By Karen Bowerman
It’s an odd situation – anticipating intergalactic warfare from a sun lounger in the Norwegian fjords. In front of me, Stormtrooper Finn sweats his way through the desert. Around me, snow-topped mountains tower over the bars, pools and Jacuzzis of Emerald Princess.
I’m at a screening of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, as part of a Movie Under The Stars night. But the cliffs of Norway’s Nordfjord are so colossal – and so close – that there’s drama everywhere.
The fjords, carved by glaciers in the Ice Age, are Norway’s greatest tourist attraction. My seven-day voyage with Princess Cruises takes in two of them.
Our round trip from Southampton calls at the small town of Stavanger on Norway’s southern tip, before heading north to Nordfjord, then south to Sognefjord, before stopping at Bergen on our return.
In the mornings, I sit on my balcony, as the mist draped over the mountains drifts off to reveal pine-covered slopes and shores dotted with fishing huts and timber-clad houses. Later, as we glide through seemingly bottomless waters, the brilliance of the sky matches the blueness of the pools on our decks, and narrow inlets shine green with glacial deposits.
But I’m not here to be whimsical; I’ve come to explore the fjords, the active way. My schedule includes plenty of hiking and kayaking, although I’m lobbying to be actively involved in the ship’s spa, too.
After a rainy day in Stavanger (not known for fine weather), we arrive, on day four, at Olden – a hamlet in the heart of Nordfjord.
It’s a short drive to Brenndal Valley, past rowing boats on the glassy Olden Lake and camping sites at the edge of the water.
Roofs of houses are covered in grass (a throwback to the days when it served as insulation) and ancient barns painted ox-blood red balance on stones, which was how farmers once deterred rats.
“Of course, there was a time when all this area was ice,” our guide, Paul Poland, says, which makes us think.
Today, around 500 people live in Olden; our ship deposits 3,000. Paul says the atmosphere’s very different out of season.
“In winter, when a cat crosses the street, it’s a big thing,” he says dryly. “Life is quiet here.”
We hike into the hills as the fast-flowing river rages below, our path lined with wild strawberries, linden trees (whose wood was once used to make Viking shields) and issoleie or glacier crowfoot, whose white petals turn pink after pollination.
After about an hour’s climb we spot Melkevoll glacier. We’re lucky, as minutes later it’s lost in cloud. As we wait for another glimpse, I spot a bothy. Its slatted, birch wood walls are weathered and moss has overrun the grass on its roof, but inside it’s remarkably homely. A bed is wedged against the wall; there are pots and pans, a wood-burning stove and a candle on the windowsill. It’s so cosy, I feel as if I could be an intruder.
Our second hike takes us to Briksdal Glacier in Jostedalsbreen National Park. It’s one of the arms of Jostedal Glacier, the largest in continental Europe, covering an area 500km square. The ice is 600m thick in places. If it melted, it’s said it would give Norway enough fresh water for 100 years.
The trek takes us over a waterfall to a glacial lake where fragments of ice bob across the water. The glacier, wedged between peaks, is shot with blue. It seems as if it’s been solid for centuries, but as I wander back to our meeting point, markers show how much it’s melted. In 1760, it took ten minutes to walk there. Today, it’s 50.
Back on the Emerald Princess, I slip away to the spa, where a stone Buddha presides over an adults-only pool. The Jacuzzis are my personal port of call every evening, plus treatment rooms, a steam room and sauna.
The next day, we stop at Skjolden in Sognefjord. At 127 miles, it’s the longest fjord in Norway. It’s also the deepest, dropping to 1,300m. But it’s still not as deep as the height of the Jotunheimen mountains around us. Dubbed ‘Home of the Giants’, they seem even more enormous when you’re paddling a kayak below them.
As we dip our oars into the water, the fjord, which from the decks of the ship seemed so narrow, appears to morph into a lake. Astonishingly, we paddle 12 miles.
That night, the ship’s Salty Dog gastropub seems an appropriate dining venue, and we perch on stools over jumbo crab cakes, charred asparagus and halloumi, before finishing with chocolate cocktails.
Our final stop is Bergen, Norway’s second largest city, but not before I’ve dined on black Angus beef and bittersweet chocolate mousse in the Michelangelo Dining Room, at the chef’s table, and enjoyed The Voice of the Ocean show, complete with revolving chairs and eager contestants.
In keeping with my active remit, our last day at sea gives me the chance to sample some of the on-board activities, too.
Throughout the cruise, there have been stretch and body toning classes, dance lessons and discos. But as we sail home, I stumble across a Zumba class in one of the bars, led by Amparo from Chile.
“You need to pretend you are in a Bollywood movie!” she exhorts, her black plaits bouncing up and down her tiny back.
Buoyed by her enthusiasm, I abandon my coffee and join in. I’m not alone. The class gradually grows from 30 to 60. We’re a motley group, hopeless at rhythm, but keen to give every move a go.
“Wave like a Bollywood star!” Amparo exclaims. With our arms swaying over our heads, it’s a ridiculous way to say farewell to the fjords – but it keeps me active and entertained, right to the end of my holiday.
Karen Bowerman was a guest of Princess Cruises (www.princess.com) who offer various seven-night Norwegian Fjords trips from Southampton, calling at Stavanger, Skjolden, Olden and Bergen. Prices from £899pp (based on two people sharing an inside stateroom). Excursions are extra.