An Arctic adventure part three: Vesterålen and Lofoten

The final leg of the 2018 Cruise Norway FAM trip journeyed through the natural and man-made wonders of the Vesterålen and Lofoten archipelego. Jon Ingleton recalls some memorable moments

An Arctic adventure part three: Vesterålen and Lofoten
Golfing at Lofoten Links is likely to be a memorable shore excursion for cruise guests (Image: Kevin Murray, courtesy of Lofoten Links)

Our first stop on Hinnøya after arriving from Harstad featured an encounter with Laila Inga, a local Sami breeder, who shared personal stories about the Sami way of life while feeding her reindeer. Cruise lines frequently offer destination immersion and this visit was a perfect example of how they could easily deliver on that aspirational promise.

However, the best way to experience an archipelago is always by sea. Our boat trip took us to Skaerfjorden, via Skipnes and Tinden. “The island-hopping tour was fantastic and it fits well with the concept of the cruise itinerary that it would feature on,” said Claire Levitt, shore excursions manager for Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines.

Every wonderful journey requires a remarkable destination and it was the old fishing village of Nyksund that truly delivered on this occasion, thanks to a great dinner and local beer at Naustvika restaurant. The evening gave us just a short time to visit Sollund Farm before we turned in for the night.

After another early start, it was off to the Port of Sortland to view the facilities, which Serena Guglielmone, Costa Cruises’ destination management coordinator, proclaimed was “a port with a lot of potential”.

This is largely down to the strong, and sometimes bizarre, tour programme on offer. “The mini concert in a cod fish tank was very memorable; the ambiance and acoustics were phenomenal,” said Melanie Lewis Carsjens, product manager for Holland America Group.

A final boat trip to Trollfjorden provided us with another fix of dramatic scenery – and a sea eagle fly-by – before we headed off to our last destination of this trip: Lofoten.

Travel accolades are distributed too liberally, but for Lofoten they are richly deserved. While the trek from the main port of Lekenes to some sites can be lengthy, it is always worth the ride, thanks to the spectacular scenery along the route. My travel companions unanimously agreed with Costa Cruises’ Guglielmone who described it as an “amazing destination”.

It’s hard to discern the best moments of our visit because Cruise Norway provided us with so many fulfilling experiences (see list below). For Fred. Olsen’s Levitt, the horse riding at Hov was “by far the highlight of the trip”, whereas Holland America’s Lewis Carsjens was most impressed with the locals.

“I enjoyed meeting the lovely Tove Åland at Aalan Farm, where I am sure many of our guests would welcome the opportunity to sit down with the host and over a cup of tea, learn about her family run business and gardening secrets,” she said, before singling out another local who entertained our group. “ “Tor-Vegard Mørkved the blacksmith is a wonderful character with a great sense of humour and an obvious passion for his trade, and again, another great story of determination to share his unusual art with the King of Norway!”

Personally, I will long remember the few liberating hours on Lofoten Links golf course with owner Frode Hov. This is an astonishing golf course, quite penal but rewarding, and the geography is unsurpassed in my recollections of the hundreds of courses that I’ve played. Offering a day-long shore excursion that includes golfing in the morning, followed by lunch at The Barn and horse riding on the same site in the afternoon will guarantee that cruise operators will score high guest ratings.

And so, the 2018 FAM trip with Cruise Norway came to an end and I returned back to Blighty. I’ll be off to Var Provence next and I’ll share those highlights later this month.

Some of Vesterålen highlights for cruise passengers include:
Inga Sami Siida – a local celebrity sharing reindeer anecdotes
Sortland Hotel – a comfortable night spent on a good mattress
Skipnes – a remote location, but well worth the time invested
Nyksund – a reinvented fishing community
Naustvika – a fabulous buffet and great local beer
Sollund Farm – hands-on animal encounters
Port of Sortland – 450-metre-long quay for cruise ships and a short, 400-metre walk into town for passengers
Hurtigruten Museum – home of the old Finnmarken
Stokmarknes – the birthplace of Hurtigruten
• Mini concert – in a cod fish tank!

Meanwhile, highlights in Lofoten include:
Thon Hotel Lofoten – an impressive hotel in wonderful location
Nyvagar Rorbuthotell – tranquillity defined
Skrei Heritage Center – home of Lofoten Aquarium, Gallery Espolin and Lofotmuseet
Henningsvaer Bryggehotel – another amazing hotel
Galleri Lofoten Hus – houses the largest collection of paintings of Northern Norway
Full Steam – a unique dining experience
Lofoten Links and The Barn – for exclusive lodgings, thrilling horse riding and incredible golf
Aalan Farm – a very personal endeavour and truly great cheese
Lofotr Viking Museum – very grand 83-metre reconstructed Viking house
Leknes Port – clean and well-equipped berthing place for visiting cruise ships
Glasshytta, Vikten – traditional glass-blowing with a well-stocked shop
Ramberg beach – one of only three beaches in Norway listed on supercoolbeaches.com
Sund Blacksmith – a wonderfully eccentric and entertaining artisan

Read Jon Ingleton’s review of the calls in Svalbard in part one of his event report and a roundup of his visits to Hammerfest and Harstad in part two.

 

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Jon Ingleton
By Jon Ingleton
Friday, September 7, 2018