Greenland is an oxymoron: there is no natural greenery. Over 80% of this vast country, which is more than three times the size of Texas, is permanent ice cap (if it melted completely water levels would rise by around 20 feet worldwide). With a population of just over 56,000, Greenland has established a level of independence from nearby Denmark, although the Danes still contribute around a third of Greenland’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and heavily influence decision-making processes affecting the island.
So why go to Greenland? It’s never a bad thing to visit new and diverse countries; much to my surprise, my first-ever visit was an introduction to a very colourful land. Nuuk, the capital, has a population of only 17,000. Housing mostly consists of brightly-hued, two- or three-floor Scandinavian blocks that are colour coded originally because many Greenlanders could not read – say you wanted to find fishermen… The answer was simple: head for green-coloured houses. Now, with 100% literacy, thanks to six public schools and one private school, and a serious university, the tradition of coloured blocks of housing has been continued, for old time’s sake.
I was cruising on Seven Seas Navigator, which docked in Nuuk’s main harbour – there is also a new harbour, specifically for containers. We boarded some of the city’s 20 buses, all bright yellow, for a tour around, which included stopping for a photo opportunity at the national cemetery, where all the plots face the water for good luck.
After that tour I went for an equally fascinating introduction, to the city’s only luxury lodging, Hotel Hans Egede, named for the Danish-Norwegian Lutheran who in the early 18th-century tried to turn Greenland to religion (wonder what he would say if he coincided, as I did, with a 350-strong meeting of local Jehovah’s Witnesses at Hotel Hans Egede?). This is a really comfortable hotel, with a barista on front desk, and lots of colour everywhere. It caters not only for meetings but looks after government business, and sometimes has Chinese speculators who have been trying, unsuccessfully, to lobby Prime Minister Kim Kielsen to allow them to expand Nuuk’s one runway.
There are so many Danes here – they constitute 35% of hotel guests. My new friend Marianne Holdgaard Rasmussen came from Copenhagen in 1990 and, apart from visits home twice a year, she stays put here. As GM of the 156-room hotel, which in addition has 20 apartments to rent, she has no problems filling rooms. There is no competition and business does have to come to this city, plus airport delays frequently mean last-minute demands for beds – her most famous guest, Hillary Clinton, obviously booked ahead, and had the courtesy to write a lovely personal note after her 2012 stay.
The challenge, says Marianne Holdgaard Rasmussen, is that Nuuk operates on around-zero unemployment, and finding staff means relying on the cameraderie of those already in the team. She also has to staff the hotel’s two restaurants, which include a franchised A Hereford Beefstouw, as in Adelaide and Melbourne as well as in 12 locations in Denmark – the beef mostly comes from Australia (best-seller is ribeye on the bone, carved tableside), but if you want local go for red Löjrom roe with blinis, followed by Greenland redfish, or musk ox or reindeer fillet, and dessert has to be vanilla ice-cream with raisins in rum, ginger, whipped cream, powder coffee, and what is described, both in English and Greenlander, as ‘Caloric’ liqueur. Really, Hotel Hans Egede, still privately owned by its Danish founders, Carl Juhl and Helge Tang, is a most unforgettable, and agreeable hotel.
The entire visit was truly memorable. Seven Seas Navigator then sailed on through Prins Christian Sund, with Greenland Ice Cap to port (north) and Sangmissoq to starboard (south). The sun shone, meringue-looking icebergs as big as apartment blocks floated silently past by the hundreds, some of the glaciers either side showed more shades of blue than I imagined possible. Put Greenland on your bucket-list, serious travellers.
‘And, by the way, Regent Seven Sea Cruises has just won the ‘Best Small Ship’ accolade at Signature Luxury Travel & Style’s 2018 Cruise Awards.
Main image: 2016 © Mads Pihl All Rights Reserved