Uncategorized

The Lyngen Alps… a paradise in the Arctic Circle

If travel to the Arctic Circle conjures up evocative feelings of beautiful isolation laced with just the hint of a wild and honeyed siren song; then a stay at the Lyngen Lodge in the Lyngen Alps, north Norway will not disappoint.

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The view from the breakfast table

Lyngen Lodge is a beautifully appointed luxury hotel sleeping 16 guests in eight bedrooms. The décor is stylishly Nordic with a rustic twist. Every detail of the lodge has been considered for the utmost comfort whilst providing the full arctic experience. From the handmade slippers you receive on entry (they are unbelievably comfy, like a small arctic fox is giving your foot a cuddle!) to the outdoor suits which offer practicality and warmth for all your outdoor excursions. The charm of the lodge isn’t simply limited to slippers and adventurous outings; every afternoon on your return from a chilly mornings activity you are greeted with afternoon tea. Delightfully baked goods are varied, plentiful and combined with a hot beverage (my personal preference being a well brewed Earl Grey) overlooking the fjord, wrapped in a thickly knitted blanket I truly felt that I had perfected the Scandinavian art of hygge. Each afternoon spent at the lodge with a tea in hand and a moist slice of homemade cake left me feeling truly happy. I can honestly say that our stay over 4 days in February 2017 was the trip of a lifetime.

The lodge is located 2 and a half hours from Tromsø Airport. Direct flights are available with Norwegian airlines from London Gatwick and can be found for as little as £50. Luftansa, SAS and KLM all fly from UK airports to Tromsø, with the most common flight route having a short stop in Oslo.

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Views from the fjord crossing

With transfers pre-arranged and provided by the lodge the often-feared ordeal of airport transfer was remarkably stress free and provided a great opportunity to meet our fellow travellers. Our transfer took us via road and two fjord crossings providing the chance to savour the spectacular scenery which bombards the senses from the moment you step off the plane.

 

 

What to expect from a 4 day stay:

The beauty of the service offered by Lyngen Lodge is that each day’s itinerary is tailored to what you want to do. Activities range from dog sledding to a sea fjord safari. The choice and variety of activities offered played a big part in our choice of accommodation. Anyone who is lured to the arctic circle by the prospect of those elusive green lights should know that the Aurora Borealis do not always put in an appearance. If the lights do appear they are often shrouded in cloud so visibility can be poor, as we discovered on the first night. I eagerly stood outside in my pyjamas and ski jacket frantically snapping away at what can only be described as a faintly Absinthe coloured cloud – the hours went by with visibility not improving so I reluctantly took myself to bed. Therefore, it was important that the trip of a lifetime didn’t hinge on the hope of seeing the northern lights; although we were lucky enough to be dazzled by a wonderful display on our final night.

We opted for the dog sledding, snow shoeing and use of the mountain hut and the high frozen lakes adventure but other guests took part in Nordic skiing and a visit to local landmarks. All activities were run in groups of eight with the other guests at the lodge, however the snowshoeing and the mountain hut were run for just the two of us with a guide.

Dog sledding:

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Speedy pooches!

I was totally unprepared for the overwhelming cacophony of noise which greeted me at the dog sledding venue. It was the loudest most excitable chatter of over 50 dogs chomping at the bit to get running and boy can they run! Our guides got us organised in pairs and gave us thorough demonstration of how to drive the sleds ourselves…. there was me thinking that I’d be sitting back taking in the view from underneath a warm reindeer pelt, how wrong I was! Doubts aside driving the sled was exhilarating; those dogs are immensely powerful and clearly love the chance to run through the endless expanse of snow-covered forest. My biggest issue when steering the dogs was I was all too easily distracted by the scenery and found myself face first in the snow on two occasions! After about an hour of being snuggled in the sled we stopped for lunch at an outdoor camp. Before this trip my relationship with salmon was limited to the smoked variety and generally only eaten at Christmas; for some unknown reason I had it in my head that I didn’t like it! After eating freshly caught and made salmon burgers perched in front of an open fire I am a true convert. That afternoon also introduced my senses to glØgg. GlØgg is the Scandinavian equivalent of mulled wine but, so, so much better. The glØgg we had that afternoon was warm, sweet and spiced all at once. There were layers of nutmeg, cinnamon and citrus which provided the perfect accompaniment to the food. Additionally the warm wooden cups got my numb fingers moving again and ready for the return journey back to husky HQ.

