RULE BRITANNIA ...

THE MAJESTY OF NOR­WAY’S FJÖRDS LEAVES JOSHUA KNAPMAN LOST FOR WORDS

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SWAP­PING cruise ship Britannia for a smaller, al­beit per­fectly com­fort­able, taxi at the port in Southamp­ton, our driver asked what the Nor­we­gian Fjörds were like.

Maybe it was the 7am postcruise tired­ness kick­ing in, or sim­ply be­cause the mag­nif­i­cence of the Nor­we­gian land­scape was al­most in­de­scrib­able, but we just had no words.

Af­ter say­ing noth­ing for what felt like too long to be deemed good so­cial eti­quette, I scram­bled for the right ad­jec­tives: “Amaz­ing. Breath­tak­ing. In­cred­i­ble.”

But P&O’s week-long cruise around the Nor­we­gian Fjörds is not just about the stun­ning scenery that this pic­turesque coun­try of­fers.

This one, to me at least, felt more like a hol­i­day of two parts.

Firstly, there’s the Nor­we­gian as­pect which, as you may have guessed, is worth the visit, and se­condly there’s the culi­nary as­pect.

Along with the fan­tas­tic foodie of­fer­ings on board from top restau­rants – Atol Kochhar’s In­dian eaterie Sindhu and the fancy,

fine-din­ing Epi­curean among them – the cruise al­lows guests to learn and get their hands dirty in the kitchen.

One of the first ac­tiv­i­ties we got to try was the cook­ery class, hosted by French pâtissier and celebrity chef Eric Lan­lard.

The cruise has a num­ber of “food he­roes” in­clud­ing Marco Pierre White and Olly Smith (the wine ex­pert from Satur­day Kitchen).

On our trip, it was Eric. The cel­e­brated pas­try chef held a class where he taught par­tic­i­pants how to make a lemon meringue cup­cake, iced cake pops and, most im­pres­sively, an ap­ple souf­flé.

The souf­flé was a step-by-step cook-a-long and the whole thing was a few hours of fun you don’t re­ally ex­pect to have at sea.

Eric is a won­der­ful host too, with plenty of sto­ries to share, and ev­ery­one left laugh­ing and smil­ing.

We met up with Eric for a fi­nal time, dur­ing an ex­cur­sion around the Nor­we­gian town of Sta­vanger.

It’s a town with an in­ter­est­ing his­tory, which our guide talked about – but this trip was an­other one for food lovers (although we did sneak off to take a look at Nor­way’s old­est cathe­dral).

In Sta­vanger, we vis­ited a small ar­ti­san food quar­ter called Fer­menten, made up of a cheese­mak­ing fac­tory (called Sta­vanger Ys­teri), a mi­cro­brew­ery (Yeast­side Brewing) and a cof­fee shop/café.

Each of the venues gave a run­down – and more im­por­tantly, samples – of their prod­ucts.

It’s a side of Nor­way that, with­out or­gan­is­ing an ex­cur­sion through the cruise, you prob­a­bly wouldn’t stum­ble upon.

Af­ter the ‘show and tell’ start to our day, we headed to a restau­rant/ cook­ery school, where we recre­ated a pop­u­lar dessert at the restau­rant, which in­volved mak­ing hay ice cream from scratch.

Yes, that’s hay as in pet shops, feed it to the horses, hay.

Our sec­ond ex­cur­sion came dur­ing the stop at Flåm. It’s a small Nor­we­gian vil­lage, with an ex­cel­lent lit­tle pub just near where the cruise docks.

It’s like some­thing straight out of The Shire in Lord of the Rings and def­i­nitely worth a post-day out pint – which we needed. The ex­cur­sion we de­cided to opt for here was kayak­ing through the fjörds from Gud­van­gen. The fjörds are re­garded as a world her­itage site; and it was sim­ply breath­tak­ing.

This part of Nor­way was es­pe­cially pretty and kayak­ing on the still wa­ters be­neath the pic­turesque moun­tains ei­ther side is a mem­ory that won’t quickly be for­got­ten.

If you love the out­doors and gor­geous scenery, I can’t rec­om­mend this enough. We pad­dled about six kilo­me­tres be­fore stop­ping for lunch on a small bit of land be­fore the wa­ter met the sea. Our Nordic Ven­tures guide rus­tled up the food on a por­ta­ble stove while we wearily took in the won­drous views, un­til it was time to hop back in the kayak and pad­dle back.

Like I said, we needed the drink after­wards.

In fact, we de­cided to spend the next day in the spa, where we re­ceived full body, hot stone mas­sages to coun­ter­act the aches from the pre­vi­ous day’s ef­forts on the wa­ter.

Our fi­nal port of call was Ber­gen, Nor­way’s sec­ond big­gest city.

Here, it felt more mod­ern, with plenty of shop­ping op­por­tu­ni­ties and more a

city feel than the other stops. How­ever, we took a (very steep) train up a moun­tain to an area called Fløyen, where we en­joyed spectacula­r views of the city below, and a con­trast­ing wood­land area, with wild goats that come out to greet tourists.

It was a slightly sur­real, yet some­what re­lax­ing, walk atop the moun­tain wood­lands and lake. The city below felt like a whole other world.

Back on board, we dined at two of the restau­rants, the afore­men­tioned Sindhu and The Epi­curean.

Sindhu put a fan­tas­tic, fine-din­ing edge of amaz­ing, gen­er­ously por­tioned In­dian food, while The Epi­curean was all about din­ner and a show – the Crêpes Suzette, flam­béed at the ta­ble is ex­actly the sort of show­man­ship you can ex­pect here.

As some­one who’d never been on a cruise, I wasn’t en­tirely sure what to ex­pect. I as­sumed the guests would be much older, with very lit­tle in the way of things to do for peo­ple closer to my age. But I was pleas­antly sur­prised to see peo­ple of all ages en­joy­ing the trip, and we didn’t stop for the whole seven days we were there.

Whether it was ex­plor­ing the ship, re­lax­ing by one of the pools, tak­ing in the sea views or en­joy­ing a cock­tail in the Crows Nest bar, even the sea days of­fered some­thing.

I could get used to a life on the high seas, even if I still haven’t found an ad­jec­tive pow­er­ful enough to de­scribe the ex­pe­ri­ence.

In­side Britannia Kayak­ing in Gud­van­gen

Pas­try chef Eric Lan­lard tak­ing a class

Britannia (on the right) docked in Sta­vanger More food on Britannia

Ber­gen from Fløyen

Break­fast on bal­cony, over­look­ing the fjords at Flåm

Food at Sindhu

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