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Mostly Food & Travel Journal

AmaWaterways – floating luxury

Bratislava – sculpture and urban art

Castles and Clans with The Majestic Line

Esterházy Torta – Floating Viennese Patisserie

La Belle Epoque – 5-star floating through Burgundy

Melodies of the Danube – Budapest and beyond

Oriana - cruising for adults

Oriana Christmas Cruise 2013

Silversea Cruise – Silver Wind wining and dining

Silversea – Silver Wind from Rome to Venice

Taste of Arran and Argyll with The Majestic Line’s Glen Tarsan

Travels in Germany with MS Jane Austen

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Travel Reviews
- Cruising

On this page:

AmaWaterways – floating luxury

Bratislava – sculpture and urban art

Castles and Clans with The Majestic Line

Esterházy Torta – Floating Viennese Patisserie

La Belle Epoque – 5-star floating through Burgundy

Melodies of the Danube – Budapest and beyond

Oriana - cruising for adults

Oriana Christmas Cruise 2013

Silversea Cruise – Silver Wind wining and dining

Silversea – Silver Wind from Rome to Venice

Taste of Arran and Argyll with The Majestic Line’s Glen Tarsan

Travels in Germany with MS Jane Austen


Bratislava – sculpture and urban art

Bratislava Liszt We have all heard of Bratislava but mostly with regard to iffy stag do’s. They are thankfully drifting into the mists of a former time, and there is so much more to this city than nightlife.

The first known permanent settlement here was around 5000 BC. About 200 BC, the Celtic Boii tribe founded the first fortified town. The Romans introduced grape growing and winemaking, which still continue today. Bratislava was part of the Kingdom of Hungary in the 19th century and found itself at the centre of major political events in this part of Europe.

Bratislava was occupied by German troops in 1944, bombed by the Allies, and eventually taken by Soviet troops. After the Communists seized power in 1948 the city became part of the Eastern Bloc.

Bratislava anticipated the fall of communism with the Candle Demonstration in 1988, and the city became one of the foremost centres of the Velvet Revolution the following year. In 1993 the city became the capital of the newly-formed Slovak Republic.

Bratislava the watcher Many visitors arrive by river and they will be welcomed by a significant 20th-century structure, the Bridge of the Slovak National Uprising, which reaches across the Danube. It has a prominent UFO-like tower with a restaurant.

There is a celebrated musical tradition in Bratislava. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Joseph Haydn and Franz Liszt worked or lived here. One can find references to them on buildings which might now be offices or shops. The arts are evidently still alive in the guise of street sculpture found around the Old Town.

Čumil is a celebrity here. The literal translation of the word Čumil is ‘the watcher’. There are a couple of explanations for the name of this iconic brass sculpture and trip hazard. The first one is that he is a communist-era worker who is not interested in the work he has been assigned so spends his time people-watching. The second urban myth says he’s looking up women’s skirts. He does have a somewhat dubious expression. He is the most photographed person in Bratislava and can be found hanging out at the junction of Laurinská and Panská Streets.

Bratislava soldier There is a life-sized and rather charming Napoleonic soldier in the Main Square, near the Old Town Hall. He can be found leaning on a bench which obviously will invite a line of selfie-takers who want a truly unique souvenir of a trip to Bratislava. Napoleon was here in 1805; it’s said that the soldier fell in love with a local girl. He stayed in the city and became a producer of sparkling wine. His name was Hubert – which is also the name of Slovakia’s most popular sparkling-wine brand. There is no way of knowing if that story is true, but it is either delightfully romantic, or a very clever marketing ploy.

But Bratislava also has a reputation for welcoming another kind of art: graffiti! This isn’t the nasty tags left in railway sidings by pale and spotty losers. We find murals, colour, comment and ads. This is urban art at its finest.

Bratislava is an architecturally beautiful and diverse city with buildings from every era of its past. There is culture, cafés and something fascinating on every corner. It’s a place well worth exploring.

Visit here to learn more about AmaWaterways cruises

Read my articles on the AmaWaterways cruise here

food and travel reviews

Melodies of the Danube – Budapest and beyond

AmaWaterways Budapest We have likely all heard of the Blue Danube, a waltz by the Austrian composer Johann Strauss II. But this majestic river isn’t actually blue, although it is beautiful and worthy of a nice tune. AmaWaterways offers a trip that will cover all the famous sites between Budapest in Hungary and Passau in Germany.

We were met at Budapest airport and then there was a relaxing coach ride to join the glistening boat, the Amaviola. We were escorted to our cosy cabin and then it was teatime. A nice cuppa and a slice or two of cake was most welcome. (Learn more about my culinary experiences on board here.)

The romance of the whole trip started in earnest after dinner. We took a trip through Budapest on the river. It was night and we had the best views of the illuminated state buildings along the banks, as well as beautifully lit bridges with their carved stone piers which would be difficult to appreciate for their splendour from the road above. We moored for the night.

AmaWaterways market The next day could be as full or relaxing as one might want. It would be a crime to miss this wonderful city, however, so choose an excursion which suits your preferred pace. Most ports of call offer a regular walking tour, a gentle version, and then there are the options of hikes and bikes for those with an unseemly desire for exercise. Perhaps we should all have chosen the latter exertions, as the food with AmaWaterways is really first class and tempting!

Budapest is one of the classic cities of Europe. It is refined and cultured with many opportunities to enjoy its celebrated café-and-cake culture. The walk will take you along shopping streets, past architectural charm, but there is one place which will be a magnet for any food lover: Central Market Hall!

This market is vast with a street level, an upper level, as well as a basement. There are aisles of sausages, drinks, spice, fish, meat and vegetables. This is the place for a foodie souvenir such as strings of dried red peppers and garlic, the celebrated Hungarian salamis, and other meat products. A bag of ground paprika would be a relatively inexpensive gift. Don’t spend all your money here, as there are more countries to follow.

AmaWaterways Bratislava Day 3 is Bratislava and it’s well worth taking time to visit. The walking tour took us through tree-lined parks, booths selling local souvenirs and decorations. There is more marvellous architecture, cafés and shops selling local wines. Bratislava also has a taste for sculpture. One can find Hans Christian Andersen, a brass sewer worker, a Napoleonic soldier and many more metallic personages. Street furniture at its finest.

Day 4 found us in Vienna and it’s a day not to be missed. The boat moored a little way from the city centre so shuttle buses were on hand to ferry passengers who wanted to return to the river once their excursion was over, but also to allow others to spend a little independent time in spectacular Vienna.

The sightseeing started before we even arrived at the drop-off point. We passed the Opera House, government buildings, churches and parks, and all with a running commentary. The walking tour showed us historic backstreets, architectural curiosities and shopping streets. The Viennese have good taste so designer labels abound. This is the reason you saved that aforementioned cash. Reserve enough time for a little people-watching, a cup of coffee and a slice of Esterhazy cake. A foodie souvenir would be Manner Wafers. The company started in 1890; originally the wafers were paper-wrapped and sold in tins. In the 1960s, the distinctive foil packaging was introduced, although the tins are still available and make a great keepsake – they are iconically Viennese.

AmaWaterways Passau Day 5 offered tours of Weissenkirchen or Dürnstein – an excursion with wine tasting, or a Dürnstein Fortress hike, or an Apricots and Sweets tasting, a historic Melk Benedictine Abbey tour; or take free time to appreciate floating along the scenic Danube. This might be the day to enjoy some leisure on this splendid boat. There can be few better unwinding opportunities than watching the world go by at an unhurried pace, mug of coffee in one hand and a good book in the other – and perhaps a slice of gateau at one’s elbow. This is your holiday so do it your way. I did, and the batteries were fully recharged.

Day 6 found us in Linz for a fascinating walking tour, although some passengers chose a coach excursion to Salzburg, where I hear the hills were alive with the sound of music. Other travellers visited Cesky Krumlov or the Austrian Lake District.

We stayed in Linz and it didn’t disappoint. We moored just a short walk from the old town. It has a striking main square and religious buildings aplenty, but the guide will show you some secluded alleys which one would be unlikely to find alone. They show the style of homes that wealthy townsfolk would have enjoyed a couple of hundred years ago. This is a city of hidden treasures.

AmaWaterways beerfest We cruised into the German town of Passau on day 7. This is stunning, with the best views being from the river where one can take in the historic skyline of terracotta house roofs and church spires, and all in magnificent rich tones of reds, yellows, amber and pink.

Passau is accessible for gentle walking visitors or for hikers and bikers who might want to take a look at the imposing Passau Castle. This is a town in which to linger. There is stunning architecture, churches with unique metal-encrusted doors, boutiques and bars. I confess I had never heard of Passau but this is a must-visit on this trip.

