We are sailing
Lynne Coates sails into some of the most romantic ports in the Mediterranean on the majestic sailing ship Royal Clipper.
T o the haunting sound of Vangelis’s ‘Conquest of Paradise’, synchronised with a vivid light-show, projected onto its giant sails, Royal Clipper slid out of Cannes Harbour into the night. We were at the start of an idyllic journey to some of our very favourite Mediterranean destinations.
The flagship of the Star Clipper fleet, Royal Clipper has the distinction of being the world’s only five-masted, full sailing ship. For those who hate monster ships and would like a different cruise experience this is the perfect vessel. She may have all the traditional sailing regalia on deck, but her interior is elegant and refined, giving passengers all the usual comforts. Our cabin, as expected on a sailing ship, was bijou but perfectly comfortable. The trick is to travel light. This type of cruise is very relaxed and informal, with passengers more interested in climbing the rigging than formal nights and discos – probably just as well as organised entertainment on board is limited. The food, however, is every bit as good as on the luxury ships, with a daily themed buffet lunch, and an excellent dinner menu.
In addition to the novelty of being under sail, Royal Clipper’s diminutive size (only 227 passengers) enables it to offer watersports off the stern, and destinations that are inaccessible to larger cruise ships, and therefore much less touristy. Our itinerary took us to France, Italy and Corsica, including some lesser-known small islands. There were organised tours available, though it seemed most passengers preferred to do their own exploring.
Eye-wateringly beautiful, Portofino’s tiny harbour, surrounded by cliffs and hillside tiers of colourful houses and hotels, is arguably one of the Med’s most glamorous ports. This jewel of the Italian Riviera attracts the rich and famous, who moor their superyachts and drop in for lunch at one of the smart restaurants that surround the harbour. There isn’t much to do except wander around the picturesque back streets, dip into the expensive boutiques, or make the steep climb up to the old castle and church for staggering views. Having visited before, we decided on an alfresco lunch in one of the waterside restaurants to soak up the Portofino ambiance. So with a plate of Ligurian speciality pasta, a bottle of local Vermentino, and a frontline view of yachts and little boats sailing in and out of the harbour, we enjoyed a taste of ‘la dolce vita’. Back on board, Royal Clipper unfurled the sails and set off for Corsica.
Corsica – L’Ile Rousse, Calvi and Plage D’Arone
We anchored by the historic town of L’Ile Rousse, one of the lesser- known tourist destinations situated in the north-western part of Corsica. The authentic old town, with its paved streets and historic buildings, is perfect for wandering, taking in a visit to the covered market where you can see locals selling their home-made produce; cheeses are a speciality. The white, sandy beaches, with their red porphyry islets, (the ‘Iles de la Pietra’) are the main attraction.
Our next port of call, Calvi, has much to offer visitors, quite apart from being one of the most beautiful bays in Corsica. A ‘must do’ is the walk through the historic quarter up to the fortifications of the citadel. Views of the coastline from there are breathtaking. Also worth visiting is the St-Jean-Baptiste Cathedral, founded in the
13th century and built in classical baroque style. The lower city streets are teeming with boutiques, souvenir shops and cafés – great for shopping. We took a short train journey from Calvi, along the coast to the little town of Algajola. Discovering where locals eat is always a good move and we had an excellent lunch at a small beach restaurant on a stunning stretch of unspoilt coastline – a real taste of authentic Corsica and well worth the short journey away from the more touristy areas.
Stepping off into the water from our tender for what was called a ‘wet landing’ – we arrived at Plage D’Arone, for a day of beach chilling and watersports. Ranked as one of the 10 most beautiful beaches in Corsica, it did not disappoint – a long strip of fine white sand and crystal clear water, surrounded by pink rocks and scrubland, set against a dramatic mountain backdrop. Our crew arrived before us and set up kayaks and paddle boards for those who wanted to explore the bay. For those less energetic there were sunbeds!
L’ile de Porquerolles
The largest and most westerly of the three Iles d’Hyeres, Porquerolles, despite its proximity to the French Riviera, is an unspoilt island, almost all of which is a nature reserve. No holiday resorts, few cars, and no smoking outside the village, so as not to endanger the forest. A mountain biker’s paradise, the thing to do is hire a bike and cycle around the island – so that’s what we did! It was so peaceful and relaxing and a joy to cycle in such beautiful unspoilt surroundings. Returning to the village with a good appetite, we followed a local recommendation to a small restaurant whose owner both catches and cooks the fish of the day. We enjoyed a memorable meal accompanied by a bottle of the island’s locally produced very drinkable organic wine. We polished off the bottle, just making it back to Royal Clipper before she set sail for our final destination, St Tropez.
St. Tropez – French Riviera
St Tropez’s glamorous image has never faded since Brigitte Bardot put this little French town on the international jet-set map in the 1960s. The old town with its charming narrow streets and chic little boutiques is more touristy than we remembered from our visit as newlyweds, many years ago, but it still has oodles of French charm. Sitting in the sunshine with our café crème and a slice of Tarte Tropezienne (a delicious creamy cake), took us back to those heady romantic summer days and nights. As for the BB influence, it’s still there, as are the black leather jackets, Porsches and Harleys, even if their owners’ ponytails are grey now!
Sailing on Royal Clipper is an amazing experience. It feels adventurous, and has the advantage of reaching off the beaten track island destinations. Having the opportunity to climb up to the crow’s nest for a bird’s eye view of the horizon is thrilling, and sailing enthusiasts will love watching the crew as they work to hoist and unfurl the gigantic sails, secure ropes, and maintain the immaculate teak decks. Royal Clipper maintains the traditions of the past while offering all the comfort and amenities of the present, with attractions for both younger and older passengers – we loved it!
Sailing back to Cannes, our last night on board was spent with new friends, enjoying a fabulous dinner, copious amounts of wine, and the chef’s speciality final-night dessert, flaming baked Alaska, which was theatrically produced by a team of waiters amid much oohing and aahing! We finished off the evening with an impromptu singalong around the piano with our new friend from New York who just happened to be a professional pianist and sang like Neil Sedaka – what more could a girl ask for?
Royal Clipper sails on a variety of seven to 14-night itineraries and ocean crossings, with a seven-night sailing from Cannes to Cannes, priced from £1,810pp including port charges.
From December 2019 to March 2020 the ship will be based in the Caribbean, with a seven-night cruise priced from £1,425pp including port charges (0808 231 4798, starclippers.co.uk)