Lights fantastic

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iol travel nov 20 northern lights AP More than half of us have a 'bucket list' of places to visit, a survey has revealed, and seeing Norway's Northern Lights comes top.

London - The mysterious Northern Lights are a wonder to behold. I saw them quite by chance while I was sailing off the coast of Greenland at 2am one August.

Summoned by a voice from the bridge, I and my fellow passengers shuffled from our cabins to see the most fantastic show imaginable – green zigzags and swirls and spirals of white light moving across a black sky.

It was mesmerising. Part of the allure of the spectacle is its elusiveness. Always there in the heavens but appearing only sometimes, the very best displays are north of the Arctic Circle in winter, away from the light pollution of towns.

The good news is that 2013 is expected to be a bumper year for sightings, thanks to high levels of solar activity. And there is still time to book a cruise to watch the display from the comfort of an observation lounge of a ship out at sea.

Hurtigruten (www.hurtigruten.co.uk) plies the long coast of Norway with its fleet of 11 ships departing daily from Bergen. By taking the full 12-day voyage up to Kirkenes, just six miles from the Russian border, and back, you’ll have the most time aboard to scan the night sky.

There will be opportunities to go dog-sledding and visit an ice hotel, too. A fly package from Manchester on March 9 or Heathrow on March 20, 2013, to join this “ Classic Round Voyage” costs from £1 372 (R19 266) a person on a half-board basis.

For a shorter, fully escorted, Wonders of The Northern Lights tour on a Hurtigruten ship, book with Titan (www.titantravel.co.uk). You’ll fly to Tromso, high above the Arctic Circle, to stay overnight in the four-star Radisson Blu with a city tour the next day before your three-night cruise.

Hugging the north coast of Norway, you’ll have the chance to take an excursion to North Cape, the most northerly point in Europe. Disembarking in Tromso you’ll stay overnight again before flying home. Departures are on January 13 and 18 and cost from £1 495 each, including flights.

A similar, unescorted itinerary is offered by Voyages Jules Verne (www.vjv.com) with departures from Gatwick on January 24, 31 and March 22, costing from £1 145 each.

Dog-sledding, tobogganing, a safari to spot elk, reindeer and sea eagles, and a walk in snowshoes to a indigenous Sami village for a bowl of “sodd” (mutton soup) are some of the activities offered on a “Cruise & Walk Ramblers Worldwide Holiday” (www.cruiseandwalk.co.uk).

Join the Fred Olsen ship Boudicca in Portsmouth on February 9 or 25 for a 16-night voyage to the far north of Norway, and return to the comforts of the ship after outings ashore. This costs from £2 499 a person.

Fred Olsen (www.fredolsencruises.co.uk) has added an extra 14-night round-trip cruise from Portsmouth to Norway on March 13. The ship stays for two nights in Tromso and offers an optional “Chase for the Northern Lights” tour that takes the form of an evening drive into the wilderness by coach.

The cost is from £1 729 each. A 16-night no-fly voyage into the Arctic north of Norway from Southampton is offered by Saga (www.sagacruises.com). After two leisurely days at sea to enjoy Saga Sapphire’s entertainment, lounges and various bars, the first port of call is the medieval city of Bergen.

At Alta, the cruise’s most northerly stop, guests can book an overnight stay in the Igloo Hotel, where everything is made from slabs of ice.

You can visit the War Museum in Narvik which chronicles the town’s occupation by the Germans during World War II. Departure is on March 12 and the cost, from £5 519 each, includes transport between home and ship, travel insurance and tips.

Handy for holidaymakers in the West Country, Bristol Avonmouth is the embarkation port for a 15-night round-trip voyage to Norway aboard Discovery on February 28.

The first call is Amsterdam, and then it’s on to Stavanger with its 12th Century cathedral and a day’s scenic cruising in Holandsfjord to see the Svartisen glacier.

The cost is from £1 479 for the first passenger and from £740 for the second sharing the cabin (www.cruiseandmaritime.com). – Daily Mail

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