Our vacation ended in the little town of Vilshofen. We were not here for castles, café culture or cathedrals but we had a fun engagement. We were treated to our own private beer festival with the locals. The band played traditional music wearing traditional costume, everyone danced traditional dances, and local beer and pretzels were consumed.

This was the first AmaWaterways cruise for me but I am impressed. The crew were friendly and efficient, the boat, The Amaviola, was smart and comfortable. The food was outstanding in every regard, and the included excursions were conducted by locals with inside knowledge. I can highly recommend AmaWaterways, and the next cruise is already booked.


Visit here to learn more about AmaWaterways cruises

Read my article on the AmaWaterways cruise here


food and travel reviews

Esterházy Torta – Floating Viennese Patisserie

esterhazy cake amaviola The French tell us that they have the best food in the world. The Italians say the French learnt from them. The Germans have, in my opinion, some totally underestimated dishes; and we all remember the delights of paella in sunny Spain. But when it comes to cake-and-café culture then Austria and Hungary can’t be beat.


In truth, much of Austrian patisserie originated in Hungary but they were partners in the Austro-Hungarian Empire so there was plenty of cultural and culinary cross-fertilisation. AmaWaterways offers river cruises where one is able to enjoy the finest and most iconic of cakes both on-board and in those romantic capital cities of Vienna and Budapest. Vienna is a sophisticated city. Streets are lined with high-end international boutiques, galleries and design outlets as well as cafés which remind one of gentler times. A food-lover’s sweet dream.


esterhazy cake central cafe AmaWaterways has a modern fleet of river cruisers and we enjoyed a stay on AmaViola. I am a travel writer so appreciated the opportunity to visit those cities along the banks of the Danube. I am a food writer so I eagerly anticipated some fine dishes along the way and I wasn’t disappointed. Breakfast was welcomed heartily; morning coffee was the occasion for cookie sampling; lunch was always a tapestry of colour and good taste; every dinner was worthy. But before dinner there was afternoon tea (or coffee). A nice cuppa was always accompanied by cakes which reflected the temptations of the lands through which we floated.


There are a couple of memorable cakes to try ashore in Vienna. Sachertorte is perhaps the most celebrated cake in the city. It can be eaten in cafés or purchased for travel as a gastronomic souvenir. It’s a dark chocolate cake with a mirror glaze. It’s delicious, rich and refined, and exemplifies all that is Viennese café culture. This would traditionally be taken with cup of coffee. It’s said that coffee was discovered here after the Turkish Siege of Vienna in 1683, when the retreating army left bags of those beans. Wiener Melange or Viennese Blend is black coffee with steamed milk, and perfect for chilly afternoons.
esterhazy cake

Esterházy Torta is a round Hungarian cake or torta and can be enjoyed on AmaViola or in one of the numerous aforementioned cafés in Vienna. It’s named after Prince Paul III Anton Esterházy de Galántha (1786–1866), a member of the celebrated Esterházy family and diplomat of the Austrian Empire. It was invented by a Budapest patissier in the late 19th century and consists of buttercream flavoured with cognac or vanilla, sandwiched between five layers of almond meringue .The cake is finished with a fondant glaze and decorated with a chocolate pattern. In Hungary, the almonds are often replaced by walnuts. Esterházy Schnitten is much the same confection but made in a square shape.


esterhazy cake coffee The AmaViola chefs offered whole gateaux, small cakes and tray-bakes, tarts, cheesecakes and sponges. Esterházy torta was just one of the items on their extensive sweet repertoire. Chocolate lovers were never forgotten, with chocolate brownies, cookies or muffins on hand for those craving a choc-laced treat. This is international patisserie equal to that found in many celebrated cafés.


Note: AmaWaterways cruises offer included excursions to all cities visited in the itinerary. There are guided tours and plenty of time to explore independently.


Visit here to learn more about AmaWaterways cruises


Read my article on the AmaWaterways cruise here

food and travel reviews

AmaWaterways – floating luxury

amawaterways vienna Cruising! Now, there is a prospect that would likely divide the population in two. Each party would have very strongly-held views and would profess to know all about the subject. But perhaps they don’t!

I have had the opportunity to ‘enjoy’ many a cruise so I can understand both opinions regarding a floating holiday. The nay-sayers will point out that this is a vacation for the elderly, the boring and the timid. On the other hand, those who have at least three cruises each year and a suitcase stuffed with spangled evening gowns will point out that the food is just like mother used to make (and she would have been a very plain cook) and that there is often a pub quiz or a fancy-dress dance on most nights. I would, until recently, have agreed with all the above claims, but eyes have been opened to quite a different style of water-borne trip.

My epiphany came in the form of an AmaWaterways cruise. Granted, the guests were mostly mature but with a good peppering of folks who were a lot younger, and all of us were enthusiastic and up for an adventure. Many had a history of travel with this company and that was recognised with a special reception for that discerning group. Most passengers were American and they have choices, and high expectations of service and amenity.

AmaWaterways offers old-fashioned and thoroughly contemporary hospitality with no need for stuffy dress etiquette, and the experience starts as soon as one arrives. The guest is met, where appropriate, at the airport and escorted to the boat, in our case the new and shining AmaViola. The 50-strong crew line the reception staircase to offer a warm welcome. One is personally escorted to the cabin and there are a selection of those, ranging from cosy with windows to larger with one or two balconies. Bathrooms are well-appointed with fluffy towels, dressing gowns and slippers. Wardrobes sport ample hanging space, a safe and a brace of umbrellas which went mercifully unfurled for the duration. Yes, there is the ubiquitous flat-screen TV but it’s probable it won’t be used apart from a morning news-channel surf before breakfast.

amawaterways chef AmaViola is appealingly airy and bright. I have noted that some companies have boats that are somewhat more cottagey with walls hung with dark paintings, old-gold upholstery, too much brass and etched glass, thus displaying all the elegance of a1950s bungalow with aspirations to become a Victorian pub. In contrast, AmaViola is thoughtfully furnished with colourful and eclectic fabrics, scatter cushions, and light wall finishes.

Food will always be a big part of any cruise and most companies guarantee regular meals and large portions, but I know to my cost that quality can sometimes be in short supply. I once had a memorable 3-week cruise with another company who had, it seemed, cornered the market in boiled carrots and Shepherd’s Pie. I am a food writer as well as a travel writer and I was curious to see how AmaWaterways would compare.

Breakfast is a buffet with an additional selection of ordered dishes. Platters of fruit, yoghurt, juices and cereals presented a healthy option for those with temple-like bodies. The rest of us were tempted by, and mostly succumbed to, the lure of dishes of crispy bacon, eggs, sausages, vegetables along with freshly-baked breads and pastries. Coffee and tea were on hand as were cheery waiters to pour. But for those unfortunates who brand themselves as ‘early risers’ then there are muffins and croissants from 6am in the Lounge. One can also take tea and coffee there at any time, along with more snacks later in the morning and teatime treats during the afternoon.

amawaterways fish Lunch is a combination of buffet and menu items. There might be a whole poached salmon or a roast suckling pig, Stroganoff, spicy curries or Asian noodle dishes followed by a self-assembled ice cream Sundae or a location-inspired cake such as Black Forest Gateau or Linzertorte or the unmissable Eszterhazy cake. One tastes the countries through which the boat travels. This isn’t just food for food’s sake: it’s a gentle culinary adventure with both lunch and dinner garnished with wine or beer.

Dinner is mostly enjoyed in the main restaurant but anyone with a passion for food will want to try the intimate Chef’s Table Restaurant. This has only a few covers and it’s where one can appreciate the skill of the AmaWaterways chefs via the delicious medium of a multi-course meal with paired wines. Outstandingly fine dining!

amawaterways bridge These cruises offer numerous excursions which are included in the price of the package. There are regular city walking tours appealing to those wanting to burn off those accumulated calories, gentle walks for those who need a little more time at an unhurried pace, and there are also energetic hikes for people with whom I would never associate! There are local guides and personal headsets but passengers are also free to enjoy ports of call on their own. There are bikes available for other more expansive tours or for lone rangers. On board there is a heated sun-deck swimming pool with a ‘swim-up’ bar; a fitness centre and a spa. For those of us who must stay connected then there is complimentary ship-wide Wi-Fi and in-room Internet via the TV.

AmaWaterways has a lot of which to be proud. The memory of this cruise is still making this seasoned and cynical traveller smile. Yes, it was a ‘work’ trip but even I came home relaxed, rejuvenated and planning to return as a civilian. I defy any passenger to not notice the difference between this experience and some other cruises… and it’s a big difference!


More articles on AmaWaterways to follow shortly.

