GORGEOUS GENOA- A CLASSIC ITALIAN BEAUTY

The gorgeous Hotel Di Savoia looms over Genoa's skyline

The gorgeous Hotel Di Savoia looms over Genoa’s skyline

One of Italy’s greatest ports and also one of the original, hugely powerful city states that pre dated the unification of Italy, Genoa today is a vastly under rated, beautiful city. Awash with gloriously over the top Renaissance statuary and architecture, it has never quite attracted the same level of kudos and amazement as, say, Venice, Florence, or Rome.

Located on the extreme north west tip of Italy, Genoa is almost right on the border with France. A train from here will have you in Monaco in just three hours.

The port has been the epicentre of Italian ocean travels for over a century. All of the great Italian ocean liners- from the Rex and the Conte Di Savoia, through to the Andrea Doria, the Michelangelo and the Raffaello- started their maiden voyages from here. All called this great sea city their home.

Set on a series of rolling hills that cradle a stunning natural amphitheatre, Genoa has much in common with cities such as Lisbon; you see it in the Italianate architecture painted in a riot of pastel shades;  in the vast, overblown monuments to local heroes such as Christopher Columbus, and in the trams that crawl sluggishly into the hills.

But though the city is a riot of undiscovered and extensive glories, modern Genoa is not simply some Gothic theme park. The long, gracefully curving waterfront has one of the most fantastic aquariums in Europe, and literally hundreds of bars and waterfront cafes that brim with life in the long summer days and nights. There’s even the giant pirate ship built for the multi million dollar move, Cut Throat Island, now a popular local attraction.

And, of course, the big ships do still sail from here, too. Year round, the giant cruise ships of MSC Cruises and Costa Crociere  still ghost in and out of the ancient sea city, along with many others. With the gorgeous fishing villages of the Cinque Terre region almost within shouting distance, many big cruise ships use Genoa as a base from which to allow their passengers to explore such famous beauties as Portofino and Alassio.

While there is much to see and savour in those amazing, idyllic little slices of the good life, it is still nothing short of amazing that hordes of arriving passengers still give barely a second look at the swaggering, gorgeous city that actually welcomes them. For far too long, Genoa- or Genova to give her the Italian name- has been a hugely under rated destination in her own right.

And, when you’ve checked out these pictures, you- like me- might be left with one simple question; why?

Genoa's imposing cruise ship terminal

Genoa’s imposing cruise ship terminal

Awe inspiring Genoa

Awe inspiring Genoa

Rich and colourful

Rich and colourful

Italianate echoes

Italianate echoes

Old and even older

Old and even older

Genoa is at once hilly and heady

Genoa is at once hilly and heady

Ice cream colors prevail here

Ice cream colors prevail here

Typical medieval Italian largesse

Typical medieval Italian largesse

Soaring, spectacular Genoese cityscape

Soaring, spectacular Genoese cityscape

The elegant Hotel Di Savoia

The elegant Hotel Di Savoia

Genoa is elegant and symmetrical

Genoa is elegant and symmetrical

Tram ride

Tram ride

Love these stunning buildings

Love these stunning buildings

Palms and passageway pastiche

Palms and passageway pastiche

Ancient clock tower

Ancient clock tower

Did someone say 'pirate ship'?

Did someone say ‘pirate ship’?

Now that's big

Now that’s big

Genoa is a bustling city

Genoa is a bustling city

Facade of the cathedral

Facade of the cathedral

Want Lions? There you go

Want Lions? There you go

And that's 'arrivederci Genova'....

And that’s ‘arrivederci Genova’….

MONACO FROM A HOT TUB- PICTORIAL SHOTS

For various reasons, Monte Carlo is one of those places that figure high on the must see lists of many people. It has glitz, glamour, the Grand Prix, and, er….

Anyone who knows me even remotely knows that I am not a fan of the place. To me, it’s a pretentious, hideously over priced place full of preening wannabes; a vastly over rated town where people go to be seen, rather than to actually see anything of note.

There are far prettier places along the amazing, sinuous curve of the French Riviera that have twice the style, and much less of the bombastic hype.

That said, no one can deny that, for all it’s brittle glamour, Monte Carlo is quite a sight.

These shots constitute my favourite views of Monte Carlo. Most were taken from a hot tub aboard Regent Seven Seas’ lavishly appointed flagship, Seven Seas Voyager. Here, armed with nothing more glittery than a camera and a readily refilled champagne glass, I present an offshore take on what remains, for many, a ‘must do’ on the travel map.

Ladies and gentlemen; mesdames et messieurs; I give you- Monte Carlo from a hot tub….

Early morning Monaco...

Early morning Monaco…

Skyline of Monte Carlo

Skyline of Monte Carlo

Looking from ship to shore

Looking from ship to shore

The harbour is truly spectacular

The harbour is truly spectacular

Looking back to the hillsides

Looking back to the hillsides

Yachts in shot...

