Stepping onto the island of Spitsbergen, the largest and only populated island of the Svalbard Archipelago, you really do feel as if you’ve arrived at one of the most remote places on earth. The truth is, you have. And our PONANT luxury small ship expeditions take you deep inside its coastal wonders, from dramatic, deep-cut fjords to towering glaciers flowing into the sea.
Consider this: Spitsbergen – and the far-flung Svalbard Archipelago of which it is a part – is surrounded by cold, cold waters that explorers once feared to tread. To its north, the Arctic Ocean reaches to the Pole. To the south, the Norwegian Sea leads to the “topmost” coast of Norway. The Greenland Sea stretches west to Greenland and a voyage on the Barents Sea eastward would deliver you to the polar territories of Russia.
It's about as “middle” in the middle of nowhere as PONANT goes, which makes it all the more intriguing to us – and, we imagine, you.
Spitsbergen is often considered the gateway to the Arctic North. But here, you are very much surrounded by polar splendors already. Soaring craggy peaks cloaked in snow pierce the sky. Glaciers fill deep ravines between vast mountain slopes and spill into the sea. Fields of ice and magical beryl-blue icebergs drift on steel-gray waters. Make no mistake: This is the primeval Arctic.
Better still, our summer departures mean that these spectacular unspoiled vistas are cast in the soft light of the sun all day long, so you won’t miss a thing.
Polar Wilderness Steeped in Poetry and Motion
As you get underway on board your elegant PONANT expedition ship, it doesn’t take long to understand that we are just visitors here. This is the realm of the Arctic fulmars and terns taking wing above us … of the roaming Svalbard reindeer and scurrying Arctic fox you might spot on the beautifully stark tundra during our onshore excursions … of the orcas and minke and blue whales you might spot off the bow.
But mostly, it is the domain of the polar bear. These ursine marvels outnumber humans on the island, so they are never far away. Our onboard naturalists are vigilant in their search for all wildlife on Spitsbergen, but especially the polar bear; even for them, every sighting fills them with awe and fascination. Typically, we spot them as they lumber along the shore or on ice fields in search of their next unsuspecting meal.
There is even life calling out from the ice-blue glaciers that meet the shore. This time of year, the temperature climbs, carving at the massive walls of ice like an invisible sculptor. As you cruise past, you may hear a crack, a roar, or a murmur as the colossal blocks shape-shift from the inside-out. It’s an eerie sound, made more imposing by the black-legged kittiwakes that, startled by the music of the thaw, take to the sky.
Spitsbergen’s Magnificent Fjords and Glaciers
You can read more about our small ship luxury expeditions among Spitsbergen’s countless natural splendors here. In the meantime, we want to share some awe-inspiring highlights that captivate us … and are sure to captivate you.
To the south, the Hornsund Fjord winds its way inland from the Greenland Sea. No fewer than eight glaciers make their way to its waters from soaring peaks here, forming sweeping bays as they retreat and release massive icebergs. Further north, Bellsund Fjord reaches deep into the mountainous terrain, branching into two equally majestic, canyon-like fjords.
In the north, cast your gaze on the Monaco Glacier, named for Prince Albert I of Monaco, who had a fondness for sailing. Encountering this behemoth is akin to coming up against an impenetrable fortress wall cast in shades of soft blues and whites. For beauty of a different color, you’ll cruise into Raudfjorden, meaning “red fjord,” for the sandstone hues of its dramatic mountain slopes and cliffs. It is all truly spectacular and wholly humbling..
Explorers were no doubt humbled, too, when they settled on a name for Kongsfjorden. “The fjord of the king” is vast and impressive, a convergence of snow-topped peaks, drifting icebergs and ice floes, frolicking seals, and soaring seabirds. At the fjord’s farthest end, the Kongsbreen, or “glacier of the king,” makes its dramatic appearance, only to be upstaged by a trio of rocky points reaching into the sky behind, each named in honor of a Scandinavian country: Svea for Sweden, Dana for Denmark, and Nora for Norway.
You’ll Have a Front-Row Seat with PONANT
Throughout, your PONANT ship takes you as close to the ice floes and icebergs as is safely possible. Zodiacs stand at the ready to bring you out for a closer look at enormous ice sheets, some of them six feet thick and some of them hosting a colony of seals or seabirds. And you’ll set foot on the malleable terrain of the tundra to examine the island’s rare geology and flora. Our onboard naturalists are along for the ride, sharing their passion and expertise with you and enriching every moment of your expedition.