Explore the Baltic Sea on Board the Seven Seas Splendor

Helsinki, Finland

Cool cities, colourful villages and culinary curiosities delight on a Baltic Sea voyage.

From my verandah on the sixth deck of Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ Seven Seas Splendor, I have a gull’s view of the tranquil Baltic Sea and a number of Stockholm Archipelago’s almost 30,000 islands and islets. Some are mere rocky outcrops, others are planted with coniferous trees and many are occupied by pretty white or yellow houses and red barns. Often, there’s just one solitary home on a small island. Speedboats, ferries and yachts carve their way through the sea. I’m close enough that my waves of greeting are returned enthusiastically by sailors rigging their yachts and sunbathers on the decks of motor cruisers.

It’s the perfect sunny sail away for the Finnish Magic voyage, which begins in Stockholm, tracks the coastline to Finland and concludes in Oslo. In midsummer, when the days are long but not too warm in this part of the world, the Baltic comes to life and the best way to see the landscape is from the water.

One of Sweden’s small archipelago islands

The 746-guest Seven Seas Splendor is my opulent home for eight nights. Its interiors are decorated with more than 500 chandeliers, hand-laid mosaic tiles, etched glass and Italian marble. Everywhere I look there’s something gilded, sparkling or glitzy. My fellow passengers are suitably wowed by it as we line up for dinner, the women equally glittering in extravagant jewellery and cocktail frocks (it’s a very dressy cruise).

Our first port is Helsinki, where some of us join one of the shore expeditions (there are 105 on this journey), others take off on paid excursions and I decide to explore under my own steam. The Finnish capital is easily walkable and while I flirt with the idea of visiting the Marimekko flagship store and the Design Museum, I decide instead to wander around the covered market at the port, which is packed with vendors offering local delicacies I’ve never tried before, including moose, bear salami and smoked reindeer. There are fruit and vegetable stalls and stands selling mixed reindeer grill, Nordic meatballs and salmon soup, which the locals enjoy at tables in the thin sun.

On another day, I venture out solo in Visby, a beautiful town of bright-painted timber houses covered in rambling roses, which sits on the Swedish island of Gotland. I head straight for the Gotlands Museum, which is full of Viking treasures, and the Ett Rum För Resande Café, which serves the best saffranspannkaka, a kind of pancake crossed with rice pudding that’s lashed with saffron and dripping in salmbär berries. It’s a specialty of Gotland that’s worth travelling halfway around the world for.

The ship’s Culinary Arts Kitchen

After time on shore I retreat to my Deluxe Veranda Suite, which is compact but ingeniously designed to accommodate a comfortable queensized bed, a roomy walk-in wardrobe, an elegant marble bathroom with L’Occitane amenities and a small sitting room. The weather is chilly this far north so I don’t spend as much time as I would like on my private balcony but the view makes up for it.

All Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ itineraries have a culinary focus and in Tallinn, Estonia, I join a small-group tour with chef Karlis Celms to the Viimsi open-air museum on the waterfront. There we meet the man known as Estonia’s most famous fish smoker, a bearded, gnome-like gentleman introduced as Hanno. He’s a keen fisherman who publishes an online angling journal and tells me he’s been to Queensland’s Gold Coast for a competition. “I only catch big fish!” he says, beaming.

Hanno demonstrates how he smokes Norwegian salmon in an outdoor oven, heating the fish slowly over grey alder wood and then blasting it with a high heat for 15 minutes. Afterwards, we sit at outdoor tables sipping local beer. The fish, covered in dill and honey, is the best I’ve ever tasted.

On day six, I join a cooking class with Celms in the ship’s Culinary Arts Kitchen, a sunlit room with floor-toceiling views of the sea, where each student is assigned a well-equipped station and bowls of ingredients. The theme of this class is The Contented Viking and we learn how to make salmon rillettes, Swedish meatballs (what else?) and pancakes with cardamom ice-cream. We kick things off with a glass of aquavit and finish with glögg, a spiced hot red wine.

This is the only occasion when I’m required to cook my own meal as the onboard dining options are as lavish as the interiors. In addition to the main dining room, Compass Rose, there are three specialty restaurants that require reservations: pan-Asian Pacific Rim; Prime 7 steakhouse, with its classic menu of crab cakes, wedge salad and steaks; and the French restaurant Chartreuse, in a swooningly lovely Belle Epoque-style room, that serves foie gras, lobster tail mousse and steak tartare.

Prime 7 steakhouse

But it’s not all about food. I love the sundeck beyond the spa with its infinity-edge pool and sun lounges. There’s a gym, running track, putting green, bocce and pickleball courts, plus the Serene Spa & Wellness centre. At an engrossing lecture, I learn that the word “Viking” means “one who goes raiding”, although most Vikings were actually farmers.

Sometimes you don’t want to go raiding and would rather just watch some of those 30,000 islands drift by.

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SEE ALSO: The Luxe Cruise With An Unexpected Twist

Image credit: Stephen Beaudet

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