On January 21st 2010, my partner Ken Scott and I stepped on board the Silver Spirit, for the 91 day Inaugural Voyage around South America. This grand new flagship was larger than the rest of the Silversea fleet (maximum 540 guests), so the question was could it, would it, retain the high standard of hospitality, 6 star service and sociable ambience?. Yes it did.
Within a week I had published a ship report, in which I commented – “The feel is more of a modern, chic, Designer hotel with art deco roots, a sophisticated, sleek reimagining of the traditional liners. Think Noel Coward, Scott Fitzgerald, Coco Chanel”.
On 3 May 2017, Ken and I stepped on board the gleaming, glamorous new Silver Muse in Villefranche, Cote d’Azur for the Inaugural Venetian Voyage around the Mediterranean. Once again, she is a larger Lady than the Spirit, (596 guests), pursuing a “transcendent evolution of the Silversea ethos,” which reflects a seriously new direction in terms of design, artistic décor and cuisine which has all been curated with a refreshing, contemporary style.
The tag line says it all, Simply Divine. This ninth sister ship is aptly named: In ancient Greek mythology, the nine daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne were Muses, beautiful young goddesses who inspired creative endeavours with a sense of grace and allure.
Inspiration and creativity are the key words when describing this gracefully designed ship. As Coco Chanel declared with her inimitable passion for fashion as an artform, “Simplicity is the key note of all true elegance” believing in the beauty of clean lines and classic timelessness.
The Muse follows a similar deck layout to the Spirit but expanded to create more Silver Suites, a choice of Owner, Grand and Royal Suites, as well as spacious Veranda Suites. Our Deluxe Veranda Suite offered superior comfort, with pillow menu, fine furnishings, luxury designer fabrics (Pratesi bed linen, Rubelli textiles) and tasteful art & decor.
The colour palette reflects land and sea through soft grey, mushroom, cappuccino cream, sage green and sand. The marble bathroom featuring a shower and tub, the softest towels, fragrant Ferragamo toiletries, but we do miss the two basins as on the Whisper & Shadow”. Amenities are much improved: useful chest of drawers beside the dressing table/desk, two TVs behind mirrored walls, sofa with essential cushions, (hurrah!), and an adaptable dining table in the lounge and on the veranda.
We loved the extensive choice of bars (each with imaginative cocktail menus) and restaurants as well as spacious outdoor “lounges”, with stunning designer seating. Around the swimming pool and upper deck are rows of daybeds for those who wish to roast themselves in the sun.
The partly shaded area beyond the Jacuzzis is neatly furnished with elegantly chic, white and taupe Bauhaus-styled armchairs and sofas from the Belgian company, Manutti surrounded by decorative planters. This was our favourite place to relax and read during the morning while sipping our tipple, a spicy Bloody Mary.
Outside the Panorama Lounge is a perfect, tranquil spot, watching the streaming wake of the ship as we sailed along. Relax on comfy blue sofas and armchairs (from American designer, Janus et Cie), matched by large white tables, for all day leisure-time, from morning coffee to cocktail hour.
A most innovative concept is the Arts Café, (with outdoor terrace), combining coffee house, lounge bar and modern art gallery featuring paintings, prints and sculpture by Italian artists. A fine artwork collection is also displayed in hallways, bars and restaurants around the ship creating an ambience of aesthetic appreciation.
The Café has leather sofas, wing armchairs and curiously, almost inaccessible shelves of Art, Design and Fashion books. If you fancy reading a novel here, unfortunately, you need to trek up to Tor’s Observation Lounge on deck 11, to find a rather limited selection of fiction, biography and travel books. Perhaps more books are on the way?.
It would make perfect sense to create a comprehensive Arts Café Library for a wider selection of newspapers, magazines and books – (as offered in the library on the other Silversea ships). With outdoor seats too, this soon became a popular place to enjoy a breakfast cappuccino & croissant, afternoon tea & cucumber sandwiches, or glass of champagne/ G&T & canapés.
