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Voyage of discovery

Taking a cruise allows you to experience more destinations in a short space of time than any other holiday. Gary Buchanan has drawn on his years exploring the ocean to give you those hidden coastal locations where you’ll be planning a trip back to long before you disembark


Perfect for style mavens looking to cruise the Rhône and Saône rivers, the 159-passenger SS Catherine boasts a daring decor. Silk wall coverings, a bespoke Murano chandelier and the animal print fabrics and dove-grey velour of Bar du Leopard are elegance personified. Staterooms have Savoir beds and marble bathrooms, while the Cézanne Restaurant menus reflect regional French cuisine. In Beaune, the hospice known as Hôtel-Dieu, with its roof of glazed tiles in yellow, green, rust and black, is the finest example of the late-gothic style known as flamboyant. No visit to Lyon – France’s gastronomic capital – is complete without touring Les Halles and its tantalising food stalls. Nestled on opposite sides of the Rhône, the twin cities of Tournon and Tain- l’Hermitage are shrouded by ripening vines cascading down steep hills. Passengers who climb the warren of narrow lanes in Viviers to the Cathedral of Saint-Vincent are rewarded by an organ recital. Continuing south, the beautiful villages perchés with their golden stone walls splashed with autumnal sunlight set the scene for Avignon, which was the capital of Christendom for several decades in the 14th century.

GEM It was the mellow light that drew Vincent van Gogh to Arles in 1888 but it’s the scent of lavender, thyme and rosemary that welcomes visitors to this history-laden town today. The elliptical Roman Arena, dating from 70AD, is the best-preserved amphitheatre in France and was the setting for the movie Gladiator. It’s one of Provence’s best-kept secrets.

Aerial ( Aft)

Travel Details

THE DETAIL Seven-night cruise from Lyon to Avignon aboard SS Catherine departs on 15 October 2017. Ports: Mâcon (Beaune), Tournon (Tain-l’Hermitage), Viviers and Tarascon (for Arles). Prices from £3,359pp


Offering a potent mélange of historic ports and captivating anchorages, this journey explores the best of the Italian Riviera and Corsica. The alfresco SeaDream experience is a private idyll where dinners can be taken under a canopy of stars, stresses soothed away with an open-air Thai massage or you can snuggle up on the deck under a duvet and listen to the lapping sea. The 112-passenger boutique yacht noses into exclusive marinas and slides itself into concealed harbours out of bounds to larger ships to get you right into the heart of the destination. A leisurely walk around the sleepy town of Portoferraio on Elba where nothing seems to have changed since the times of the Argonauts is a fitting precursor to Portovenere with its tall, pastel-hued houses that play out along the seafront. In nearby Portofino, you can watch fashionistas relax on their superyachts and climb to the Chiesa San Giorgio along honeysuckle-scented passageways. High above the smart marina of Porto Vecchio, the walled old town is the ideal spot for a glass of rosé from the nearby Domaine de Torraccia vineyard or to try the excellent local Pietra beer, that is intriguingly flavoured with chestnut.

GEM The Cinque Terre is a narrow stretch of this rugged Ligurian coastline. Wedged into a series of ravines, these five villages are bathed in a pellucid light reflected by the turquoise sea. Swerve the crowds and opt for the smallest, Corniglia, which is surrounded by vineyards of Sciacchetra grapes, where you can meander traffic-free paths enjoying a gelato and la dolce vita.

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Travel Details

THE DETAIL Seven-night cruise from Civitavecchia (Rome) aboard SeaDream II departs on 17 June 2017. Ports: Portoferraio (Elba), Portovenere, Marina di Carrara, Portofino, Saint Florent and Porto Vecchio. Prices from £4,272pp.


For all its burgeoning popularity with tourists, Croatia and the surrounding area still feels like a blissful backwater when explored by the 676-passenger Azamara Quest. The company has looked for ways to improve the experience so instead of setting sail at 5pm in convoy with most other cruise ships, it stays until late in the evening or sometimes overnight, letting you enjoy each port like a local once other cruisers are at sea. Picture exploring the ancient citadel of Dubrovnik after dark when all the hordes from other ships have departed. Or what about enjoying local ‘garage’ wines such as an oaky Medvjedica accompanied by savoury prsut (cured ham) as the sun goes down at the chic BB Club on Hvar’s palm-lined seafront promenade. Another facet of each voyage with Azamara Club Cruises is a complimentary evening event ashore. On this particular cruise it’s a choral performance at Tito Square in Koper before the ship pulls up anchor and sets sail at 10pm. Other highlights include visiting atmospheric Kotor – one of Europe’s best- preserved medieval fortified settlements, the waterfalls at Krka National Park, a family run olive oil estate in Dubrovnik and cruising through Croatia’s filigree Inside Passage.

