FROM STOCKHOLM TO ASTORIA- A BRIEF HISTORY OF A CLASSIC LADY

At a stately sixty seven years old at the time of writing, Cruise and Maritime Voyages’ veteran Azores- soon to be renamed Astoria- can now claim the rightful title as the oldest post war passenger ship still to be in service anywhere. Her story- and her history- is one of the most amazing in the annals of ocean liner travel.

Originally built as the Stockholm in 1948 for the Swedish American line, the 12,000 ton ship was a diminutive minnow when compared to, say, the colossal Cunard Queens. The United States was barely more than a gleam in the eyes of the brilliant William Francis Gibbs. And some, more prescient folk were already eyeing the new generation of propeller driven long haul flights with a certain amount of uneasiness.

It seemed sensible to the ever practical Swedes to introduce this first, modest post war build to the Atlantic trade. The Stockholm carried around 548 passengers in smart surroundings, on modestly luxurious crossings between Gothenburg and New York.

She was not really overly successful in this role, and soon gained a reputation for being a less than stellar sea boat on the Atlantic. And, with a second generation of giant Atlantic superliners now appearing in the forms of the United States and the Liberte, it soon became obvious that she was, indeed, too small to be really competitive.

But she was a pretty little ship, with a graceful, ice strengthened bow and a staunch, single funnel. The Stockholm was not a ship that sought to break records or seek the headlines.

But soon the headlines would seek her.

On the night of July 25th, 1956, the ice strengthened bow of the Stockholm slammed into the port flank of the Italian liner, Andrea Doria, off the coast of Nantucket.

Both ships had been groping their way through a thick fog when the accident happened. The bow of the Stockholm crumpled like so much wet cardboard, killing five of her crew. But, crucially, the bulkhead behind it remained intact. Though her bow was a shambolic, mangled mess of torn steel, the little Swedish liner was never in any danger of sinking.

The Andrea Doria was not so fortunate. With her port side sliced open over the length of several decks, the graceful Italian liner was doomed. She lingered for something like twelve hours before finally plunging under the Atlantic ocean.

The story made headlines around the world. It took a full three months to repair the bow of the Stockholm, but her reputation was tainted forever in many eyes. And, with the successful advent of commercial jet air travel from 1958 onwards, it came as no real surprise when the Swedes decided to sell her on the quiet to East German interests.

Renamed as Volkerfreundschaft, she would sail on as a cruise ship, essentially unchanged, for the next twenty five years. I once saw her in Southampton back in 1986, from the decks of the inbound QE2, and was amazed that she still existed even then.

There then followed a period of use as an accommodation ship for refugees in Norway, under the name of Fridtjof Nansen that last through until 1989. And then, to the amazement of many, the ship- already forty one years old- found a new buyer that was intent on returning her to passenger service.

She was towed round to Genoa- ironically, the former home port of the Andrea Doria- and rebuilt from the waterline upwards as a contemporary style of cruise ship, albeit one with a far more boxy configuration. A vast stern sponson was added to improve her still problematic seakeeping qualities. Her indoor public rooms were redone in a kind of late art deco styling, and she was put back into service, cruising around Cuba and the Caribbean. It was a role that was to continue until 2005.

During this time, she would sail under various names such as Italia Prima, Valtur Prima and, most, memorably, as the Caribe.

Then, in 2005, she was purchased by the Lisbon based Classic International Cruises. Renamed the Athena, she set out on a series of sailings that would take her as far out as Australia and the Antipodes. In the summer, she was often chartered out to German and French groups, for voyages down to the Norwegian Fjords, and down to Croatia.

It was in that latter guise that I got to spend an incredible, truly memorable week aboard her in September, 2010, cruising down to Croatia and Montenegro out of Venice. The ship (see earlier blogs) was a delightful, beautifully styled little time capsule, smartly sailed and immaculately maintained.

When Classic International Cruises imploded after the death of founding father and guiding light, George Potamianos, the ship got yet another life extension when she was bought by a successor company, Portuscale cruises. One of the first things that Portuscale did- and every fortunately, as it turns out- was to charter out the ship to the British operator, Cruise and Maritime Voyages.

The charter ensured that the ship- by now called the Azores- survived the dissolution of Portuscale. she received an extensive renovation and, her with her hull painted black, the Azores now caters to the British market as a small, highly styled cruise ship, a uniquely appealing vessel in an age where ever larger ships seem to be the norm.

