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Escorted Tours: Exploring Scandinavia

It’s official, the world has Scandinavia fever. From Stieg Larsson’s Salander to Hening Mankell’s Wallander, the lilting tones of crime-busting super sleuths (intellectually titillating and outright sensual respectively) have flooded our television sets, radios and bookshelves. Scandinavian is the new sexy. Book a holiday. Go on a cruise. Reserve your tickets for an escorted tour. Do it now.

With fjords and glittering landscapes to rival the snowy plains of Alaska, but a considerably more generous helping of sunshine in the summer months, Scandinavia as a physical entity is a land that brings to mind the magical setting of Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights trilogy – rugged, teeming with wildlife, ribboned with waterways that crisscross its forested mountains and vast planes, and dotted everywhere with clusters of cosmopolitan urbanism (Stockholm, Copenhagen and Oslo are the obvious picks for must-see cities) that scream culture into the wild… Oh, and there’s a low crime rate and it’s fiendishly clean. There might not be armoured polar bears or magical compasses, but there’s certainly magic to be found here.

If you do choose to go on an escorted tour (it would be my choice), then what can you expect to see, and is it really the value for money it purports to be? The short answer is, you choose what you want to see, and yes, absolutely. Firstly, you are guaranteed comfort and convenience – everything is paid for at the beginning and the itinerary decided to avoid hassle and extra money being flung around during your trip, but you still have a range of optional extras along the way, so you can play some of the holiday by ear; if you want to hop on a coach to view the Northern Lights when the opportunity for an excursion arises, you can. If the opportunity arises to visit the fjords – almost an inevitability on any good tour – grab it with both hands. Try Geirangerfjord, heralded as the most beautiful of the fjords in Norway and a listed UNESCO World Heritage Site. The village itself is small, but the panoramic views over the mountains and down into the central lake are beautiful whether blanketed in wild-flowers or capped with snow. While you’re at it, make sure you’re taking a tour that cruises past one of the glaciers! Trying to spot wild goats and eagles is fun – I’ve heard of tours where whales have been spotted! – but the sheer impact of these huge masses of ice is overwhelming. Hearing the ice crackle is just the icing on the cake.

And the most assuring thing? You can rest in the knowledge that a qualified guide will be on hand at every step of the way. Even the coach drivers will have inside information that, if you’re clever, you can use to find out where the best eateries, beauty spots and entertainment are in the places you stop off at. It’s always the less touristy places that have the best food, beer, music… So when someone whispers in your ear about local favourite allsång (community singing) on Tuesdays in Skansen, Stockholm, or the winter garden inside the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen – go for it! (Just shh, you didn’t hear it from me.)

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