Visit AmaWaterways UK here

food and travel reviews

Travels in Germany with MS Jane Austen

Jane austin It sounds like the title of a Victorian novel - Travels with MS Jane Austen! Well, it is actually a few words about a delightful cruise, rather than about a literary excursion with a famous author. All the cruises in this collection from Riviera offer return travel and transfers, so it couldn’t be easier to connect with your cruise and start enjoying the experience. They have scheduled flights from 8 regional UK airports or, for those who hate flying, seats on Eurostar from London St Pancras International with regional rail connections. There are coach transfers to and from the ship, escorted by the tour manager or a guide.

The cruise was on MS Jane Austin which is a well-appointed boat in their fleet. The Jane Austen is new and it shows. It (or is it she?) was only launched in 2015. There are no corners looking down-at-heel, no scuffed edges and no worn carpets. The cabins and suites are amongst the largest you will find on a ship on any European river. They have en-suite bathrooms and our cabin had its own balcony where we enjoyed striking views as we slid by vineyards, castles and picturesque towns – and all while enjoying a nice cup of tea!

jane austin MS Jane Austin has all the amenities of a good floating hotel. Each room has the expected tea and coffee, TV and bathroom toiletries, but it also provides complementary wifi. Yes, you are on holiday but you will want to share your pictures on Facebook!

The cabin is comfortable but the rest of the boat is sumptuous with cosy nooks and convivial spaces just perfect for lone voyagers or those travelling with a group. There is a marble-floored lobby, tropical hardwoods, wrought iron, highly polished copper and brass, and soft leather chairs into which to sink with a good book and a glass of wine at one’s elbow.

This is a Swiss-operated vessel with 35 staff taking care of just 140 guests. All crew, tour managers and local guides are English-speaking and it’s much easier to get to know both crew and other passengers when one isn’t floating on a boat carrying several hundreds. The restaurants are not huge and anonymous, and there isn’t a seating plan which obliges travellers to sit with the same strangers every night. One can sit anywhere and make new friends or dine alone.

jane austin All meals are included and the food is of a high standard. There is plenty to satisfy the cravings of those with gastronomic inclinations as well as those who just like unfussy food. Breakfast can be an early-morning pastry or, later, the Full-English and everything in-between from the buffet. If one has a fancy for coffee and cookies during the day then they are available at the small bar area at the rear (stern), along with light fare for lunch. Afternoon tea presents a spread of pastries just in case you have a chink of space not yet filled. The midday buffet in the restaurant is memorable and the more formal dinners are outstanding, with silver service and a tempting wine list with very reasonable prices.

One won’t want to stay on-board and eat all the time – although one could. There are excursions to enjoy and walks to take. We were in Germany with visits to towns which offered charm, history, photo-opportunities, retail therapy of the highest order …and cake shops! This particular package included Koblenz, which found us spending a morning exploring this historic town sitting at the confluence of the Rhine and Mosel rivers; the beautiful old town of Boppard; through the natural beauty of the world-famous Rhine Gorge onto Mainz, celebrated for the ‘Gutenberg’ Bibles; stunning Heidelberg, by the picturesque river Neckar; Strasbourg, a 14th century city of winding alleys; Colmar, a quaint medieval Alsatian town; Rudesheim, one of the most popular towns on the Rhine; Cologne, to see the remarkable cathedral. Learn more about some of these towns here.

jane austin A cruise on MS Jane Austin with Riviera Travel might well convert those who have been hitherto sceptical about cruising. It appeals to those discerning travellers who appreciate quality. The boat is small enough to feel intimate, the service is more personal and corners are not cut. The included excursions are fun and informative, but one isn’t chained to the group – it’s possible to be independent and one is encouraged to stop at that little chocolate shop, have a stroll around the market, linger in the boutique. Make this YOUR holiday.

Prices are per person, based on two people sharing a twin cabin, with a limited number of single cabins available on all decks with relevant supplement. Price includes full board from dinner on your day of arrival until breakfast on your final day (if you choose to travel on any of the full-day excursions by coach, a packed lunch will be provided; anyone choosing to stay on the ship can have lunch in the restaurant); morning and afternoon tea and coffee; all visits and excursions as mentioned in the brochure; airport/station transfers; coach travel as mentioned; travel to and from port of embarkation; and the services of a Riviera Travel Tour Manager.


Learn more about this and other tours here

Learn more about towns visited here


food and travel reviews

Castles and Clans with The Majestic Line

MAJESTIC LINE This isn’t the first trip with this charming and characterful cruise line. My first voyage was a couple of years ago and was an introduction to the Scottish Isles; this second trip was to remind me of why I loved the initial experience so much!

The Majestic Line offers holidays and short breaks on two converted fishing boats, and now a new boat has been added to the small but attractive fleet. They cruise around the waters off the west of Scotland and offer a number of itineraries to appeal to both nature and history lovers. Our boat for this week’s trip, the Glen Massan, was not, thankfully, the size of one of those white floating-city liners but it was perfectly proportioned and cosy. The size of these boats allows inshore access to anchorages not available to bigger more conventional vessels.

The Majestic Line was started when Andy Thoms and Ken Grant decided to save two wooden-hulled fishing trawlers from the scrapyard. So in 2004 they bought and converted their first vessel (my floating hotel) the Glen Massan. In May 2007 a sister vessel, The Glen Tarsan, was launched to sail out of Oban, and now the Glen Etive, built in the style of a "gentleman's yacht", has been launched to make up the trio.

Majestic Line The name ‘The Majestic Line' is inspired by the 1960s TV series "Para Handy", based on the books by Neil Munro, and to bring back memories you will find these in the ship’s library. An episode tells of the Vital Spark ship’s engineer, McPhail, who walked out of his job saying he had signed on a ship of ‘The Majestic Line' claiming it had a gold funnel. Yes, these boats do actually have gold-painted funnels and the boats stock a local beer called ‘Vital Spark’.

The Majestic Line offers 14 exclusive cruise itineraries to the most beautiful and secluded parts of Argyll and the Hebrides. Guests can choose from 3- to 10-night cruises, and now private cruise charter is also available for those who want a bespoke experience with friends and family. There are less than a dozen guests on each boat and the cabins are appointed with en-suite facilities, comfy and warm beds and tartan throws. This is Scotland after all.

Each vessel has four on-board crew to cater to your every need: Skipper, Chef, Engineer and Bosun. There will be a different crew for each boat and each itinerary but in my experience they will be a well-trained, knowledgeable bunch who enjoy telling stories of the area and pointing out wildlife along the way. The captain or skipper (on this cruise it was Neil) might rush down from the wheelhouse to point out a group of porpoises or a swooping eagle. The chef, that was Gordon, might leave his range and take you up to the prow (the front bit) and listen with you – it was the sound of a bellowing highland stag that we heard, and so clearly on this still night.

MAJESTIC LINE The engineer was Ray and I remember him from my previous voyage. He was joined by Claire, his wife, who was our able Bosun. They looked after us in 5-star fashion ensuring that tea flowed, nibbles abounded and great good humour wafted. With such a small group the calibre of crew is so important. These guys have evidently been chosen for their love of the job and of people – and it shows. Gordon treated us to the best of local produce, and all prepared in a galley the size of a modest wardrobe. The seafood was fresh and delicate. The lamb casserole was melting and moreish, the venison was the best I have ever tasted. Desserts ranged from traditional fruit cake to sophisticated and alcoholic sorbet. Not a single dish disappointed from breakfast to dinner, with snacks in-between. Every evening we were introduced to rare regional cheeses, and all dishes were accompanied by wine, although the well-stocked bar tempted not only with that Vital Spark but also with Bilgewater. That’s the company gin! It tastes a lot better than it sounds and makes the perfect pre-dinner tipple. We purchased a bottle to bring home, just to check that it travels well – it does!

MAJESTIC LINE So we had our boat and crew but where were we going? The cruise was called Castles and Clans. We, for a week, were immersed in Scottish Clan heritage and the history of the Castles and Clans of Argyll and it was a rich and enthralling excursion. The cruise starts at Oban with its wealth of retail opportunities, outstanding fish and chips and a noteworthy whisky distillery. Once aboard Glen Massan we visited the stunning Castle Duart for a conducted tour of a castle which is still also a home. Castle Stalker is remarkable and iconic and set on its own little island. It was featured, along with its owner, in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. We had a tour with the man himself. The Majestic Line is able to arrange visits to places that would normally be unavailable to tourists. This castle is only open for 17 days each year!

Tobermory offered the Mull Museum along with shopping, and you can ask the chef to take you to the local Tobermory Fish Company for some delicious souvenirs. This is a beautiful little town and distinctive with its brightly coloured buildings. The boat moors in the harbour and that’s a great vantage point with views over Tobermory and a romantic waterfall with its own story to tell.

MAJESTIC lINE We stopped at Glencoe, infamous for the massacre of the MacDonalds by the Campbells. We cruised Loch Leven with its views of Ben Nevis. There were lighthouses along the way as well as mussel farms, hills sporting red and gold colours of fast-approaching autumn, and tranquillity.

