mar­iusz wel­comes us, say­ing: “We try to con­sol­i­date the world of whisky in one place”, and tells us about the dif­fer­ent tast­ing ex­pe­ri­ences, in­clud­ing bour­bon, tatoosh and the con­nois­seur’s collection.

We es­chew the prici­est and sam­ple (slowly!) a Ma­callan 18-year-old, at $45 per shot. Fiji wa­ter’s our com­pan­ion – but not mixed with this pre­cious whisky. Spey­side rules, with the three most pop­u­lar whiskies.

Feel­ing mel­low, we note the Mu­sic Walk near Notes. At night-time, three venues are packed with guests, choos­ing from dif­fer­ent gen­res in­clud­ing rock and blues, chart-top­pers played by two pi­anists, and clas­si­cal. We con­tinue to be cap­ti­vated by the ship’s mu­sic and art fo­cuses; it’s brim­ming with 1,920 pieces of art, many mu­sic-themed such as a wooden, masted ship with a cello as its hull.

But the most cap­ti­vat­ing as­pect of this cruise is its des­ti­na­tions. Sail­ing to­wards Eid­fjord, our first, we en­joy a gala night in the Pin­na­cle Grill, one of sev­eral spe­cial­ity restau­rants. Its menu in­cludes caviar, lob­ster bisque, Alaska king crab legs, and a 36oz steak.

Full of fine food, our group awaits dessert. And then the sur­prise. Hol­land Amer­ica pulls out the stops for our first wed­ding an­niver­sary, proudly pre­sent­ing us with a cho­co­late, straw­berry and kiwi cake and cham­pagne.

Next day, we dock early, so or­der room ser­vice break­fast in our ve­ran­dah state­room on Beethoven deck, be­fore the “Wa­ter­falls and Waf­fle” ex­cur­sion, led by guide Matteo. Eid­fjord is the in­ner­most set­tle­ment on the 179km long Har­dan­ger­fjord, the “Queen of Fjords”. The first tourists were at­tracted about 200 years ago by salmon fish­ing, when this fish ap­par­ently could weigh up to 60lb. Nor­way now pro­duces farmed salmon and trout and is the sec­ond largest seafood ex­porter.

Nor­way’s ex­pe­ri­enc­ing per­fect, hot weather, but Matteo has some sounds ad­vice: “Don’t take sunny days for granted”. He added that peo­ple here are fond of weather fore­casts, how­ever short­lived they might be. ‘They can last forty min­utes!’

On Road 7, link­ing Ber­gen and Oslo, our coach climbs past birch, aspen and spruce. We pass sum­mer and week­end cab­ins, then stop at the stone and gravel walled Sy­sen Dam, hold­ing back Lake Sy­sen, the main reser­voir for Sy-Sima Hy­dro­elec­tric Power Sta­tion. The scene’s cal­en­dar per­fect – blue wa­ter con­trast­ing with snow.

The best bit’s on the Har­dan­gervidda, North­ern Europe’s largest moun­tain plateau. We’re above the tree line, with snow, grass-roofed cab­ins and a tough land­scape, where Roald Amund­sen trained. The Star Wars move The Em­pire Strikes Back was filmed on the glacier in frozen Finse (Hoth in the film).

Our coachload’s get­ting peckish as we reach Halne Moun­tain Lodge, a fam­i­ly­owned and man­aged busi­ness, 3,700 ft above sea level. Long ta­bles are set for hot drinks and waf­fles with sour cream and jam. Sated, our group lis­tens to Matteo talk­ing about Nor­we­gian fauna – lem­mings, moose, arc­tic fox, bears, and rein­deer with hol­low hairs which al­low them to lie in snow with­out freez­ing.

The day’s high­light is Vørings­fos­sen, a spec­tac­u­lar 182-me­tre wa­ter­fall. We nav­i­gate the nar­row pedes­trian walk­ways and stop at view­ing plat­forms. A rain­bow’s set­tled on the rocks amid the cas­cade.

