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Slow travel in the Arctic

Penelope Rance takes time to discover the benefits of slow travel, falling in with the rhythm of tide, and letting the ocean set the pace

Author: Penelope Rance is a freelance journalist, and frequent contributor to Sundowner magazine

Reading time: 5.5 minutes

Holidays are supposed to be a chance to relax, de-stress, and do the things we love – but how many of us treat them as an opportunity to cram a year’s worth of experiences into two weeks, jetting from destination to destination, and creating crammed itineraries of guidebook must-sees rather than meaningful moments? In reaction to this, the slow travel movement has arisen: the antithesis of non-stop tourism, it espouses a more considered, in-depth experience.

I have been guilty of leapfrog travel, hopping over continents by plane to arrive in exotic destinations, where I try to see it all, and stay constantly active – snowboarding, mountain climbing, kung fu training on a remote Chinese mountain top – lest any of my precious holiday be wasted.

The Arctic Circle

But slow travel dictates a different pace, and an ambition to dig below the skin of each place and culture visited. I found my compromise when I decided to sail around the world aboard a 70-foot yacht: an active adventure that would also include long periods of reflection; when the timetable was dictated by wind and weather, not flight plans; and where I could remember what it was like to just be me. Given that the entire trip took almost a year, it was certainly a prolonged progress.

The trend for slow travel has been driven in part by millennials looking for transformational experiences beyond the norm, but is just as relevant for harassed executives in need of an escape from the rat race. “Slow travel is a mindset, not a process,” says Ross Pakes, director of product at A&K. “To enjoy slow travel successfully you must invest in slowing down. This may be hard in our
time-poor modern world, but it is worth it.”

Eschewing aeroplanes is a founding principle of the slow travel movement, making boats – particularly those under sail – the perfect vehicles. Time and tide may wait for no man, but equally, they won’t be rushed. Yachts have departure dates, but arrival times are dependent on nature’s whim. On my journey, crossing the Atlantic took four weeks from La Rochelle in France to Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro – but just nine days from Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, to Kinsale in Ireland.

A Zodiac trip in the Arctic

The thrill of arriving at each new port, anticipation building as dry land came gradually closer, was slow travel in its purest form. I made landfall in more than 20 places during my voyage, and in each one found a different culture, people delighted to open their hearts and homes, and landscapes as breath-taking as they were varied. After days and weeks at sea, each new place seemed more vibrant, intoxicating and, frankly, pungent, than I ever anticipated.

And that’s the beauty of slow travel – you get to see beneath the surface of a place, and come to appreciate it in a way that is impossible to achieve through non-stop tourism. “When you take your time, you are able to make connections with people and places, both with your own groups and with the people you meet along the way,” believes Pakes. “You will experience a far deeper understanding of a region or town if you spend time getting to know it.”

If you’re seduced by the prospect of an ocean-going slow travel experience, but don’t have the time or freedom to circumnavigate the globe under sail, then the Grand Arctic Voyage offers an unforgettable immersion into a unique landscape – a bucket-list destination to top all others.

Combining three of A&K’s Luxury Expedition Cruises – Arctic Cruise Adventure: In Search of the Polar Bear; Ultimate Iceland & Greenland Cruise; and The Northwest Passage: From Greenland to the Bering Sea – it takes 48 days to sweep across the top of the world and crosses five Arctic regions along the way.

Ilulissat Icefjord off the coast of Greenland

This one-of-a-kind voyage gives you the opportunity to follow in the wake of the Vikings as you journey to the wild Svalbard archipelago and rarely visited coastlines of Greenland, stopping off in Scoresby Sound. You will have the opportunity to see polar bear in their native habitat, then journey on to Iceland, where the snow gives way to fiery volcanoes, steaming geysers, and hot springs. Landfalls at Húsavík, Grundarfjörður, and Reykjavík allow you to see the different faces of the country, from the northern wilderness to its unique capital.

On the second phase of this incredible Arctic-crossing, you will have time to explore the Westman Islands and the western fjords before leaving the Land of Ice and Fire to cross back to Greenland. Here you can marvel at giant glaciers, meet the people of its remote villages, and learn about its past at frozen archaeological sites. The stunning southern coast is yours to explore, with stop-offs in Qaqortoq, Narsaq, and Nuuk.


Ittoqqortoormiit village in Greenland


The last 20 days at sea are spent navigating the Northwest Passage, that legendary route from east to west that frustrated so many Arctic explorers until Roald Amundsen took three years to pick his way through between 1903 and 1906. You don’t need to travel quite that slowly as you traverse from the Uummannaq Fjord to Ulukhaktok in Canada. Along the way, the Inuit people of Nunavut welcome you, and share traditional customs and crafts. Then you’ll explore the unique geology of the ‘Smoking Hills’ in Franklin Bay before passing back into the Arctic Circle on your way to Herschel Island, Point Barrow, and Nome.

The Grand Arctic Voyage combines the best of slow travel, getting to the heart of the region while experiencing the finest in luxury travel aboard exclusively chartered mega-yacht Le Boreal. This extended cruise gives you an opportunity to rediscover who you are, forge new friendships, and spend quality time with those you love. “Slow travel allows you time to reconnect with your family, partner, or children, away from the stresses of day to day life,” Pakes points out. “It’s about making time to slow down and consider self-improvement, beyond just seeing the sights and moving on.”

Le Boreal 


Undeniably the way to view the far north in style, the Great Arctic Voyage could also be one of the last chances to see these lands of ice and snow before they are irrevocably changed by human influence. Places on the next long-awaited next departure are limited. Speak to one of our travel specialists or enquire online.

Want to see more articles like this? Read the latest issue of A&K’s Sundowner magazine online and subscribe to our mailing list here.