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Travel review: Cruising the Norwegian Fjords with Cruise and Maritime Voyages

When Robert Louis Stevenson coined the phrase to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive, the year was 1881 - well before the era of overcrowded airports, hellish trains and gridlocked motorways.

For most of us holidays have become about surviving the getting-there.

But there is still a travel experience that continues today to combine the majesty of journeying with some stunning arrivals. Step forward cruises. And particularly sailing to one of the world's most unspoilt areas: The Norwegian Fjords.

Magellan docked on the Eidfjord
Magellan docked on the Eidfjord

Me and my partner were on an eight-night trip with Cruise and Maritime Voyages (CMV), on board Magellan leaving from the Port of Tilbury.

As a cruise-novice, the first pleasant surprise was the ease of getting to the ship. Tilbury is just across the Thames from Gravesend and arriving there took just 45 minutes from our Maidstone home making it an easy base for Kent passengers. And, as seasoned regulars know, your luggage is deposited at your cabin, meaning the stressy-faffing-bits are over with as soon as you park the car.

As soon as the ship sets sail, the fun begins. For us that was about pulling up a sun lounger on an outside deck, grabbing a drink and watching Kent slip away - first through the Medway Towns, past the Isle of Sheppey and a turn somewhere near Margate into the North Sea.

However, beyond Kent, we were sailing to a land of blue water, mountains, cascading waterfalls and even a glacier.

The scenery on one of many stunning sailaways
The scenery on one of many stunning sailaways

Our first Norway stop was Eidfjord, situated on the Hardangerfjord - one of the best known fjords.

Pulling back the curtains in your cabin and seeing mountains and waterfalls looming large is breath-taking. We visited one of the most spectacular waterfalls, the Voringsfoss, which sends huge currents of water plummeting nearly 600ft into the valley below. New visitor walkways have been constructed to get the best views and the all-important Instagram capture.

A stunning view as the ship sails through the Hardangerfjord
A stunning view as the ship sails through the Hardangerfjord

There is no doubt the Hardangerfjord is beautiful and serene - but that doesn't mean you can't tear it up a little. A Fjord safari on a Rib boat is an exhilarating way to speed over the water, take your breath away (literally) and get up close to the mountainside and even discover the area's power plant.

Onto Flam - an area characterised by steep mountains and subsidiary fjords making for another stunning landscape. The famous Flamsbana railway is a must-see attraction, but it isn't just a tourist train, but a working commuter railway which opened in 1940. At points in the journey the train corkscrews its way along a mountain and the train even stops at the Kjosfossen waterfall for people to take pictures.

Magellan docks in Flam
Magellan docks in Flam

People have lived in Flam since the end of the ice age 10,000 years ago, existing on fishing and hunting. And to get a sense of life around 1,000 years ago a leisurely boat ride, or quick coach journey gets you to Gudvangen where there is an authentic Viking village. Much like the train, this hasn't been constructed to satisfy the masses, but rather is a collective home for those who have adopted the Viking lifestyle who will show you around, introduce their home and customs and even teach you archery.

Learning about the Viking way of life at Gudvangen
Learning about the Viking way of life at Gudvangen

If all this is sounding quite full-on, then there is always some downtime on Magellan to help re-set you. We quickly found life settled into a very pleasant routine on board. This would usually involve sitting outside on the sailaway (see we learned the lingo), watching the scenery of the day slip away, with a drink in hand.

A trio of Indian deserts
A trio of Indian deserts

Magellan has two restaurants, the Waldorf and the Kensington and we opted for the latter at an 8.30pm sitting, where there was always a good choice of soups, starters, mains and deserts, beautifully presented and with a friendly but slick service. Food is served in delicate portions and you can choose anything from one course to five. The food on board is headed up by Gopinathan Janaganathan who revealed he and his team of 60 create 5,000 meals a day. Evenings would finish at one of the many bars. Our favourites were Sinatra's lounge bar, Taverner's English pub, or the Captain's Club where singers carried on the party into the early hours after taking a turn in the ship's main show lounge.

But our favourite day was exploring around Olden and first up the Briksdal Glacier. A huge body of ice is framed by a dramatic turquoise lake. It's a steady climb through the Jostedalsbreen National Park to reach the glacier, but we took little open-air troll cars for part of the way up - otherwise the hike is around 40 minutes. It is possibly one of the most magical, unspoilt atmospheric places that can be visited. We couldn't sum it up any better than one member of our party who started dramatically fidgeting, before adding: "I've wanted to see a glacier all my life and this is just stunning."

