I'm on top of the world. Literally.
Norway’s North Cape to be precise, well inside the Arctic Circle, standing on cliffs alongside an iconic globe monument that marks the northernmost place on mainland Europe. Only the Svalbard Islands separate me from the North Pole. Clouds blanket the ocean and the midnight sun, sitting just above the horizon, is at its lowest. This is one of the most special places on earth. Not only the top of the world but also the land of the midnight sun.
Travel Associates has brought me here on Insight Vacations’ superb Grand Tour of Scandinavia. This 20-day itinerary is ideal for travellers wanting to get an overall taste of Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Norway.
Circling from south to north, it runs from April to August and takes us from Copenhagen to Stockholm, Helsinki, Kuopio, Rovaniemi, Ivalo, North Cape, Alta, Narvik, Mosjoen, Trondheim, Geiranger and Oslo.
From the moment we arrive we are pampered. Insight Vacations' Tour Director Peter, a 38-year guiding veteran, and driver Laslo, together with knowledgeable local guides, make our travels smooth, informative and entertaining.
There are many highlights. Castles and other grand buildings in the cities, vast Finnish forests, Denmark and Norway’s orderly green farmlands and neat rusty red-brown farm buildings and thriving rural and fishing communities. And, of course, the majestic mountains and fjords of Norway.
In between are home visits with the indigenous Lapland people, the Sami – enjoying their history, culture and food.
Our first stop is the amazing Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen. Founded in 1843, it is the amusement park against which all others are measured. It has become a national treasure and an international attraction. The second most popular Copenhagen site is Hans Christian Andersen’s Little Mermaid gazing out to sea looking for her prince.
We leave Denmark on a short ferry crossing to Sweden from near Kronborg Castle, said to be the Elsinore home of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Stockholm, Sweden’s capital, is set on 14 islands with splendid palaces and public buildings, including the city hall where the prestigious Nobel prizes are presented annually.
From Stockholm we take an overnight Baltic cruise to Helsinki, the bustling capital of Finland. Time in the amazing ‘Church in the Rock’ – a cavernous and beautiful church carved out of rock. Lunch in the colourful market around the harbour and on through the heavily wooded Finnish countryside, the land of a thousand lakes.
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Outside Rovaniemi, Santa Claus and his team of helpers await us. Unforgettable, even for grandparents. We post our Christmas cards at Santa’s post office which straddles the Arctic Circle.
Finland’s north is home to the indigenous Sami people, traditional owners of the reindeer herds which roam the forests. We visit a reindeer farm and learn how the Sami have herded the reindeer for generations. Our Sami hosts serve us a traditional meal of reindeer.
An arctic zoo tour shows us the many animals that call this region home. And, yes, that includes a polar bear.
Honningsvag, the small fishing town on Mager Island is the gateway to North Cape. From here, we turn south along the Norwegian coastline, famous for its stunning mountain and fjord scenery. A boat cruise on the famed Geirangerfjord, a UNESCO World Heritage area, to view towering mountain peaks and cascading waterfalls. Later a drive along the famed zigzag Trolls Road across the mountains.
More ferry crossings across fjords, past thundering rivers and quiet fishing villages and a short train ride across mountaintops with patches of the last winter snow bring us into the Viking capital of Trondheim.
At Alta we take a boat ride up the fast flowing river, one of the world’s richest salmon rivers, and enjoy a barbecue dinner with Roger Dahl and his friendly huskies to learn about the tough, Arctic marathon dog sleigh racing.
We then head through the ‘Peer Gynt’ countryside, immortalised in Henrik Ibsen’s story and put to music by Edvard Grieg to our last stop, Oslo and the Frogner Park and its famous collection of modern sculptures by Gustav Vigeland. Another highlight – the Viking Long Ship Museum.
Our holiday was expertly arranged by Melissa at Madigan & Turner Travel Associates of Maroochydore. Melissa’s travel product knowledge, service and attention to detail are exceptional.
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