Eat and Drink around the ship, day and night with a diverse choice of menu and venue – for Dinner, there’s been a radical re-think regarding the cuisine and environment. The usual main Restaurant has been replaced by two distinctively different restaurants – Atlantide (steak & seafood), Indochine (pan-Asian) each with their own charming cocktail bar. Next door at Taiseki sample the Japanese art of Teppanyaki, and Relais & Chateaux fine dining menus at La Dame (both with cover charge for speciality wines). Listen to a live jazz band at Silver Note Cabaret Bar (Peruvian/Asian tapas) or sample modern Italian cuisine at La Terrazza. For a casual evening out, there are two fabulous al fresco venues – Hot Rocks Grill and Spaccanopoli Pizzeria.
An “eggcellent” Breakfast is served in a variety of cafes and restaurants, or alternatively in your suite or on the veranda, laid out very professionally by your butler. An essential question every day was where should we have lunch given the superb choice: Sushi at Taiseki, lavish buffet in La Terrazza, a quietly relaxed affair at Atlantide, or an appetising menu of salads, paninis and burgers on the Pool Deck Grill.
The dining experience has certainly become more refined and sophisticated to create intimate “city style” bars, bistros and restaurants, each with its own unique cutlery, glassware, colouful, shapely plates as well as artistic presentation. After all we eat with our eyes, as well as enticed by aroma and taste!
With energetic adventures ashore and sea air to stimulate the appetite, we certainly experienced a taste of gastronomy and fine wines, so thankful for the jogging track (8 laps = 1 mile) to keep fit. Rachel, the energetic Gym instructor may inspire you to take her sunrise walks, yoga and exercise classes. Be warned the track goes past the Pizzeria and Gelataria.!
In our Silver Muse Travel Journal it states that guests can enjoy, “Open Seating – dine when you like, with whom you like.” However, this policy is no longer factual.
Table bookings for your choice of Restaurants now need to be made online at My Silversea. We had not booked any Restaurants prior to boarding, as we had no knowledge that this was required. So we gave a diary of dining preferences for each night to Hayley, our very helpful butler. But most restaurants, (especially Atlantide, Silver Note, La Terrazza) were popular and so we were often wait listed for a cancellation, or booked a second option. Table reservations negates the much loved Silversea style of hospitality, meeting new or old friends over an apertif in the Bar, then go to the Restaurant at leisure, where a table for 2, 4 or 6 guests would always be available.
The other radical change to Silverea lifestyle is Dress Code. Gone are the rotating Casual, Informal and Formal nights. Now the dress code applies to each restaurant with Formal wear required in Atlantide and La Dame. Across the evening, in the Bars, at Cocktail parties and Theatre Show, many couples may be dressed in a smart Tuxedo & glamorous gown while other guests are in polo shirt and slacks. This spoils the sense of a special occasion of this otherwise luxury cruise experience.
The key reason Ken and I return again and again to Silversea is due to meeting regular Silversea friends and for the genuine, attentive, friendly service. We knew many of the bartenders and waiters on board the Muse, always so sensitive to guest expectations, (pouring a timely top-up of Champagne before you ask, and shaking up a refreshing, ice cold Margarita), fully engaging with guests to provide 6 star hospitality with a capital H.
On this Inaugural Venetian Voyage there were 471 guests all of whom had travelled with Silversea before: together we had reached the grand tally of 110,089 nights on board – which tranlates as around 300 years! This clearly illustrates the brand loyalty as part of an international family of devoted Silversea-ers. At Venetian Society Cocktail parties, several couples were presented with milestone awards for 100, 650 and 1,500+ nights, offering added cruise benefits, each celebrated with envious applause.
