We savoured the wine and tasted our way through the Mediterranean
Barney and I just returned from a relaxing Mediterranean cruise aboard the Silver Wind, a small luxury vessel owned by Silversea Cruises. Our cruise
originated in the tiny principality of Monaco and leisurely traveled “counterclockwise” along the French Riviera and down the eastern coast of Spain. The weather in September was perfect and the seas were calm.
We boarded the ship in Monte Carlo, Monaco. Aside from being famous for its Casino and the Grand Prix, Monaco is the world hub of the super yacht industry. They were preparing for the famous Monaco Yacht Show and the harbor was literally stuffed like sardines with huge yachts, some over 200 feet long. The people were friendly and a party atmosphere surrounded the dock area.
Aboard the ship, our room was comfortable and spacious with a balcony where we would sit and watch the Mediterranean Sea gently pass by. Our personal butler, Nixon went out of his way to make sure we were pampered around the clock. We noticed almost immediately there were never huge crowds of people anywhere on the ship. We were very surprised to later learn that the ship was fully occupied. Not feeling crowded was a huge plus for us.
We made 3 port calls in France, spending a day each in the towns of St. Tropez, Marseille and Sete. In St. Tropez we strolled around the port and down the narrow medieval streets. We went to Place des Lices, the social center of the Old Town that is surrounded by a forest of 60-foot high plane trees (sycamore family) providing shade to rows of cafes, and restaurants. The day we visited the Place was overflowing with vendors selling everything and anything you can think of. By far this was the biggest open air market I have ever seen. The overlapping canopy of shade provided by all these old trees was simply beautiful and had an old-world feel. We were told the area dates back to the 9th or 10th century when it was used as a jousting ground (“Lices” means jousting ground).
Our favorite find of the day was the La Tarte Tropezienne, the town’s most famous pastry. A fluffy light buttery brioche, with a hint of orange-flower water, filled in the middle with a mix of two creams and sprinkled on top with crunchy sugar. According to legend, Brigitte Bardot was in St Tropez for a movie shoot and fell in love with the cake and suggested the name. The success of that film, “ And God Created Woman”, launched her career and established St Tropez as the place to be for the rich and famous.
After a day in the sun it felt good to come back to ship and relax on our balcony with a glass of champagne before dinner. While we rested that night the ship took a short sail down the coast to Marseille. Established by the Romans over 2600 years ago, Marseille remains an international shipping port. The city is spread along the rocky coast and shows off its rich mix of history and modern culture. We took a 14 mile bike tour through the city with a local guide visiting the city center, the entrance to the original harbor still “guarded” by ancient fortifications, the MuCem area with modern museums, and a picturesque ride along the sea coast. The Notre Dame de la Garde (the basilica) that sits on the highest hill in Marseille provides a great view of the city, our e-bikes made it easier to get there. The church, built in 1864 was occupied by the Nazi’s in World War II and still shows the marks of bullet impacts.
In the evenings we ate outside on the rear deck of the ship watching the sunset.
Sete, a unique French town located on the Mediterranean Sea is known as the “Venice of Languedoc” due to the many canals crisscrossing the center of the city. We drove to the lookout at Pierres Blanches for splendid views of the unspoiled coastline. Then to the panoramic views at Mount Saint Clair, where we visited the small chapel of Our Lady of La Salette. From there you can see the Mediterranean and, separated by only a thin strip of land the Etang de Thau, the largest saltwater lake in southern France, famous for its oysters and fresh seafood.
Next, we toured Chateau de l’Engarran, a prestigious wine estate just outside Montpellier and enjoyed a wine tasting. This Languedoc winery traces its heritage back to the early 1600s. The grounds were beautiful and the wines delicious. Back in Sete we picked up a baguette, some wine and pastries and headed back to the ship. With the help of Nixon, who provided some cheese and fruit, we had a tremendous meal.
In Alcudia, Mallorca, Spain we were welcomed by the locals with a sample of the traditional sweet bread, ensaimadas. Next we went to Palma de Mallorca. We drove along the seafront and passed the famous Bellver Castle, the magnificent Gothic Cathedral and Almudaina Palace. We explored the Old Town and browsed through the shops in Palma and had lunch in an old wine Cellar. Before our ship departed, we sat on our balcony and watched a dance troupe in their Mallorcan costumes perform traditional folk dances on the pier.
We visited Valencia which is the 3rd largest city in Spain. This lively city is located smack in the middle of Spain’s eastern coastline. Our walking tour began at La Lonja, or The Silk Exchange, considered to be one of Europe’s most beautiful examples of Gothic civil architecture. This UNESCO World Heritage Site was built between 1482 and 1533, during Valencia’s golden age; the building illustrates the power and wealth of one of the great mercantile cities. We were thrilled to discover a little shop where an artist was hand painting fans. It was amazing to watch him create these gorgeous pieces.
In addition to its ample cultural history, Valencia has much to offer. This spectacular City of Arts and Sciences boasts extravagant architecture, newly built over the past few years with a wealth of museums, galleries and concert halls. The highlights are the Palace of Arts (Opera), Prince Felipe Science Museum, the Hemisféric (IMAX), a shaded terraced garden (Umbracle), the famous aquarium of Valencia (Oceanographic) and the Ágora.
The gastronomy in Valencia is beyond great. This is where paella was invented and they do it well. Valencia is also known for the drink, horchata de chufa, a sweet and silky nut milk made from small, wrinkled tiger nuts. After touring Valencia it was time for a lunch of tapas, sangria and cava. Afterwards, a stop for some local gelato, that was as delicious as it was beautiful.
Our last stop was Barcelona, one of Europe’s most visually stunning cities. We explored the city with a walking tour and visited famed architect Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia Masterpiece. This was one of our favorite discoveries, truly amazing. This avant garde design is stunning with all the colorful stained-glass windows and radical architecture. Construction of this church began over 130 years ago and is still a work in progress. It is estimated another 30 years will be needed to complete it. It was a delight to walk through the beautiful and vibrant Barcelona streets enjoying the friendly atmosphere and excellent Mediterranean weather.
These are just a few of the highlights of another unforgettable journey. If you are planning to visit this part of the world, give me a call and I’ll be happy to share my experiences with you. (firstname.lastname@example.org)