A recent survey showed that the most popular cruise for first-timers is, not surprisingly, the Norwegian fjords. After all, a slow sail past dramatic landscapes – that would be otherwise pretty impossible to get to – is surely what cruising is all about. After that, it’s the Med, the Caribbean and cruises further afield. So, people often forget about the rest of Scandinavia, especially Sweden a country that’s even less visited than its other neighbours Iceland, Denmark and Finland.
That’s a pity because Sweden is a great cruise destination with a lovely coastline and lots of islands and archipelagos. They even have fjords though, admittedly, not on the spectacular scale of Norway’s. Sweden’s are lower, more open and often more populated with painted timber clapboard houses sitting on the water’s edge or in the woods, often with their own jetties, boats bobbing next to them. The summer months are short but the days are extremely long and the locals are out all day and into the evening in every imaginable kind of pleasure craft. You’ll see sailing boats and speedboats, canoes and jet skis. There’s no jostling for space in these waters, though. Sweden is twice the size of the UK but with just a sixth of the population. Its coastline offers superb scenic cruising.
The approach to Stockholm is a case in point. This famous archipelago of tiny islands, some bare rock, some forested and some (if you’re lucky) with basking seals is surely a highlight of cruising anywhere in the world. It was certainly one of my highlights on board Fred Olsen’s Balmoral, where you can sit and watch the world go by from the top deck or from around the pool where an ever-friendly crew will bring you anything from a latte to a glass of cava.
Stockholm itself is a lovely city with an old town that’s all winding narrow alleyways and cobbled streets. There’s a royal palace, great shopping and a range of museums from (inevitably) Abba to Vikings and their gold. There’s also a museum dedicated to Vasa – this is Sweden’s Mary Rose. Vasa was a war ship that sank on its maiden voyage in 1628 and was raised 333 years later and restored. This museum is in the lovely setting of Djurgarden Island, the greenest district of this very green city. Part of Stockholm’s charm is that it’s built on a series of islands but this doesn’t mean it’s difficult to negotiate your way around. There’s a network of bridges and ferries and the centre itself is quite compact. On the Balmoral, we couldn’t have been better placed – floating at anchor with a backdrop of some of the city’s most iconic buildings.
This cruise isn’t all about Stockholm, though. Lysekil, our first port of call, was a typical small Swedish fishing village, full of pretty painted wooden houses and gardens. After walking round the old town, I spent the afternoon on a 100-year-old listed boat with its owner, Juran who took us for a trip around a few of this archipelago’s 8000 islands. There are thousands of seals in this area so, perhaps not surprisingly, he managed to find us some to watch, along with eider ducks, cormorants and the great black-backed gulls sweeping over the low pink granite islets.
The next day we were in Helsingborg. Or maybe that should be the Helsingborgs as there are two of them – one in Sweden and one in Denmark. And, of course, it’s the one in Denmark that I want to visit, firstly to see the exquisite medieval town and then, naturally, to visit Hamlet’s castle of Elsinore. It’s not actually Hamlet’s castle because the original was destroyed in one of the endless Danish-Swedish wars and the replacement is very much a Renaissance palace where actors now play out scenes from the story (though not quite using Shakespeare’s words). There’s much interaction between players and audience and the small company has plenty of fun with the Bard’s most famous tragedy.
We had taken the ferry from Swedish to Danish Elsinore but later we pass by the magnificent structure that links the two countries and gave its name to one of TV’s best recent dramas – The Bridge. We spend a couple of days, too, just scenic cruising around this stunning coastline – surely the most relaxing holiday ever. However, if you want even more relaxation, the Balmoral boasts an excellent on-board spa that offers facials, massages and some ground-breaking treatments at a fraction of the price at home. And, of course, you can also find plenty of entertainment on the ship. There are shows every night, concerts, talks (ex-Special Branch Barry Cave was a revelation), dance classes and lots of games. My favourite entertainment was definitely the breath-taking scenery we were drifting by. Sweden by sea – surely the best antidote to stress ever!
See more of Anna’s travels on www.annaselby.co.uk/blog
For more information on Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines, including up-to-date information on pricing and schedules, call 0800 0355 110 or visit www.fredolsencruises.com/silver-travel-club
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines.