Travel review: Cathedrals and vineyards from Seville to Bordeaux, Voyages to Antiquity Cruises
Within two days the staff will know your name and they will know what you drink’.
This was the proud boast of Nikos Tourvas, managing director of the Aegean Experience, to me as he stood on the bridge of the Aegean Odyssey
And they did! It was ‘good morning Diane’, ‘have a good day Diane’, ‘how was your day Diane?’ – a glass of rosé soon in my hand.
It’s no wonder so many people opt for the Voyages to Antiquity cruises again and again. One fellow passenger was booked on five cruises this year alone! I watched one couple run up the gang plank crying ‘we’re back’ as they were hugged by two staff clearly delighted to see the travellers return.
Testament to the warmth and friendliness of the Voyages to Antiquity cruises is the fact that so many people return but also the number of solo travellers.
They soon make friends, in fact there is a singles evening at the start of the trip. Not to mention cocktails with the captain, on our voyage Captain Panagiotis Giakoumatos (corr), who was very approachable.
The Aegean Odyssey is described as ‘small-ship cruising at its best’. The size has the bonus of enabling it to travel up rivers, such as in Bordeaux, but also keeps the numbers at a sociable size, around 350 passengers.
Another niche selling point is the emphasis put on exploring the culture and history of the destinations visited. Onboard are lecturers who give some interesting insight into the destinations we are visiting. The cruises offer so much more than a day out shopping and sight seeing.
We were accompanied by Dr Carrie Gibson, John Hughes and Hugh Ellwood who gave talks on topics from Bordeux’s Imperial connections to the evolution of plants in the Mediterranean climate, Monet the painter and gardener and Christian and Islamic art and architecture.
In addition there are briefings and information sheets supplied ahead of each shore visit.
This isn’t really a family holiday and most passengers tended to be more senior. But there is plenty of entertainment supplied with a full daily programme to dip in and out of. Generally there is a great feeling of relaxation on board.
A daily journal appears in your cabin setting out the next day’s events and useful information including the cocktail of the day! Be warned that despite the cashless system on board, drinks charged to your cabin will eventually have to be paid for.
Our trip began with a flight out to Seville in Spain where we spent the night at Hotel Melia Sevilla before the holiday really began the following morning with a tour of stunning Seville.
Excursions cater for different levels of fitness and ability. Here travellers chose between the Seville City Tour which included a walking tour or the shorter panoramic trip without the exertion.
A highlight was a visit to the Alcazar of Seville. With a history stretching back 1,000 years this Islamic palace was a labyrinth of rooms and gardens and the changing architecture a striking reflection of the changing times.
After a fascinating tour it was exciting to finally board and check out our cabin. With day two at sea there was plenty of time to explore, hit the spa or enjoy the entertainment. There is a swimming pool, though not always filled, and plenty of seats on deck to sit and read.
Morning stretch sessions can start the day and there are a number of dance classes – plus chances to strut your stuff later. There is musical entertainment day and night while the Bridge sessions were popular.
Dining is key to a good cruise and the spreads were incredible and staff so attentive. It did not take long to become accustomed to a waiter eagerly carrying my laden tray to a table of my choice.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served in buffet-style at the Terrace Café. It was hard to choose from the vast selection and my avarice at lunchtime usually left me unable to enjoy afternoon tea in the Charleston Lounge – also the venue for ‘late night bites’.
Lunch and dinner is also served in the a la carte Marco Polo restaurant with full waiter service and some truly fine dining.
VTA are keen to make life on board as informal as possible so while passengers are asked not to wear shorts in the Marco Polo otherwise dining is quite casual.
Our first port of call was Lisbon in Portugal and a talk by Dr Gibson beforehand gave an insight into the earthquake of 1755 which almost wiped the capital of the map and its subsequent rise from the rubble.
We began the day with a coach tour of the hilly city with a very knowledgeable local guide – as with all excursions – and including a visit to the striking Monastery of Jeronimos (corr). Not to mention the famous Pasteis de Belem pastry shop selling custard tarts to die for – as the queues showed.
The afternoon was free time and we braved the climb up to the Castelo S Jorge. Built by the Moors in the mid 11th century it’s the highest point of the city, with breathtaking views. The traditional, narrow streets to the castle are lined with small shops and bars and wind down to the old town and lively Rossio Square plaza.
The following day we arrived at Oporto – or Porto – to the delight of my Wolves fan companion given its links to Rubens Neves and Nuno Espirito Santo.
A visit to one of its many port houses which thrive in the city – hence the name – is a given with a tour and port tasting enjoyed by all.
Two key buildings to see are the Romanesque Cathedral built in the 12th century and remodelled between the 17th and 18th centuries and the incredible Stock Exchange Palace built in the 19th century to impress visiting investors – it certainly does.
This building with lavish Moorish-influenced rooms is still used by the President. Intricate ceramics and artwork can be found with the central courtyard covered by a large metallic dome and glass panels simply breathtaking.
After Oporto we travelled up the coast to Vigo, Spain. We opted for a half-day excursion enjoying panoramic views of the city, visiting the gardens of 17th century Castrelos Park (corr) and lunch at the luxurious 19th century Galician country manor of Pazo Los Escudos.
Alternatively, passengers could opt for a full-day trip to the Santiago de Compostela, the reputed burial place of the apostle St James.
We took the afternoon to explore Vigo and carry out a bit of gift shopping.
After a day at sea we arrived at our final destination Bordeaux – which coincided with the Tall Ships Regatta. Impressive vessels lined the waterfront for exploring while a wine festival ran simultaneously with some eclectic dining outlets to boot.
Too soon, after one final sumptuous lunch, we were being transported to the airport.
It’s often said that once you’ve been on a cruise you are hooked and travelling with Voyages to Antiquity it is easy to see why.
Want to carry on cruising. . . ?
- VTA cruises travel across South Africa, India and more as well as the Mediterranean but to enjoy a similar, but longer, cruise there is the 15-day ‘European Connoisseur’, Seville to London trip departing June 4 2019 from £2,595 per person.
- After a two-night stay in Seville (Spain) the cruise calls at Lisbon , Oporto, Vigo, Bordeaux , La Rochelle, Guernsey, Honfleur (France) before arriving into London Tilbury. Price includes flights, guided shore excursions, all meals on board, drinks with dinner, gratuities and expert guest speakers.
- For more information and to book, visit www.voyagestoantiquity.com or call 01865 302550.