In the early 8th and 9th Centuries, the Vikings sailed across the North Sea from western Norway to claim Orkney and Shetland as their own.
Although they had a reputation as fearsome warriors, many settled down and became farmers – creating a lasting Norse legacy that is still pertinent in the islands today.
Getting to recreate their journey was the chance of a lifetime – made possible through Viking Cruises – although, admittedly, the Norsemen of old did not have the luxuries of a spacious double bed, a glorious spa or the chance to survey the waters with an espresso martini in hand.
Viking Cruises’ Into the Midnight Sun tour starts in Bergen, Norway, and ends in London, offering stops in a variety of beautiful coastal locations.
I was invited to join the cruise in Tromso, a quaint city spread over a scenic island in northern Norway.
On the very first night we experienced the eponymous Midnight Sun, a natural phenomenon that occurs above the Arctic Circle where the sun is still shining bright at the stroke of midnight.
The following day, the inclusive Viking excursion took us past several Norwegian wooden homes to sights including the Arctic Cathedral, a looming white building compared to the Sydney Opera House.
Our guide Pascal explained the history of Tromso – with plenty of time left after the tour to explore the city centre independently.
Peacefully chugging further north into the Arctic Circle, the following day we stopped at Honnisvag, a tiny outpost town on the island of Mageroya, and visited a local Sami camp, where we met local Sami reindeer herder Nils Somby.
He explained the native people’s way of life as well as showing a traditional “lavvu” tent and a selection of Sami artwork on sale at a small wooden shop.
Afterwards, we drove to the Northern Cape, the most northerly point in mainland Europe, where heavy mist miraculously dissipated within just half an hour allowing us to enjoy the magnificent views.
The following two days were spent at sea, providing the perfect chance to explore the Viking Sea ship and all it had to offer.
There were lectures about glaciers, Vikings and Scottish politics, musical performances and even a quiz show, and the 48 hours at sea flew by.
The ship oozed class, with a library, an array of artwork adorning the walls, and a museum – complete with two original Lewis chessmen – as well as several shops.
The rooms were spacious, with their own balcony – ideal to relax and watch the waves below, passing ships and wildlife.
And inclusive room service was on offer 24 hours a day – with the chance to enjoy an early breakfast as we docked being a real treat.
We had a choice of food options while aboard the Viking Sea, ranging from a multi-course experience at the Chef’s Table, a classy Italian meal at restaurant Manfredis, or a relaxed buffet at the World Cafe.
As someone with coeliac disease – an autoimmune disorder caused by an adverse reaction to gluten – the staff were extremely accommodating with each dining experience.
Ingredients in buffet items were clearly labelled, and servers would take time to explain what modifications had been made to the dish by the chef, and did the same for a vegetarian in the group.
A highlight of our on-board experience was the Nordic Spa Experience.
Despite only meeting each other a few days earlier, in true Nordic fashion our group all stripped down to our cozzies and prepared for the event.
Guided by two personal attendants, we sat in a sauna and were hit with birch tree branches, before we were sent into a freezing ice grotto to rub ourselves down with snowballs, before returning to the sauna.
This pattern repeated a number of times before we were directed to reclining chairs, and given the slightly more conventional offer of a head or foot massage.
Suitably relaxed and full of food, our following day was spent in Shetland, equal distance from Norway as it is to Aberdeen.
Our inclusive excursion took us through the stunning landscape to meet Shetland Pony expert Carol Fuller, who explained the history and current use of the pint-sized ponies.
In Orkney, more rugged scenery greeted us, and we visited the mysterious stone circle the Ring of Brodgar, with our tour guide – a former archaeologist – providing encyclopaedic knowledge of the site and surrounding area.
After a stroll through Kirkwall we returned to the Viking Sea, where we sailed overnight to Edinburgh, where our section of the cruise ended.
The journey was truly the trip of a lifetime, with the chance to easily visit so many places which, especially Honnisvag, are typically expensive to travel to independently.
In just a week we made dozens of lasting memories with Viking, and the taster of each location definitely makes me plan to visit Norway, Shetland and Orkney again in the near future.