Yachts in shot…

And more yachts...

And more yachts…

This one is more class than crass

This one is more class than crass

Quintessential Monaco money shot

Quintessential Monaco money shot

Better afternoon light...

Better afternoon light…

Tender from Voyager heading ashore

Tender from Voyager heading ashore

Very Sixties architecture here

Very Sixties architecture here

Shore from ship....

Shore from ship….

Sea, sky, and skyscrapers

Sea, sky, and skyscrapers

Sometimes it's just nicer staying on board

Sometimes it’s just nicer staying on board

 

SEADREAM IN THE SUMMERTIME MED; THE GOOD LIFE JUST GOT BETTER…..

What a day for a Seadream....

What a day for a Seadream….

Harbours full of idly bobbing yachts. Cobble stone streets and quaysides awash with waterfront bars and cafes, brimming with life well into the small hours. Porsches and Lamborghinis sitting idly under a canopy of gently waving oleander. People wearing sunglasses worth the entire national debt of a small third world country, discreetly checking out the milling throngs strolling past their lunch tables. For sure, it could only be the summertime Mediterranean.

If there is a region more dedicated to la dolce vita, or one more perfectly sculpted to deliver it in spades, then I have yet to find it. There is something so utterly seductive and compelling about those platinum chip, people watching playgrounds that sparkle along the summertime coasts of Italy, France and Spain. They draw people back year after year, like moths to a flame that bursts back into life again with the dawn of each new spring.

And, for sure, there are no shortage of huge, glitzy cruise ships that will show you the ‘greatest hits’ of the Mediterranean. Rome, Florence and Naples. Monaco and Barcelona. All places worthy of your attention and indulgence. All fabled and legendary. And, in summer, all crowded beyond all belief.

If you’ve ‘been there and done that’, then you don’t need to be told that these port intensive, week long ‘Meddy-Go-Rounds’ are great fun, yet anything but relaxing. Especially in the heat of mid summer, they can actually be damned hard work, as you try to absorb whirlwind encounters with a conga line of mind blowing cathedrals, castles, piazzas and shopping plazas. Fabulous and enjoyable it is, but relaxing it most certainly is not.

And that’s where Seadream Yacht Club comes in……

Top of the yacht. Top of the morning. Top of the evening...

Top of the yacht. Top of the morning. Top of the evening…

Imagine a small, 4,200 tons, all inclusive yacht, carrying a maximum of 115 guests, served by a hand picked crew of 90. Now make that yacht all inclusive from dawn till dusk, with free flowing champagne and fabulous, round the clock food that truly is ‘gourmet’, and a casual dress code that is perfectly suited to those balmy Mediterranean climes.

Imagine voyaging along and to all the small, smart resort havens that the bigger ships have to sail past. Tying up literally in the middle of town, just steps from the action. And a schedule that allows for long, lingering stays in those same ports, often overnight.

Sounds dreamlike for sure. But Seadream II is no dream. She is very, very real.

Each summer, Seadream II meanders among those peachy little splashes of paradise along the length of the Riviera and the Adriatic on a series of indolent, hugely inclusive adventures. A small marina at the stern allows her to carry such ‘toys’ as kayaks, sail boats and jet skis. In the more enclosed harbours, these are available to all passengers free of charge. It adds a whole new dimension to your idea of personal indulgence.

A unique outdoor set up means that all guests can dine alfresco- at any time of the day or night- on extraordinary, elegant fare. Imagine breakfasting on lamb chops as you sail into the stunning bay of Dubrovnik, or savour a long, lazy dinner in the fantastic, floodlit bay of Portofino. Peachy, non?

The aft pool

The aft pool

Life on board is totally informal and unstructured. Evenings tend to revolve around cocktails at the sumptuous Top Of The Yacht bar, open to sea breezes on both sides. It’s a causally spectacular little enclave, perfectly proportioned, and just as perfectly served. You’ll find it hard to tear yourself away at any hour of the day or night.

The aft lido deck features a small pool, and a hot tub just perfect for midnight cocktails, after you wander back to the yacht after a few hours strolling the bar and restaurant scene in Saint Tropez. This is one of several ports where Seadream II offers a number of overnight stops and, unlike certain other ports, it really does live up to the hype; a fabulous, fun place just to ‘stroll and roll’ and take it all in.

While the staterooms do not have balconies, all are outside, and come with marvellous, mulit jet showers in a marble lined bathroom, together with top end toiletries by Bulgari. Panelled in gorgeous cherry wood, each one features a sublime double bed, mini bar, plasma screen TV, and a separate living area.