These cruises attract all ages for bespoke private tours but the publicised itineraries appeal to those who are mature travellers of 50+. One needs to be fully mobile as there is a small tender for excursions. Dietary requirements are catered for so food is unlikely to be an issue and my advice would be to come hungry.

The Majestic Line fleet isn’t the biggest. Their boats are not leviathans of ocean travel. But they have something unique: outstanding and tailored care, flexibility, accessible quality and charm. I have had a few cruises in my time but The Majestic Line remains one of my favourite companies. Yes, it’s all a matter of taste. If you want international cable TV and wifi 24/7 then this might not be for you. If you are a lover of a piano lounge complete with a dinner-suited quartet then look elsewhere. But if you want to relax, enjoy an unhurried pace, restaurant-quality food and scenery offering something new twenty-four hours a day then The Majestic Line is for you …and me. And you’ll be talking about this over dinner for years to come.


‘Castles and Clans’ dates for 2017 - 14 October for 6 nights with 9 guests.

The Majestic Line
Holy Loch Marina
Sandbank
Dunoon
Argyll
PA23 8FE

Email: info@themajesticline.co.uk

Phone +44 (0)1369 707 951

Visit The Majestic Line here.

food and travel reviews

La Belle Epoque – 5-star floating through Burgundy

What a grand title for a barge! Luckily the lady lived up to her name and our expectations, which she did actually exceed in every way.

La belle Epoque A barge, even a big one, presents the very real prospect of tight accommodations, iffy facilities and, still worse, the likelihood of mediocre food cooked by a well-meaning hobbyist chef on a gas burner at the back end of the boat. La Belle Epoque was surprising, charming, delicious, luxurious and relaxing, and those dreads soon evaporated.

We were met at our appointed hotel in Paris - the receptionist was expecting us, and took charge of our luggage so we were able to have a few hours in warm, sunny Paris. Just time enough for a meal of steak-frites and a glass of something red and reviving, surrounded by locals. The holiday had started and we hadn’t even seen our vessel.

Our minibus arrived, and not one of those U-Drive efforts hired for the day, either. A smart blue 9-seater in the European Waterways livery with the company emblem on the door. (In fact this bus was to follow us along the route, and ferry us to various places of interest.) A smiling couple introduced themselves to us and the other passengers, and loaded the luggage. We were off.

A couple of hours of dozing found us alongside a beautifully painted and substantial Dutch barge. This particular boat was built in the 1930s to carry cargo around the European rivers and canals in an era when they still offered the fastest and most reliable travel options. La Belle Epoque had been sympathetically converted to a floating hotel but it still retains some features which made Dutch craftsmanship so valued.

The trip started with a warm welcome from the assembled crew and a glass of chilled champagne. Canapés were nibbled before we were escorted to our cabins. The Belle Epoque has 6 guest cabins boasting modern en-suite facilities, single or huge double bed, crisp linens, brass portholes, dark wood, mineral water aplenty, turn-down service every night, and even a chocolate on the pillow. In short – bijou floating comfort.

There is ample space in the saloon which acted as both lounge and dining room.La belle Epoque Two long sweeps of banquette tempted voyagers to linger over apero and savouries in the evenings before dinner or to unwind with a best-seller before a stroll along the towpath: one can walk through idyllic French countryside between locks. La Belle Epoque moves at a good walking pace so not much chance that you’ll miss the boat. For anyone needing more speedy travel than Shanks’s pony, there are bikes which allow for a mini Tour de France into nearby historic villages before meeting the boat a few locks further on.

But it’s not all about taking naps in dappled sunshine, hiking by the canal or cycling through Burgundy. There are also guided excursions every day. There might be a walk to a nearby chateau, a visit to a village market, perhaps a wine tasting break ...well, this is Burgundy and a famed wine-producing region after all!

Our first meal set the scene for the whole trip. This was, surprisingly, not advertised as a culinary-themed adventure although we had hoped for some interesting dishes. Chef Selby presented French food to the highest standard. On our first evening we enjoyed crayfish timbales wrapped in cucumber, duck with orange sauce, pears poached in red wine and all expertly paired with both red and white wines.La belle Epoque He progressively ticked off all the classics – beef from the pale Charolais cattle, coq au vin, frogs legs …and then there were the cheeses! There were several of these after every meal. Chef Selby chose regional cheeses, soft cheeses, blue cheeses and hard cheeses. All from France and showing their diversity.

Our daily guided excursions took us to such beautiful villages as Flavigny-sur-Ozerain, where the film ‘Chocolat’ was set; Alesia, where the last battle between the Gauls and Romans took place in 52 B.C. (and a visit to the museum); the exquisite World Heritage UNESCO site of Abbaye de Fontenay founded by St Bernard in 1118, which is unmissable; the 16th century Château d’Ancy-le-Franc with the biggest collection of Renaissance murals; and the vineyards and town of Chablis, dating back to Roman times.

France is popular for barge cruises, but all cruises are not created equal. Whilst it’s true that this was my first experience of such a holiday, I would have to say that European Waterways, on La Belle Epoque, have thought of everything. It’s a floating hotel with almost-individual attention from the staff. There might not be room for an Olympic pool on deck but there is a hot tub.La belle Epoque No, there isn’t a bespoke library but there is a selection of books on the food and drink of the region, and one might notice a copy of Rick Stein’s French Odyssey. That’s no surprise as that book is associated with the eponymous TV series that was partly shot on a European Waterways boat.

La Belle Epoque is polished, both metaphorically and actually. If this is an example of the whole fleet then European Waterways deserve to be proud. I wholeheartedly recommend this trip to any food, wine and history lover …or lovers of doing nothing while the scenery drifts serenely by.

Visit European Waterways here

For more images of La Belle Epoque visit Mostly Travel here


food and travel reviews

Oriana - cruising for adults

Oriana P and O Cruise I am not, by Oriana standards, a seasoned cruiser. I have only had three floating holidays to date and this was the first with P&O. Some of my fellow passengers had enjoyed up to 70 such trips and those with a score of a dozen or more were numerous! This company is obviously doing something, and probably a lot, right!

Oriana is a big ship with a capacity of 1800 or so passengers and around 800 crew. I was struck by the lack of crowds, well, apart from meal times at the Conservatory, when there tended to be a rush of eager diners at the start of each service.

Public spaces are, well, spacious. There seemed to be an abundance of sun loungers, easy chairs and tables on the sun decks, and these decks were littered with a creditable complement of swimming pools and hot tubs. OK, so these are small but perfectly formed pools designed for splashing rather than lapping, but were more than adequate for the needs of the mature vacationers.

Oriana P and O Cruise P&O have ships and itineraries designed with the older traveller in mind. One doesn't find oneself dodging sprinting youngsters while queuing for a croissant. These regulars have the sense that this is a familiar and comfy home from home. Well, perhaps better than home in some ways. There is a constant supply of ready-prepared food and no washing up!

In fact food is a big part of the draw for Oriana cruises. There is famously plenty of it and it's just the cuisine to appeal to older folks who don't want anything too outlandish but rather good quality ingredients that have not been over-fiddled with. But this particular cruise (Christmas and New Year) lasts for almost 3 weeks so the chefs have to be imaginative with their menus.

One is spoilt for choice. One might start the day with the lavish Conservatory breakfast buffet that will gladden the heart of any Full Monty lover but which also caters to those with more continental tastes for fruits, yoghurt and pastries as well.  If one prefers waiter service then there is the Peninsular restaurant which offers a regular menu of classic breakfast fare and some daily specials, so if devilled kidneys float your metaphoric culinary boat then Friday morning should see this as your venue of choice.

If one prefers a smaller and more intimate space then Al Fresco will fit the bill. It's open all day for casual bites during and outside usual meal-times. Breakfast starts at 7am and one could graze all day and finish with a slice of pizza at 2am. Tiffany's also offers light snacks in a convivial coffee bar at the Atrium. That is where the addicted cruiser will find Costa Coffee.

Oriana P and O Cruise Lunch can be taken at any of the aforementioned restaurants and the choice of dishes is ever-changing. It's a wise passenger who paces him/her self. Everything is tempting and it's too easy to fall into the trap of the 6-meal-a-day syndrome. Breakfast: it's the most important meal of the day so one should have that. Elevenses are essential to keep up one's strength after a trot around the deck to burn off the breakfast calories (three and a half turns around the deck constitute a mile). Lunch is a necessary break from relaxing; and then it's afternoon tea because we are British after all. On Black Tie Dinner evenings a platter of nibbles will be delivered to your door. This, one assumes, is to set the scene for more food that awaits in either the Peninsular or the Oriental restaurants.

There are other two dining options on board Oriana. Ocean Grill demands a supplement of a few pounds per head but one should consider dining here at least once during the voyage. It has the predicted wood panels complemented by contemporary tapestries but the tables are more widely spaced than one would find in either The Peninsular or the Oriental restaurants. A meal here is a 5-star event.