High frozen lakes adventure:

On day 2 of our arctic adventure we awoke to a huge dumping of fresh powder, the temperature had plummeted and we were heading up the mountain to the frozen lake for a spot of ice fishing.

Our transport up the mountain was on snowmobiles, this in itself was brilliant fun particularly when you get to sit back let the guides do the driving and you can take in yet more breath-taking scenery (the fresh snowfall dusting the fir trees up the mountainside really did make a wonderfully festive scene.)

I have to admit when we arrived at the frozen lake I had no idea. I didn’t see it at first until I was told I was standing on it! Overnight snowfall had completely covered its surface and it was perfectly camouflaged with the rest of the snowy gently undulating landscape. Simply finding the lake in those conditions was a testament how knowledgeable and experienced our guides were. Once we were set up on our individual

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Ice fishing is not my forte…

reindeer skins, we watched in awe as the guides drilled holes through the thick ice for us to fish in. I am not sure if it just wasn’t our day or the fish had relocated but none of us showed much aptitude for ice fishing, I managed to catch a stick….after much excitement thinking I’d caught a big one! However, our lack of a catch did not deter from the group banter and fun that was had that afternoon. From snow mobile driving on the frozen lake to races on small sledges towed by the snow mobiles all topped off with homemade salmon soup and a small snowshoe walk before our decent.

Snowshoeing & Mountain hut:

After a brief snowshoe taster the previous day, my husband and I were keen to go out venturing again. It wasn’t a problem for the lodge staff that we were the only two as there were ample guides to cover the other activities going on that day and it gave us a nice opportunity to spend some time together just the two of us. After being carefully fitted into our snowshoes we set off the lodge and heading up into the mountains behind. Whilst there was a significant amount of snowfall on the ground, it was actually quite a mild day and within the first 20 minutes I was regretting the number of layers I had opted for. Snowshoeing is a blissfully romantic way to take in the surroundings however it is hard work! I like to think I am a relatively fit person, but my legs knew they were working and the many layers were quickly shed as we forged a path up the mountain! This is such a brilliant activity but a good level of fitness and wellbeing is recommended. Our guide was knowledgeable about the area giving us snippets of the history and insights into the local community and he took us at a pace that was right for us. After we had looped back round towards the lodge, we descended to the mountain hut. A blissful snow-covered oasis with wisps of smoke beckoning from the chimney. The mountain hut offered a warm respite with glØgg, toasted marshmallows on an open fire and a panoramic view of the lodge and fjord down below. It was sitting in the mountain hut wrapped in a blanket that we witness the true majesty of the arctic weather. One moment it was bright, chilly and a few white clouds dotted the horizon the next moment the snow clouds lowered, they stalked along the edges of the fjord claiming all in their path. It was remarkable to watch. It was as if the world in this small microclimate was imploding in a frenzy of thick cloud and swirling snow. As quickly as it had occurred the snow laden clouds passed through our little part of the fjord and moved right along.

The food:

I couldn’t write this without a nod to the wonderful three course cuisine presented each night. The Lyngen Lodge website states that “our aim is for your food to look and taste as good as the view you’ll be looking at across the fjord at the table” and they did not disappoint on either front. The fare offered at each meal was superb; evening meals were three courses of hearty, warming goodness ranging from reindeer to halibut. However, all dietary requirements could be catered for. All the ingredients are sourced locally which added yet another special layer to this already fantastic trip. The food was fresh, beautifully prepared, mouth wateringly tasty and most importantly was of the environment; giving us a better understanding of the flora and fauna from this magical place.

All the food is included in your stay aside from alcoholic beverages which are additional. The lodge offers an excellent range of wines and spirits and the staff were incredibly knowledgeable about which wine would suit the food they were serving.

Lunches are provided on the go and were always suitably warm and substantial to keep you going with your adventurous activity. Although lunches are mostly eaten alfresco at whichever activity, you are doing they are always freshly prepared and when served with a warm glØgg and stunning scenery it is pretty much perfect.

