How To: The Nordics With The Luxury Travel Designer's Christine Cecille Gaffney

Norway is about to have a big moment, as it provides a dramatic backdrop for the fourth and final season of HBO’s popular series “Succession,” which premiered March 26. What the producers (and soon the viewing public) know, is that the Nordic wilderness is made for exploration and adventure—from the "High North," the snowy taiga of the Arctic Circle, the volcanic plateaus of Iceland, Greenland’s ice sheets and glaciers and Swedish pine forests, to the sheer cliffs and coasts of the Faroe Islands, each offering unspoiled havens where polar bears, whales, sea eagles and reindeer still flourish. Juxtaposing this imposing nature, the region boasts some of the most ultramodern cities on the planet: Oslo, Stockholm, Copenhagen and Helsinki. Bottom line: All of this makes for incredible scenery.

Combining the two into a singular and authentic itinerary takes deep knowledge and experience, which is why we have turned to Christine Cecille Gaffney, owner and founder of The Luxury Travel Designer, who started as a fjord guide in Norway more than 25 years ago. Gaffney has recently launched Due North Travel, which offers bespoke itineraries, Due North Air, which specializes in exclusive helicopter journeys through the region, and Due North Hideaways, a selection of luxury lodges that offer unique experiences in nature.

Here's our conversation:

In 25 years, what are the biggest changes you’ve seen in terms of travelers coming to the Nordics?

Christine Cecilie Gaffney
Christine Cecilie Gaffney creates experiential travel itineraries across the Nordics.  (Photo by OK Foto / The Luxury Travel Designer)

It’s not so much that the travelers coming to the Nordics have changed, it's more that we’ve adapted our focus and our services to the requirements of a niche group. As early as the turn of the millennium, I saw that there was a gap in the market for luxury Nordic travel based on human encounters and participation. Experiential travel, before it was called by that name, is the foundation of The Luxury Travel Designer.

With our latest enterprise, Due North Travel, we’ve taken the concept of nature-based adventure to new heights by introducing private helicopter flights to link our excursions. Together with our partners, Airlift, we transport travelers using the only commercial twin-engine helicopter in Norway. This gives our journeys the intensity, the flexibility and the freedom that our clients within the ultra-luxury segment require.

The region has become more popular with Americans in recent years; what do you attribute that to?

Certainly, the new season of “Succession” will help! Set-jetting is a real demand driver according to the most recent survey from American Express Travel of global travel trends for 2023. Having said that, the past decades have seen a surge of interest in the Nordic region and Nordic culture more generally. Nordic interior design and Nordic crime dramas have conquered the globe; people have even grown curious about Nordic cuisine—which, it turns out, extends far beyond the proverbial meatballs, fish and potatoes. More than this, though, I think the Nordic region has become something of a symbol of social stability and democratic values in an increasingly unstable world.

Within our organization, we try to recreate this broader social harmony through our flat hierarchy and pay structure, through gender equality—all our senior positions are held by women—and through our focus on sustainability. We’re currently organizing a range of Due North social enterprise initiatives to help our clients give something back to the communities they travel through. In this way, Due North journeys become a genuine human exchange, rather than a visit where guests remain on the outside, looking in at Nordic life.

Two people rock climbing in Norway
Brave travelers will have plenty of oportunities to rock climb or partake in other high-thrill experiences. (Photo by KIND / DUE NORTH Travel)

Who is your typical luxury traveler?

We’ve created journeys for the most varied combinations of travelers, but most of our clients are couples or multi-generational families. Multi-gen travel is a particular specialty, for example, our Due North Øygarden Archipelago Adventure, starts aboard a RIB boat from the quay in Bergen city center, weaving the islets and skerries to enjoy a visit to a local lobster park which has been in the family of our specialist guide for four generations.

Then, the spry and vigorous in the group can challenge themselves with bouldering, rappelling or bridge-jumping (akin to bungee jumping), and anyone else can enjoy a gentle stroll along the coast, encountering the archipelago’s enchanting wildlife and culture. The family reconvenes for a meal by the waterside. The scent of freshly grilled salmon and lobster fills the air as they swap stories, laugh, boast and bond; before the RIB chugs up again to ferry them back to their hotel.

What is the most popular itinerary?

With our new venture Due North Travel, we always seek to create “A Voyage of Contrasts.” A big draw for many travelers is the Western Norwegian fjords, where the glass-fronted cabins of Tunheimsfjøra Lodge––one of our Due North Hideaways––are cantilevered right out over the water. Guests at Tunheimsfjøra need only step outside onto the jacuzzi terrace to be immersed in these sweeping landscapes of forest, fjord and mountain.

Tunheimsfjøra Lodge, a contemporary cantilevered lodge in Norway
Guests of Tunheimsfjøra Lodge can take in views of the surrounding landscape through cantilevered rooms. (Photo by KIND / DUE NORTH Travel)

The most vivid contrast to this is the "High North," the Arctic, where travelers stay in a silver-white geodesic igloo by the foot of a glacier, at our Due North Hideaway Isbreen The Glacier, in Jøkelfjord. Here, there are no streetlamps, there’s no light pollution whatsoever, and the panoramic windows look out onto the star-pricked canvas of the sky. There are few places on earth where travelers can enjoy a more intimate encounter with the Midnight Sun in summer, or, in winter, the Northern Lights.

Coupled with a visit to one of the pulsating Nordic capitals Oslo, Stockholm, Copenhagen or Helsinki, this makes one of our most popular itineraries.

What new lodging options are you loving right now?

We’ve recently been through a rigorous selection process with our suppliers in order to choose a tiny handful to become Due North Hideaways—properties that have the feel of a private home, with the standards and structure of a luxury hotel.

To become a Hideaway, we require that a property is run by owner/hosts, offers our clients a full buyout inclusive of services, and is a natural point of departure from which to set out on wild excursions such as ski touring, kayaking or chasing the Northern Lights. Isbreen the Glacier and Tunheimsfjøra Lodge, mentioned already, and Ruin Retreat, tucked away in the archipelago east of Stockholm, are favorites.

There are lots of choices for adventure-lovers; what’s a top thrill?

A helicopter flying over a blue lake in Norway
For the best views, Gaffney says opt for a private helicopter ride. (Photo by KIND / DUE NORTH Air)

Adventure and adrenaline are the specialties of Malin, our Due North Adventure Operations Coordinator. She’s taken our clients wild swimming, bouldering, kayaking, rappelling and bridge-jumping for more than a decade. Linking these adrenaline-fueled excursions together with a private helicopter expedition is a top thrill, as the views cannot be beaten.

How far in advance should people plan a trip to the Nordics? When is the high season?

The sooner, the better, especially now that “Succession” is out. Truly top-drawer suppliers are few and far between in the Nordics, and they book up fast. We recommend avoiding the major tourist seasons from June to early August, and from December to March. Late Spring, in May, is wonderful: The nature is radiant, and there are celebrations and festivals right across the country. Norwegian Constitution Day on May 17 is a particular highlight, including a children’s parade, widespread ice-cream consumption and traditional dress.

Another option is to travel in late August or early September. At this time of year, the summer often lingers, and autumn is still just a fresh breeze in the air. This is also the start of the Northern Lights season; in fact, they tend to be strongest around the autumn equinox.

For more information and booking, travel advisors should contact Christine Cecilie Gaffney, founder and owner-manager, The Luxury Travel Designer, at [email protected], or by calling +47 98 28 19 17.

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