On our six week cruise around the Mediterranean, we visited no less than nine countries on a choreographed itinerary, dancing our way around Greek islands and the shapely long leg around Italy, a slow waltz up the Adriatic to glide into Venice for a Festival feast of art around the Biennale. An enriching voyage of culture, archeological heritage, quaint fishing villages, white sand beaches and scenic land and seascapes every day.
Shore excursions aside, the Silver Muse is an enticing Destination in her own right, like a Deluxe Resort-at-sea, reminiscent of such exemplary standard and style of Peninsula, Ritz Carlton or Shangri La. In 1996, Silversea was voted the prestigious title, World’s Best Overall Vacation by Conde Nast Traveler (competing against exclusive hotels, trains and cruise-lines), followed by numerous annual awards.
Silver Muse is certainly a new vision for Silversea, reinventing a more casual, contemporary lifestyle. The dining concept offers exceptional culinary choice, but the daily problem of table reservations and confusing dress code was clearly not welcome. This needs to be resolved, to create its trademark manner of an easy going and sociable house party ambience.
“A Girl should be two things, Classy and Fabulous” Coco Chanel.
I think Coco would approve of the classy, cool, aesthetic style of the Silver Muse – step aboard for a truly relaxing, utterly romantic, world travel experience. Yes, simply divine.
Silver Muse calls at 130 ports in 34 countries through 2017. Over the summer she sails around the Mediterranean followed by a trans-Atlantic crossing to Canada and USA in September, before transitting the Panama Canal to explore South America during the Autumn and north to the Caribbean in December.
For more infomation – http://www.silversea.com
Luxury weekend with Gleneagles and Silversea Cruises
Friday 6 May – Sunday 8 May 2016
You don’t have to have sailed with Silversea to attend this party – it’s the perfect opportunity to meet the luxury cruiseline managers, Venetian Society members (Silversea aficionados) and to hear all about the fleet of stylish ships, future itineraries and life on board.
The partnership between Gleneagles and Silversea cruises is a marriage of great minds. Just like the selected Pre and Post voyage hotels which include Ritz Carlton and Peninsula and Shangri La.
Gleneagles, Perthshire, Scotland, is a world renowned hotel synonymous with relaxation and luxury living, surrounded by manicured gardens, three championship golf courses and a country sports estate. The opening in 1924 was a major event heralding the new “Riviera in the Highlands” and “Palace in the Glens”. The first night dinner dance, with Henry Hall and his band was broadcast live on the BBC.
Today, it’s a 5 Red Star Leading Hotel of the World, which in 2014 hosted the PGA Ryder Cup. There are four distinctive Restaurants, cocktail and whisky Bars; The Club (swimming pools, gym, sauna, steam room, jacuzzi), and the Spa at Gleneagles by Espa, “an urbane oasis of calm, as silkily smooth and sexy as the hotel’s stripy lawns.” The Tatler.
Founded in 1994 by an Italian family, Silversea cruises now have a fleet of eight intimate, elegant ships offering an ultra-luxury travel experience, fully inclusive hospitality, impeccable service, artistic designs with contemporary art-deco style. A sleek new ship Silver Muse will be launched in April 2017, with the tagline “simply divine”.
Explore the world from Australia to the Arctic, Seychelles to South America,, wildlife expeditions to voyages of heritage and culture.
The Silversea weekend begins on Friday 7th May when guests will settle into their beautifully furnished Estate rooms, relax and explore this fabulous resort.
Later meet your fellow guests at an evening Champagne and canapé reception, sponsored by Emirates. Then enjoy dinner at your preferred choice of Restaurant – from 2 Michelin star cuisine at Andrew Fairlie to a Mediterranean feast at Deseo or the comfy and casual Dormy Clubhouse Grill.
On Saturday morning is the annual Silversea Gleneagles golf tournament on The King’s Course which is a hard fought contest between cruise guests & friends, and Resort club members. For those who don’t wish to golf may enjoy the wonderful Resort – stroll or cycle around the parkland, keep fit in the Leisure Club or be pampered in the Spa.