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A lunchtime feast in the forest

What to pack:

For those of you looking to capture the perfect shot of the dancing lights as they waltz through the night sky then you will need some sort of photographic device. I am not a techy person, so I was armed with my trusty iPhone. On the first night our hosts gave us a short presentation about the lights and helped everyone set up their cameras with the best settings. For those of us with iPhones, they recommended the best apps for capturing those all-important moments. The brilliant thing about sharing the lodge with other like-minded people over 4 days is that you bond pretty quickly and where photos were concerned everyone was happy to air drop and share their beautiful snaps when the aurora finally lit up the sky on our final night.

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Northern lights….absolute magic.

February in the Lyngen Alps can see temperatures as cold as -11 degrees so if you are planning to visit in the winter months be prepared for some chilly weather. As well as merino wool thermals I packed as if I were going on a ski trip, lots of thin layers, good quality socks, salopettes and of course ski jacket, the latter was essential on the fjord crossings as I didn’t want to miss a moment of the beautiful scenery so opted for a spot out on deck. The clean icy air cut through the fog of all-day travel and provided a blissful relief from my winter sniffles.

However; if you don’t already have ski wear then the lodge does provide all in one Arctic suits and, to be honest this was the option I chose for all of our daily outings. The lodge also offers sturdy water proof footwear and all specialist equipment.

The service, sense of adventure, activities and warm friendly environment created by Lyngen Lodge and its staff was outstanding. With an ever-growing list of summer and winter adventures on offer I know this is a place I haven’t quite got out of my system, it is totally infectious and certainly gets under your skin. I will definitely be back!

Happy travels

Jess

 

Prague, Uncategorized

Eating Like A Local in Prague

Normally when I book a trip I like to do a little research on the best restaurants and local places to eat. I have always been a firm believer that if you want to get a real feeling of the place then eating local food, in restaurants frequented by the resident population is a good place to start.

After some careful reading and research on the various food tours offered in Prague I chose the Eating Europe, Prague Food Tour. I selected the four-hour tour which promised “Old world charm & local history told through cuisine”, on all fronts I was not disappointed. Four hours spent in the company of Neil our guide was both delicious, insightful and left me feeling like another trip to the Czech capital was needed!

The trip to Prague was a surprise for my birthday this summer so I booked rather late on to the tour however, we managed to snap up 2 places on a Monday morning commencing at 11.30am. I would definitely recommend booking as far in advance as you can, particularly during the summer months. Although this is a mid-morning start time I would hold off on the big breakfast as four hours of food, even with bite sized portions left me feeling very full and in need of a nap!

  • Dreams are made of…gingerbread:

 

gingerbreadWe arrived at what can only be described as a real-life gingerbread house, it looked super cute with beautifully baked and iced treats adoring the doorway and the aroma was incredible. As soon as we walked in we were met by our guide Neil; although originally from Scotland his knowledge of local history and food was detailed and brought to life with stories from his Czech wife and in laws of their experiences living and growing up in the Czech Republic. We were lucky enough to have Neil to ourselves for the whole tour!

The shop is called Pernickuv Sen, located at Hastalska 21 which is approximately a ten-minute walk from the Powder Tower. Pernickuv Sen is owed by two sisters in law who create and ice some of the most beautiful gingerbread creations.

Our first tasting comprised three different traditional cookies, my favourite was definitely the poppy seed kolache however my husband preferred a crumblier vanilla flavoured cookie. As we devoured the cookies we heard how they were made and some of the stories behind their creation.

  • 2 slices of bread are overrated:

 

FullSizeRender - Copy (7)Having visited Norway, Sweden and Denmark open faced sandwiches are a common place food however there are few which rival the taste and careful craftmanship of those presented at the Sisters Bistro. The Sisters Bistro takes classic Czech flavours and brings them into the 21st century with stunning presentation and bold flavour combinations.

Our guide liked to see how many flavours we could identify in each of the mini sandwiches, needless to say my taste buds were far superior compared to my husband! We tried three different offerings, my personal favourite a beetroot and goats cheese sandwich. There was also a ham and boiled egg and a shredded cabbage with fresh tomato. When presented with the ham and boiled egg morsel Neil informed us that this was the height of Czech party food, good to know!

  1. Meat, meat, meat:

Without even moving from our little table Neil whipped away the empty sandwich plates and returned with a platter of meaty goodness from the butcher Nase Maso. Naso Maso state that they are a “Small butchers with a big heart” and it is clear from the bustling huddle keen to get in and snag a lunchtime hotdog that this small local butcher is attracting a lot of love from local Praguers. Not only does Naso Maso serve pre-cooked meat products but you can also select your meat have it cooked in front of you and you’re good to go. The owners have also sweetened the idea of waiting for your meat to cook by installing a beer tap so; with a cold one in hand you are free to thoroughly enjoy the whole experience.

