Cruising into a new port every morning is an adventure that harks back to a more graceful time when travel took longer – and the journey itself was the destination. After a day’s memorable sightseeing in Rome, I’ve joined Windstar Cruises’ flagship, Wind Surf, at Civitavecchia port on the Tyrrhenian Sea. A swift check in and I’m already on the yacht’s Star Deck enjoying a delicious buffet lunch at the Veranda restaurant.
My 8-day magical sail from Rome to Venice was outstanding. Here are just some of the highlights:
Day 1 – Rome
This incredible city needs no introduction. I stayed at the Ambasciatori Hotel. Colonna Palace Hotel opposite the Parliament building. Arriving just 24 hours before we set sail, I had time to throw a euro into the Trevi Fountains, walk around the Ancient Forum, visit the Colosseum (outstanding), eat ice cream on the Corso, visit the wedding cake (aka the Altare della Patria) and the Pantheon. If you’re short of time, get a Rome Pass and enjoy a hop-on-hop-off double decker bus to explore the city.
Day 2 – Amalfi Coast and Positano
We anchored at 9am in the at Amalfi in the Gulf of Salerno. Stunning coastal mountains drop vertiginously into azure seas. It was a dream made manifest to visit this incredible UNESCO World Heritage site. Amalfi, together with its neighbour Positano and the inland Ravello are the jewels in the crown of this famous coastline. I took a pre-booked excursion from Amalfi to Positano by boat. Positano’s Moorish-style houses cling to the slopes around a charming bay.
Our group climbed up the steep streets shepherded by our ebullient guide Michelangelo to see the Church of Santa Maria Assunta, which contains the relics of apostle St Andrew. You can’t miss it, yellow façade and green, yellow and blue tiled domed-tiled roof is short climb up from the black sands of Marina Grande beach. The narrow streets are teeming with clothes and jewellery shops, together with art galleries and B&Bs. And luxury hotels like the Le Sirenuse, with its shady pool terrace affording beautiful views of the bougainvillea streets, beach and port below. It’s the perfect location for a wonderful Italian coffee and the chance to take in the dreamlike quality of this uniquely charming town.
There was also an option for a coach tour to Ravello, a drive up the winding Dragon Valley in the mountains behind Positano. Visit Villas Rufolo and Cimbrone for spectacular views. Other excursions were visits to Ravello and Amalfi and the spectacular ruins of Pompeii.
Day 3 – Giardini Naxos, Sicily
Waking up to see that the Wind Surf anchored in the bay of Taormina at Giardini Naxos was thrilling. I’d been to this part of the island before, stayed at a hotel perched on a cliff in Taormina. Seeing the island from the sea is so romantic.
At time of arrival, the town of Taormina (adjacent to Giardini Naxos) was being prepared for the arrival of heads of state for the May G7 summit. As a result, the area was crawling with military and police – and plenty of undercover agents too, eager to sweep before Trump and Melania made their first appearance. I love Taormina. Built on the cliff top terraces, the amphitheatre is a must-see with superb views over the bay where we watched with pride Wind Surf, sails out and looking very impressive.
Visit to Gambini Vineyards: it was a drive up the slopes of Mount Etna to visit to the superb Gambini Vineyards at Linguaglossa. The wine tasting (I loved the reds) comes with local food (olives, cold cuts, dried tomatoes, locally made sausages, pecorino cheeses Superb antipasti, cold cuts and cheeses and bread. Each dish was carefully explained and we had the chance to buy wine afterwards. Fog and mist unfortunately meant we could see neither Etna nor the coast from our lunch table, but did ensure that our focus was on the delicious food and wine.
Day 4 – Kotor Montenegro
After a day at sea we arrived at dawn at the entrance to the channel that leads to Kotor. One of Montenegro’s most beautiful bays, the fjord-like channels are beautiful, especially in the early morning light.
I explored the old town on foot – you don’t really need a guide here – and loved the narrow streets, the churches and the friendliness of the local people. Even a cute dog followed me for a while before I sat down for lunch at Konoba Scala Santa. Trip Advisor reviews are mixed for this place, but I loved my fish soup and they were very welcoming. In fact everyone I met in Kotor was friendly and prices weren’t the tourist rip-off. A special highlight was a 1-hour climb to the ruined castle of San Giovanni that majestically overlooks the old town. It’s a tough ascent on cobbles so you’ll need good walking shoes and water, but the views at the top are worth the workout.
