How a horse ride in spectacular Norway changed my life for the better

Frances Marcellin
Gimsøy in Norway, where Frances faced her horse-riding fears - Luiskurtum@hotmail.com

Riding Silfri, a gentle Icelandic horse – so named for his “silvery” shock of blonde mane – along the white-sand beach in Norway was one of those unforgettable life-changing experiences.

I was in Hov, on the island of Gimsøy, and had always dreamed of a moment like this. But since a horse-riding accident a decade earlier, which resulted in two broken “wing” bones on my lumbar spine and six weeks of bed rest, I had become too frightened to ride again.

Since discovering a passion for mountain trail running earlier this year, my fitness and confidence had increased. So, when I read about the horse-riding excursion – which was amidst some of the most spectacular landscapes I’ve ever seen – on Viking Cruises’ 'Into the Midnight Sun' itinerary, I felt it was the right moment to face my fear.

A riding holiday would have been too much and I wasn’t ready for actual lessons at my local stables, but a four-hour trip, followed by a relaxing spa session back on the new and luxurious Viking Jupiter, made the prospect far more accessible.

I only had to be brave for a few hours, how hard could it be? That day as we rode along the foot of dramatic, jagged mountains – which 1,000 years ago was the stomping ground of Viking Chieftain Tore Hjort – I learned that one of my fellow riders hadn’t ridden a horse since she was in her twenties, about forty years ago. She was visibly moved by her experience and proud of her achievement.

A horse riding excursion built Fran's confidence

Because of the diversity of destinations and variety of excursions that they offer, cruises can inspire a certain level of adventure, as well as facilitate it. That afternoon, still buzzing from my accomplishment, but with slightly stiff knees, I indulged in a Nordic spa ritual, which took me from hammam to snow grotto – three times.

“Hot and cold bathing improves your immune system, it triggers the release of endorphins just like when you exercise,” LivNordic’s spa manager explained to me, adding that regular sessions can reduce blood pressure and increase circulation. I massaged snow into my knees until the goose bumps set in and it was time to go back to the hammam.

It had turned into quite a day of Norwegian adventure, history and culture, so, feeling invigorated, and with happier knees, I decided to try out the Destination Menu that evening at The Restaurant.

Norwegian haddock fishcakes – adorned with a messy crown of striking raw veg strips in crimson, amber and coral hues – and reindeer patties with onion confit were on the menu. Impressively, every item served is made from scratch on board and these two dishes were perfectly distinct and delectable. 

Viking's ocean spas offer the full Nordic bathing experience from hammam to snow grotto

The day before, I’d spent the morning on the wild, verdant island of Kvaløya, near Tromsø, on a husky trekking excursion. The Tromsø Villmarksenter is home to around 300 huskies, and we were there to help them train for the sledding season. With their leads attached to waist belts, our group trekked with seven dogs. We were not as helpful as quad bikes though, our guide told us, which can train 14 dogs at a time.

I couldn’t get enough of that pure Arctic Air, so I opted for a rainbow-coloured sushi lunch outside at the World Café. I was mesmerised by the view of Tromsø Bridge over the blue waters of the Tromsøysundet Strait and the striking white Arctic Cathedral – which is reminiscent of Sydney Opera House – in contrast with the dark Tromsdalstind mountain behind. 

Ready for another adventure, I put on my trail shoes and headed for Mount Fløya, Tromsdalstind’s neighbour. Visiting the cathedral en-route, I ended up near the top of the mountain, exhilarated and with one of the best views over Tromsø.

This 'run-seeing' strategy worked well in Bergen, too, where I saw all the sights over the course of 10km (6.2 miles), from the colourful old harbour to the famous fish market and Lille Lungegårdsvannet, a five-acre hectagonal lake.

Some of the more adventurous excursions in Bergen included a hike up to the top of Mount Fløien and “flightseeing” the fjords and glaciers in a seaplane. Before Bergen we had cruised into Geiranger – a Unesco World Heritage site – where the excursion whisked us up to Eagle’s Bend viewpoint. The bright sunshine and clear-blue skies showcasing glinting turquoise waters and smoky-green mountains at their best. Those looking for more adventure could choose to kayak around Gereingerfjord, take a Nordic hike or a bike ride or try fjord fishing. All passengers were lucky to see the Seven Sisters waterfall as the captain spun the ship around 360 degrees in the fjord to make sure each side had a view.

Tromsø is located 350 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle Credit: iStock

Once back at the ship, some opted for afternoon tea in the Wintergarden with the resident pianist, others for swim. I sat outside hypnotically watching the ship’s wake as the midnight sun hovered on the horizon, glowing over passing islands and rock formations. I eventually tore myself away to dine at The Chef’s Table for more Norwegian fayre.

My highlights included: the reindeer consommé, which was paired with Pinot Noir; salmon, which was served with Bergen Aquavit (a spirit similar to vodka); and Fårikål (“sheep in cabbage”), which became the national dish of Norway in 1970. Dessert was cloudberry soup – these berries are often found in swamps and some call them “Arctic Gold”. 

I’ve decided to hijack this term for my own use, too. Since I returned from Norway, I’ve started weekly horse riding again and I am feeling more confident than I have done in years, so now if anyone asks me to describe my Into the Midnight Sun cruise, I tell them it was pure Arctic Gold.

Essentials

Viking offers the 15-day Into the Midnight Sun cruise from Bergen to London, departing June 28, 2020, from £5,490 per person including one-way flight (vikingcruises.co.uk / 0800 298 9700).