THE EFFORTLESS joy of cruising is made even better when a small ship means you can get up close and personal with the staggeringly beautiful Dalmatian scenery
We sailed out of Venice. Let me repeat that – we sailed out of Venice. Heading out between the islands of Dorsoduro and Giudecca to the head of the Grand Canal, with a seagull’s eye view of the Doge’s Palace and the Piazza San Marco, before cruising out to open sea. We saw Venice at 5pm on a summer’s day gleaming and glorious, and we thought ourselves incredibly lucky. Lucky, too, to be the cosseted passengers comforted by a glass of champagne on the upper deck of the Seabourn Odyssey.
Cruising is a curious business; it keeps you in luxury and comfort as the world’s sights float into view. No effort is required on your part, apart from paying for the trip, so it’s no wonder this is the fastest growing sector of the travel market. Painless is the word, and especially so aboard the Odyssey.
Being a small ship, with just 450 guests – although large for Seabourn, whose even smaller ships accommodate just half that number – it can get into bays and ports where other, larger, ships cannot. So we anchored in Triluke Bay, Croatia, and went scuba diving, swimming and kayaking, before moving on to Dubrovnik and its world-famous walled city.
We did the tourist thing here and climbed the city walls and peered down into the old town, seeing not just buildings from the 15th and 16th centuries, but also the remaining pock marks of artillery shelling from the 1990s conflict. We also took a tour with Vlaho, a man with a great sense of humour, who introduced us to Croatian wines, foods and music and countryside reminiscent of Tuscany.
Croatia and Montenegro, where we sailed the next day, are often compared to the coastal resorts of the south of France, but they’re really not alike. The sea in France isn’t the stunning cobalt of the Adriatic, and while the trees and coastline may bear some resemblance, Kotor in Montenegro is uniquely itself.
We sailed into Kotor Bay early in the morning and, alerted by Captain Mark Dexter, many passengers grouped around the rails at 6.15am to see this fjord hemmed in by tall limestone cliffs lush with vegetation.
It was a passage where each harbour and cove was more beautiful than the one before, and definitely more beautiful than the passengers at that time of the day. People we had seen well scrubbed up at dinner the previous night now appeared bleary-eyed in hoodies, fleeces and, in some cases bathrobes (we were no better), all determined to commit this to memory or camera.
Kotor is another walled medieval town, backed by high cliffs and defended in past centuries by the fortress that looms over it. But today it is a charming maze of lanes and squares with shops, market stalls and open-air cafés. Its proudly proclaimed palaces seemed more like unassuming town houses, but it is all a matter of scale and, as one Swiss passenger told me, it was properly “authentique”.
On we sailed, rediscovering Corfu and Katakolon, before being blown away by Santorini – also known as Thira, the wild island, and Kalliste, the fairest one. This visit was described to us by Michael Buerk, a guest lecturer on board, as a chance to see the Minoan archaeological site at Akrotiri, left by the world’s most devastating volcano.
Approaching from the sea, we were greeted by sheer cliffs with a crest of white buildings that, from a distance, looked like snow. A choice of funicular or donkey took us up to the main town of Fira, and once there – by funicular railway – we found a prosperous town and cheerful Greeks, including the shopkeeper who assured us that to buy two things from him on Sunday morning (it was Sunday morning) would guarantee us good luck for a whole year, and the man who followed the donkeys with his shovel and pail, and wished everyone a jovial “kalimera”.
That was the destination part of the cruise, but just as important was the shipboard life; eating in the specialist restaurant on board, Restaurant 2, with its shrimp, its tomato and coconut cappuccino and its sea-salt caramel ice-cream, the excellent coffee in the Seabourn Square, or afternoon tea in the Observation Lounge; attending the on-board lectures and entertainment; and experiencing the luxury of being cared for by the Seabourn crew, who must be the nicest people afloat. As we said our goodbyes in Athens we knew they were just doing their jobs, and they would be welcoming a new set of passengers in the next few hours, but we did get a sense of them caring that everyone had experienced the best possible time.
And, of course, there were the other passengers. Lots of different nationalities, so fascinating in their different ways, and one American, a perfectly reasonable man, who will go down in history – my history – for his verdict on Venice. “Venice is boring,” he told us, “I’ve seen it in the movies. Nothing different, just buildings and water. I preferred the movies.”
The seven-day Dalmatian coast and Greek isles cruise on Seabourn Odyssey costs from £1,799 per person – based on double occupancy and fully inclusive of all tips and gratuities, fine-dining, open bars and fully stocked mini-bar – through Seabourn (0843 373 2000, www.seabourn.com).
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Thursday 23 May 2013
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