The smell from coming from the plate in front of us was intoxicating, sweet, juicy and lightly caramelised. Neil carefully directed us first to the ham then onto the sausage. Whilst the ham was delicious, soft and melt in your mouth it was the sausage which truly reminded me why I am not a veggie! The first sausage we tried was affectionately called the ‘little fat boy’; reason being that it is a small, short, fat filled sausage. This little delicacy burst with flavour and the mustard accompaniment provided the perfect balance to the rich flavours. After devouring the ham, sausage, bread and gherkins I needed a walk!

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As we left Nase Maso we were able to walk past the long window showing the butchers in action, this visual spectacle seemed to be getting as much attention as those eagerly waiting for their food.

  • Soup in the bell tower:

 

After a short but much-needed walk (despite the 30 degree heat!) we arrived at a rather imposing yet unassuming venue for a restaurant. Our walk to Restaurant Zvonice was filled with insightful glimpses into times gone by helping to give a really good background to the city.

Restaurant Zvonice occupies two floors of the Gothic bell tower. The bell tower comes complete with 15th century bell and enormous yet characterful oak beams. As we sat down Neil informed us that we would again be guessing the ingredients of our soup. We were presented with a generous portion of steaming hot soup; not quite the dish of choice for a swelteringly hot August day but this reimagined Sauerkraut soup was a true and unexpected treat. The sauerkraut was mixed with potato, ham and cream, the result was a lightly pickled warming and hearty soup.

Even if sauerkraut soup isn’t your thing then the view from the bell tower is pretty impressive and worth the trip!

  • Czech Tapas:

 

Next on the menu was a tapas restaurant with a twist. We arrived at Špejle at lunchtime and already the tables were filling up. Špejle are small wooden skewers mostly used for shish kebabs. Špejle use these little wooden skewers in all of their delicacies. Their concept is brilliant; you choose whatever delights you like hot or cold, you are then charged for the number of skewers you accumulate over the course of your mczech tapaseal.

Our tapas treat was a beautifully cooked duck breast partnering a dumpling loaded with cranberry and red cabbage on the inside. The dish was topped off with crunchy fried onions and washed down with crisp, sharp Czech cider. Although it was bite size this was more than enough to satisfy any lunchtime munchies.

I would recommend prior booking at Špejle as their growing popularity for flavoursome food presented in a new and quirky way is gaining momentum.

  • Svickova; a Czech tradition:

 

As we made our way to our final destination we stopped for a while in Wenceslas Square where Neil gave us a brilliant insight into what had occurred there during the Soviet occupation and why it was such an important place. It was fascinating to stand in the square which we had read so much about at the Museum of Communism and join together some of the dots.

Our penultimate dish was in Neil’s opinion worth waiting for and was set to be the highlight of our tour. We arrived at Café Louvre; a beautifully grand building with a significant history. After learning that Einstein and Kafka used to frequent these rooms I was eager to get inside!

Our first dish was Svickova, a traditional Czech dish made with a spiced root vegetable sauce, beef steak, cranberry sauce, slice of lemon, 2 fluffy dumplings and of course a generous dollop of whipped cream. When the curious dish was presented in front of me I wasn’t quite sure where to start it seemed to be a strange combination between main course and dessert. However, Neil stepped in and advised that everything should be mixed together into the vegetable sauce (which I was reliably told when cooked properly should have more of an orange/yellow colour rather than the much darker alternatives often served in some of the more touristy spots). Well my first taste blew all my scepticism away, it was delicious! The only down side being that after so much food and drink that afternoon I struggled to finish it off.

food tour

  • Finale:

 

cafe louvreOur tour concluded with a final course at Café Louvre; traditional apple strudel with whipped cream and vanilla custard. Now, I am not a fan of cream or custard however the pure unadulterated strudel was warm, lightly spiced with melt in your mouth pastry. The Czech’s really know how to make a strudel, you can find this staple dessert on most menus across the city.

The Eating Prague tour was an excellent way to spend our last day in the city and I would thoroughly recommend it.

Food tours can be booked on the eating Europe website https://www.eatingeurope.com/

Happy travels

Jess