Day 5 – Dubrovnik
Wind Surf anchored directly outside Dubrovnik – giving us all incredible views of this unique walled city – already familiar to fans of Game of Thrones. It was my first visit to the city and I loved it. I joined a Dubrovnik City Sights and Cable Car Tour with a young and informative guide who shared his knowledge of the history of the area, mixed with wry observations of current politics. Our energetic walk along the ramparts gave us outstanding views of the azure water below. Another UNESCO World Heritage Site, we entered the stair at Pile Gate and had a wonderful walk along the southern part of the wall, passing the Micneta Fortress, St John’s Fortress, Bokar Fortress and the Maritime Museum. Just a four minute walk from the ramparts takes you to a 4-minute cable car ride ascending 778 meters to the top of Mt Srdj with its superb Old City and ocean views and a terraced restaurant.
Day 6 – Split, Croatia
We docked about 15 minutes walk from the main town and I joined our talented Executive Chef Eddie for a morning market tour. Cue much game playing at the fish market between himself and an austere stallholder who initially was having none of his bargaining. (she later reduced her price). How can you tell if a fish is fresh – smell aside? The eyes “should be clear and the gills and mouth a pink hue” . And when you’re buying mussels they need to feel heavy.
The standout attraction in old Split is the Diocletian Palace. Split Old Town is built on and around this amazing Roman Palace that dates from the 4th century. A veritable maze of shops, restaurants and even a fashion shoot – the model was wearing the most beautiful lace dress I have ever seen. Other day trip options from the boat included Krka National Park highlights and rafting on the Cetina River.
Day 7 – Rovinj, Croatia
My first trip to the Adriatic and the Dalmatian Coast, I had no idea what to expect in Rovinj and it was gorgeous. One of my favourite destinations on the cruise. Our visit was early season, so there were no other ships in the bay and very few tourists. Perfect! The market on the quayside sold local natural produce including honey, nuts, fruit based snacks, oils for cooking and garnishing and even bee pollen.
I walked up to the church via narrow alleyways with their tiny cafes and restaurants perched above rocky outcrops where bathers and swimmers reposed lizard-like on the rocks.
Apparently Rovinj used to be a tiny island until the channel separating it from the mainland was filled in in the ‘18th Century. It endured 500 years under Venetian rule, so the Italian influence is much in evidence.
Day 8 – Venice
We were due to arrive in Venice at 7am, but fortuitously I awoke at 5.30 and went straight out on deck. To see sunrise over Venice as we sailed slowly and sedately into the Lagoon is a sight I will never forget. Venice revealing her majesty under a blood-orange sky was breath taking. We disembarked early and headed for the ideally located Grand Hotel Ambasciatori where I left my luggage (my flight wasn’t until later that day).
I headed for St Mark’s Square and watched the gondola oarsmen waiting for clients, marvelled at the architecture, before heading back in the opposite direction to the Rialto Bridge (wider than I remembered). I hadn’t visited Venice since childhood so returning with a different perspective was magical. It’s still overcrowded and overpriced but that’s to be expected considering its uniqueness.
My water taxi ride to the airport was incredibly exciting. Combining my joint passions of speed and water, I felt very James Bond as we sped out into the Lagoon, the speedboat bouncing in the wake of other taxis. We docked at the new water taxi station just a 10-minute walk from the airport terminal and I was met by a Windstar who kindly walked me to the check-in desk. Superb service all the way with this cruise line, they really do look after their guests.
Travelling by cruise ship is effortless: your floating hotel travels with you – and you are cocooned in luxurious comfort from the outside world. No stressful airline queues, taxis to hail or trains to catch – or miss. I can see why Windstar has been voted the World’s Best Small Ship Cruise Line by Condé Nast Traveller readers. I’m still missing the ocean, the sense of adventure and waking up to new sights and sounds every morning. And I’m missing the wonderful warm-hearted crew who contributed so much to making each day so special for me. The Windstar experience provides guests with a much more intimate cruise, thanks to its smaller guest numbers and its 1:1 guest-client ratio.
As John F Kennedy once said: “We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea, whether it is to sail or to watch – we are going back from whence we came.” I completely agree.
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