GEM The Slovenian medieval old town of Koper is just three miles from Italy. For this reason, it is home to some truly fascinating hybrid restaurants and borrows a lot of its architectural nous from Venice, which lies just across the Gulf of Trieste. The Praetorian Palace and a gothic-style loggia (corridor) sit front and centre, while nearby Da Ponte Fountain is a replica of Venice’s famed Rialto Bridge. All are framed by the looming presence of Cathedral of the Assumption.

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Travel Details

THE DETAIL Eight-night cruise from Venice aboard Azamara Quest departs on 29 August 2017. Ports: Zadar, Hvar, Kotor (Montenegro), Dubrovnik, Korcula and Koper (Slovenia). Prices from £2,243pp


This cruise explores the natural larder of the Highlands and islands aboard the world’s smallest luxury ship. Akin to a sumptuous hunting lodge, the 50-passenger Hebridean Princess has Scottish watercolours above comfortable sofas fashioned around an inglenook fireplace. Its varnished teak decks are festooned with hanging baskets brimming over with geraniums and petunias. Islay has a reputation for peaty whiskies and passengers can visit the Laphroaig Distillery, while the vessel’s supplier of oysters is on hand at the swaying jetty on Colonsay. A hop around the Small Isles is followed by a lunch of fresh langoustines and a walk ashore on Canna, the ‘Garden of the Hebrides’. Following a private visit to Dunvegan Castle on the Isle of Skye, lunch is taken at Food and Travel favourite Three Chimneys Restaurant. Head chef Scott Davies creates dishes that reflect Scotland’s culinary heritage. The next day a gentle stroll ashore at Shieldaig precedes lunch at three-AA Rosette 1887 restaurant at The Torridon hotel. This culinary cruise concludes with a champagne reception at the medieval stronghold of Duart Castle on Mull, hosted by Sir Lachlan MacLean, chieftain of Clan MacLean.

GEM Spring uncoils delectably in the Hebrides as winter snow melts to reveal a kaleidoscope of colour, though nothing matches Tobermory mirrored in the unruffled water. The pretty crescent-shaped harbour is lined with a confection of vibrant Neapolitan-hued late 18th-century houses wedged either side of the granite clock tower. This former fishing port is one of the most achingly pretty settlements in Scotland. You’ll be planning to return before you have even left.

Hebridean Princess Toblemory

Travel Details

THE DETAIL Seven-night cruise from Oban aboard Hebridean Princess departs on 25 April 2017. Ports: Islay, Colonsay, Small Isles, Canna, Skye, Shieldaig, Eigg, Tobermory (Mull) and Craignure. Prices from £4,160pp


A diligent crew of 330 shadow the 450 passengers with genuine instinct aboard Seabourn Odyssey. Here restrained luxury reveals itself in opulent suites of up to 1,200 sq ft. Cuisine is also some of the best at sea, nowhere more so than in the two-deck The Restaurant crowned by crystal chandeliers. Tours from Sète head to Carcassonne and Aigues-Mortes in the Camargue, while from Sanary-sur-Mer there are excursions to Aix-en-Provence or Cassis. The younger and sassier crowd appreciate the collage of secluded havens as well as ports that offer the chance to admire treasures of the Renaissance such as Florence, where Michelangelo’s David takes centre stage in the Accademia or Ammannati’s Fountain of Neptune in Piazza della Signoria. The Amalfi coast, where the sea fizzes over rugged rocks, is a perfect overture to the rapturous towns of Positano and Ravello. As the cruise approaches the Aegean, life assumes a soporific pace with bougainvillea-clad white buildings lining heat-misted harbours filled with brightly coloured caique parrots.

GEM Syros, named for Hermes, is the capital of the Cyclades. Unlike other Greek islands, it’s open year-round, meaning there’s plenty of choice whenever you take your voyage. Ermoúpoli stands in a natural amphitheatre peppered with old mansions that tumble down to the harbour where psarotavernas (fish restaurants) with their tables populated by villagers taking in the action, such as there is. The medieval Venetian village of Ano Syros crowns a hilltop full of tiny snow-white churches with deep blue domes that are worth the journey alone.