Sporting facilties galore for the energetic – fishing, shooting, horse-riding and tennis, amongst other outdoor pursuits.
Gleneagles also has a virtual “street” of boutiques selling gifts, whisky, accessories, jewellery, designer fashion and country clothing, so take time out to browse around.
After a day on the golf course or relaxing at leisure, it’s time to dress up in Tuxedo or Evening gown for the Black Tie dinner, a lavish banquet with gourmet cuisine and fine wines, followed by excellent cabaret music and dancing.
Breakfast at Gleneagles is a legendary affair from the buffet to a la carte dishes so enjoy a leisurely Sunday morning. Then another taste of a glamorous lifestyle: The Leven Car Company will showcase a selection of gleaming Rolls Royce and Aston Martin cars when you can sign up for a test drive.
Over the years, there have often been exciting surprises such as a Quiz or Raffle with special prizes, including a free cruise! – Wine Tasting events and a tour of the impressive Wine Cellar.
Mappin & Webb, the in-house jewellery store, also kindly offered the loan of glittering necklaces and bracelets to ladies for the Black Tie dinner. We felt like Oscar-nominated film stars.. or indeed royalty.!
The Silversea luxury weekend has been held at Gleneagles for over a decade and a regular date in our diary. It’s always an inspiring occasion, a gathering of old friends and new like a private house party with lively conversation and camaraderie. Just like the casually sophisticated Silversea experience itself where guests enjoy the finest hospitality, leisure activities, relaxation and entertainment… except on land, not at sea.
For more information on the Silversea Luxury Weekend:
Specialising in writing about luxury travel, I have had the pleasure and privilege of visiting some fine hotels, taking classic train journeys and especially sharing my passion for slow, slow cruises, the most relaxing way to explore the world.
Founded in 1994, the Italian family-owned Silversea cruise line has continued to develop its vision to create a superior style of 6 star leisurely travel experiences.
Imagine planning the perfect escape with all-inclusive hospitality, first class personal service and enriching itineraries to dream destinations.
Over the years, having island-hopped around the Seychelles, sailed around Venice and Vietnam, across the South Pacific to India and Africa, what entices me on board again and again is the sociable house party ambience and casually-elegant, romantic lifestyle.
There are currently eight small-scale ships from the super-yacht Silver Wind to the sleek, chic Silver Whisper, the grand art deco Silver Spirit to the Silver Explorer and Discoverer for Royal Geographical expeditions.
Muse = 1. In ancient Greek mythology, Muses were goddesses of science and art who inspired creative endeavours. 2. A person or guiding spirit who inspires a creative artist.
Always seeking to broaden the horizons and exceed expectations, Silversea has recently announced the fantastic news of their new glamorous flagship, the Silver Muse which will be launched for the Spring season 2017.
Very timely to develop the fleet and keep up to date and on trend given the strong competition amongst the specialist cruise industry; new ships are joining Regent Seven Seas, Norwegian and Seabourn. Azamara Club ships are being redesigned as a luxe brand, featuring unique complimentary AzAmazing excursions.
An increasing number of travellers prefer intimate, exclusive, all inclusive cruises on small luxury ships, river boasts and expedition vessels with a 21% increase in the past five years.
The ultra-luxury Silver Muse will accommodate 596 guests (slightly more than the Silver Spirit), but the overall décor and design is still under wraps. All that has been revealed by the CEO, Enzo Visone, is that there will a distinctive sense of originality, creativity and quality, to enhance “ the sophistication and innovative style for which Silversea ships are renowned”.
Also not yet revealed is where Silver Muse will be sailing on her maiden and inaugural voyages. I await the news with much anticipation.!
In January 2010, my partner Ken and I were amongst the first guests to board Silver Spirit, attending the Christening ceremony in Fort Lauderdale before we set off on a leisurely 10 week voyage circumnavigating South America.
