After being forced to cancel long-anticipated cruises in both 2020 and 2021 due to Covid, we were so looking forward to a sailing adventure with dear friends this year, and our 10-day western Mediterranean cruise aboard Seabourn’s flagship smaller-sized, ultra-luxury cruise liner, Sojourn, did not disappoint! The itinerary was absolutely fantastic! Counting points of embarkation and disembarkation, we visited 10 ports of call covering six different countries — Monaco, Italy, Malta, Sardinia, France, and Spain — with only one day at sea during the entire journey. Adding to the excitement, we sandwiched the sailing portion of our trip between a pre-cruise three-night stay in France (two nights in Paris, one in Nice) and a post-cruise two-night stay in Barcelona.
My husband and I had the honor and pleasure of serving as the onboard Virtuoso Voyager hosts for this particular sailing, our first foray into this venture. Virtuoso Voyages is a cruise enhancement program offering special benefits and unique opportunities for all Virtuoso clients aboard the vessel, including a welcome reception, access to the Virtuoso hosts for assistance during the cruise, and a choice between joining other Virtuoso passengers on an exclusive Virtuoso excursion or receiving a shipboard credit. Serving in this role was an absolute delight and the best of both worlds, as we were able to socialize with old friends and meet new friends alike from all over the world.
Our two days in Paris were fast-paced, as we tried to hit all the major attractions of the city in a very short time since my husband had never been to the “City of Lights” before. We did a pretty good job of covering the highlights I’d say, spending a few hours at the Louvre on day one (just a few steps away from the lovely Grand Hotel du Palais Royal where we stayed), and on day two hitting the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, strolling down the Champs-Élysées, visiting Les Invalids, and walking along the Seine all the way to Notre Dame Cathedral. Whew … a lot of steps taken that day! Nonetheless, we still found time to relax, dine, and sample some wine at a few of the Parisian cafés for which the city is famous.
After our whirlwind tour of Paris, we took a short flight south to the fabulous French Riviera to stay one night at the iconic Le Negresco Hotel in Nice, France. This sophisticated hotel is situated across from the Promenade des Anglais along Neptune Beach on the Mediterranean Sea. Staying at Le Negresco is like spending the night in a museum! The hotel features an important collection of period furniture and wardrobe displays, as well as over 6,000 works of French art from the seventeenth century to the present. We were amazed by master paintings, sculptures, and themed salons at practically every turn. The Baccarat crystal chandelier in the grand ballroom, one of only two of its kind in the world, was simply dazzling! From there, we took a short ride to Monte Carlo, Monaco where our sailing adventure aboard the Sojourn began.
The ship itself was very comfortable. Sojourn’s staterooms are quite spacious with all suites offering a walk-in closet, and 90% of them featuring a walk-out veranda. Despite sailing at full capacity, we never felt like the ship was crowded at all, a Seabourn trademark since they specialize in smaller ship luxury cruising. The food, staff and service were all first-rate. And Seabourn’s “all-inclusive” difference (i.e., no tipping necessary onboard and adult beverages and wines included) was very relaxing and stress-free.
Our first stop after departing from Monte Carlo was on Elba, a small Mediterranean island in Tuscany, Italy. Several of the folks in our group took an excursion to Napolean’s summer residence there, while others did some hiking and exploring on their own. The following morning we arrived in picturesque Amalfi, Italy. Most of us enjoyed an all-day private driver/guide with one of my favorite contacts there, which included meeting world-famous pastry chef Sal De Riso in Minori, visiting an authentic family-owned and operated cheese-making dairy farm in Trimonti (where we got our hands “dirty” and actually sampled some of the ricotta cheese that we formed earlier that morning right out of the vat), lunch at a fabulous hillside restaurant in Ravello, and several afternoon stops at points of interest along the Amalfi coastline including a hand-painted ceramic tile factory. The following morning we awoke in Sicily where we spent most of our time tooling around the charming hilltop town of Taormina, which is situated very near Mount Etna, one of the world’s most active volcanoes and the tallest peak in Italy south of the Alps.
The next two stops were in Malta, the first being in Valletta, the walled capital city of Malta, and the second being on the smaller Maltese island of Gozo. Many in our group considered Malta and Valletta to be the highlight of our sailing. The history of Malta is very rich and unique, in part due to its geographic location, some 50 miles south of Sicily and 200 miles north of the African coastline. Malta is also where St. Paul swam to safety after the ship carrying him to Rome to be tried as a political rebel was wrecked in a violent storm. We took our exclusive Virtuoso tour in Malta, which included roaming around and enjoying lunch in the ancient fortified city of Mdina, visiting St. Paul’s catacombs nearby, a tour of the highlights of Valletta, and a visit inside the majestic and eye-popping St. John’s Cathedral, whose opulent interior is considered to be one of the finest examples of high Baroque architecture in Europe. The cathedral is also home to the Carvaggio masterpiece “The Beheading of St. John.” Our guide on the Virtuoso tour, Nick, a native Maltin himself, was very accommodating and made it all come to life with his “tell it like it is” style and delivery. Not only was he knowledgeable, but he also was very funny and entertaining with a great sense of timing and an irreverent sense of humor.
Our next three ports of call were in Sardinia (Golfo Aranci) and France (Saint Raphael and Sanary-sur-Mer). In Sardinia, we toured Costa Smeralda (aka “The Emerald Coast’) where we saw fabulous yachts, high-end shops and a glimpse of how the affluent elite might spend their vacationing holidays. In Saint Raphael, we visited an old family winery and learned about the wines of Provence, an increasingly popular wine-making area known primarily for its fabulous rosé wines (which were a hit with all the gals on our trip). In Sanary, also located in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region of Southeastern France, we were taken aback by the beauty and cleanliness of the seaside village as well as the spectacular spread at the local farmer’s market there. We stumbled upon a small, family-owned deli and wine shop where we tried more local wines and brought a few bottles back to the ship to share with friends.
Our land package at the tail-end of our trip included a 2-night stay at the spectacular Hotel Arts Barcelona, a 5-star Ritz Carlton property. For the most part, our group took a divide-and-conquer approach to immersing ourselves into the sights and sounds of Barcelona. A few in our group had been there many times before, but for others it was their inaugural visit to the city. We all enjoyed touring the old town of Barcelona (Ciutat Vella) and later that evening celebrating a dear friend’s 60th birthday at a very popular seafood restaurant called Botafumeiro. Another unforgettable experience in Barcelona was touring the Basílica de la Sagrada Familia, a gigantic Roman Catholic church still under construction featuring the mind-blowing architectural and engineering style of Barcelona’s most impactful architect, Antoni Gaudí.
Needless to say, our trip had all the hallmarks of a once-in-a-lifetime travel adventure. The problem is, we enjoyed it so much we all want to do it, or something very similar, again! And very soon at that!
Co-Owner, Travel Advisor