At the age of sixty seven, her stout old hull is as sound as ever, and many of her cabins are incredibly roomy. After all, she was built as a transatlantic liner, and cabin space was a hugely important consideration.

If you are lucky enough to sail on her, check out the original, double height rows of portholes in the original main dining room. And, if you look carefully, you might even find one of the original, Swedish American line champagne buckets on board as well.

Quite recently, the original bell of the Stockholm was retrieved from its watery grave, where it had got lost amid the mangled remains of the luckless Andrea Doria. After more than five decades beneath the icy Atlantic, it was briefly returned to the ship that it had left so abruptly on a foggy summer’s night back in 1956.

Happily, no final bell has tolled for the Azores, due for yet another renaming next year as the Astoria. She will be sailing on charter to a French company next year, but there is a handful of sailings available in the UK market on her next spring. And, of course, she still has a very full calendar of cruises to operate for Cruise and Maritime Voyages themselves throughout the remainder of this year.

It is often said that cats have nine lives, but this surely is an instance of at least one ship that can claim the same. At sixty seven not out, this amazing vessel is a ship well worth sailing while she is still around.

MV Azores, seen in her Athena livery in 2010, is going French in 2016

MV Azores, seen in her Athena livery in 2010, is going French in 2016

ATHENA PHOTO GALLERY PART TWO

This is another selection of photos taken on board the Athena in 2010. Enjoy!

Main lounge on the Athena

Main lounge on the Athena

Another interior lounge shot from 2010

Another interior lounge shot from 2010

Wall fresco on the main passenger deck

Wall fresco on the main passenger deck

Inside the lido buffet at the stern

Inside the lido buffet at the stern

The Athena off Kotor, Montenegro

The Athena off Kotor, Montenegro

A beautiful ship in her natural element

A beautiful ship in her natural element

The view through my cabin porthole

The view through my cabin porthole

Terraced lido deck of the Athena

Terraced lido deck of the Athena

The stern sponson, added for stability

The stern sponson, added for stability

Lobby staircase aboard the Athena

Lobby staircase aboard the Athena

Spilt, seen through the round window

Spilt, seen through the round window

ATHENA PHOTO GALLERY

Since the news came that Cruise And Maritime Voyages is to charter the 1948 built Azores from Portsucale Cruises for a full season of ex-UK cruises in 2015, I thought I’d put together some photos, taken aboard her in September, 2010. At that time, she was sailing as the Athena for the now sadly defunct Classic International Cruises. I enjoyed a fabulous, early autumn swing aboard her, through the highlights of Croatia and Montenegro, on a week long round trip out of Venice. This really is one of the last, old school cruise ships still out there. I hope you enjoy these pictures of this charismatic, pretty little ship as much as I enjoyed sailing on her.

Captain's Lounge on board the Athena

Captain’s Lounge on board the Athena

Forward facing show lounge from the stage

Forward facing show lounge from the stage

Beautiful, Art Deco stern terraces

Beautiful, Art Deco stern terraces

Upper deck walkways

Upper deck walkways

Lido and stern walkway

Lido and stern walkway

Athena three quarter shot

Athena three quarter shot

Bow shot of Athena at anchor

Bow shot of Athena at anchor

Art Deco light fixture in the lobby

Art Deco light fixture in the lobby

Stern walkway at sunset

Stern walkway at sunset

The Athena on the Croatian Riviera

The Athena on the Croatian Riviera

The silhouette is still quite stunning

The silhouette is still quite stunning

Playing peek a boo between the palms

Playing peek a boo between the palms

Close up of the funnel with CIC logo

Close up of the funnel with CIC logo

Bow shot. Note the riveted hull

Bow shot. Note the riveted hull

Close up of the name and hull plating

Close up of the name and hull plating

Upper deck against a Croatia backdrop

Upper deck against a Croatia backdrop

Upper level main lounge of Athena

Upper level main lounge of Athena

Main staircase and light fixture

Main staircase and light fixture

PORTUSCALE’S AZORES 2014 GERMAN CHARTER CRUISES (UPDATED)

Beautiful terraced decks on the Azores

Beautiful terraced decks on the Azores

German tour operator, Ambiente, has just announced details of a charter programme of Portuscale Cruises’ 1948 built Azores.

The ship last sailed for the now defunct Classic International Cruises as the Athena,  and originally started life as the Stockholm. She is the oldest passenger ship still in continuous service.

