A Lofoten island escape.

by Nick Boulos

When it comes to holidays to Norway, an opportunity to explore these intriguing Norwegian isles with Cunard’s 2020 and 2021 cruise itineraries is not to be missed. Here’s a glimpse into its fascinating history

Deep in the Lofoten Islands, where the wind whistles around the mountains and icy glaciers, and the quaint red-painted wooden cabins quietly creak, there’s something rather fishy going on.

But, truth be told, that’s nothing new. Fish have been the lifeblood of this hardy but heavenly corner of far-flung Norway, north of the Arctic Circle, for thousands of years.

Traditional boathouses

'We have found evidence of people living here more than 6,000 years ago. They subsisted on fishing, with hooks made from bones and horn,' - local historian, Kristine Moltu.

Stretching for 175 splendid kilometres, with peaks that tickle the clouds at heights of more than 1,000 metres, this is a land of fjords and glaciers, of whales and swooping eagles, and of ancient ways and quiet traditions.

At the heart of it all is the port of Leknes – visited by Queen Mary 2 and Queen Victoria as part of our 2020 and 2021 cruise itineraries – and the perfect jumping-off point to explore the region's rich history in a little more detail.

The Lofoten Museum in Kabelvag offers an in-depth look at the traditional fisheries, while the Lofotr Viking Museum – occupying a reconstruction of the largest Viking house in northern Europe, measuring 83 metres in length – has exhibitions on local archaeological findings. Best of all, a visit provides the opportunity to try authentic Viking fare, complete with singing and dancing.

But the real fun, of course, is to be found in the great outdoors. Once the domain of Vikings, this is arguably Norway’s prettiest patch. Here, a staggering collection of fjords and rocky islets made from volcanic granite are now home to just 24,500 people, who live in small fishing villages sprinkled far and wide, such as charming Nusfjord and Henningsvaer.

Take a stroll or rent a bike, and in these little communities you’ll no doubt catch more than a glimpse of the thousands of drying fish which are suspended on towering wooden frames. Stockfish – unsalted fish, often cod, and dried by the cold air – continues to be the main product of the Lofoten Islands and one that makes a substantial contribution to the Norwegian economy. ‘The drying process has been unchanged for 1,000 years,’ points out Kristine. ‘It’s part of the culture.’

This cultural backbone has also been underpinned, it seems, by a fascinating raft of superstitions which were once adhered to with unstinting reverence. Where fishing was concerned, a firm separation of land and sea was insisted on at all times. 'All equipment and references relating to the land were banned on board boats – as was even the mention of words like cow or horse,' explains Kristine. 

While such beliefs and superstitions have long been laid to rest, here on these unspoilt islands it isn’t difficult to imagine how generations of its hardy people would have existed in days gone by. Dressed for all weathers in wool and hide, life would have been hard. Up until the 18th century, small communities lived in simple wooden-framed houses clad in bark and peat. Recycling was common because of the scarcity of building materials and lack of money, and dwellings were often dismantled so their components could be reused to create new homes elsewhere. There were also rorbus – small two-roomed fishermen’s cabins, the like of which still stand today. They were rented by visiting fishermen who arrived on boats, and went on to stay for the season.

That historical nugget is surely an indication that seafaring visitors were readily welcomed into the local communities… just as those who arrive here are today.

On a Norway cruise taking in the Lofoten Islands, our guests can enjoy a rich variety of tours and excursions to get to know these intriguing islands better: the Lofoten Heritage Trail, for instance, takes in a scenic drive along the Flakstad Bay to the charming 13th-century red church and then on to the Sund Museum with its fascinating collection of fishermen’s boats, utensils and artefacts from the last century. Or, take the Leknes Tour, which makes the most of the islands’ breathtaking views, and includes a visit to Nusfjord fishing village – one of the most idyllic and best-preserved hamlets in the Lofoten Islands.

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