Cruises. What are your thoughts on those? I had a few. Namely that they weren’t for independent travellers and were very prescribed (they can be), that I would go crazy stuck on a boat with limited options and that they were generally for much older people. What if the food was rubbish? And I would be stuck with it for a week! Right? Right. I love the sea, boats, and I adore slow travel, but cruising seemed a little too package holiday for me.
I have had opportunities to go on and review cruises before, but I have not accepted, primarily because of this. My arm was twisted by the dual impact of friends who told me that I was being very narrow minded, and an opportunity to go on a cruise with London based Michelin starred Indian chef, Atul Kochar. Atul would be teaching a masterclass in his on board restaurant, East, and also leading a market tour in Kotor in Montonegro, a new country for me but one I have wanted to visit.
We started in Venice. I was pretty slammed with work so I just flew on the day, but it is possible to go in before and spend some more time there. I wanted to explore Venice (can you believe I have never been?), but the sky was weeping, and I almost was too, I was so tired. You know how it can be before you go away anywhere? There is so much work that needs to be done before you can leave. So I relaxed in my new room, a comfortable deluxe with a balcony. Well, I say relaxed, I will be honest with you, I watched Caddyshack. I love that film. I instantly forget whatever is bothering me.
The captain announced that we would soon be on our way, so I went to the balcony, and watched Venice as we slowly passed by. So beautiful, more so than I had imagined. I watched the canals wiggle through, and bridges stretch over. The rain was gone, the sky was streaking pink and the seagulls were very keen for us to know that they were there. It was joyful.
THE GLASS HOUSE
Dinner at The Glass House, sunset, a dock and the outdoor deck.
From there, to the The Glass House, a wine bar and restaurant. The list (designed by Olly Smith) was impressive. There are 32 wines with many available by the glass, served from enomatics. I immediately spotted some wines that I really enjoy: Gaia Assyrtiko Wild Ferment from Santorini (which I had discovered at Grace Santorini last year, and obsessed on since). There was also the Velvet Devil Merlot from Charles Smith in Washington State (I had had that at on of my favourite meals this year, at the Lockart). I started with a Niagaran favourite, a Peller Ice Wine Cuvée, available by the glass for just £3.85 (which is a bargain).
ATUL KOCHAR MASTERCLASS & DINING AT EAST
The next day we were at sea and started with a cooking masterclass at East with Atul Kochar. Atul cooked three dishes from the menu, sharing stories and tips as he did. Once the cooking was done, we had a 3 course lunch at East, matched with Indian wine (their wine list is also very interesting). I went back two further times over the week to eat there. Food served was influenced not just by India, but right across Asia. The 24 hour lamb shoulder rendang was sublime.
KOTOR, MONTONEGRO & A MARKET TOUR AND LUNCH WITH ATUL KOCHAR
Arriving the next morning in Montonegro, I stepped out on to the balcony to find that we were in a fjord. All was blue and grey and peaceful. A short boat ride brought us to the shore where we met our guide and Atul, and had a tour of the small gorgeous walled town, followed by the farmers market where we tasted local cheese, olives & ham. It was all excellent but the ham, a protected Montonegro speciality which is air dried and smoked over a wood fire, was a treat. After our market tour we drove along the coast and into the countryside to have lunch at Konobo Catovica. Here we had a lovely lunch in the garden with some local Montonegrin wines.
The next day we arrived in Corfu. I had low expectations, expecting it to be a coastal city rammed with tourists, and yes, it is this, but it is still charming and vibrant. We started with an iced coffee in trendy Caffé Bristol, before asking their advice on where we should eat. They recommended a local favourite, Mouragia. We headed there, stopping first at En Plo for a – well – pre lunch, because sometimes you just have to. En Plo was the perfect setting for drinks and snacks, but head to Mouragia after for a proper local meal. We had a set lunch of 2 courses for just €9.90. with a half litre of local white wine for €3.50. The Greek salad was on point, and the deep fried anchovies were numerous and perfect. The service was very friendly, and it was mainly locals dining as the tourists were in the restaurant overlooking the sea across the road. I loved it.
CIVITAVECCHIA / PORT OF ROME
Another relaxing day at sea brought us around the heel and toe of Italy. We moored next in Rome, one of my favourite cities, and we had a long day there, but it had only been 2 weeks since my last visit, and I have always wanted to explore Lazio, outside of Rome. I toyed with the idea of exploring the area around the port, but decided instead to stay local. Italy in August can be a challenge as most people are on holiday, but I did manage to find a lovely local restaurant, Lo Stuzzichino, where I had some of the best gnocchi I have ever had (with courgette flowers & mozzarella) plus some lovely fritto misto. On the way back to the ship, I encountered some local fishermen returning with their daily catch. Locals were waiting to buy it all, it didn’t last long.
Our final stop was in Ajaccio, Corsica. We arrived on market day, the town square was full of artisan producers, a perfect opportunity to stock up on charcuterie and wine (almost all of the producers had vac pac facilities). There are several beaches in the town but the water was full of jellyfish, providing the perfect excuse to retire to a local brasserie and have a glass of rosé and some local charcuterie. I went to Corsica last when I was 19, and not for long enough, I need to head back there again soon too.
THE WHITE ROOM
Our last stop was to be Genoa, and we would just get off the boat and board a bus to the airport. We booked into The White Room and had a lovely meal while watching the sunset over Corsica as we slipped away. The food at The White Room is classic French and well executed (under Marco Pierre White’s guidance, you would expect so).
SO, WHAT DID I THINK?
I really enjoyed it, I could have easily stayed an extra week. It is a lovely way to travel, waking up in a new port, ready to explore without any of the stress of getting there. The ship was very comfortable and the service was excellent. The food standards were high, my favourite restaurants being the three listed here (East, The Glasshouse & The White Room), and room service is good and mostly free too, with just some dishes costing a small fee. The wine list impressed me the most and we enjoyed some terrific wines on board. There was also a buffet which was included in the ticket price which served breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner. I was particularly partial to the desserts (baked gooseberry cheesecake, anyone?). I am planning another, although where to start? The Caribbean, Round the World, Japan and China, Antarctica or Norwegian Fjords cruises all screech at me. Watch this space!
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
Some ships are family friendly, some are for adults only. You can do a cruise at two speeds. There is lots of entertainment for those who want it but you can relax and take it easy too. There is a spa, also.
Wifi is expensive on board and not very speedy. Which is normal for satellite internet, but just so you know.
The ship is all inclusive in the main, excluding drinks and East, The Glass House and The White Room have surcharges for dining there. The surcharges are very reasonable (by the dish for The Glass House, £15 for 3 courses in East and £25 for 3 courses on The White Room). East and The Glass House were my favourites for food, but The White Room has the added bonus of being able to dine on deck while you watch the sunset. I recommend you do it at least once. If you like your wine, you can book wine packages in advance. The Glass House also hosts food & wine matching dinners which I didn’t make it to, but I enjoyed many glasses of wine there and would have liked to if I had been on the boat longer.
Tours book up in advance, so if there is any that appeal, book them early.
Splash out and book a balcony room. It makes such a difference. Having a (semi) private outdoor space to idly watch the sea and drink wine while watching the sunset was such an intense pleasure on my trip.
Plan. Or don’t. Ask the locals. One of my best meals was in Corfu in a cosy seafront Taverna that had been recommended just an hour before by a local working in a coffee shop.
I was invited to review this cruise by P&O Cruises. Details on cruises are on their website (and there is a 35% off Winter Sun Sale on right now).