TALL SHIPS AND TALL TALES FROM THE MEDITERRANEANWe first sighted the Star Flyer, a four-masted tall ship, in Cannes Harbour and even amongst the wealth and opulence of this classic French Riviera port the vessel stood out.
This boat would be our home for the next seven days as we sailed the Mediterranean. Our itinerary included sailing to Corsica, St Tropez, Sanary-sur-Mer, Sete, Cape Vendras, Palamos and Barcelona. What can I say – it’s a tough life.
Upon boarding the vessel I conveyed to our Russian Captain, who was aptly named Yuri, what a magnificent boat it was.
“A boat?!” he cried. “This is not a boat!” He then proceeded to explain with an accented scowl that a boat is a vessel that’s 500 gross tonnes or less. The Star Flyer weighs in at a massive 2,298 gross tons. “This is a ship!” he proudly informed us.
The ship can carry a total of 170 passengers and there is also a crew of 77.
My dreams of sailing the Mediterranean had always been filled with gorgeous sunny days, full moons are starry nights as we glided through magical seas with warm gentle breezes puffing out the sails, all the while sipping cocktails by the piano bar, but that’s the exact opposite of the conditions we encountered on our first night.
Lightning filled the sky, rain bucketed down, waves rocked the boat (sorry, ship), but thankfully we were relatively unaffected by the outside elements as we dined on an excellent a la carte dinner inside. And all of this before we even left port!
At around 10pm the weather abated slightly and the Star Flyer set sail. It’s a ritual when leaving port that everyone goes on deck as the captain orders his crew to hoist the sails. As this happened, Vangelis’s Conquest of Paradise was blasted over the ship’s sound system – an uplifting scene despite the unseasonal weather.
Upon waking up on the first morning, it was like we’d been transported back to the womb as the ship rolled gently on a sparkling and smooth Mediterranean Sea. For the entire week we were blessed with exceptional cruising weather. Outside our porthole the sun was shining, a school of pilot whales were escorting us and the Star Flyer was slicing seamlessly through the calm sea.
On deck we watched as the captain and crew guided the ship ever so slowly towards the picturesque Corsican town of Calvi. The Star Flyer can sail right into most ports, but here it was too large for the shallow waters and we had to anchor as close as possible and take a tender to shore.
Calvi, with its ancient citadel high above the town, looked surreal. It was the perfect start to an amazing journey through some of the most enchanting port towns in the Mediterranean. From the cobblestoned streets of Calvi through to the narrow alleyways and charming waterside cafes of Palamos in Spain, each stop was like another page from a fairytale.
At each port we meandered around the old towns, astonished that such beautiful places still existed, all the while discovering an enormous appetite for gelato, crepes, coffee and sangria.
Apart from St Tropez, with its disappointing lack of Hollywood movie stars, each destination was refreshingly free of touristy schmaltz. These are towns that exude charm and seem not to have changed for centuries.
We never tired of sitting in small harbourside cafes. My favourite place to do so being Sanary-sur-Mer, where we watched a kaleidoscope of colourful fishing boats bob about in its gorgeous, calm bay.
In the little French port town of Sete, also known as the Venice of the Languedoc, we ended up jiving to buskers while the local morning markets were in full swing. It’s here we decided to forego our usual bucket of gelato and have a plate of paella, instead, which was made in what looked like the world’s largest wok. Delicious!
After a tour of each town we’d head back to the ship for the afternoon high tea ritual. Then at night the on-board entertainment included the ship’s musician playing hits from the forties jazz classics, as well as talent quests and fashion shows. These quirky times were what set the Star Flyer apart from your usual large commercial cruisers.
The Star Clipper group has the cruising formula perfectly down pat. The cruise surpassed all of our expectations and the crew did a remarkable job of coaxing me off the ship to ensure I left once we’d docked in beautiful Barcelona.
For a long time I thought I was too young for cruises. Now I know there’s no such thing.
HOW TO BOOK:
Star Clippers/Royal Clipper
(61) 2 8913 0797
HOW TO GET THERE:
Vicki Gildon at Rose Bay Travel (02) 9371 8166