There's always been something beautiful about the concept of "small". Small in the food world means tapas plates in Spain, tiny bites of fine cuisine. In the hotel field it means boutique accommodation with character and flair. And in the cruising world, small means access, it means service, and it means personality.
To cruise on a small ship is to suddenly be able to go places that you previously couldn't. It means ducking into small bays that you have all to yourself. It means mooring at city-side ports that would usually be off-limits. It means experiencing the sort of personalised service and attention that you only get from a small group, on a small ship.
While there are many places in the world that are great for small-ship cruising, one of the best is Norway, that slender Nordic beauty with its coastline riven with islands and fjords, ripe for exploring on a purpose-built expedition vessel that can travel into some of the most remote parts of the world. These destinations are the highlights of a Norwegian Small Ship Expedition Cruise.
This group of rugged, untamed islands lies in the northern reaches of the Norwegian Sea, deep within the Arctic Circle, a stunningly beautiful area known for its midnight sun, as well as the charm of the fishing villages that dot the land. A small ship allows access to some of these villages, to experience life as it's lived in this extreme but beautiful environment. This is a place to simply wander and appreciate the splendour of an area that so few people ever get to visit.
DON'T MISS Lofoten has a strong connection to the Viking Age, and that's never more apparent than in the town of Borg, where archaeologists have discovered the largest Viking longhouse ever found in this area. The 83-metre-long building has been reconstructed and is now a living museum, where visitors can soak up the history of these famed marauders in the very place they once called home.
This railway line, which begins in the town of Flåm and runs to Myrdal in southern Norway, is not just one of the steepest railway lines in the world, but also, without doubt, one of the most beautiful. The scenery here takes in everything from coastal splendour to mountain highs, from virgin forest to rushing rivers and foaming waterfalls. In just an hour-long journey, the Flåm Railway travels from sea level to a mountain station 867 metres high, on a trip that feels like one long photo opportunity.
DON'T MISS Train buffs will love hearing some of the facts and stats connected to the Flåm Railway. More than 80 per cent of this journey has a gradient of at least 2.8 per cent, with a maximum of 5.5 per cent, which explains its claim as the world's steepest. The line has 10 stations, 20 tunnels and one bridge over its 20.2-kilometre length. It took 16 years to build, and is a thing of both structural and environmental beauty.
In a country that's literally filled with spectacular sights, natural wonders that seem to be eclipsed day after day, this might just be the most breath-taking of all: Pulpit Rock, a 600-metre-high cliff that rises above the Lysefjorden, a beautiful body of water in Norway's south. Though the site is popular with BASE jumpers, it's also a stunning place for pure sightseeing, for gazing out at the natural beauty that Norway so freely boasts.
DON'T MISS To experience the beauty of Pulpit Rock first-hand, you'll need to hike the 3.8km path that leads from the town of Strand. Though the track is steep in some places, this three-to four-hour round trip is popular among all age groups. Alternatively, stay on board your small ship to cruise the Lysefjorden and gain a unique view of the rock from below.
This is Norway's largest fjord, and the third longest in the world: still, it's the sort of place you want to admire from the deck of a small ship, from which to explore the area's quietest coves and bays. The Sognefjord extends from the Jotunheimen National Park in Norway's centre out to coastal Bergen, a 205km stretch of water that's more than 1300 metres deep in some places, and lies in the shadow of mountains up to 1700 metres high. Though it seems remote, some 30,000 people call this area home, living in the pretty villages visible on the fjord's shores.
DON'T MISS One of the most spectacularly beautiful arms that leads off the Sognefjord is Naeryfjorden, an 18km body of water that's only 250 metres across at its narrowest point, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Those with young children, or grandchildren, may recognise this area as the inspiration for Arendelle in Frozen.
This is the Norway you've been dreaming about, the one you've always pictured. Bergen, the country's former capital with its rich history of seafaring, is one of the Nordic region's most beautiful towns, and an unmissable stop on any journey along the Norwegian coast. Colourful houses here creep up densely forested hillsides. Small cafes and restaurants make for cosy places to hunker down when the weather turns. Art galleries and museums abound. You'll never forget Bergen.
DON'T MISS The home of the Norway's most famous composer, Edvard Grieg, has been left mostly in its original state, and these days functions as a museum and performance hall. APT guests are invited in for a private recital of some of Greig's most well-known classical masterpieces, before continuing on a tour of the city's old town.
On a tributary off the Sognefjord, on the way to beautiful Flåm, lies Undredal, a village that's small on population, but big on scenery. Undredal is postcard-perfect, a hamlet that lies in the shadow of imposing mountains, a fishing village not accessible by larger ships. Though the human population here is only about 100, the goat population sits at around 500 – the town is well known in Norway for its production of cheese, something visitors should definitely try before reboarding their small ship.
DON'T MISS The highlight of Undredal is the town's stave church, the smallest in Northern Europe, a beautiful wooden structure that dates back to 1147. The church is only 12 metres by four metres – though with a catchment of only 116 parishioners, it needn't be any larger. There were plans at one stage to move the entire structure to a museum nearby; fortunately for budding photographers, that never took place.
Kenneth Park – European Historian
Kenneth Park works as a lecturer, curator and consultant in the arts and philanthropy. One of Australia's foremost raconteurs, Kenneth is a captivating presenter with a passionate love of art, culture and history. He lives by the motto – 'life is a grand tour so make the most of it'.
Kenneth will be the special guest lecturer on APT's 15 Day 'Majestic Norwegian Fjords' itinerary on selected departures in August 2018 & 2019.
This article has been produced in association with APT.
Experience the sort of personalised service and attention that you can only get from a small group, on a small ship. Everything is taken care of in an unforgettable luxury journey with APT. For more information visit www.aptouring.com.au/traveller, call 1300 290 669 or contact your local travel agent.