This was like a mini gap year for adults, an intrepid adventure away off the well trodden tourist map for true exploration and cultural enrichment – with the secure comfort of a floating luxury hotel all the way. Stylish Silversea travel at its very best. (See feature link below).
The cruise line is internationally celebrated as a leader in 6 star luxury travel, regularly winning annual awards including “Best Small Ship Cruise Line” by readers of Condé Nast Traveller (11 times including 2014), and “Best Luxury Cruise Line” at UK’s Travel Weekly Globe Awards ( 9 times including 2015).
Magical, memorable seaviews, wildlife and wonderous sights are guaranteed from the deck of a Silversea ship.
Roll on Spring 2017 and the launch of Silver Muse for the start of more enriching, aspirational, inspirational travel experiences, wherever she may be sailing around the globe. See you on board!
“Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has courage to lose sight of the shore”. André Gide.
For forthcoming Itineraries, Expeditions, Destinations, World Cruises, 2016 and 2017, and all cruise information – http://www.silversea.com
Read about the Grand Inaugural Voyage, South America on Silver Spirit, 2010
Many airlines and cruise ships are not allowed to fly/sail directly from the British Falkland Islands to Argentina, so instead we enjoy a soujourn to Uruguay. First, the historic, Colonial capital, Montevideo located on a Florida-style coastline between River Plate and Atlantic Ocean.
Arriving by ship, we didn’t have to walk far for an authentic taste of the local cuisine and culture.
The old Mercado del Puerto is a carnivore’s dream with dozens of Parrillas, (steakhouses), the prime cuts of beef served with local Tannat-grape wine.
And outdoors, browse the rows of market stalls for art, handcrafts and jewellery.
While on the Silver Spirit over Christmas, cruising around the Caribbean, we met a charming extended Argentinian family on board. Over festive drinks in the Bar, Snr B. the youthful septuagenarian Grandfather (work in BA, leisure in Uruquay), and his wife suggest we meet up in Punta del Este during our South America voyage.
Punta del Este, Uruguay is a trendy, upmarket resort famed for sand dunes, surfing waves, bars, restaurants and designer shops.
Arriving here on 9th February, all goes to plan and as we walk along the pier from the Tender Boat jetty we are met at the marina by our Silversea friends.
The afternoon is a scenic drive along the endless beaches along the coast to the sophisticated districts La Barra and Jose Ignacio; en route we pass the surreal sculpture on Playa Brava – La Mano, a giant hand of fingers jutting out of the sand.
As a family getaway retreat for those living in Buenos Aires, Snr B. has been coming here for nearly 75 years. He explains that when he was a child here on holiday, it was a sleepy village with one hotel and one taxi. Now the Hollywood A listers, wealthy Brazilians and Argentines flock here, with around 500,000 overseas visitors arriving in January for a summer/ winter sun vacation.
Argentina’s capital is sensual, seductive and unforgettable – Santa Montefiore
Buenos Aires is grand and glamorous city of wide boulevards, Jacaranda trees, shady gardens, a colourful melting pot of European heritage and Latino culture stylishly elegant with a passionate energy – this is the Paris of South America. If you have never visited BA before, then you must experience all the major architectural sights, following Eva Peron’s journey from Casa Rosada, the Presidential Palace, to her simple grave in La Recoleta cemetery, Teatro Colon opera house and stroll around the Palermo with its parks, gardens, boutiques and café society.
A must-see historic district is La Boca. Here so the story goes, the steamy hot Tango dance began. Like a Little Italy, La Boca in the late 1800´s was the harbour port of Buenos Aires, the name boca, meaning mouth of the river Riachuelo. This was indeed a poor neighbourhood, where the street girls, sailors and immigrants all mingled together creating a multicultural party atmosphere; fiddlers would play Spanish flamenco- gypsy tunes while, first, the men and then couples, showed off sassy dance moves.
