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Sailing Oceania Cruises'
Regatta in Europe
A Grand Tour Without the Unpacking
“I need a vacation from my vacation,” a traveler from Santa
Monica, California told me when we struck up a conversation while
waiting for our flights home from Rome. She had been on a tour of
Europe visiting six spots in Portugal, Spain, France, and Italy and
had unpacked and checked in and out of hotels six times. When I told
her I had visited 13 places in five countries and unpacked just once
because I had been on a cruise she was green with envy.
A European cruise—or any
voyage—is the travel equivalent of a piece of cake: one unpacks once
but visits four or more countries, optional shore tours may be
arranged online in advance and paid for in dollars, and each
evening, after a multi-course dinner and musical entertainment
onboard, one rests in a comfortable cabin with plush bedding to
awake at another idyllic spot.
That’s how it was on a 16-night voyage aboard Oceania Cruises’
Regatta. An intimate, upper-premium (but moderately-priced)
684-passenger ship, the Regatta has a main dining room (a whole
Maine lobster was on the menu one evening); buffet-style restaurant;
two no-fee alternative restaurants serving Italian cuisine and
steakhouse fare including a 32-ounce steak; poolside grill;
showroom; a Canyon Ranch SpaClub featuring a heavenly thalassotherapy
pool with warm salt-water, steam rooms, salon, treatment rooms and
gym; jogging track; pool; whirlpools; library, and more. The
ambiance is chic, but relaxed (formalwear isn’t required).
Our itinerary was a grand European tour, sailing from London
(Dover), stopping at a dozen spots in France, Spain, Portugal, and
Italy—ending in Civitavecchia
(Rome). An ocean of memorable moments included these:
Paris: The French capital always
enchants with the Eiffel Tower—one
of the world’s most cherished monuments since the 19th century at
300 meters high—the Champs
Elysees with boutiques, restaurants, and the Arc de Triomphe
monument; the Seine, with floating restaurants, nightclubs, and
tourist boats; and Notre Dame, Paris’ soul, with splendid stained
glass. We had lunch alfresco at a café and shopped for perfumes.
St. Malo: If the visit to Paris was
memorable, the one to Mont St. Michel, near St. Malo, was divine. On
a rocky isle off the Normandy coast, Mont St. Michel has a
Benedictine Abbey in Romanesque style from the 11th century, a
symbol of France’s spirit, dedicated to the highest ideals. “I
always dreamed of coming here and although famous sites let us down
because we expect so much of them, this one has been everything I
imagined,” said Mary Ann Cassello, a traveler from New York.
A UNESCO site, the isle is connected to the continent via a
opt to walk on the sandy terrain leading to the island at low tide,
but it’s not recommended as it floods at high tide—and
the tide, as Victor Hugo commented, “comes fast as a galloping
horse,” sometimes rising 35 feet, particularly during the spring and
The ascent to the gallery at the top of the abbey is difficult—there
are nearly 300 steps, but worth it for panoramas of the surroundings
and this mystical site from 300 feet high. Halfway up one can rest
at the Church of St. Pierre adorned with a silver statue of St.
Bordeaux: A “must” here are the
vineyards that produce superb red wines. During our two-day stay, we
headed for the Medoc vineyards to taste at chateaux the Margaux
appellation wines so favored by Ernest Hemingway that he named one
of his granddaughters Margaux, and we went to St. Emilion, visiting
vineyards and the walled town with its medieval structures dating
from the 13th century.
Lisbon: We opted for a tour to quaint
Obidos. Founded in 308 B.C it has narrow cobblestone streets lined
with white houses draped in bougainvillea. We walked along the top
of the wall that encloses the town—with
views of vineyards and visited the 17th century parish church of St.
Mary, marveling at its decorations in blue and white tiles.
Seville: From Cadiz we took a tour to
Seville, traveling through landscapes dotted with hills, orchards,
and ranches. In Seville, we visited the Moorish-style Alcazar, a
royal abode since the Middle Ages, whose exterior walls formed part
of the original Moorish fortress. Especially interesting was the
24-karat-gold-domed hall where Ferdinand and Isabella received
Columbus upon his return from his 1492-1493 voyage. Other Seville
landmarks included the expansive Plaza de España, the medieval
quarter of Santa Cruz, and the Gothic Cathedral that took more than
a century to finish. Vestiges of the original mosque remain
including the Patio de los Naranjales and the 12th century minaret,
now the Giralda Tower.
Valencia: The futuristic City of Arts &
Sciences, with five buildings designed by architect Santiago
Calatrava, is a cultural feast. It includes the Science Museum of
Prince Felipe, and Oceanographic Center –with more than 45,000
specimens of 500 species of marine creatures including belugas in
aquaria and lakes. “I’d have liked to spend a few days just here,”
said Leigh Allen, from Chicago. Before returning to the ship, we
walked in the Valencia center, visiting the Plaza de la Virgen, the
Cathedral—built over an ancient
Roman temple and mosque—the
central market and the silk market, a UNESCO site.
Barcelona: We came in search of Antonio
Gaudí, and found him in several master works including La Sagrada
Familia church, a symbol of Barcelona, with towers that dominate the
landscape. Begun in 1882 in Neo-Gothic style, it occupied Gaudí for
43 years and it’s not finished yet. In Parc Güell more of Gaudi’s
genius is evident in details like a bench in the shape of a snake,
representations of birds’ nests in walls of terraces and a mosaic
roof supported by Doric columns. Casa Batlló exemplifies Gaudi’s
organic style (locals call it House of Bones). Experts have called
it “an architectural smile.”
La Spezia: From this Italian port, we
headed for Cinque Terre—a
corner of the Mediterranean consisting of five miles of rocky coast
between two promontories. Its name comes from five towns:
Riomaggiore, Cornigila, Manarola, Vernazza and Monterosso. The
towns, an Italian National Park protected by UNESCO, are beauties
with terraces on cliffs, hiking trails, vineyards and ocean views.
Our tour included a boat excursion to Vernazza with narrow trails
descending precipitously from the main road and tower-like houses
that seem as if glued to the cliff.
Between ports, the Regatta was a comfortable, classy home at sea,
where we were pampered with know-your-name-service; gourmet cuisine
by French celebrity chef Jacques Pepin; a champagne reception with
the captain, enrichment lectures and cabaret-style entertainment: a
glamorous, comfortable experience—and
we did not need a vacation from our vacation afterwards!
Guide & Cruise
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