At 16,000 tons, the ship boasts a single main restaurant, a buffet, several bars and lounges, a cinema, disco, and a small pool, together with some wonderful terrace decks at the stern. The cabins are unusually large for a ship of this size, and eight of the top range suites come with private balconies. Sited midships on the upper deck, these have separate bedrooms, and fabulous views out over the ocean.

Ambiente have chartered the Azores from March until November, 2014. The programme begins on March 10th, 2014 with a six night repositioning voyage from Lisbon to Bremerhaven, Germany. 

There will then be a special cruise leaving on March 16th in search of the legendary Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights. Ports visited en route will include Alta, Narvik, and Tromso.

The classically built liner- her hull is all riveted- will then spend the summer months cruising in the Baltic and Scandinavia, possibly including visits to her birthplace in Sweden. These cruises will showcase the smaller, less accessible ports of the region in a way that no large cruise ship ever can; it’s very much an ‘up close and personal’ kind of cruise experience.

September will see the Azores sailing south to the warmer, more welcoming waters of the Mediterranean, with an emphasis on late summer/early autumn cruises in and around the Aegean.

Highlights will include an inaugural call at Santorini on October 8th, and another at Corfu on October 17th. Another, seven day cruise will revisit Corfu on October 22nd.

A twelve day Aegean and Ionian cruise departs from Venice on October 26th, and includes calls at Corfu, Heraklion, Katakolon, Santorini, Argostoli and Rhodes, plus a transit of the Corinth Canal before the cruise terminates in Piraeus.

The Ambiente charter concludes in November, with a special, fifteen day Holy Land cruise.

I was lucky enough to sail on this lovely little ship a few years ago, on a week long cruise down to Croatia out of Venice. She retains some fascinating features from her old days, including genuine Swedish American Line ice buckets in the main dining room. This room also still has the original, double height rows of portholes down both sides of its length.

The stern walkway on the Azores

The stern walkway on the Azores

The stern also boasts an elevated, upper deck walkway that completely encircles it. This is the only one of its kind that I have ever seen on any ship.

Ambiente itself has a long association with these former CIC ships, having chartered many of them before the line’s unfortunate collapse. They seem keen to renew the arrangement with Portuscale. The Azores herself is now resplendent in the black, white and yellow colours of her new owners and, quite frankly, has never looked better.

I’ll update this piece as more details and itineraries become available. Stay tuned.

OK, for those interested- here are those Ambiente itineraries for Azores as they currently stand.

10-16th March: IMPRESSIONS OF EUROPE/WESTERN SUNSHINE COAST: Lisbon, Lexioes (For Porto), Villagarcia, St. Peter Port, Bremerhaven

16-29th March: UNIQUE POLAR LIGHT AND MAGIC April 3-EXPERIENCE: Bremerhaven, Bergen, Andalsnes, Narvik, Alta (overnight) Tromso, Alesund, Flam, Bremerhaven

29 March- 3rd  April: SPRING AND COASTAL METROPOLISES: Bremerhaven, Dover, Portsmouth, Ijmuiden, Ostend, Bremerhaven

April 3-12th: NORDLAND SYMPHONY: Bremerhaven, Ijmuiden, Harwich, Stavanger, Kristiansand, Oslo, Skagen, Esbjerg, Bremerhaven

April 12-19th: CITIES AND ROMANTIC PORTS ALONG THE ENGLISH CHANNEL: Bremerhaven, Portsmouth, St. Peter Port, Honfleur, Ostend, Ijmuiden, Bremerhaven

April 19-26th: EASTER CRUISE, MAGIC OF THE NORTH, FJORDS, TROLLS AND KING CITY, OSLO: Bremerhaven, Stavanger, Kristiansand, Oslo, Gothenburg, Esbjerg, Bremerhaven

April 26- May 4th: SOUTHERN ENGLAND, CHANNEL ISLANDS AND PICTURESQUE CORNWALL: Bremerhaven, Dover, Portsmouth, Plymouth, Isles of Scilly, St. Peter Port, Portland, Bremerhaven

May 4- 15: DIVERSITY OF THE NORTH; SCOTLAND AND THE NORWEGIAN FJORDS: Bremerhaven, Ijmuiden, Harwich, Rosyth, Invergordon, Lerwick, Geiranger, Hellesylt, Bergen, Kiel

May 15-25th: BALTIC TREASURES; DIVERSITY OF THE BALTIC; Kiel, Gdynia, Klaipeda, Riga, Tallinn, St. Petersburg (overnight), Helsinki, Stockholm, Kiel