I thought at first that I would miss having my own balcony but, truth be told, Seadream II is so small, elegant and intimate that the entire yacht feels like your own private terrace. And a slew of Balinese Dream Beds on the upper deck can be reserved-again, free of charge- so that you can sleep outside, underneath the stars. in perfectly secluded privacy. At a time of your choosing, a Seadream steward will wake you with orange juice, coffee, champagne or, indeed, all three. It’s a perfect spot from which to catch the first tender, blush pink flush of an early Sorrento sunrise, and a simply wonderful experience in and of itself.

To sum it up, Seadream II is a small, perfectly formed lady, one every bit as elegant as an exquisite charm bracelet. Yet she is big on style, hospitality, and things to do- or indeed, not to do.

The beauty of the Seadream Riviera...

The beauty of the Seadream Riviera…

You can hang out in a hammock with a glass of ice cold champers, or tear up the sparkling briny on an exhilarating jet ski ride. Be as sociable or as reclusive as you wish, and when it suits you. The kind of people typically drawn to the Seadream experience tend to be affable, pretty easy going types that are very well travelled. For the most part, they share a common aversion to the crowds carried on the big ships.

Come the autumn, Seadream II crosses the Atlantic, and relocates to the balmier, more welcoming climes of the Caribbean. From here, she saunters around the smaller, more secluded yacht havens that were once the playgrounds of seventeenth century privateers such as Bluebeard and Ann Bonney.

Whatever, whenever, the same casual elegance is a constant. But I offer you one well meant word of warning; if you once get to savour the Seadream experience, it will quite likely spoil you for just about anything else.

Other than that, enjoy. It’s all good.

FLASHBACK: MIDNIGHT SAILING FROM MONTE CARLO

Getting in the sailing mood...

Getting in the sailing mood…

It was one of those nights you never forget; a sensuous, sultry late spring evening in the south of France. I had just arrived after a testy, two hour flight, and yet I already felt as if I were a million miles from reality.

After the chaos and angst of leaving Nice Airport, it was a short, pain free train journey along the coast to Monaco.The setting sun glimmered on the bays and yacht havens of the Cote D’Azur as we trundled past.  As always in Monte Carlo, catching a taxi from the station was an art form; one I had yet to master. But it wasn’t so far to walk; not with wheeled luggage, anyway. And the knowledge that an old friend was waiting down in the harbour made me grin like an idiot.

All that already seems like a distant dream, something from another place and time, as I stand on the upper decks of the Silver Wind and gaze out at the backlit mass of Monte Carlo. Boarding the ship again was like walking into an oasis of calm, cool gentility. Balm for the soul. Hand luggage taken, champagne offered. Gratefully accepted. Better already.

There was time for a quick dinner in the suite, with the balcony door left open, and the warm evening air carrying over the smell of hibiscus and jasmine from somewhere not far away.  In the background, Michael Buble’s rich, wonderful voice fills the ether like a subtle, slowly gathering storm. Shower. Change of clothes. The whole world takes on a different, kinder stance.

Midnight lights of Monte Carlo

Midnight lights of Monte Carlo

Now it’s close to midnight, and all the passengers are up on the decks around the main pool in anticipation of our leave taking. Stewards circulate with deft, unobtrusive grace, delivering champagne, cocktails and canapes to passengers who last ate all of an hour ago.

There’s a subtle, wonderful buzz as people meet for the first time. And there’s more than the odd happy reunion, too. One of the great things about cruising on something as highly styled as Silversea is the small number of people that the ship carries. It becomes like a little, private club; one where members might go two or three years without seeing each other. Yet, when they do, the friendships just take up again exactly where they last left off. I never cease to wonder at it.

And oh, my word, we are off…..

Subtly, unobtrusively, the Silver Wind steals effortlessly out, into the ink black bay of Monaco, threading her way through a flock of tethered, brilliantly lit yachts with a sure, easy grace. From a small balcony just above the pool, a solitary saxophone player floods the air with deep, rich soul. On one of the yachts, I can see a couple in bathrobes, tapping their fingers to the sound.

And the champagne comes around again. It would be rude to say no; because if ever there truly was a moment worthy of the good stuff, then this is it.

And we're off.....

And we’re off…..

I muse idly that our ship must look beautiful from the shore at this moment; as proud and perfectly graceful as a swan, wrapped in the brilliant plumage of her own lights and music. A small fantasy island, heading out into the darkened Mediterranean, trailing soft, sultry music behind her like a fabulous perfume.

It’s spring in the south of France, the living is easy, and another amazing Silversea adventure is under way. Let’s see what’s out there…..

CAPTIVATING CANNES- THE QUEEN OF THE COTE D’AZUR

CNV00053Few cities have a more exalted setting than Cannes. It curves like an elegant charm bracelet along the sinuous sweep of the Mediterranean coast, garlanded by a series of gently shelving, honey colored beaches that slip almost reluctantly into the sparkling waters of the Med itself.

