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Sailing Oceania Cruises' Regatta in Europe
A Grand Tour Without the Unpacking

Oceania Regattaby Georgina Cruz

“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 cruiseor 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 Italyending in Civitavecchia (Rome). An ocean of memorable moments included these:

Paris: The French capital always enchants with the Eiffel Towerone of the world’s most cherished monuments since the 19th century at 300 meters highthe 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 bridge/causewaysome visitors opt to walk on the sandy terrain leading to the island at low tide, but it’s not recommended as it floods at high tideand the tide, as Victor Hugo commented, “comes fast as a galloping horse,” sometimes rising 35 feet, particularly during the spring and autumnal equinoxes.

The ascent to the gallery at the top of the abbey is difficultthere 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. Michael.

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 townwith 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 Cathedralbuilt over an ancient Roman temple and mosquethe 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 Terrea 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 experienceand we did not need a vacation from our vacation afterwards!

INFORMATION: Visit www.oceaniacruises.com


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