May 25- June 1st: GRANDIOSE WORLD OF FJORDS: Kiel, Bergen, Hellesylt, Vik, Flam, Stavanger, Kiel

June 1-13th: NORTH CAPE AND FJORDS; TO THE MIDNIGHT SUN; Kiel, Vik, Flam, Alesund, Leknes, Honningsvag, Tromso, Geiranger, Bergen, Kiel

June 13- 27th: INTENSIVE NORTH CAPE AND FJORDS; MAGICAL LUSTRE OF THE MIDNIGHT SUN: Kiel, Bergen, Hellesylt, Geiranger, Leknes, Honningsvag, Kirkenes, Hammerfest, Tromso, Alesund, Stavanger, Kiel

June 27- July 10th: WHITE NIGHTS; HIGHLIGHTS OF THE BALTIC SEA, KALININGRAD: Kiel, Ronne, Gdynia, Konigsberg, Klaipeda, Riga, Tallinn, St. Petersburg (overnight), Helsinki, Mariehamn, Stockholm, Kiel

July 10-26th: ARCTIC POLAR SUMMER IN GREENLAND AND ICELAND: Kiel, Thorshaven, Seydisfjordur, Akureyri, Grundafjordur, Reykjavik, Paamuit, Nuuk, Sissimuit, Illulisat, Qeqertarsuaq, Kangerlussauq, fly to Germany

July 26- August 9th: ICELAND AND GREENLAND FASCINATION: Fly to Kangerlussuaq, Illulisat, Qeqertarsuaq, Sissimuit, Nuuk, Quaqortoq, Reykjavik, Akureyri, Seydisfjordur, Invergordon, Bremerhaven

August 9-17th: ENGLAND AND SCOTTISH HIGHLANDS WITH EDINBURGH MILITARY TATTOO: Bremerhaven, Invergordon, Rosyth, Newcastle Upon Tyne, Hull, Harwich, Ijmuiden, Bremerhaven

August 17- 29th: PURE EXPERIENCE. NORTH CAPE, LOFOTEN AND THE NORWEGIAN FJORDS: Bremerhaven, Vik, Flam, Alesund, Leknes, Honningsvag, Tromso, Geiranger, Hellesylt, Bergen Bremerhaven

August 29- September 5th: IN THE LAND OF FJORDS AND TROLLS: Bremerhaven, Bergen, Hellesylt, Geiranger, Vik, Flam, Stavanger, Kristiansand, Bremerhaven

September 5- 15th: ENGLAND, IRELAND AND SCOTLAND: Bremerhaven, Dover, Portsmouth, Falmouth, Dublin, Belfast, Stornoway, Rosyth, Bremerhaven

September 15- 25th: COURSE SOUTH- WESTERN EUROPE FOR ALL THE SENSES: Bremerhaven, St.Peter Port, Villagarcia, Lisbon, Portimao, Malaga, Barcelona, Nice

September 25-October 4th: MEDITERRANEAN PEARL: Nice, Ajaccio, Olbia, Trapani, Valletta, Catania. Lipari, Salerno, Porteferraio, Nice

October 4- 19th: BLACK SEA AND SUN ISLAND: Nice, Catania, Santorini, Canakkale, Sochi, Yalta, Odessa, Constanza, Istanbul, Corfu, Venice

October 19- 26th: MAGIC COAST OF THE ADRIATIC: Venice, Zadar, Dubrovnik, Corfu, Kotor, Korcula, Split, Venice

October 26- November 6th: GREEK MYTHS AND LIFESTYLE: Venice, Corfu, Katakolon, Heraklion, Santorini, Rhodes, Kusadasi, Piraeus, Argostoli, Venice

November 6- 20th: HOLY LAND AND MEDITERRANEAN SUNSHINE ISLANDS: Venice, Ancona, Bari, Heraklion, Ashdod (overnight), Haifa, Limassol, Rhodes, Messina, Genoa

The programme currently lists these twenty five cruises as active. Destinations correct at the time of writing.

PORTUSCALE CRUISES; BACK FROM THE ASHES

The classics are back

The classics are back

Few things stunned the maritime community quite like the Lazarus style resurrection of Portuscale Cruises, the nascent niche operator that has risen, Phoenix style, from the ashes of Classic International Cruises, and it’s spectacular collapse a couple of years ago.

Make no bones about it; Portuscale is as far removed from the accepted tenets of mainstream cruising as it is possible to be. While modern ships divert their passengers attention from the elements by showcasing a whole string of eye boggling, constantly evolving new features, the Portuscale experience is resolutely, exquisitely retro.