Another independent restaurant is Sorrento. This has, unsurprisingly, an Italian theme but in a more casual setting than Ocean Grill. In fact Sorrento is born anew every day from one end of The Conservatory restaurant. In the evening it is screened off, has waiter service and a bespoke menu.
Oriana P and O Cruise
The Conservatory is a large and casual restaurant at night. It has multiple choices of hot and cold dishes and themed nights which present the guest with opportunities to try Country and Western fare, Thai curries, carvery and, naturally, Indian dishes. This seems to be a popular alternative for those who want choices of time and seating arrangements, as both Peninsular and Oriental restaurants have allocated seating on tables of 6.

But Oriana isn't a floating restaurant. There are always activities and entertainment. Each day there is a film in the Chaplin cinema, and the evening offers a show of some kind. There are talks about the next port of call. Perhaps a lecture on diamonds or even about the comedy greats. There are painting classes, exercise classes, concerts and tips on photography. There is enough to keep both body and mind active.

Oriana boasts a fully equipped gym for those who want to achieve independent body sculpting. There is a spa for those who want to look beautiful via other peoples' efforts, and pools for those who want to impress an audience. There are plenty of hot tubs for the less brave.

There are several bars serving drinks and music to those who are drowning their sorrows after a few hours in the casino. There are slot machines for amusement and roulette for confusion. There are some smart shops in which to spend one's winnings. One can buy luxury goods as well as tasteful souvenirs from that day's port.

Oriana's adult-only cruises have a dedicated following of those mature passengers who want comfort and friendly service from a young and enthusiastic crew. These regulars meet old friends in familiar surroundings and, for many, that surely is the secret of a successful vacation.

To find out more about this and other P&O cruisies visit here


food and travel reviews

Oriana Christmas Cruise 2013

There is a whole section of the British population that lives to float. They are dedicated cruisers and remain faithful to their chosen line.P and O Cruise Oriana P&O seems to have attracted many of those who have adopted cruising as part of their lifestyle.

The Americans have a term for those who fly south in winter to follow the sun. They are called ‘Snowbirds’. Perhaps the British equivalent term for those travellers who have time to voyage would be ‘Snowduck’.

I am a novice cruiser but I can understand the appeal it has, especially for older folks who would otherwise be at home in a cold house watching news about more impending fuel price hikes. P&O’s Christmas and New Year cruise offers a gentle departure from the inevitable tensions of Christmas catering and tree-trimming.

This particular package offered glimpses of some of the most celebrated port cities on the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts.


La Coruña    

La Coruña is the closest European port to New York, and is the most northern destination on this list of ports of call. It displays some of its charm even before the expectant tripper negotiates the land-ward gangplank (there is probably a more correct nautical term for the bit of wood that joins boat to land …and is it a boat or is it a ship?) One has the advantage of the best view in town of, well, the town.
P and O cruise Oriana
The architecture is striking. La Coruña is also known as the Crystal City and that monika is well deserved: on summer evenings the glass-covered balconies reflect dazzling light. Even on dull grey days those buildings are imposing with thousands of uniform windows looking out across the marina and harbour. A less appealing fact about those balconies is that they once housed the toilets for the homes behind the glassy facades. A loo was considered a status symbol and was to be flaunted.

La Coruña is a mixture of old and new town with a couple of miles of beaches. The colonnaded Maria Pita Square marks the centre of the old town and boasts many shops, bars and restaurants. Another attraction of La Coruña is its proximity to one of the world’s great pilgrimage destinations: Santiago de Compostela. Even in these fast-paced modern times there are still folks who walk long distances just to visit this holy site. They carry the scallop shell which is a centuries-old symbol of St James, the patron saint of the cathedral.


Venice

This is the city that every cruiser will want to visit. One might be jaded through globe-trotting and have the air of ‘been there – done that’ but Venice draws the traveller like a cultural magnet. We have all seen pictures of St Marks Square and the Grand Canal but now it’s accessible to the P&O passenger and it’s a sure bet that the vessel will empty, with everyone wanting to enjoy the romance of timeless Venice.
P and O cruise Oriana
Cars are banned from the narrow cobbled streets and 500 historic bridges of the city centre, so there are just two modes of transport available to both visitor and local alike: the vaporetto (water-bus) network, and feet. The best way to see the Grand Canal is from the water. Catch a vaporetto, sit out the front and take in the sights. Vaporetto lines 1, 3, 4, 82, and N go along the Canal. A gondola ride is usually reserved for marriage proposals, ice-cream advertising, or for those with more money than sense.

Places to visit: Doge's Palace (Palazzo Ducale), St Mark's Basilica (Basilica di San Marco), Rialto Bridge (Ponte di Rialto), Bridge of Sighs (Ponte dei Sospiri). At the end of the year there are Christmas markets in different parts of Venice, but the main one is in the Campo San Stefano. It runs from early December through to Christmas Eve, and you can enjoy music performances, shopping for Italian crafts, and seasonal foods. There’s mulled wine and sweets, souvenirs and ornaments for your tree next year.


Dubrovnik

P and O cruise Oriana It’s a city with a long history. Unfortunately it is now most remembered for bloodshed during the Serbo-Croatian war. We all witnessed the appalling sight of Serbian snipers targeting civilians as they searched for food and water.

Dubrovnik is a beautiful 12th century walled city with an Old Town, harbour, and towering stone walls. There is a 14th century Franciscan Monastery, the 18th century Baroque Church of St Blaise, Dubrovnik’s patron saint, and the world’s oldest pharmacy, dating back to 1391.

This isn’t a living museum, though. There is plenty to tempt those who want to just relax and enjoy some local cuisine and a bit of retail therapy. The side streets offer restaurants for a shore-side lunch, and cafés to haunt when coffee and a sit-down are in order. There is plenty of opportunity to spend some cash in small local shops – but all transactions must be in Croatian currency, and not every shop will accept a credit card.


Palma

P and O cruise Oriana Dominated by its iconic Gothic cathedral, Palma is the capital of the autonomous region of the Balearic Islands. It is now a sophisticated destination in the Mediterranean and has shaken off the cheap and cheerful package tour image that has so blighted the rest of the islands. The classy boutiques and fine restaurants attest to the fact that Palma is open for business with the polished visitor.

Fanning out around the cathedral are side streets and alleys which hark back to Majorca’s Moorish past. The Arabic Baths situated in the narrow streets of the medieval quarter of the city is one of the few remaining Moorish-built structures in Palma.

Other places of interest include the circular Castell de Bellver, overlooking the bay to the west, and the Almudaina Palace opposite the cathedral. The main shopping areas for high-end boutiques and designer merchandise are Avinguda Jaume III and the Passeig des Born.  The pedestrian streets around Plaça Major are filled with small specialist shops and stalls selling handicrafts on Monday, Friday and Saturday mornings. There’s also a small shopping centre for any additional souvenir needs.


Valencia

valencia Valencia is Spain’s third-largest city and is known for its people-watching cafés, and paella, which is considered the most delicious and authentic in Spain. But there is more here than convivial coffee and rice. La Lonja de la Seda, a silk market in Gothic style built between 1482 and 1548, is located at Plaza del Mercado. Iglesia Major, the main cathedral of Valencia, dates from the 12th century.

Any food lover will want to linger in the food market, with its striking façade of Modernist architecture. Best buys are herbs and spices, and pre-packed ham; also rice and saffron, to replicate an authentic paella at home. Take time to have some tapas with the locals and enjoy some of that delicious ham.


Cartagena

Cartagena was founded more than 2,200 years ago by the Carthaginians and is now one of Spain’s busiest commercial centres. The Caridad church is one of the most significant churches in the city, and dedicated to the patron saint of Cartagena. Food here, as in the rest of Spain, is important. The calderos (casseroles) with grey mullet, monkfish, and grouper are made of rice cooked in fish stock and accompanied by a garlic mayonnaise. There is plenty of choice for gifts to take home from a host of boutiques as well as the usual high-street names, including the El Corte Ingles chain of department stores, which is a celebrated high-end emporium.

Cartagena has more than 12 museums to explore and some of them are free! The Roman Theatre which was only discovered in 1987 is always popular in this city that boasts so much of historic interest.


Gibraltar

P and O cruise Oriana It’s a little bit of Britain transplanted in the Med. There are pubs and shops on Main Street that will be familiar to everyone from the UK. Gibraltar was handed over to the British by Spain in the 18th century, and it has remained a bastion of Britishness ever since. Spain has periodically flexed intimidating muscles to encourage the population to accept Spain’s sovereignty but so far those efforts seem only to have entrenched the Gibraltarians still further in the belief that maintaining the status quo might be best.
   
