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