Here you’ll find much smaller, more intimate ships that still have the personal touch, while keeping the base amenities that made ocean voyages such a compelling way to travel in the first place. You’ll find good restaurants offering traditional, fixed seating for dinner, a show lounge and a piano bar, a few shops, and large, commodious cabins that actually give you room- and reason- to relax in. Though not too many have balconies, there is a really agreeable trade off on these small, beautifully crafted gems.

This comes in the shape of their simple, stunning lines; a clear throwback over more than six decades, to an age when seagoing ships had beautiful, bewitching lines. In short, they possessed camber, sheer and poise; things once deemed to be marketing attractions in and of their own right. Things rescued from the scrap heap by Portuscale. And quite literally at that, too.

Liners like Mauretania, Aquitania and Berengaria once represented the height of seagoing elegance and style

Liners like Mauretania, Aquitania and Berengaria once represented the height of seagoing elegance and style

Each of the four ships- Funchal, Porto, Lisboa and Azores- represents one of the most elegant and evocative travel experiences available anywhere today- the maritime equivalent of the magnificently resurrected Orient Express luxury train. Vessels that offer two journeys for what amounts to the price of one.

Firstly, each ship will take you on a hopefully compelling voyage of discovery to a string of ports around the globe; the smaller size of the ships also allows them to nip smartly into the smaller, sweeter little port havens that their bigger, glitzier brethren have to glide past. This is a compelling excuse for booking in and of itself.

The second journey? A voyage back in time, to an age when more personalised service actually counted for a lot. To an age when a good steamer chair proved far more preferable to gimmicks like cantilevered walkways and rock climbing walls. An age when you could actually look out at the ocean in all it’s moody, matchless majesty, and feel a real connection with it. A time when ship and sea were unashamedly symbiotic.

The living, breathing proof of this renaissance emerged a few weeks ago, when Funchal emerged from her dusty concrete cocoon like a flower bursting into bloom after three years of darkened lay up.  Scrapyards around the worlds had flexed their cheque books and sharpened their knives over the demise of the Classic International fleet; it seems that those gentlemen- so busy and feted of late- are to be disappointed on this front, at least.

Old style pleasures; steamer chairs and parasols

Old style pleasures; steamer chairs and parasols

God knows, the maritime community needs the diversity that is wrapped up in this quartet of proud, distinctive little hulls. 2013 has seen Sleeping Beauty begin to slowly blink herself awake. It is very much to be hoped that 2014 sees a resurgence of interest in what amounts to a truly largely forgotten form of travel; the small ocean liner.

CLASSICS TO INFINITY…. AND BEYOND

ImageIn the world of modern cruising, the miraculous salvation of the former Classic International Cruises fleet must rank as the most staggering comeback since Lazarus. OK, well at least since Take That.

When the banks foreclosed on the fleet of classic liners so lovingly maintained by the late, great George Potamianos, scrapyard owners everywhere opened their cheque books and sharpened their knives. And who could really blame them for scenting blood?

ImageHere was what had been a modern cruise accountant’s nightmare. A fleet of low density ships, floating anachronisms that were incredibly expensive to sail and maintain. Labour intensive, with only a handful of balcony cabins across the five ships. A complete lack of modern, time killing attractions and, above all, their sheer age working relentlessly against them. Though I remained outwardly optimistic, in my heart I had also written those lovely, fondly remembered ships off.

I have never been so glad to be proven wrong.

In a move that stunned and surprised everyone, four of the five ships have been bought from the banks by Doctor Rui Alegre, a Portuguese business man. He immediately reinstated the stalled revitalisation of the handsome, 1961 built Funchal. Now, after several years of stop-start work, the ship is scheduled to start sailing again under charter this September. This was originally thought to be in Northern Europe, though another source has the ship going to the Mediterranean.

ImageBaby of the fleet, the 6,000 ton Arion has now been renamed as the Porto. She now sports a smart black hull, and a black and yellow funnel bearing the logo of the newly named Portuscale Cruises. At the time of writing, she is undergoing final refurbishment in Lisbon.

Nearby, the classic, 15,000 ton Princess Danae is being refurbished, and has been renamed the Lisboa, in honour of the Portuguese capital.

Athena, the former Stockholm, is already back at sea, operating charter cruises in the Black Sea for a Russian firm, under her new name, Azores.

