WHEN you travel to the Arctic Circle in the depths of winter to see the Northern Lights, you’d be a bit disappointed if they didn’t show up, which is possible as the Aurora Borealis are nothing if not unpredictable.
This was exactly what happened on our four-day fam trip. But despite the sky’s failure to light up, we enjoyed so many other unique experiences in this frozen playground that seeing the awesome night-time spectacle would have been simply the icing on the cake.
Hurtigruten, which has changed its name from Norwegian Coastal Voyage, has several itineraries to the Arctic, all of which include a mini cruise on the ferry of the same name that plies the coast from Bergen to Kirkenes in the far north.
For many in our group the highlight of our trip came at the beginning with an overnight stay at the Alta Igloo Ice Hotel, built entirely of snow and ice.
As it melts every summer and has to be rebuilt every January, its shape changes but it generally sleeps about 60 in monk-style two-bed rooms. This version has a wedding chapel, honeymoon suite and a bar decorated with ice sculptures.
Beds are built of blocks of ice covered in mattresses and reindeer skin. The hotel, which has a restaurant, showers, saunas and hot tubs in a separate, centrally-heated building, provides sleeping bags, and if you take two and stuff one inside the other you will be warm and cosy despite the surroundings.
Most of our group said they slept as soon as their heads hit the ice, although one woke with frozen hair (tell clients to take hats).
For clients who want some extra excitement, the hotel offers snowmobile tours (driver’s licence required) through the surrounding woods up on to the mountain plateau, where the stillness and the light on the crisp, snowy landscape are indescribable.
From Alta it is a four-hour journey to Honningsvag, a remote and icy town where you can pick up the Hurtigruten ferry to Kirkenes on the Russian border. If there’s time before your ship sails, you can take a 30-minute drive up to the North Cape, where you get uninterrupted 360-degree views of Europe’s northernmost point.
One of the Hurtigruten ships sails every day from Bergen to Kirkenes, hugging the rugged coastline for much of the 2,500-mile journey, so you can get on and off wherever you please. We boarded in Honningsvag and spent one night on the ship as it travelled round the North Cape, disembarking the next morning in Kirkenes.
Clients booking Hurtigruten’s three-day North Cape and the Ice Hotel Adventure itinerary, which costs from £795, fly back to the UK from here, but there is the option to extend the tour with a range of other excursions.
We went for the latter, travelling out to sea on a dinghy and watched a brooding Russian called Anton dive into the black waters to hunt for the mutant crabs, which stretch for up to two metres and weigh 15 kilos.
Eventually he emerged with three crabs, each with bodies as big as dinner plates. Back at the resort they were cooked for lunch, and were certainly fresh, if a little chewy.
Clients looking for a more cultural experience may prefer one of the Hurtigruten itineraries that include a visit to Karasjok, the capital of the unique Sami people who live in Norwegian, Swedish and Finnish Lapland.
Here you can visit reindeer herders, try your hand at reindeer driving, learn about the history and the future of the indigenous Sami population, sample local delicacies (reindeer stew, smoked reindeer and reindeer steaks) or spend an evening in a Lavvo tent listening to traditional singing.
And who knows, they may even remember to turn the Northern Lights on.
MS Trollfjord is one of 11 ships in the Hurtigruten fleet that offers daily sailings from Bergen to the Arctic. Packages include flights to Bergen, Trondheim, Tromso, Alta or Kirkenes.
3 / 5
Life on board
It’s a cross between a smart ferry and a small cruise ship, but with a Scandinavian feel. There’s a relaxed atmosphere.
4 / 5
The cabins are small, with a single bed and a sofa bed, en-suite shower, dressing table, wardrobe, and port hole. Although the ship sails at night, there isn’t much movement. There are mini-suites and rooms for disabled passengers.
4 / 5
Food and drink
Packages include buffet-style breakfast and dinner. The food is great if you love seafood, but not so good for vegetarians. The deserts are good and breakfast buffet substantial.
3 / 5
Extremely. The onboard staff are relaxed and friendly, but efficient too.
5 / 5
There’s a fabulous sauna, two hot tubs on the deck, an Internet café (£5 for 30 minutes), a reading room with panoramic views, and evening entertainment.
3 / 5
Definitely, for those who want to relax and enjoy the scenery.
Hurtigruten has a three-day North Cape and Ice Hotel Adventure, which includes overnight cruise from Honningsvag to Kirkenes, from £795 including flights, half-board accommodation, transfers and tour manager.
Total rating: 22/30
|What they said|
Aodhan Smyth of Thomas Cook, Belfast, on dog sledging
“It was great. You can take it in turns to stand on the back of the sledge and steer, shouting at the dogs to run faster. We also had a go at reindeer riding and that was really good fun.”
Caroline Barry of Thomas Cook, Milton Keynes, on the MS Trollfjord
“It was nicer than I expected and the food was excellent. There was a good choice and a fantastic range of seafood. I’d definitely recommend it. The ship’s got a nice relaxed feel. You wouldn’t feel out of place in jeans or in smart clothes.”
Paula Martin of Thomas Cook, Southampton West Quay, on the King Crab Safari
“Going out on to the boat to watch someone dive for these enormous crabs was excellent, but the crab itself wasn’t as nice as I’d imagined. It was okay, but I couldn’t manage to eat more than a few claws! It was certainly fresh, though.”