How to discover mindfulness on the ultimate Scandinavian wellness cruise

Forget all-you-can-eat buffets and wallowing on deck – a new breed of cruise is all about taking care of yourself, says Jo Fernandez

Jo Fernandez
Friday 05 April 2019 12:51 BST
Cruising the Norwegian fjords is an exercise in mindfulness
Cruising the Norwegian fjords is an exercise in mindfulness (Seabourn)

If you’re seeking an active and mindful break, a cruise isn’t normally the first port of call. The opportunities for overindulgence are infinite – and how mindful can you really be among 3,000 passengers?

But Seabourn is attempting to change all that as the first cruise line to offer a fleet-wide healthy lifestyle programme, Mindful Living, created by alternative-health “guru” Dr Andrew Weil.

After a tough 12 months in which I lost my main job and, far worse, my mum, I felt in need of an all-round healthy break. Seabourn’s Ovation launched in May 2018 with just 600 passengers and new Mindful Ventures (its term for excursions). Combining top-level luxury with healthy living in a place of pure beauty seemed the perfect match, so I chose a trip following the western Norwegian fjords to the North Cape from Copenhagen armed with a friend, Kate.

Before we settled into a “good” routine, we drank as much champagne as we could to accompany a sun-drenched lunch at the poolside Grill Bar, which served bowl after bowl of fresh salads and juicy, chargrilled prawns before we’d even set sail.

We continued in our cabin, far smarter than your average, with a sizeable marble bathroom stocked with high-end brands such as L’Occitane and daily deliveries of fresh fruit (and booze). From our spare-room sized balcony we snapped Instagram-worthy sunset shots as the peaked horizon blackened against the fading sun.

The next day was sobering – the start of a healthy week, with a hangover. A day at sea tends to mean that spas, gyms and classes are full but I managed to secure a high-tech Elemis Biotec anti-ageing facial, which put a little life back into my skin. The streamlined, all-white spa and sea-facing gym area managed to be appealing rather than clinical, and daily visits are vital to sign up for the many free classes.

The spa onboard (Seabourn)

Docking at Flam, a tiny dot of a village in a truly spectacular setting beside Sognefjord, Norway’s deepest, I felt a little embarrassed that the ship was obscuring the view. This despite her streamlined design to make her more yacht-like than multi-passenger bunkers (a design which also meant we couldn’t take long walks on deck among the dramatic scenery of Norway’s jagged coast). But I wasn’t complaining when, during dinner one night in the over-vamped Thomas Keller restaurant, we left the table to watch the ship sail through the slender Trollfjord, its steep mountain sides so close you could almost touch them.

Heading inland towards the far northern port of Alesund, gateway to the western Norwegian fjords and famed for having some of the country’s finest examples of Jugendstil (Art Nouveau) architecture, our next excursion – sorry, Mindful Venture – was hiking up Sugarlump Mountain (Sukkertoppen) on the neighbouring island of Hessa. As we walked under sun-dappled trees almost touching overhead, gnarled tree roots snaked among shafts of granite on the forest floor. On the ridge proper, the trail broke out into several smaller paths and the air turned silky and pure.

Honningsvag, the northernmost city in Norway (Seabourn)

About halfway up the challenging 1,000ft route Kate’s knees began hurting and she told me to go on without her. I protested (a little), then rushed to the top where I caught my breath and surveyed a 360-degree view worth the climb: blue sky and wispy ribbons of cloud; a scattering of islands; some lying like sleeping animals, others jutting into high peaks. I felt peaceful and satisfied; could this be the mindfulness I was supposed to be experiencing?

Back onboard it was time for a treatment we both regarded with a heavy dose of cynicism: a crystal sound bath, something I knew nothing about (which became clear when I asked if I needed a swimming costume). Fully clothed I lay on a heated mat while Dawid, the mindful living coach, played notes on a set of crystal bowls, “bathing” me in waves of sound. He “woke” me 25 minutes later; I didn’t feel like I’d slept, more like I’d finally cracked meditation.

The on-deck pool is perfect for a dip (Seabourn)

The ship sped us north towards the Arctic Circle and the Lofoten Islands (docking at Svolvaer), a low-lying chain populated by fishing villages and their cheery red rorbuer cottages. Glacially carved gneiss and granite volcanic islands are actually the highly eroded tips of a partially submerged mountain range in a sea enriched by the warm Gulf Stream and the Arctic Ocean. The water was inky blue, the sky a lighter shade and distant peaks snowcapped even in summer.

We came to kayak. Kate was initially unimpressed with my splashy style – it soon became clear why the expedition crew mentioned the divorce rate of couples sharing kayaks. We got into a groove soon enough though, silently slipping through the water and spotting elaborate seaweed floating up to the surface, including spaghetti strands of the deadly lion’s mane jellyfish. Much like on the hiking trip, the remote, ethereal landscape brought peace to my normally busy brain.

The Seabourn cruise starts and finishes in Copenhagen (Seabourn)

In the spirit of onboard mindfulness, daily half-hour group meditation and yoga classes were complimentary alongside seminars based on Dr Weil’s books. I booked personal sessions with Dawid, who discussed different meditation methods including his personal favourite: kettle bell meditation. He chanted while I tried to chant, instead forgetting the words as my mind flitted around incessantly... but somehow it was still restful. An hour of yoga early one morning was slightly challenging (I practise it occasionally but am reasonably flexible and fit) and Dawid combined different types to suit my level.

I also signed up for stretch and relax classes, ran on the treadmill and took the fancy Adam D Tihany-designed spiral stairs at all times. I ate healthily (salads, sushi, fish and steak with not too many desserts) and even attended lectures on salmon and cod. The combination of activities onboard and deep in nature was physically and mentally rewarding and, despite the slightly cosseted existence, the excursions ensured we never felt too cooped up.

The veranda on the signature suite (Seabourn)

Back on dry land, I’m now planning a 51km hiking, kayaking and canoeing challenge in the Scottish Highlands, so something must have sunk in...

Travel essentials

A 14-day Majestic Fjords and North Cape itinerary on Seabourn Ovation departing/returning Copenhagen costs from £8,499pp full board, including all drinks (except premium wine and spirits) and gratuities, sharing a veranda suite.

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