It is expected that all the ships will be up and running by 2014, though whether some or all go out on charter is as yet unclear. Portuscale is being quite tight lipped. Indeed, silent.

Also encouraging is the revival of the Classic International Cruises brand itself, with the Potamianos brothers-sons of the original owner- having completed the repurchase of the 15,000 ton Princess Daphne, currently laid up in Crete. Again, details are thin on the ground, but it seems that the brothers have gone to great lengths to buy back the ship so beloved of their late father.

ImageIt remains to be seen how this small, beautifully styled band of survivors can buck the trend of a depressed market that is largely dominated by mega ships. But, having seen these ships come so far, and watch them re-emerge after defying all the odds, it would be a rash man indeed who would bet against them.

I’m not that man. I wish both operations smooth seas, and a rising tide of good fortune.

CRUISING CROATIA- A MODERN CLASSIC…

ImageWhen it comes to sheer, rugged beauty, Croatia is probably second only to Norway in the platinum chip premier league of scenic stunners. A serpentine mass of bays, inlets and vast, pine carpeted hills and valleys, the country is blessed with a fantastic summer climate that has been luring yachtsmen and back packers for years.

ImageNow the cruise industry has discovered the place, and a conga line of incredible floating theme parks make landfall on the magnificent coast of Dubrovnik each season. But there is far more to Croatia than simply its fabled former Venetian stronghold.

ImageMost cruises combine Dubrovnik with a string of calls in Greece and Turkey, but I was lucky enough to do a one off cruise a couple of years ago, that concentrated almost entirely on Croatia and, to a lesser extent, Montenegro and even Albania. The photos you see here are just a few of the snap shots of one of the most scenically incredible cruises that I have ever done, or probably ever will.

ImageThe sheer glut of medieval architecture and paraphernalia-much of it amazingly intact- would require the talents of a far more erudite historian than I to adequately describe. But oh boy, those amazing, vaulting walls, turrets and towers are every bit as awe inspiring now as they must have been back in the fifteenth century, when this whole region stood on the fault line between the Venetian and Ottoman empires.

ImageThe stark, petrified fortifications that litter this extraordinary landscape were nothing less than the outer defences of Venice herself; a vast buffer zone made up of conquered vassal states designed to cushion any assault on Venice itself.

ImageMany of these buildings loom above brooding, rocky outcrops that jut out into the Aegean as aggressively as a boxer’s jaw. Look closely, and you will see that many of them are branded with the symbol of Venice- the famous winged lion.

ImageThough each town is truly individual, there is a common thread that runs like a fine line through many of them. Winding, cobbled lanes climb at almost impossible angles up into a seemingly arid hinterland of rugged, rolling hills. Old women clad in black shawls, carrying their wicker shopping baskets full of fresh bread, gossiping about their neighbours as they studiously ignore the more ignorant and ill mannered tourists. Lines of languidly waving washing, hanging above the streets as children pass underneath on their way to and from school.

Image

ImageThat, essentially, is the beauty of this country. The scale is human, manageable. Almost everywhere is easily walkable around the waterfront areas. Your nostrils will pick up the smell of freshly grilled fish at a string of seafront tavernas, freshly offloaded that same morning from the stout, doughty fishing boats that are shackled to the quayside across the pavement.

ImageThere are huge, imposing squares, with marble paved floors and sprawling, Palladian style buildings, where the early afternoon shadows fall across streets once walked by the great and powerful of another era. Vast, vaulting bell towers loom over narrow lanes full of fruit stalls, flower markets, wandering dogs and mooching motor scooters. Past and present in a permanent meld, just as it has always been here.

ImageNights are mellow, subtle and quietly spectacular. Table lights flicker like fireflies across a score of dining venues flanking an ink black sea. Street lights and arc lamps shimmer on that same stretch of gently rippling water, the silence disturbed by the sporadic rumbling of a boat engine as the last excursion boats return at day’s end. Music fills the void between sea and sky as hundreds of people stroll the long expanses of ancient, weathered promenades.

ImageThe whole panorama is played out against a backdrop of thousands of chirping crickets. Yachts as large as small cities ghost in and out of these stunning little bays, many of them half hidden from view behind some seemingly implacable headland. Modern luxury nosing cautiously into a medieval theme park, where the turbulent, torrid past is seared into glowering stone ramparts that now house nothing more deadly than souvenir shops, or ice cream salesman.

ImageAll things considered, a magnificent way to spend a week, and one I cannot recommend enough. Enjoy!