Today, the district is a charming, vibrant, vivacious district of cobbled streets, gaily painted houses, atmospheric old bars and street cafes .. and everywhere Tango dancers strut their stuff.
As we had done the “Don’t Cry for me Argentina” city highlights tour a few years ago, we decided to spend a day dowtown for shopping and culture. From Calle Florida to the Parisian-styled Palermo, browse the boutiques for quality leather, fur, jewellery, clothes and accessories. The shuttle bus from the Port took us directly to the Marriot hotel very near Calle Florida, a pedestrianised shopping street.
Wandering aimlessly into the attractive women’s fashion store, Andiamo, (Calle Florida 914), we received a warm welcome by helpful staff. I bought three T shirts, with Artistic designs by Picasso, Miro and Lichtenstein.
Then I spotted a colourful pink and turquoise maxi dress. Perfect cruise and pool deck wear.in this sultry heat.
As we walked on down the street, we were politely “accosted” by a few shady characters trying to attract our attention with the shout of ‘cambio, cambio!’ These ‘unofficial’ (i.e. illegal) money changers known as arbolitos, who may offer exchange rates better than the banks, but not recommended. We didn’t require Argentinan Pesos at all, with US dollars widely accepted.
Having studied our Lonely Planet South America guidebook for suggestions on what to see and do, we were inspired by the listing for Museo Fortabrat housing the art collection of multimillionaire, Amalia Lacroze de Fortabrat, who was Argentina’s wealthiest lady until her death in 2012.
It was an easy stroll down to Puerto Madero, the gentrified dockland area where old warehouses have made way for luxury apartments, waterfront restaurants and cultural lifestyle. Paying homage in street names to outstanding women in Argentina’s history, the district is a revitalised exclusive residential, gastronomic and business centre of the city.
The eclectic art collection has been reportedly valued at US$280 million. Amalia Fortabat was an astute buyer and seller of fine art – in 1980 she paid $6.4 million for Turner’s painting Juliet and Her Nurse, and sold Degas pastel, Mary Cassat at the Louvre for $16.5 at Sotheby’s New York (2002). The modernist Museo creates a fabulous airy, light-filled space across many levels divided into different periods and genres, from ancient Egyptian ceramics to Argentinian contemporary art by Raquel Forner, Xul Solar, Antonio Berni, experimental artists and La Boca School. Elsewhere, the European masters including Chagall, Dalí, Klimt and Rodin.
And pride of place is a glamorous portrait of Amalia by Andy Warhol, in his distinctive colourful “Marilyn” style of screenprint.
The architect of the Gallery, Uruguayan Rafael Viñoly followed Fortabrat’s precise design brief based on the fact that she “always wanted to look at pictures and the stars at the same time”. The roof retracts, moving with the sun’s rotation so visitors may stand in the sunshine without harming the works on show in this extraordinary personal Art collection.
A truly inspiring few days exploring the coastline of Uruguay and then the cultural hot spot, Buenos Aires … next stop Rio de Janeiro, Carnival City.
It is in the early hours of the morning of 3rd February when the Silver Shadow cruises gently through the Beagle Channel. Sailing past the stunning Glacier Avenue of six extraordinary ice-smothered mountains. It is certainly unfortunate that all guests were sleeping peacefully in their suites,in pitch black darkness, as this majestic sight would have been a geological highlight of the voyage.
In 1832, as a young crew member, Charles Darwin sailed these waters on board the HMS Beagle, under Captain Fitzroy which gave the fjord its name. This was the first ship to sail the channel from east to west, around the southern coast of Tierra del Fuego north to reach the Strait of Magellan. Tierra del Fuego, “the land of fire” was named by the explorer Ferdinand Magellan in 1520 who witnessed numerous fires lit by the Selknam, the natives of this archipelago of islands,originally known as Karunka.