Gibraltar is celebrated not just for convenient shopping but for its Rock which is a mammoth boulder of limestone, home to the Barbary macaques. It is said to be one of the ancient Pillars of Hercules, with the other being found opposite in Morocco.

Other places of interest include Alameda Botanical Gardens, The Casino, City Gates and Fortifications, The Convent, official residence of the Governor of Gibraltar since 1728, and the Gibraltar Museum.

Lisbon

Some of the best views of this city, the Portuguese capital, come from the Tagus River. On your journey upstream you pass the Belem Tower and the impressive Monument to the Discoveries with its statue of Henry the Navigator.

Lisbon is small for a capital city by European standards but what it lacks in size it makes up for in character. Much of the area along the river has been transformed over the past decades from rather edgy neighbourhoods to areas of shops, restaurants and social activity.

It's a city of narrow streets lined with boutiques, shops offering leather handbags and shoes, and cafes that tempt with fresh coffee and traditional Portuguese pastries. These are as much a local obsession as pasta might be in Italy. You have an excuse to sample some custard tarts, as it's cultural research - and it would be rude not to!

To find out more about this and other P&O cruisies visit here


food and travel reviews

Silversea Cruise – Silver Wind wining and dining

Food will likely be a big part of any holiday and may even be the deciding factor. Food tourism is gaining in popularity but even if we are not looking for a gastronomic trip garnished with tastings, visits to local producers and a sprinkling of artisan bakers, we still want good food when we return to our chosen accommodation.
silversea cruise
Cruises have long been famed for providing meals at every hour of the day, snacks at a whim, and drinks metaphorically or literally on tap. Some of these cruises also have a reputation for quantity at the sacrifice of quality, so it’s important to make informed decisions.

Silver Wind is one of the Silverseas vessels (are they ships or are they boats?). It's not a floating juggernaut and only carries a couple of hundred guests, in fact 296 when fully laden. That might sound a sizeable complement to the untutored but many a boat carries thousands.

Think of a 5* hotel and then add a star. That extra sparkle comes from personal butler service and it’s truly a pampering luxury. This uniformed treasure will serve you toast at any time, will fill your personal mini bar with your favourite gin (a full bottle rather than a skimpy miniature). They will ensure that you have a choice of bathroom toiletries, and, snacks aside, will offer you breakfast and any other meal in your room; and it’s all at no extra charge.

It’s the nature of modern cruises to be all-inclusive but that all-inclusiveness might include a bit more on Silversea’s ships than on other lines. Even sophisticated travellers will be impressed. The service isn't stiff and starchy but is discreet and impeccably timed. Smiles are quick and warm from waiters who actually seem to enjoy their work. The ratio of staff to guests is high ... or is that low? Suffice it to say that there seem to be as many crew members as guests – and that’s not far from the truth: for less than 300 guests there are 222 crew members.

silversea cruise So there will be no shortage of willing servers, but what of the restaurants? Will one be obliged to dress formally every evening? No. Will there be place-cards seating you between the First Officer and a 90-year-old vet from Iowa? No (but he might have been a charming vet). Seating is your choice and these cruises appeal to a much younger set. This cruise is all about casual luxury with a few formal options for those who enjoy black tie or sequins. It's a cruise, but your way.

La Terrazza is a culinary retreat that leads something of a double life. It opens early in the morning with an extensive buffet-style breakfast. That’s the advantage of a cruise with a multi-national guest complement: there is always a vast array of dishes to tempt, and breakfast is no exception. If one hails from mainland Europe then cheese, cold meats and croissants might be the preferred morning plate. For Scandinavians the addition of fish will make for a traditional start to the day, and then North Americans and British will head for the cooked goods, and there is a wide selection that would more than constitute a Full English.
silversea cruise
Lunch at La Terrazza has similarly generous proportions, with selections of cold dishes as well as a truly eclectic spread of hot dishes that range from comforting European slow-cooked favourites to some Asian specialities. Lighter fare is found in the guise of sushi and sashimi with authentic condiments and even chopsticks. It’s lunch after all, so a selection of fruits and desserts are also on display; but remember that afternoon tea and dinner will be putting in an appearance in your near future.

And talking of dinner, La Terrazza makes its final transformation in the evening to become an à la carte traditional Italian restaurant. Pasta is made fresh on board, and risotto is highly recommended. Save some space for the cheese selection as it is as good as one would find in any Michelin-star restaurant.

One restaurant not to be missed is the Grill by the Pool. During the day it serves those fast food classics like burgers, fries and pizza, but there are evenings when the moon shines from a black velvet sky, the lights shimmer on the now vacant pool and the sound of sizzling replaces splashing. It's the hot rock speciality. Slabs of black volcanic stone are heated to frying temperature and your choice of steak, fish or shellfish is placed on top. The splattering starts with the application of a drizzle of oil and that's when one realises the necessity for those rather stylish bibs. You will regret refusing such a thing for the sake of sartorial elegance (but there is an onboard laundry).
silversea cruise
The Panorama Lounge is a marvellous spot for quiet relaxation with a book when one has had an elegant sufficiency of lounging by the aforementioned pool. It’s designed to provide the best view of the latest destination or romantic seascape. This is the spot for a spot of afternoon tea at just the time of day when one is comfortably over lunch and salivating at the prospect of dinner. A few delicate sweets and savouries fill that fleeting gap. As evening approaches the lounge changes persona and becomes a piano cocktail bar offering a vantage point from which to watch the setting sun. Drinks are mixed to order and canapés arrive with no order given.
 
Le Champagne is the smallest and most intimate of Silver Wind’s restaurants and is the only Wine Restaurant by Relais & Châteaux without an address on dry land. Le Champagne is an annex of The Restaurant, and this bijou dining room has well-spaced tables, low lights and romantically-inclined couples – although these change with each voyage.

The formal dress code adds to the impression that Le Champagne is special but the quality of food is the confirming factor. Relais & Châteaux is an organisation built on culinary excellence. Their restaurants guarantee outstanding dishes served with classic flair and paired with the finest of wines. An evening here should be on every guest’s itinerary.
silversea cruise
The Restaurant is an animated salon with appropriate seating not only for couples but larger groups as well. This is the ideal restaurant for a family celebration accompanied by remarkable main dishes, and memorable and sophisticated desserts.

Silver Wind offers educated palates the flavours of ports visited, casual dining for those who prefer simple fare, hearty plates to satisfy the most expansive of appetites, and there are swathes of salads to tempt those who seek healthful and light dishes. Younger travellers will rejoice in cakes, ice cream and pastries – and it would be rude to force them to eat alone.

To learn more about Silversea visit here

For ideas for your cruise visit hereSilversea cruise


food and travel reviews

Silversea – Silver Wind from Rome to Venice

For me a trip starts as soon as I close the front door. I actually enjoy airports, or at least I do after security. The Silversea cruise allowed for a conveniently timed flight from London to Rome, and although I had expected a fume-laced drive from Leonardo da Vinci airport to the port of Civitavecchia about 50 minutes’ drive away, it was actually more like a backdrop from a pastoral Italian movie.

silversea cruise Our route took us through hills, looking a little parched so late in the summer, through vines that held a promise of a good harvest, past 'umbrella’ pine trees that offered that thoroughly Mediterranean shade to any lucky enough to call this beautiful landscape home. This was a world away from the not-so-leafy suburbs of West London. Hounslow could never look this good.

The port of Civitavecchia is an historic one and in fact the name means "ancient town", and there are still walls that attest to that fact. The harbour was constructed by the Emperor Trajan at the beginning of the 2nd century.  Recently (OK, so it’s only recent in Roman terms) Michelangelo built a fort here and it remains a solid testament to the genius of the designer and the enduring significance of the port.

Our vessel wasn't the largest of those docked. It was somewhat dwarfed by its neighbour which housed several thousand guests when fully laden. The Silver Wind of the Silversea Line was small but perfectly formed and still sporting all the amenities that any regular cruise-goer might expect.

Yes, there are indeed 'regular' cruisers and they are discerning.silversea cruise Many of these passengers have tried other lines but return to Silversea and its Silver Wind, preferring its luxurious trappings over the cavernous proportions of those colossus' of the seas. It's a matter of taste, but this ship has its loyal followers.  This is for many of us the preferred face of cruising, and in bijou elegance.

The public spaces on board are sumptuous. There is plenty of polished brass, artwork, dark wood, but guests will appreciate their private suites which include sitting area and bathroom (that actually contains a bath), as well as a veranda. It's an intimate and quiet haven on which to soak up some sun, but more prized for offering a vantage point from which to witness the arrival of dawn and a new port.

The Silver Wind will appeal to anyone who enjoys the finer things in life and appreciates the best. Its restaurants are first class and offer menus that reflect the international composition of its guests and indeed its crew. One can indulge in casual snacking by the pool, admire the skills of Relais & Chateaux standard chefs, and delight in everything in between. Culinary variety is the very spice of this cruise.

