Viking Sun, cruise around Tahiti: A lesson in all things Scandi

Even though I'd been to Scandinavia, never did I expect to learn more about that part of the world than in, of all places, Tahiti – and aboard a cruise ship what's more.

In fact, while I'm in French Polynesia aboard the unapologetically Norwegian ship, Viking Sun, I learn more about the Scandis than I've ever done in my visits to Scandinavia.

The Viking Sun was commissioned just a few years ago and design-wise, and in most every other respects, it's the antithesis of the prototypical cruise liner.

Here, even the merest hint of nautical kitsch appears to have been ritually-exorcised during the design and construction phase.

I'm on a seven-day cruise between French Polynesia and New Zealand and a mere 15,037 kilometres – the distance that separates Papeete from Oslo – isn't enough to come between me and my moment in the Viking Sun, which along with its six other identikit sister ships, are all-sailing showcases of Scandinavian style and culture.

The ship also indirectly offers, should you be willing to embrace it, a means of connecting with the somewhat arcane, though increasingly pervasive, philosophy of "hygge" (pronounced "hoo-ga" in Danish and "hyh-geh" in Norwegian and Swedish). In essence? The Scandinavian art of happiness.

So, as a long-time Scandinavian-tragic with seven or so days aboard the 930-passenger strong Viking Sun – five of them entirely at sea across a vast Pacific Ocean – I'm seizing this seagoing opportunity to embrace everything hygge.

An almost insufferably abstract concept, definitions of hygge vary from it being a feeling of cosiness to taking pleasure in the simple things in life. It's a concept that the famously understated Scandinavians tend to not at all proselytise, even among themselves, let alone to the rest of the world.

But hygge has become something of a global sensation in the past few years largely due to the success of an international bestseller The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well by Meik Wiking, the CEO of Denmark's Happiness Research Institute.

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Since its release in 2016 the book has sold hundreds of thousands of copies and dominated the coveted bestseller lists of The New York Times, and The Sunday Times in Britain.

Hygge is originally a Norwegian word that the Danes have essentially made their own but to which other Scandinavians tend to subscribe. It's a little like a wickedly-indulgent, secular form of Zen, laced with lashings of hot chocolate, crackling fireplaces and high-quality woollen blankets.

The plethora of books on hygge – almost enough to fill a sizeable ship library – can seem like the latest global pop psychology, largely channelled through its natural home, the United States. Even Viking Cruises itself has produced its own hygge-related coffee table tome in the form of Nordic Style: A Celebration of Scandinavian Life, available for sale on-board.

It all helps, since to complicate matters for non-Nordics like me, hygge can encompass a dizzying range of activities and pursuits. These include achieving the optimal level of warm lighting at home (bright white light is heresy), choosing the correct types of (mainly blonde) timbers for home furnishings, riding a bicycle through clumps of autumnal leaves or being snugly dressed and ensconced in front of an open fire with a book to read by flickering candlelight and drinking from your favourite cup (come to think of it, it's not much like Zen at all).

Alas, while naked flames, even those belonging to candles, are verboten aboard cruise ships, it didn't stop the designers of Viking Sun from incorporating open fires, albeit simulated ones, throughout the ship, including in nook-like lounges and the even in the elaborate on-board Nordic-style spa.

The Little Book of Hygge's unbridled success, along with a plethora of other hygge volumes seeking to capitalise on its notoriety, is coupled with the fascination engendered by the fact Nordic nations regularly rank as among the happiest in the world.

Being a long-time devotee of everything Scandinavian, in lieu of actually being there, I'm more than happy to be immersed in a kind of a floating hygge heaven aboard Viking Sun.

It's not long before I'm raiding Viking Sun's Scandinavian-themed gift-shop. Here, you'll find not only the Scandinavian clothing brands such as Dale of Norway and Oleana, but also a full range of a beloved character straight from Nordic folklore.