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Travel Details

THE DETAIL 13-night cruise from Barcelona aboard Seabourn Odyssey departs on 16 July 2017. Ports: Rosas (Spain), Sete (France), Sanary-sur-Mer, Monte Carlo, San Remo, Portofino, Livorno (Florence and Pisa), Civitavecchia (Rome), Amalfi, Monemvasia (Greece), Syros and Piraeus (Athens). Prices from £4,799pp


From its source in the Tibetan Plateau to its delta in the South China Sea, the Mekong is the most fabled river in south-east Asia. To join this cruise you fly to Siem Reap, gateway to Angkor Wat. Constructed during the 12th century, the five interlinked rectangular walls and moats of this Khmer temple represent chains of mountains and the ocean. During its passage through Cambodia and Vietnam, the Mekong evokes an enchanting pastiche of manicured rice paddies interspersed with water buffalo pulling their burden. At Kratie you can buy pyramid- shaped sweet bean rice cakes wrapped in banana leaves from street vendors whose sparkling eyes are at odds with their wisened skin. Along Phnom Penh’s French colonial corniche, gaggles of schoolchildren wave at passengers enjoying breakfast aboard the 48-passenger RV Mekong Pandaw. A more bucolic scene embraces Sa Dec where old men chase ducks down to the water’s edge, while at low tide, children search for cockles and crabs in the silt to sell in the local market. In the narrow canals of Vinh Long, people emerge from houses on stilts brushing their teeth, bathing and washing clothes as the sun erupts to illuminate florid pagodas and sacred temples.

GEM With its mix of Chinese, Cham and Khmer communities, Chau Doc’s cultural diversity is apparent in its countless temples, mosques and churches. However, it’s the floating market that most visitors find spellbinding. Rafts and boats are anchored along both sides of the river and are draped with mangoes, cherries, jackfruit and starfruit as well as poultry and fish which are hung from bamboo poles in front of the boat to attract customers. You could easily spend a week here and meet someone from a different culture each day.

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Travel Details

THE DETAIL Ten-night cruise from Siem Reap to Ho Chi Minh City aboard RV Mekong Pandaw departs on 5 July 2017. Ports: Chhlong, (Cambodia) Kratie, Angkor Ban, Kampong Trolach, Phnom Penh, Chau Doc (Vietnam), Sa Dec and Vinh Long. Prices from £1,815pp.


Charting a new course, this itinerary visits islands strewn like gemstones across an indigo sea that is detached from the ebb and flow of time. St Barts exudes joie de vivre and nonchalance in equal measure, while the British Virgin Islands are spread out in two curved arcs separated by Sir Francis Drake Channel, which was once haven for pirates and privateers. In this yachties’ paradise, the 62 passengers on board Crystal Esprit enjoy a chromatic alchemy of anchorages, epicurean panache and staterooms with something of a chic Miami Beach vibe. Balconies of wrought iron draped in jasmine and trailing hibiscus adorn Main Street in Tortola. Other castaway islands exude a rakish charm, nowhere more so that in Soggy Dollar Bar at White Bay on verdant Jost Van Dyke. The Baths at Virgin Gorda are created by gigantic dusky grey granite boulders leaning against each other to form an enticing maze of grottoes and tidal pools where the gin-clear water leading to Devil’s Bay is a nirvana for snorkellers. At one point, the boulders form a cave that can be explored from the ship’s very own two-guest deep-sea submersible.

GEM Meaning ‘drowned land’, Anegada is the most northerly of the BVIs and little visited by tourists. It’s a footloose sandbar where mangrove, wild sage and cacti are glued together by coral and limestone. Indigenous plants thrive here, including frangipani, orchids, turpentine trees and feathery sea lavender. You can catch a glimpse of rare rock iguanas during a nature trail at Bones Bight or indulge in some lotus eating on the powder-soft Loblolly Beach which is strewn with pink conch shells. It also has some of the cheapest lobster in the world.

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Travel Details

THE DETAIL Seven-night cruise from Marigot Bay (St Martin) aboard Crystal Esprit, departs 14 January 2018. Ports: St Barts (French West Indies), Anegada (British Virgin Islands), Scrub Island, Jost Van Dyke, Salt Island, Tortola, Peter Island, The Indians, Virgin Gorda and Gorda Sound. Prices from £4,414pp.

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