That aforementioned pool is partnered by a brace of hot tubs and ranks of sun loungers. You will likely have the area to yourself on days when Silver Wind docks. The two ship’s tenders run a fifteen minute shuttle to and from that day’s port of call if it happens not to offer moorings alongside. It’s easy to spend just a little time ashore to explore, rather than committing to a long day away from your floating home.

Sliver Wind accommodates the fancies of all its passengers. There is a lounge called the Humidor which caters for those lovers of cigars. Whilst not a smoker myself, I can, at least to some small extent, appreciate the draw. Cigars have an aroma and a rich perfume that is missing from cigarettes. A seat in the Humidor will be welcomed by many a man (and perhaps woman) who has hitherto been consigned to the garden for a crafty puff.

Time at sea allows one to relax and to try one’s hand at games, and even games of chance.silversea cruise There is a bespoke games room complete with baize-covered tables, and piles of board games that run from the ever popular family variety like Monopoly to the more sophisticated backgammon. For those with a yen (or a pocket full of Euros) for higher stakes there is a small casino with tables to gladden the heart of any high-roller.

One should consider taking some exercise while on board. That could come in the shape of a few gentle turns around the upper deck in the early morning freshness, or even some time spent in the well-appointed gym. This has every stripe of fitness torture ever devised and is conveniently located next to the spa which offers beauty and well-being treatments.

Cruise ships are often described as floating hotels but in fact they are much more. The scenery moves and there are spaces that are dedicated to unashamed unwinding therapy. It's perhaps better described as a floating resort with travel options. The Silver Wind is considered 6* and the verity of that accolade can be appreciated after just a few hours – one will notice more crew than other guests. There are almost as many folks in uniforms as there are folks in shorts. Service is high-standard and high-priority.

One has a butler and that is worth an extra star for sheer charm and indulgence. Guests need not move from their suite to enjoy breakfast, a chilled bottle of champagne, a snack or some extra of anything-of-which-one-could-think. The butlers of Silver Wind are perhaps the best ambassadors the ship could have.

silversea cruise A Mediterranean cruise takes the fear from any first-time cruiser. The ports visited on this voyage offered historic sites, gastronomic insights, cultural enlightenment and a lot of fun. From Rome one floats to Sorrento and the isle of Capri. Sicily will tempt one with its olive groves. Malta welcomes with honey-coloured stone. Corfu has myths from the dawn of civilisation. The island of Hvar in Croatia describes itself as the sunniest island in the Adriatic. Koper, Slovenia, presents the traveller with an undiscovered corner of Europe. Venice is unmissable with its canals and the Basilica di San Marco and the Palazzo Ducale.

I am a woman of a certain age but I had expected a cruise to be a bit staid and dated even for my advanced years; but I found the reality to be different from the blue-rinsed reputation. This holiday would be enjoyed by anyone seeking quality, accessible style, amenity, and as much calm as fatigued body and mind might need. One can choose to join in with social activities or remain with just one’s family or friends. It's not a holiday camp and one can tailor the experience to one’s own vacation requirements. There is splendid flexibility with some rather nice views, and those views are both memorable and ever-changing.

Silversea cruise To learn more about Silversea visit here
For ideas for your cruise visit here


food and travel reviews

Taste of Arran and Argyll with The Majestic Line’s Glen Tarsan

The Scottish Isles have never been high on my list of food-related destinations.majestic line It’s North and it’s a rare day that finds me further in that direction than Watford. It’s not a prejudice, merely ignorance. But there I was on a converted fishing boat and wondering why I didn’t come here years ago.

The Majestic Line offers holidays and short breaks on two converted fishing boats around the waters off the west of Scotland. They cater for lovers of nature, birds and wildlife, and food. Our boat might not have been the size of a land-locked 5* hotel or even one of those gleaming white cruise ships but the beds were superbly comfortable, the service was professional and friendly and the chef, Steve Boswell, was first class.

Andy Thoms and Ken Grant wanted to save these wooden-hulled fishing trawlers from the scrapyard. So in 2004 they bought and converted their first vessel, the Glen Massan, to a mini cruise liner, sailing out of Holy Loch, near Dunoon, to cruise the lochs and islands of the region. In May 2007 a sister vessel, The Glen Tarsan, was launched to sail out of Oban, exploring Mull and Islay.

The name ‘The Majestic Line' is inspired by the 1960s TV series "Para Handy", based on the books by Neil Munro and you will find these in the ship’s library to bring back memories. An episode tells of the Vital Spark ship’s engineer, McPhail, who walked out of his job saying he had signed on a ship of ‘The Majestic Line' claiming it had a gold funnel; and now the Glen Massan and the Glen Tarsan have gold painted funnels and the boats stock a local beer called ‘Vital Spark’.

majestic line Iain Duncan, Skipper of the Glen Tarsan for this trip, told us more about the company. “There are three crews of 4, Andrew the shore manager, plus six support staff, so that’s 19 of us. We can carry 11 passengers in 6 cabins (all en-suite). The vessel is 80ft (24.4m) long and has a 550hp engine. This cruise we have young Marc, Ray as Engineer and Chef Stephen Boswell.

“The intention is to build another boat, and eventually have a fleet of five sailing the west coast. Business on the west coast is still as buoyant as ever, though here on the Clyde it’s slightly down. People have a preconceived idea of the Clyde as a dirty shipbuilding river, and as soon as you mention Mull and Skye it conjures up a different picture, so they are busier than we are.” That’s a shame as a few hours on a cruise out of Holy Loch into the Firth of Clyde will remind you that beautiful lochs and hills start just there. An undiscovered gem of Scotland’s Western Isles.

Iain loves this region and points out a practical advantage of holidays in Britain. “I tend to holiday at home, we go to Mull or Skye or Arran or another island, and we like to walk. In fact I think my passport’s lapsed, but I can’t imagine ever using it again!” I envy those lucky folks with all this scenic beauty on their doorstep and a big city with its transport links within easy reach. The proximity of Glasgow makes this holiday area accessible to all of us.

Iain points out, “Americans go to London and Edinburgh and that’s it – they’ve ‘done’ Britain. Of course, some are extremely well-travelled, and we have a few who keep coming back to us, even though we haven’t advertised in the States yet – they love it, adore it. We did advertise in the Kew Gardens brochure, which brought us a lot of passengers. West Coast gardens are spring gardens rather than summer, and they are stunning with azaleas and rhododendrons.”

majestic line This time the boats had swopped ports. Our particular cruise was a 6-day ‘Taste of Arran and Argyll’ from Holy Loch, with an evident focus on food. With regard to the meals they are many and substantial. One starts the day with a breakfast fit to fill any hefty highland lad ...or lassie. Wander into the communal saloon at around 8am and grab a cup of tea from the “let's make sure there is enough tea to quench the thirst of a dozen or so passengers” sized teapot. Take your steaming mug and stroll out onto the flat bit at the back of the boat (they tell me that’s the aft deck). Enjoy the mirror-calm water reflecting the surrounding hills and waterfalls. The surface is only ruffled by the light breeze and perhaps the occasional fish taking a closer look at the dry universe.

Breakfast, like every other meal on the Glen Tarsan, displays all the famed generosity of traditional Scottish hospitality. You might like porridge for breakfast and sure enough it’s here, made in Scottish style with a sprinkle of salt. One sits at the large table groaning under the weight of jars of four different sorts of breakfast cereal, a couple of bowls of yoghurt, each garnished with a different fresh fruit and puree, eight different Arran jams (do try the rhubarb and ginger jam), marmalade and honey, a laundry-basket of toast, a bucket of fresh fruit and more tea and coffee.majestic line No, dear reader, that’s not your only breakfast fare, the cooked element is being prepared and will be on the table just as you are finishing your last mouthful of raspberries.

Now, I am a well-publicised lover of the Full English but I didn’t know what to expect from a Majestic Line Full Scottish. It’s a bit like a Sassenach’s cooked breakfast but it’s bigger. Our chef offers a sausage, a round of black pudding, and a square of Lorne Sausage (a delicious Scottish speciality, Lorne sausage is said to be named after Tommy Lorne, a Scottish music hall comedian of the 1920s. That’s unlikely but a legend possibly started by Lorne himself. Lorne is also an area of Scotland, so who knows?). That is joined by a perfectly fried egg, a grilled half-tomato, a rasher of back bacon and a potato scone.

Another day we were served an equally traditional breakfast of kippers. Chef Steve prepares them two ways and it would have been rude not to try both. The usual way in these parts is to have them fried which brings out the smokey-salty robustness of the cured herring. Steve also presented jugged kippers, which is a popular and classic dish. Yes, they were originally cooked in a jug: put your fish into a heatproof jug or dish and steep them in boiling water. This helps to leach out a little of the strong flavour so the finished dish is a milder and lighter alternative to the original. Smoked haddock topped with a poached egg is also part of the bountiful breakfast fare – a different cooked breakfast for each of the six days aboard.

