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Ship shape

Small-ship cruises offer the opportunity to access diminutive destinations that larger ships can’t reach. Gary Buchanan has found 11 stellar vessels – all under 40 beds – that will take you from Scotland to Siem Reap in style and comfort with maximum privacy

The spice islands on a Phinisi From Moyo Island, Indonesia

The Spice Islands are an allegory for escapism and the fabled Indonesian vessels that plied the trade routes between these Elysian isles were called phinisi – two-masted, hand-crafted ketches constructed of ironwood and trimmed in teak. An authentic iteration of these is Amandira, offering a potent blend of life-affirming wayfaring and laid-back chic sleeping up to ten guests. The waters of the Komodo National Park are perfect for travelistas keen to venture not just off the beaten track, but to the very edge of the beaten map. You will benefit from a professional crew and chef onboard as well as an expedition leader, who’s also a certified dive master. The plush cabins each have a living area with sofa, coffee table and writing desk, as well as a large bathroom with shower and twin vanities. Expert-led treks include an unforgettable encounter with fearsome Komodo dragons. The anchor is also dropped off Wainilu Island for an intimate starlit barbecue on the beach, while another option includes snorkelling in the Matisse-blue sea with friendly manta rays at Makassar.

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Travel Details

DEPARTURE 1 July. 7 nights. From £50,425 (exclusive charter), which includes 5 nights aboard Amandira and 2 nights at the group’s Amanwana tented resort.

The Amalfi Coast on a Gulet From Naples, Italy

This unique Italian cruise visits some of the greatest archaeological and cultural jewels of the Amalfi coast. By sailing aboard a traditional wooden gulet there’s an unrivalled opportunity to explore this dramatic stretch of coastline that larger, trendier-than-thou vessels cannot reach. Restricted to just ten guests, this handsome six-cabin gulet was hand built in Turkey and refitted in Italy. On this voyage there’s the chance to visit Capri, Pompeii and Amalfi as well as exploring lesser-known sites including Baia – the epicentre of Roman hedonism – plus the chance to see outstanding Roman frescoes at the Villa Oplontis. Such an opportunity to get up close and personal to inimitable history in comfort and conviviality with like-minded antiquity mavens is hard to come by. Having inspired artists, writers, and musicians, pastel fishing villages cling to hillsides or lie in deep green valleys, strung along this rugged coastline of plunging cliffs that offer a scene of such photogenic prettiness, it’s almost too beautiful to be true.

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Travel Details

DEPARTURE 1 September. 7 nights. From £3,650pp.

The Adriatic on a Gulet-style ship From Dubrovnik, Croatia

Croatia’s filigree 480km coastline is dotted with 1,185 islands and the MS Princess Aloha puts in at some of the prettiest. At just 38m long by 8m wide, she is expertly designed to dart into exclusive anchorages and secluded harbours such as Omis, where larger craft pass blithely by. Sleeping just 38 guests in air-conditioned double or triple cabins, the ship has been immensely popular since it launched in 2012. Capital of the Dalmatia region, Split is a unique city with its heart carved out of the ruins of Emperor Diocletian’s vast palace. Dating back to AD295 this Roman metropolis was used for centuries as a fortress against invading armies. Another highlight is Korčula, alleged birthplace of legendary explorer Marco Polo, which is a chocolate-box ensemble of orange-hued roofs and spires. It’s here that you’ll find beloved local’s spot Adio Mare, which serves a mean black cuttlefish risotto. Take our advice and pair it with a glass of superb Dalmatian white. Perfectly chilled, obviously.

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Travel Details

DEPARTURE Various dates from May to October. 7 nights. From £509pp.