The backdrop is just as beguiling; the fabled Croisette Boulevard is lined with belle epoque hotels like the legendary Carlton, looming like an overly fussed white wedding cake above the conga lines of slowly waving palm trees that march along the waterfront. Stretch limos the length of cruise liners purr silently past serried lines of umbrella shaded street cafes, packed with tourists enjoying the balmy weather. Some might idly wonder who is inside- Madonna? Tarantino? Could be anybody. Then, as always, it’s back to the serious business of croissants and cafe au lait.

CNV00037This kind of casual, people watching lifestyle defines Cannes, as it also defines nearby Nice and, to a lesser extent, Monte Carlo. But- whisper it- Cannes is far classier than the latter, with its waterfront of high rise hotels and mantra that nothing speaks like money. And, while no one could seriously claim that Cannes is cheap, it often feels a lot better value than that preening, pretentious hell hole devoted solely to the God of Mammon

. Of course, the city is centre stage for the world famous Film Festival in May, when hotels like the Carlton and Martinez are overflowing with the great, the good, and the vacuous non entities of the film industry. Yachts the size of Yalta come looming into the sheltered bay, hosting parties until the early dawn, and sometimes even later. It does have a brittle glamour but- as it also coincides with the Monte Carlo Grand Prix- it can make travelling anywhere a nightmare on the roads. Also, expect the hotel prices to be stratospheric, right along the entire Cote D’Azur.

CNV00031If you are thinking of going, I definitely recommend either spring or autumn as the ideal times. Temperatures are fine but, truth be told, Cannes is an exhilarating break even in the winter, when the crowds have gone, the hotel prices have dropped, and the weather is still relatively benign.

CNV00017if you can drag yourself away from the swish sidewalks and beaches of Croisette, it is definitely worth taking a walk into the back streets of Cannes, and around the old town that looks down over the port. It’s a serene vantage point from which to catch your breath, and then take stock of the glitzy sprawl that hums and buzzes down below you. Those vast, vaulting old stone walls embrace the entire upper reaches of the town, and their ancient, solid ramparts look over a scintillating spread of red topped houses, flooding back in a tidal wave towards the sparkling Mediterranean. The odd languid date palm pops up here and there, too. In the background, a sea of masts from an armada of moored yachts splinters the springtime skyline. There’s a warm, welcoming breeze, marvellous ice cream and, above it all, a magnificent clock tower, frozen in time, that seems to watch over the whole scenic smorgasbord like some kind of benevolent deity.

The narrow, winding lanes leading back to the waterfront are full of old, Italianate shops, bars and cafes, with colourful awnings flapping lethargically in the breeze. Rickety chairs and impossibly small tables spill out across these winding, cobbled lanes. From wrought iron window boxes above you, the smell of jasmine and hibiscus floods the air, even as motor scooters do an awkward ballet with aloof, insolent felines that strut across the cobbles as if the city belongs to them. And in many ways, it does.

CNV00023CNV00020Strolling back towards the sea, there are beautifully proportioned open squares, with exuberant fountains, swathed in marble as centre pieces. Traffic barrels along the meandering sprawl of the waterfront. Lovers walk hand in hand under the splaying, splendid palms. They pass by dog walkers, clutches of excited school children, and hookers on lunch breaks, stopping in at the local tabac to pick up a paper and catch up on the latest world news. All human life is here in this fantastic bouillabaise of a town. In a city noted for it’s sumptuous and diverse cuisine, the only thing not on the menu is sheer boredom.

CNV00043Cannes is not a city that has to shout and scream about it’s virtues, real or imagined. They are there for all to see; as evident as the aroma of Chanel, or the chilled perfection of Moet et Chandon  And- over the top travel tip- if you really want to push the boat out (as it were) treat yourself to a glass or two of bubbly on the impossibly glamorous terrace of the Carlton Hotel, with its matchless views out over the sun kissed briny. The bill may induce a coronary in your bank manager but hey- you’re like L’Oreal. You’re worth it. It truly is one of those heady, once in a lifetime experiences you’ll never forget. And if you’d prefer a sweet, simple ice cold beer, they will serve you just as happily, and at a much cheaper price. Either is Heaven on a beautiful spring day, or in the last, mellow flush of the autumn sun.

Getting there? For Cannes, the nearest airport is Nice, about an hour away. Most of the major airlines fly here but, in most cases, you will need to change planes, either in Paris, Amsterdam, Frankfurt or Heathrow. Or you could do it old style, and relive memories of the legendary Blue Train, and travel across France by rail on the Eurostar/TGV connection. This runs from the UK and Belgium.

CNV00061Cannes is one cool, classy act; smartly dressed and effortlessly chic, she still has a flirtatious, freewheeling vibe that makes her a compelling date for a few days. Come with an open mind, and don’t forget to pack your humour and your sense of wonder. Both of those will enjoy the stay as well. Bon Voyage!