Don’t forget that there might be morning tea or coffee in a couple of hours and this is Scotland so there will be a “little something” to help down your hot beverage. In fact, after-mealtimes are the only occasions when one might wish to be staying on a conventional cruiser.majestic line That longing isn’t brought about by a wish for better accommodation (it’s cosy here) nor any criticism of the crew (they take marvellous, attentive and first-name care of us). No, it’s that one might aspire to a jog around 2 miles of deck to burn off some of those truly delicious calories. But there is always time on land to stretch those increasingly chubby legs, although I notice that the exercise does rather build up the appetite again. Must be the sea air.

This is a real holiday on which to relax. You won’t be burdened with the need for extravagant dresses for dinner and your casual clothes don’t have to sport designer labels. A holiday on the Glen Tarsan is all about unwinding. Take a pile of books you have wanted to read for ages – that thriller that your Auntie Minnie gave you last Christmas, and Fly Fishing by J.R. Hartley (or is that just from a TV ad?) and find a spot to sit and read as the stunning countryside slides by.

Talking of fishing, passengers can bring their fishing rods or there are a couple onboard for those novices who want to try their hand with a rod. The waters around here are full of mackerel and sea trout and your chef will gladly cook them for your supper should your piscatorial first-time luck be in. You could be treated to a personal masterclass from a chef who is proud of his fresh Scottish fish, whether from the local professional fisherman or from an amateur with a line over the side.
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Yes, the landscape slides by rather than rushes. There are scenic photo opportunities every few minutes, and there are no exclamations of “damn, I missed it” unless it’s a shot those elusive porpoises that followed us for a day or so. It’s an ideal cruise for those who want to perfect their camera skills. Plenty of time to change the exposure, change the lens and remove the lens cap. The quality of light, the scenery, the birds, and the wildlife are available to take centre-stage of your composition. We had close encounters with seals and swans as well as those porpoises.

The crew, being local, will always be on hand to tell stories about the villages along the waterway, so you’ll have plenty to talk about when you show those pictures back home. There is lots of history along these lochs – ancient castles, churches, the occasional disused military installation, even the gents’ loo in Rothesay is a tourist attraction – but it’s the unspoilt landscape that is so evocative of Scotland. Glens, hills and cottages persuade passengers that Glasgow must be at least a couple of thousand miles away.

But I mentioned that this was a food-lover’s cruise. In fact this boat is an informal cooking school as well as a floating restaurant with a chef who is happy to share his knowledge, and producers who want to introduce you to their wares. Even the little bar has a few surprises. The owners of the Majestic Line have their own brand of gin called Bilgewater.majestic line It’s a high-proof spirit made especially for the Majestic Line, a mild-flavoured gin that could be addictive. Try it with ice, tonic and a couple of slices of lemon and you will note that the spirit becomes a refreshing citrus libation. If whisky is what you crave then there are a couple of shelves full and you could always go ashore at the Arran distillery to find out exactly how “the water of life” is made.

Scotland is full of culinary delights. It’s particularly famed for its baked goods and every afternoon you will be able to enjoy a cup of tea and a fresh, warm-from-the-oven cake from your chef. It’s strange but true that however full one thinks one might be, there is always a little space for something sweet. Afternoon Tea is all the rage in London and that’s lovely as a beautifully presented meal replacement, but mostly what one craves is a nice cuppa tea and a slice of something light and buttery, with perhaps a sprinkling of dried fruit, or there might be a glaze of tangy lemon, or there could be a frosting of rich dark chocolate. You can keep your three tiers of frills and allow me, for this week at least, to enjoy every crumb of Sunday’s chocolate rum-and-raisin cupcakes, Monday’s ginger cake; and there might be a day when chef Steve will roll out his boat-made cream horns filled to the very end with jam and fresh whipped cream. Steve would be considered a remarkable chef even in a full-sized kitchen with half a dozen sous chefs at his command, but this chap manages to bake bread and cakes as well as preparing braised meat dishes and full-scale seafood banquets in this tiny galley, without raising his voice.

Dinner is convivial. One might start with some freshly spiced and seasoned almonds and a glass of something reviving and one sits at that big communal table once again and talks over the events of the day – the one that got away, the smoky flavour of the whisky at the distillery – and all without the aid of a little black dress or starched white shirt.majestic line This is five-star hospitality that doesn’t demand anything from its guests other than a purr of pleasure. You’ll be freshly showered and you will doubtless look nice but the tiara can stay at home and there is no need to wrestle with the bow tie. Elegance is supplied by the food, ambiance comes courtesy of low lights, and entertainment is provided by you and your fellow guests, along with the occasional merry quip from a crew member as he delivers the next course.

Almost a week on the boat will give the passenger half a dozen memorable dinners: beef Wellington, local venison, barbecued pork, Oriental salmon, Indian lamb shanks, and lobster in tagine spices. Then there are the desserts and sweeties. Chef Steve’s sticky toffee pudding is comforting and perhaps the best you would ever have tasted; chocolate ganache with raspberry coulis, cardamom pannacotta might be your puds, but those cute sounding “sweeties” are likely to be high-octane preparations for adults only, and possibly whisky-based.

The Glen Tarsan weaves its way between islands and skirts mainland towns and stops off along the way to allow its passengers a little time ashore. We visited the Cathedral of the Isles which is said to be the smallest cathedral in Europe. The walk through the grounds was perfumed by wild garlic and when we entered the cathedral we were treated to a rehearsal for a concert of fiddle playing. We missed the concert but traditional highland tunes in that setting were magical. Perhaps that’s the beauty of these cruises: one finds unexpected joys that are well off the beaten track.
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Arran is famous for its cheeses. They produce a host of flavoured cheeses – raspberry, caramelised onion, and many more – but the purist will want to try the classics. There is a whisky distillery on the island which has been in business for the past 17 years. It revived an industry that had disappeared many years before. It had been a cottage industry which could be more accurately described as a “hidden in the hills” industry as those stills were illegal, though numerous. It’s a beautiful walk along the coast from the jetty where your tender will drop you – you’ll be glad of the exercise after all that food. Taste some fine whisky and buy a souvenir or two.

Loch Fyne really does exist and it has given its name to a chain of seafood restaurants, but the heart of the business is the oyster production and salmon processing. There is a restaurant at the head of the loch where you can try the eponymous products while watching the Oystercatchers (the birds – not the employees) from the your window table. Another opportunity for delicious mementoes of your trip.

While you are ashore you won’t want to miss a visit to the Loch Fyne brewery, Fyne Ales, which is just up the road a couple of hundred yards. They make unique brews here from the water that flows in a stream from the hills above. Nice to get your main ingredient free. You will doubtless want to sample a few bottles so you’ll be glad you have the Majestic Line bus and driver at your disposal. They brew, amongst others, Vital Spark – it’s that mythical boat again – which is a dark ale with a reddish-brown colour, a full bodied brew with a rich taste and a pleasantly dry finish.

The itinerary for this food-laden cruise is at the mercy of the elements but it could run something like this:

• The beautiful Kyles of Bute; anchor in remote Loch Riddon. Help the crew drop lobster pots from the boat tender.
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• Cross the magnificent Firth of Clyde to Lochranza on the north tip of the Isle of Arran and visit the Arran distillery and Lochranza Castle.

• Cruise the magnificent coast of Arran from the rugged mountains in the North to wide sandy beaches in the South.

• Anchor off Brodick with a wealth of different attractions on offer from the tiny Arran Chocolate Factory to the Island Cheese Company and magnificent Brodick Castle.

• Anchor off Lamlash/ Holy Isle and visit Arran Fine Foods.

• Sail to the Isle of Bute; visit splendid Mount Stuart House and Rothesay Castle.

I hadn’t known what to expect from a food-oriented cruise with The Majestic Line and I knew the weather would play a part in our plans but I can honestly say that even if we had had bad weather every day I would have been content. Chef Steve and other crew members were always on-hand to share their local culinary knowledge and one is treated to an extravaganza of fine cooking with local ingredients, and chef Steve does take advantage of that whisky. Don’t turn away a “sweetie” of a chocolate cup of Stags Breath, a nightcap to help any wannabe chef sleep to dream of the next day’s distillery, cheese producer or round of warm shortbread. Now, that’s a ship’s biscuit of the best possible class. Chef Steve says he has another hundred or so recipes, so I’ll be back.

The Majestic Line
Holy Loch Marina
Sandbank
Dunoon
Argyll
PA23 8FE

Email: info@themajesticline.co.uk

Phone +44 (0)1369 707 951

(Note that this cruise is no longer available; see the link below for current routes.)
Visit The Majestic Line here.



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