The turquoise coast on a Gulet From Gokek, Turkey

Designed for pleasure and built in 2016, Naos is a classic 20m Turkish gulet constructed of solid teak and soaring cream sails plus brass and varnished wood as rich and warm as a single malt whisky. Based at the Port Göcek Marina north-west of the Fethiye Gulf in Turkey, this gulet is available for private charter with a skipper and staff for up to a week. Comfortably accommodating up to 12 guests in en-suite cabins, all with air-con, there’s also a salon, while meals featuring Turkish meze and fresh seafood are served at a large dining table. This is a perfect family holiday option or a chilled escape with good friends as you can kick back in the large cushioned area by day and stargaze by night. Days start with a swim in the gin-clear water before enjoying breakfast as the anchor is raised and the gulet glides across the silky sea ruffled by fish darting around the hull. Naos has her own speedboat for exploring the Korsan Cave or a night-time visit to the Smuggler’s Inn at Gökkaya Bay – only accessible by private boat.

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Travel Details

DEPARTURE Various dates from June to August. 7 nights. From £7,350 (exclusive charter).

Along the banks of the River Hooghly on a 50m cruise ship From Kolkata, India

Travel into the heart of India’s colonial past with this journey along the Hooghly, the twisting artery connecting Kolkata to the River Ganges. Once a channel for the cloth trade, it hasn’t been used for long-distance passenger voyages since the advent of the railway in 1850. Now the RV Rajmahal is changing that. At just 50m and with a shallower draught than more conventional designs, it is able to cruise further upstream than most vessels into the Bengal countryside. Highlights include the ancient capital of Murshidabad, its mansions and mosques now marooned among a sea of rice paddies and mango groves, and a cycling tour of Kalna’s terracotta temples, while a stroll through the Edenic gardens of Khushbagh makes a superb day trip. The ship, which sleeps 40, maintains an authentic feel. The crew are mostly local, while cabins with French balconies are brightened with hand-blocked cotton fabrics. The food is largely Assamese, which means plenty of fish, often in a tomato-based sauce.

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Travel Details

DEPARTURE 11 April, 23 October, 6 and 20 November and 17 December. 10 nights. From £2,595pp.

Canal du midi on a motor yacht From Marseillan, South of France

Built on the Clyde in 1923 from Burmese teak, La Falaise is best described as a ‘gentleman’s motor yacht’. She is a peerless rendition of a privately owned French péniche-hôtel barge. Sailing the canals in southern France, four guests enjoy the finest European cuisine and Grand Cru wines served by a professional British crew in a members’ club-like atmosphere. The itineraries are flexible and include visits to Capestang, Portiragnes, Béziers, Narbonne and Carcassonne. It is easy to see why the Canal du Midi was inscribed as a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1996. Bordered by an avenue of thousands of plane trees whose exposed roots interlock at the water’s edge, the canal’s green waters meander through venerable villages and past fields of vibrant yellow sunflowers. Dotting the horizon are the wine-growing areas of Hérault, Minervois, Corbières and the Aude, where the precious fruit silently ripens in the sun.

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Travel Details

DEPARTURE Various dates from May to October. 6 nights. £10,000 (exclusive charter) – 20 per cent reduction if bookedby 31 March 2018. Email

The Venetian lagoon and Po Valley on a hotel barge From Venice, Italy

Rivers are ribbons of liquid history and on this stimulating waterborne escapade, the Venetian lagoon and Po Valley are showstoppers. The unpretentious 20-passenger La Bella Vita is an ideal craft to delve into Renaissance culture. In the dining room leisurely meals feature prized local ingredients and regional wines, creating the ambience of a houseboat party, enhanced by the riverbank scene that unfolds through louvred doors. There are two upper-deck junior suites and eight lower- deck staterooms, all air-conditioned with en-suite facilities, while on the sundeck a large canopy shades comfortable loungers. Highlights of the cruise include touring the Naval Museum and Pavilion of Gondolas in Venice, a navigation of the Canal of the Orphans and picturesque lagoon islands, as well as a tour of Chioggia, overflowing with Roman, Etruscan and Byzantine heritage. There’s also dinner ashore at the 17th-century Villa Ca’Zen, a private tour of the wine cellars of Villa Widmann-Borletti, plus visits to the Schifanoia Palace in Ferrara and the ravishing Ducal Palace and gardens in Mantua.