It’s im­pos­si­ble to sur­pass the Nor­we­gian Fjords’ scenery. But other

scenes are ex­quis­ite too. Hol­land Amer­ica’s part­nered with BBC Earth. To our de­light, our cruise is a BBC Earth Ex­pe­ri­ences fea­ture cruise, and its pro­gramme of events, in­clud­ing mas­ter­classes and “Trivia from Earth”, a quiz test­ing our nat­u­ral his­tory knowl­edge, en­hance our voy­age.

On Lido Deck, we meet two mem­bers of the BBC Earth team. Peter Bas­sett’s a free­lance wildlife pro­ducer, who has worked with the BBC Nat­u­ral His­tory Unit for more than 20 years, in­clud­ing on three David At­ten­bor­ough se­ries. Mike Dil­ger’s a broad­caster and nat­u­ral­ist (The One Show), who has worked ex­ten­sively in Scot­land and is ex­cited about the plan to re-in­tro­duce lynx here.

Peter and Mike (“My binoc­u­lars are stitched to my neck”), en­thuse about wildlife. Though Ron and I haven’t spot­ted wildlife, we’re as­sured by ea­gle- eyed Peter that it’s there: “You see the fjords but don’t see birds. Mike and I see them and iden­tify them.”

Kon­ings­dam berths in Geiranger­fjord, the top destination and star of mil­lions of pho­tos. Like count­less visi­tors be­fore us, we travel up Ea­gle Road, with its eleven hair­pin bends, to the first crowded view­point, where cam­eras go crazy as ev­ery­one cap­tures our ship way be­low, wait­ing in the serene fjord. There’s more seren­ity as we travel though a val­ley, to a land­scape like the Siberian tun­dra. The trees are get­ting smaller and smaller and then there’s only grass. Even­tu­ally, we reach conifers and snow-dec­o­rated moun­tains.

The Herdal Moun­tain Sum­mer Farm as been used as a pas­ture farm for 300 years. A few hun­dred goats are due the fol­low­ing week­end to hol­i­day in this grand moun­tain set­ting and most of their milk is sold to a co-op­er­a­tive to make cheese.

Eva, from the Czech Repub­lic, does a ster­ling job in ex­plain­ing how brown cheese is made. Their ap­petites whet­ted, most peo­ple head into one of the many barns, to sam­ple and buy prod­ucts like brown and white goat’s cheese, and goat’s milk caramels. A sum­mer worker from Namibia sits in another barn, stir­ring a huge, black pot of steam­ing whey and milk – the sweet, caramelly smell wafts, while a crowd of penned goat kids clam­our for at­ten­tion nearby.

We long to linger longer, but the high­light sail­away along Geiranger­fjord beck­ons. We rush to the bow and se­cure a front row po­si­tion to sail up to The Seven Sis­ters, a bucket-list, group of wa­ter­falls. Leg­end says the sis­ters were un­mar­ried; the bot­tle-shaped wa­ter­fall op­po­site was named The Suitor af­ter he un­suc­cess­fully courted them.

Af­ter the this spec­tac­u­lar show, the tem­per­a­ture drops on deck and crowds dis­perse. We hover awhile, though, be­fore din­ner at Tamarind, the pan-Asian restau­rant. The ex­ten­sive menu in­cludes sushi and sashimi, shrimp-filled won­tons, Pek­ing duck, and larger meals di­vided into Wa­ter, Fire, Wood and Earth sec­tions. I choose Earth for Veg­e­tar­ian. In­done­sian-style laksa, served from a teapot, spring rolls, and Thai basil, ly­chee and yuzu sor­bets are yummy. The stan­dard of ser­vice is high, as it is ev­ery­where on­board.

As our time on board, one of the last of many highlights is the BBC Earth’s “Planet Earth II in Concert” on the World Stage. En­thralled, a full house watches footage on three huge, panoramic screens, while mu­si­cians play a spe­cially com­posed score to en­hance scenes such as racer snakes chas­ing newly hatched igua­nas, a pair of snug sloths, and som­er­sault­ing pen­guins.

Kon­ings­dam’s Norse Leg­ends’ cruise is gasp-wor­thy. It’s a joy to linger and look closely at as­tound­ing scenery, on and off a beau­ti­ful ship. And a tot of Scotch whisky helps too.

There were many highlights on the trip, but the as­tound­ing Geiranger­fjord stood above them all

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