Chris Hutchinson discovers the great cities of the Baltic and experiences the beauty of their countryside


The Hutchinson’s were united in choice of holiday, an unusual occurrence, a Baltic cruise appealed to us both. We looked at a number of cruises, and agreed, Fred .Olsen Cruise Lines’ itinerary was first choice. We selected a shore excursion programme, to include the best of Baltic cities and countryside.

Embarking on Balmoral you immediately feel at home by the enthusiastic welcoming from the staff.

First port of call was Copenhagen, Denmark; our tour to the rural fishing village of Dragor, characterised by small yellow painted houses on cobbled streets reflect its quaintness; here we enjoyed Danish pastries.

In the city, we visited the iconic Little Mermaid, despite a number of injuries she sits serenely on a bed of rocks. Legend has it, it will be 195 years before she enters the human race, but would she want to? We took in Copenhagen’s sights ending at the 17th century Nyhavn Canal waterfront, surrounded by coloured houses, chic bars, restaurants, and wooden boats moored; it’s a perfect setting for relaxing with coffee or something stronger!

To reach Stockholm, we cruised the Swedish Archipelago which has over 30, 000 islands. Balmoral seemed to glide through this scenic four -hour passage; A natural part of Sweden’s countryside.

In Stockholm a panoramic tour included the highlights; we then meandered around the oldest district Gamla Stan, where we absorbed the heart and antiquity of this city, and watched the colourful changing of the Palace Guard.

We arrived in Helsinki, Finland, and were driven along winding country roads descending into a wooded picturesque valley, ablaze with wild flowers and a natural lake. Welcomed by host Harriet into her traditional Finnish home, she provided a spread of delicious Finnish treats. We then trekked through the forest where spruce, birch and pine trees’ aromas filled the air, tranquillity only broken by sweet bird song. On our orientation tour of Helsinki, we admired the Lutheran Cathedral and stylish buildings, designed by Russian, Swedish and Finnish architects, along with floral parks.

I could hardly contain my excitement entering the River Neva, gateway to St. Petersburg, Russia. Three names are synonymous with this extraordinary city, Peter the Great, Catherine the Great and the Romanov family.

Fred .Olsen Cruise Lines meticulously put together a two- day itinerary. Our first visit, the Hermitage Museum, houses a collection of over three million exhibits; we gazed in awe at masterpieces by Da Vinci, Raphael, Rembrandt and many more. You can’t fail to appreciate such beauty.

Next, the Church on the Spilled Blood; both an historical monument and work of art, its five domes and mosaics shimmer in the morning sun, whilst inside is almost entirely covered with mosaics, one of the most unique collections in the world.

In a traditional Russian restaurant we enjoyed a delicious four course lunch, naturally with vodka!

Refreshed, we visited the impressive Yusupov Palace which has a fascinating history; where the notorious assassination of Grigori Rasputin took place. We stood in the small basement room where he was both poisoned and shot; an intriguing visit.

Our day ended with a river trip, we glided under ornate bridges absorbing majestic sights and land marks of this astonishing city. I couldn’t wait for the following day.

We journeyed to rural Pushkin, to Catherine the Great’s Palace, its turquoise, white and gold facade dazzles. From the grand entrance, room after room reflects Catherine’s passion for fine art and furniture; and the amazing Amber Room with tones of lemon to red is spectacular. Then we strolled round the manicured gardens.

We continued to Peterhof Palace, home of Peter the Great. From the palace terrace we had a breathtaking view of the grand cascade of 64 fountains and three waterfalls fed from underground springs, watched over by 37 gilded statues, the beautiful gardens stretch to the Gulf of Finland.

Still in the palace grounds we enjoyed another four- course lunch with, you’ve guessed it, vodka!

Rejuvenated, a return to the city where St. Isaac’s Cathedral dominates the skyline. Inside its striking decorations of coloured marble, sculptures, frescos and mosaics is beauty to behold.

Our last visit was Peter and Paul Fortress; here you immerse yourself in the history of St. Petersburg. In Peter and Paul Cathedral, are icons, wood carvings, canopies, and under decorative ceilings are the tombs of the Imperial Royals, Peter the Great, Catherine the Great and the tragic Romanov family who rest with dignity.

My expectations for this two- day tour were high - but they were exceeded!

On days at sea there are a wide variety of activities and lectures to enjoy, and you can also indulge in Traditional Afternoon Tea with white glove service.

Evenings on Balmoral are occasions to savour, pre- dinner, enjoy The Martini Experience - ‘Try it Mr Bond, you’ll like it’- then on to mouth-watering five star cuisine, followed by enjoyable shows in the theatre.

We wanted to experience traditional Estonian life; we left Tallinn and drove to the country village of Nomme where we were invited by host Helina into her Estonian home, set amongst pine trees. She served us scrumptious strawberry flan whilst talking of life in Estonia. Still in the forest district we visited Glehn Park where the imposing giant Devil Statue stands, designed by Nikolai von Glehn himself.

Back in Tallinn we strolled through the enchanting Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, its red tiled turrets, high ramparts and cobble streets, give it a fairy tale charm. At the atmospheric Town Hall square you are entertained by Troubadours and wandering Minstrels, in authentic dress; restaurants offer medieval cuisine. In the market, my wife bought a handmade tunic top which was extremely kind to my wallet!

Our final experience of city and countryside was Oslo, Norway; city highlights included the National Opera House, Nobel Peace Centre and Royal Palace. Leaving the city we went to Vigeland Sculpture Park where a unique collection of 214 statues and over 600 figures of granite and bronze by Gustav Vigeland reflect the circle of life. An old sailing ship took us through the Fjord back to Balmoral.

This Fred. Olsen cruise was perfectly balanced, inspirational days and memorable nights; we certainly experienced the treasures of the Baltic’s cities and countryside.

Travel File; A similar cruise in 2020 will be a 14-night ‘Capital Cities of the Baltic’ cruise, L2019, on board Balmoral, departing from Newcastle on 2nd August 2020. Prices start from £1,999 per person, and includes all food and entertainment on board, and port taxes.