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Travel Details

DEPARTURE 7, 14, 21 and 28 October. 6 nights. From £2,590pp.

North Spitsbergen on a Schooner From Longyearbyen, Norway

The 20-passenger Noorderlicht was originally built in 1910 in Flensburg, Germany as a three-masted schooner. Now re-rigged as a two-master, this sturdy craft is capable of sailing the seven seas. On this cruise during the Midnight Sun, the handsome vessel will set a course for the most remote locales around Spitsbergen. Sailing north from Longyearbyen, calls are made at Magdalenefjord to see the impressive glacier faces as well as the remains of 17th-century whaling activities. At Liefdefjorden there’s the chance to spot bearded seals and polar bears. Noorderlicht will also land at Fuglesangen, where budding birdwatchers can sit near little auks – so prized among seabird colonies. Also on the itinerary is Ny-Ålesund, the northernmost permanently inhabited village in the world – starting point for expeditions by Amundsen and Nobile.

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Travel Details

DEPARTURE 4 July. 11 nights. From £3,542pp.

Around Mull on a restored fishing boat From Oban, Scotland

Built in 1975 as a fishing boat, the 11-passenger Glen Massan has been lovingly reconstructed and gained acclaim from travellers wanting to experience the natural splendour of Scotland from the water – Dame Judi Dench and Sir Alex Fergusson are among previous guests who have left glowing testimonials. Aboard this Lilliputian vision of a cruise ship, the epicentre of life is the salon, a bar-cum-lounge-cum-dining room. The cruise calls at colourful Tobermory before heading west to the Treshnish Isles, Staffa, Ulva and Gometra, each a paradise for dolphins, porpoises and basking sharks. Approaching sequestered Iona from the sea is spellbinding, as are the island’s centuries of history.

The Glen Massan Sails Sheltered Waters

Travel Details

DEPARTURE 2 June, 25 August and 13 October. 6 nights. From £1,970pp.

Around Cendrawasih Bay on a Phinisi From Manokwari, Indonesia

The largest marine park in South East Asia, Cendrawasih Bay is the newest destination on this ultra-luxe ship’s roster. Hand built in the style of a traditional Indonesian phinisi (a two-masted sailing ship), its 46 metres slide easily into mangrove-lined bays haunted by dolphins and over the skeletons of Second World War planes thanks to its shallow hull. The outfit is one of the most sumptuous in Asia. All ten passengers will want to bag the Sriwijaya master suite, an en-suite gem with wrap-around windows and a spacious sundeck. Comfortable sun loungers, oodles of indoor and outdoor dining areas and a serviced bar may be what you’d expect from a vessel of this quality, but extras such as a spa, well-stocked library and live-in marine biologist will impress even seasoned sea dogs.

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Travel Details

DEPARTURE Various dates from March to May. 6 nights. From £64,158 (exclusive charter); double suite from £1,010pp per night.

Along the Mekong on a 62M cruise ship From Siem Reap, Cambodia

Cruising Asia’s mighty Mekong River, the luxurious Aqua Mekong boasts an impressive guide-to-guest ratio of 1 to 10. The sustainably crafted ship’s 20 designer suites – the river’s largest rooms – overlook the sparkling water through floor-to-ceiling windows. This is the only ship on this stretch of the river to offer a gym, screening room, outdoor cinema, observation deck, and pool. Adventurous aesthetes dine on world-class cuisine created by top South East Asian chef David Thompson and board the Mekong’s only private tenders for expert-guided shore excursions to serene Buddhist temples and stilted villages, as well as having the chance to explore the unique landscape by bicycle and kayak. After a pre-cruise stay at incomparable Siem Reap, guests visit Tonle Sap Lake – designated a Unesco Biosphere Reserve in 1997 – and the Mekong’s ‘silk islands’, plus the Royal Palace, Silver Pagoda and National Museum of Cambodia in Phnom Penh.

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Travel Details

DEPARTURE Various dates from August to November. 4 nights. From £3,885pp.

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