We arrive in Ushuaia, the most southerly town located Fin Del Mundo, the end of the world. This is a busy fishing port and gateway for expedition ships sailing south to explore the White Continent, Antarctica. It’s a quaint, historic frontier town, with a backdrop of high Andean peaks, formerly a Penal colony (visit the fascinating prison, preserved as a museum and art gallery and see the train at the end of the world, built by the convicts through the surrounding forested national park.)
Circumnavigating South America, it is not necessary to sail around the treacherous seas of the black rock, Cape Horn. We continue along the Beagle Channel to the south of Tierra del Fuego to reach the South Atlantic. Expecting wild waves and cool weather, we are pleasantly surprised to find extremely calm waters and two warm sunny days en route to the Falkland islands, the other British Isles at the other side of the world. While this is the end of their summer, it is sometimes too rough in the bay off Port Stanley to be able to anchor safely. We are indeed fortunate. While we are initially informed that the temperature may be in the region of 10 to 14 C, we come ashore on the tender boat at 10am (dressed in wind-proof trousers, hiking boots and hats) to be greeted by tropical-style sunshine. Thankfully we are wearing layers and soon strip down to T shirts and pack away our jackets.
Ken and I are particularly pleased to be able to step ashore in Port Stanley. In 2010, we were on the Grand Inaugural Voyage of the Silver Spirit, which circumnavigated South America from Fort Lauderdale from Florida to Los Angeles. On this cruise we also managed to visit the Falkland Islands and booked a shore excursion to Bluff Cove Lagoon, with its magnificent penguin colony. As well as the wonderful wildlife, what was most surprising and exhilarating about the trip was to visit the Sea Cabbage Cafe and the newly built Bluff Cove Museum.
We met ex-pat Brits, Hattie and Kevin Kilmartin, the owners of the 35,000 acre Bluff Cove farm (Perendale sheep and Belted Galloway cattle), who had the inspired idea to create the 3 hour Island adventure especially ideal for cruise passengers. It’s the most perfect excursion, combining wildlife – a rookery of Gentoo and King, (as well as seasonal Magellanic and Rockhopper) penguins, seal-lions, ducks, geese, and numerous sea-birds, local food, history, arts and culture.
As a travel writer.I entered this tiny, blue clapper board beach hut museum for a Tourism Award through the British Guild of Travel Writers which recognises important and inspiring new experiences for world travellers (arts, heritage, culture, transport, architecture, sports etc.). A long story cut short, out of dozens of entries, the Bluff Cove Museum was voted in 2nd place in the Global category as best new tourism venture, by the BGTW members (Awards dinner, November 2010).
And so here we were back again on the 15 mile drive to Bluff Cove. Now a very popular and successful shore excursion, there were two excursions for Silversea at 10 am and 11.30. The journey begins by mini bus for a short drive from the pier, past the army of workers clearing the land mine sites, to the start of the Farm Estate track, and then we climb aboard a 4×4 landrover (4 guests per vehicle), with a convoy of vehicles setting off for a fun, rock ‘ n rolling trip across the wild moorland to reach the Bluff Cove beach. As it’s a dry sunny day,, it’s a fairly smooth, muddy bog-free ride over the grassy terrain.
Our arrival coincides with the time when the cute Gentoo chicks are beginning to moult their fluffy down. It’s a beautiful sight to see the huge huddled groups of penguins, particularly the majestic, proud yellow necked Kings.
They appear quite oblivious to the few dozen visitors invading their habitat (markers show where we may stand outside the Rookery) as we snap away taking their portraits. It is seriously warm for early February (late summer) and while we have been taking off our cosy fleeces, several over-heated penguins, more used to a chilling wind, are taking a cooling dip in the sea and sunbathing on the sand.
Then it’s a short stroll over the grassy bank above the sea shore to the Sea Cabbage Cafe where a welcome cup of tea and an excellent selection of home-baking is being served. As well as sampling delicious carrot cake, the local speciality is freshly baked scones with diddle-dee (local berry) jam.
