Many families will be familiar with the dilemma: you’re planning your annual summer jaunt, but you just can’t agree on either destination or style.
Hot, cold, far-flung or a gentle trundle by car, frenzied, chilled-out, active, inert – on almost all of these points my husband and I tend to disagree.
I like to spend my summer break prostrate with a paperback, while he’s happiest hauling a rucksack up a mountain. I like it hot, he comes out in a rash when the temperature nudges above 25C. I like to play it safe, he’ll try anything once.
Frankly, after seven years of occasionally reluctant compromise, we were running out of options.
I suggested a cruise, thinking my husband would be lured by the thought of multiple destinations, only to find that his idea of life on the ocean wave is trying to row the Atlantic in an upturned baked bean can.
It wasn’t looking good – until, that is, I stumbled across Star Clippers, a modern version of the old tea-clippers that once plied the oceans of the world. Instantly I knew I was on to something.
The numbers were good, for a start.
With a maximum of 170 passengers, they do an elegant job of bridging the gap between private yacht and massmarket experience. Their itineraries are thoughtful and enticing, but best of all where my husband was concerned, they offered the chance for both mini-adventures on-shore in the form of organised hikes and excursions, with the opportunity of watersports a-plenty back on the boat.
It certainly sounded promising – and, after perusing the literature and satisfying himself that this wasn’t a wifely ruse, my husband agreed to give a Star Clippers voyage a go.
We opted for a European journey, boarding one of the three ships in its fleet in Venice on a sultry summer afternoon.
The other passengers were an international mix, all happily united by appreciation of the beauty of our four-mast, 16-sail ship.
Set sail for the seven seas Star Clippers pretty much sails the seven seas, from the silky shores of Tahiti to the warm waters of the Caribbean, but our voyage was to be a lazy nine-day meander along the Croatian Coast and around a
seductive mix of Greek islands, ending in Athens.
Our first departure was to set the rather magical tone for the duration of our stay: we departed from Venice at dusk, watching the twinkling lights of the city disappear behind us as Vangelis’s throbbing theme from the film 1492: Conquest
of Paradise pounded from the ship’s speakers, a moment that was to be replayed many times over the next nine days but never lost its peculiar capacity to swell the spirits.
Nor were the passengers the only ones to be impressed: as we made our way, the flashlights from our cameras recording our departure were matched by the flashlights of people on the shore doing the same.
We sailed overnight, with the gentle rocking of the boat a surprisingly lullaby-like accompaniment to sleep in our small but perfectly formed cabin (they’re not for giants, but what they lack in size they make up for in impressive gadgetry, including a radio-come-tannoy system wired into the bedside tables).
Awake by dawn, I could see misty island outlines through our cabin porthole, and supped my morning coffee to the backdrop of a mild sea breeze as we drifted along the picturesque Croatian coastline.
By lunchtime, we had dropped anchor in the crystal clear harbour of the island of Losinj, where an afternoon’s mooring gave us more than enough time to explore its cobbled streets and beach before returning to the ship.
It was a format that was to unfold many times as the ship sailed through Hvar, Dubrovnik, and the majestic mountainous terrain of Montenegro, before taking to the Ionian sea.
The hypnotic beauty of life on deck meant many passengers preferred to stay aboard even when we were in port, eschewing the sometimes steamy shoreside temperatures by lying under the creaking masts and taking an occasional dip in one of the two plunge pools.
Not my husband of course, who took the opportunity to participate in a host of watersports, including kayaking, windsurfing and waterskiing, all of which took place off the back of the ship under the tutelage of a coterie of obliging Swedes whenever the ship was in port.
I almost took part myself, but all action bets were off when I found a rather splendid perch on the ship’s ‘window net’, from where I could keep a weather eye on my husband while doing little other than feeling the occasional splash of
salt water on my body.
Enjoy the family house party vibe You certainly couldn’t blame anyone for laziness. There is something incredibly relaxing about life on board the Clipper, which has managed to bottle the charming essence of life at sea with all the pleasures of a boutique hotel.
The vibe is family house party rather than mass-tourism holiday, although in common with all cruises you do get fed, and then some.
Special mention must be made of the dinners, a beautifully prepared three course menu with choices that would not be out of place in any fine dining establishments.
Downsides? Not many, unless you’re a pernickety sort, although if you want a total get-away-from-yourobligations holiday then this might not be for you, as you end up on at least nodding acquaintance with most of your fellow passengers.
The communal dining is a relaxed affair but communal all the same – no intimate dinners a deux here. Finally – and this may seem obvious, but it hadn’t occurred to me – those of you with, ahem, weaker constitutions, may occasionally feel sea-sick, although a dose of preemptive tablets should sort you out.
These are but tiny gripes. We were so taken by the whole thing that, back on dry land, there is even talk of sailing lessons.