All aboard the Coastal Express – Chloe Cann finds a cruise line that offers adventure and authenticity in equal measure with Norway’s Hurtigruten
The Northern Lights don’t look how I imagined. They are a warm caramel brown and there’s nothing fleeting about them. As a visitor to Norway’s Arctic Circle in early July, when the famed midnight sun reigns supreme, I cannot of course see the aurora. But that doesn’t stop me from drinking them.
At Olhallen in Tromso, the Northern Lights (or “Nordlys”) is just one of 67 Norwegian beers on tap. The pub opened in 1928 and is attached to one of the country’s oldest breweries, Macks. For a long time it held the title of world’s most northern brewery, though that mantle has now been purloined by an outfit in Svalbard.
It’s a kooky, cosy and charming place. “Rock music is the fifth ingredient in brewing,” explains fifth-generation family owner Harald Bredrup, who is also chairman of the Norwegian Brewers’ Association. “It gets the yeast moving.” Accordingly all of the beers from the microbrewery next door bear rock names – from the Lemmy (frontman of Motorhead) to the Haakon (named after the Norwegian rock star) – and are brewed amid the soundtrack of head-banging tunes.
Tromso is our first port of call on Hurtigruten’s Coastal Express. The full route extends from Kirkenes in the uppermost reaches of the country’s north, to the Hanseatic city of Bergen in its south-west, operating year-round, every day of the week. But happily customers can pick and choose exactly where they want their journey to begin and end.
Touring Tromso’s microbrewery and sampling its wares is just one way your clients can spend their downtime at this city near the end of the world. There’s also the Polar Museum, or a cable car. Or they can simply mosey around, perhaps enjoying a reindeer burger at Skirri, or a fish feast at upscale Fiskekompaniet.
For more structure Hurtigruten offers a number of seasonal excursions. We suit up in a rather fetching combo of a hooded blue waterproof; ankle-high slip-on water shoes; a lifejacket; and an asymmetric waterproof “skirt” before jumping into a kayak. Small, shrill Tor leads us across calm waters shrouded in mist, past cherry-red clapboard houses nestled among swathes of greenery and clinging onto craggy rock faces. Come winter she leads a charge of huskies over the polar landscapes for Hurtigruten’s more intrepid customers.