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Fjord focus in Norway

Press AssociationPress Association 6 days ago Karen Bowerman

It's an odd situation - anticipating intergalactic warfare from a sun lounger in the Norwegian fjords.

In front of me, Stormtrooper Finn sweats his way through the desert. Around me, snow-topped mountains tower over the bars, pools and Jacuzzis of Emerald Princess.

I'm at a screening of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, as part of a Movie Under The Stars night. But the cliffs of Norway's Nordfjord are so colossal - and so close - that there's drama everywhere. I settle down to an unexpected double bill.

The fjords, carved by glaciers in the Ice Age, are Norway's greatest tourist attraction. My seven-day voyage with Princess Cruises takes in two of them.

Our round trip from Southampton calls at the small town of Stavanger on Norway's southern tip, before heading north along the coast to Nordfjord, then south to Sognefjord, before stopping at Bergen on our return.

In the mornings, I sit on my balcony, as the mist that's draped itself over the mountains drifts off to reveal pine-covered slopes and shores dotted with fishing huts and timber-clad houses.

Later, as we glide through seemingly bottomless waters, the brilliance of the sky matches the blueness of the pools on our decks, and narrow inlets shine green with glacial deposits.

But I'm not here to be whimsical; I've come to explore the fjords, the active way. My schedule includes plenty of hiking and kayaking, although I'm lobbying to be actively involved in the ship's spa too.

After a rainy day in Stavanger (it's not known for fine weather), we arrive, on day four, at Olden, a hamlet in the heart of Nordfjord. It's a short drive to Brenndal Valley, past rowing boats on the glassy Olden Lake and camping sites at the edge of the water.

Roofs of houses are covered in grass (a throwback to the days when it served as insulation) and ancient barns, painted ox-blood red, balance on stones, which was how farmers once deterred rats.

"Of course, there was a time when all this area was ice," our guide, Paul Poland, says, which makes us think.

Today, around 500 people live in Olden; our cruise ship deposits 3,000. Paul says the atmosphere's very different out of season.

"In winter, when a cat crosses the street, it's a big thing," he says dryly. "Life is quiet here."

We hike into the hills, as the fast-flowing river rages below. Our path's lined with wild strawberries, linden trees, whose wood was once used to make Viking shields, and issoleie or glacier crowfoot, whose white petals turn pink after pollination.

After about an hour's climb we spot Melkevoll glacier. We're lucky, as minutes later it's lost in cloud.

As we wait for another glimpse, I spot a bothy. Its slatted, birch wood walls are weathered and moss has overrun the grass on its roof, but inside it's remarkably homely. A bed is wedged against the wall; there are pots and pans, a wood burning stove and a candle on the windowsill. It's so cosy, I feel as if I could be an intruder.

Our second hike takes us to Briksdal glacier in Jostedalsbreen National Park. It's one of the arms of Jostedal glacier, the largest in continental Europe, covering an area 500km square.

The ice is 600m thick in places. If it melted, it's said to be able to provide Norway with enough fresh water for 100 years.

The trek takes us over a pounding waterfall to a glacial lake where fragments of ice, like solidified bubbles, bob across the water. The glacier, wedged between peaks, is shot with blue. It seems as if it's been solid for centuries, but as I wander back to our meeting point, markers show how much it's melted.

In 1760, it took just ten minutes to walk to the glacier. Today, you need 50.

Back on the Emerald Princess, I slip away to the spa. At its centre is an adults-only pool, presided over by a stone Buddha. There are a couple of Jacuzzis which become my personal port of call every evening, plus treatment rooms, a steam room and sauna.

The next day, we stop at Skjolden in Sognefjord. At over 200km miles, it's the longest in Norway. It's also the deepest, dropping to 1,300m. But it's still not as deep as the height of the Jotunheimen mountains around us. Dubbed "Home of the Giants", they seem even more enormous when you're paddling a kayak beneath them.

As we dip our oars into the water, breaking its still surface, the fjord, which from the decks of the ship seemed so narrow, appears to morph into a lake around us. Peaks plunge into the channel on every side. Astonishingly, we paddle almost 20km.

That night, the ship's Salty Dog gastropub seems an appropriate dining venue, and we perch on stools over jumbo crab cakes, charred asparagus and halloumi, before finishing with chocolate cocktails.

Our final stop is Bergen, Norway's second largest city, but not before I've dined on black Angus beef and bittersweet chocolate mousse at the chef's table in the Michelangelo Dining Room.

Our last day at sea gives me the chance to sample some of the on-board activities. I stumble across Zumba in one of the bars - a class led by Amparo from Chile.

"You need to pretend you are in a Bollywood movie!" she exhorts, "so big smile!" Her black plaits bounce up and down her tiny back.

Buoyed by her enthusiasm, I abandon my coffee and join in.

I'm not alone. The class gradually grows from 30 to 60. We spill out of the dance floor, fill up the walkways and squeeze among the leather-bound stools in the bar. We're a motley group, hopeless at rhythm, but keen to give every move a go.

"We are in India! Wave like a Bollywood star!" Amparo exclaims, as a sea of hands arches over bobbing heads.

It's a ridiculous way to say farewell to the fjords, but it keeps me active, and entertained, right to the end of my holiday.

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