It's the "nisse" or "tomte", fantastically-bearded and tall-hatted creatures that resemble a demented Santa Claus and indeed they do come to the fore during the winter solstice and Christmas. In Swedish, tomte translates as "homestead man" and is said to be drawn from the soul of the first farm owner and during the festive seasons you'll find them decorating Nordic homes and Christmas trees.

Certainly, the concept of cosiness is at the heart of hygge, as exemplified by my rather snug 21-square-metre deluxe verandah stateroom, where a newly-purchased nisse occupies pride of place.

The room is tastefully-decorated in typically Scandinavian muted tones of blue, grey, white and cream – a perfect match for the ever-passing Pacific beyond my small balcony – replete with Nordic-style textiles, including cashmere blankets and throws.

One of the most hygge aspects of the ship's staterooms are Viking Cruise's award-winning bathrooms – yes, you can win awards for cruise ship bathrooms. These feature the not-entirely-essential-for-these-climes under-floor heating, anti-fog mirrors and a natty curved door to the glass shower recess.

Elsewhere, aboard Viking Sun, the large main atrium public area is dominated by a giant electronic screen on which Scandinavian art, including works of Edvard The Scream Munch, Norway's most celebrated painter, are projected with all of the ship's public areas full of carefully-selected Nordic-style furnishings.

Off one of the upper decks, there's a stunning and relaxing wintergarden space decorated with a forest of beams, reminiscent of Scandinavian birch trees. Really, the only thing that appears to be missing is the Swedish chef (the one from The Muppets, not beloved of the Swedes, though there may be the odd real Swede behind the scenes on Viking Sun).

My extended ocean-bound days aboard Viking Sun, in true hygge style, are spent partaking in little at all but the prescribed simple things of a life at sea. I become so hygge-aware that the Pacific Ocean through which we pass could well be the North Sea, particularly during a few rough, whitecap-ridden days.

By the time the ship reaches the Bay of Islands in the North Island of New Zealand – a country that itself exudes hygge (think of all of those cosy, fearfully expensive exclusive Kiwi lodges and even its own fiords) – I'm on a true hygge high. A mug of hot chocolate, a candle and a cosy throw shall never seem the same again.

FIVE MORE NORDIC MOMENTS ABOARD VIKING SUN

 

THE CINEMA

Viking Sun's hygge touches extend to the on-board cinema, where not only do seats include blankets for cosiness, but also cushions with the covers emblazoned with the visages of famous Scandinavian silver screen stars such as Swedish-born Ingrid Bergman.

THE NORDIC NOSH

Although open sandwiches are popular throughout Scandinavia, it's Denmark where smorrebrod achieves its apotheosis. On board Viking you'll find all sorts of Nordic delights but look out for this classic Danish snack that can sometimes feel like a meal.

THE SPA

Wellbeing plays a large part in the Scandinavian quest for contentment. Viking Sun's on-board sleek spa complex features not only a heated communal pool for soaking but also a novel "snow grotto" where you can chill down before another dip or sauna stint.

THE TROLLS

When you're not taking the stairs to keep trim, take Viking Sun's glass-encased elevators and look out for a glimpse of mythical trolls – an essential part of Norse folklore – who appear on murals peeking behind birch trees as you pass between decks.

THE ART TOUR

Viking Sun passengers are able to download an app that allows them to take a detailed self-guided tour of the ship's extravagant art collection, including precious works by Munch along with contemporary Nordic paintings, photography and sculptures.

TRIP NOTES

CRUISE

Viking Cruises offers destination-focused cruises from eight days to Viking Sun's 245-day Ultimate World Cruise, departing in August. Phone 138 747, see vikingcruises.com.au

FLY

Air Tahiti Nui operates flies from and to Auckland and Papeete, the capital of French Polynesia. where the writer's cruise to New Zealand departed with connections from Australia, five days a week. See airtahitinui.com

MORE

traveller.com.au/cruises

tahiti-tourisme.com.au

airtahitinui.com

Anthony Dennis travelled as guest of Viking Cruises, Air Tahiti Nui and Tahiti Tourisme.

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