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Chasing Aurora

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With the Northern Lights top of the bucket list, Tromso has long been high on my list of places to visit. So when the invite for a FAM trip to Tromso from Innovation Norway and Visit Tromso appeared in my inbox a couple of months ago, there was no way I was going pass up the opportunity.

So there we were, with suitcases bulging full of thermals and ski clothes at Gatwick on Friday 30 November, ready for our Arctic Adventure. None of the UK agency members of our group had visited Tromso before, and for many of us, it was our first time in Norway.

And Tromso did not disappoint. We arrived Friday evening and were surprised to find temperature above zero degrees, yet still feeling decidedly chillier than back home. After checking into Clarion Hotel The Edge, one of the city’s newest hotels and a great option for both meetings and incentives, we were treated to a fabulous welcome dinner and introduced to our wonderful host for the three days, Visit Tromo’s Trude Pettersen, who instantly made us feel at ease.

Waking on Saturday morning was a little strange as it was still so dark – I’d forgotten that there is little sunlight in the Arctic during the winter months and even bought some sunglasses at Gatwick as I’d forgotten mine (much to the hilarity of our hosts – at least I wasn’t the only one :-).

And so our adventure began in earnest with a whale safari where we were lucky enough to see orcas and not only spot a group of around eight humpback whales – but also at hunting time. Seeing the giant creatures rise up out of the water to take in herring was a sight to remember. And chilled to the bone, as we set off back to Tromso on our boat, we tucked into a warming reindeer stew and some red wine to top off our amazing experience.

We were then lucky enough to test out the brand new Arctic Escape Room, which literally opened the day before our arrival. Split into teams of two, we had to break into an office to find evidence against a fictional criminal John Winter and uncover hidden clues and decipher codes around the room to break out again. Both teams successfully escaped – but kudos to Team 1 for the best time – our slightly more chaotic approach paid off!

Slightly buzzing with adrenaline, we hopped on our bus to head to Sommaroy (Summer) Island for a Christmas Table (Christmas buffet Norweigan-style) at the Sommaroy Arctic Hotel – a stunning location, where our hunt for the Aurora was to begin. As with all natural phenomena – there are no guarantees with the Northern Lights and the previous week had not been a good one. While we all tried to pretend we would not be too disappointed if Madame Aurora failed to appear – it was clear that this is what we all came for. And as luck would have it, as we walked out of the hotel after a fabulous dinner, there was a clear glimmer of green on the horizon.

A quick drive on the bus to one of Tromso Safari’s base camp and there she was in all her splendour, dancing through the sky – the best form of after dinner entertainment. It truly was a moment I will never forget. Oh, and we were lucky enough to be accompanied by the amazing professional photographer, Ole Salomonsen of Arctic Light Photo, for our own personal Aurora photo shoot.

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And the highlights just kept coming, with Sunday spent visiting Camp Tamok for husky and reindeer sledding and driving snowmobiles through the Arctic Wilderness, before another delicious dinner at Fiskekompaniet Sjosiden, and then an evening on the Spa Boat, Vulkana – a converted old traditional fishing boat with its own hamam, hot tub and sauna. The more daring members of our group also took a midnight dip in the Norweigan sea.

On Monday, we took in a tour of Tromso and visited a number of the city’s hotels, including Scandic Ishavshotel and Radisson Blu, and the group were genuinely surprised by how competitive the prices were, particularly at Comfort Hotel Xpress, which is room-only so not suitable for meetings, but great for small incentive groups or conference overspill from nearby hotels.

Norway may not be the cheapest European destination, but it’s safe, which in the light of recent global terror attacks, is increasingly important, and stunning. So if you are looking for an alternative winter incentive destination, Tromso, with its twice-weekly direct Gatwick flights via Norweigan airlines, is definitely worth considering.