One of the most unspoilt places in the world, the Briksdal Glacier
One of the most unspoilt places in the world, the Briksdal Glacier

The afternoon in Olden was spent on one of the area's newest attractions - the Loen Skylift which opened in May 2017 and is one of Europe's steepest cable cars. But the views from the top of Mount Hoven, of Lake Lovatnet in the east, Jostedalsbreen Glacier and Olden Village in the south and the Nordfjord, are stunning and worth the journey up. Despite being dry on the ground, by the time the cable car deposited us 3316ft above sea level, we were plunged into thick snow.

The view from the Loen skylift
The view from the Loen skylift

From the comfort of a sky restaurant our guide was able to explain a neighbouring valley to Loen suffered two major tragedies when in 1905 and again in 1936 huge chunks of the mountain dislodged and plunged into the lake below, causing a tsunami and heavy loss of life. It was a sobering story set in such a beautiful landscape - however it was a story which deserved to be heard.

Feeling the effects of the cable car, as someone who doesn't like heights, it was once again time to check out what Magellan could offer. The ease of cruising means your next meal is never far away - and sometimes we grabbed a quick bite in the casual Raffles Bistro to take us up into the evening. A visit to the on-board spa is also recommended with a full body massage easily erasing those sight-seeing aches and pains.

And so after nearly a week cruising the Fjord towns with tiny populations, our sensitive itinerary got us used to a buzzier city with our final port call: Bergen.

A panoramic view of Bergen
A panoramic view of Bergen

Developing as Norway's trading empire, the city has 420,000 inhabitants and can easily be appreciated by ditching the guide book and strolling around designer shops, fish markets and open spaces. However, worth a recommend is the Fløibanen funicular which gets you to the top of Mount Fløyen, one of the mountains which borders in the city. It was another panoramic view to round off a week of them but you never tire of this in Norway.

It was a wonderful eight days. And there was still the gentle travel back to Kent to come over the course of a day. By the time we stepped off the ship around 9am on a Friday we were deeply relaxed and had seen a truly special part of the world.

Stevenson would no doubt have given us a high-five.

Cruise control: The need to know details

When can I go?

Cruise and Maritime Voyages' holidays to the Norwegian Fjords start in April 2019 with Magellan, Marco Polo, Astoria and Columbus making the journeys. A full summer itinerary is available Prices start at just £689 per person. More on the Norway sailings here

What are the ships like?

The fleet varies in size, but CMV specialise in small to medium sized vessels. This means the ships can get up close and personal to Norwegian port destinations and offer a more intimate experience on board. Magellan, for example, has a large show lounge, but also some smaller bars and nowhere gets overcrowded.

Is it all glam on board?

Mary and Tony with CMV staff member Freddy
Mary and Tony with CMV staff member Freddy

Not always. Smart casual clothes are acceptable, but there are usually two formal nights during a cruise where everyone gets dressed up - think cocktail dresses for the women and suits for men.

Can it get choppy?

The North Sea is known for being a little hairy at times, but there are procedures on board which kick into place if things get really rough. Pack anti-sickness medication such as Stugeron just in case. The Fjords themselves are calm as a millpond.

Do you only visit Norway?

The colourful Keukenhof Gardens in Amsterdam
The colourful Keukenhof Gardens in Amsterdam

While each schedule differs our itinerary also allowed us to check out Amsterdam on one of its busiest national holidays - King's Day, which sees thousands of people line the streets and take to the canals for one big street party.

We also visited Keukenhof Gardens, home to 800 different types of tulips and an incredible seven million bulbs, planted into stunning arrangements - from formal country house gardens to cascading seas of blooms. There's so much preparation needed the gardens are only open for a limited part of the year - usually mid March to mid May. See CMV's website for more on planning your voyage.

What about tipping?

For convenience, an automatic tipping charge of £7 per person per night is added to on-board accounts for cruises of less than 16 nights (or £6 for longer than this). However there is nothing to stop you showing your appreciation of particularly good service by leaving a tip. At the end of the holiday you can also nominate the staff member you feel has demonstrated outstanding service, for recognition by CMV.

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