Down on the beach we see Hattie watching over Toby, the Kilmartin’s 7 year old son paddling and playing in the surf. What a fun reunion we have, here again after five years since we first came to Bluff Cove.
The Museum, with its iconic “Penguin paperback” logo on the side, has been developed with style and innovation: farm wool crafts, silky soft mauve and green tweed throws, Bluff Cove branded mugs and magnets, postcards and artwork. We also see the framed BGTW certificate, with other travel and tourism awards.
Around the walls, fascinating displays of photographs and documentation on Falkland Island culture and heritage, from archive maps, early exploration (Darwin arrived here on he Beagle), military artifacts and memorabilia from the 1982 Conflict to the 2013 Referendum when the around 98.5 % of islanders voted to stay as an official British outpost, to remain as part of the United Kingdom. This tiny beach-front cabin is not just about Falklands history, but presents a living, topical and contemporary overview of the life and culture of the islanders today.
Our driver of the 4×4 jeep for our journey back to Stanley in the afternoon is Amy, a 20-something girl who was brought up here with on her parents farm on the north side of the island. She and her siblings were taught how to drive at a young age as they had to be set off to get help in an emergency.
700.000 penguins, 600,000 sheep, 3,000 people. The other British Isles at the other side of the world in the South Atlantic. This is a landscape which at first glance may seem so bleak, barren but linger awhile, observe and breathe in that salty sea air down on Bluff Cove beach; Admire the beauty of this rare, raw, remote, untouched natural world.
The long, slender ribbon of a country, Chile stretches for 4,300 km from the bone dry desert of the north to the icy glacier fjords of South Patagonia. This a land of volcanoes, lakes, beaches, world renowned vineyards, lush forests and beyond, the snow sprinkled mountains of the Andes We dock in the enchanting “resort” town of Valparaiso, which serves as the main port for the Capital, Santiago. This is the start of the second segment of the Grand Voyage where a couple of hundred guests disembark and new passengers will join the ship for our journey to Buenos Aires.
With our trust Lonely Planet guide to South America in our backpack, we set off to explore Valparaiso for the day. This is a grand, gracious Unesco city of history, architecture and culture. From the Plaza Sotomayer, we experienced the slightly unnerving Ascensor El Peral, one of the original wooden funicular trains which transports people up to the top of the steep hills around town. These were built between 1883 and 1916. The cost per person per journey is 100 Chilean pesos. (about 15p).
At the top is a charming Bohemian residential village of cobbled streets, bars and bistros, like Montmartre, Paris with artists and selling prints, jewellery and decorative craftwork. Here is the Museo del Bellas Artes, within the elegant art deco Palaccio Baburizza. We wandered around the private art collection by 20 – 21st century Chilean and European artists – inspiring landscapes and enchanting portraits, exhibited with care on three floors around the cool, spacious of around this beautiful mansion.
We set sail south towards the Lake District of Chile, to Puerto Montt and Chacabuco, surrounded by mountains, rivers, cattle and sheep farms, home to the traditional Gauchos “cowboys”.
For the next three days we cruise at a steady pace through the Patagonian Fjords, a seemingly endless labyrinth of narrow lagoons dominated by the towering snowcapped peaks of the Andes.
Anchored in Laguna San Rafael, a exciting excursion by catamaran is offered to guests sail through a field of ice flows to visit the Mount San Valentin glacier This giant wall of ice cracks and groans as splinters calve off, crashing into the sea.
We were expecting chilly Antarctic-style temperatures here but the sun is burning bright. The thermometer reaches 75F and guests have discarded their sweaters and the (thoughtfully allocated) soft wool blankets for swimsuits around the pool deck. Almost tropical weather, tranquil water and truly magnificent vistas all around.
For two more days, we travel through this dramatic, surreal, isolated wilderness, only accessible by small ship, is an exhilarating experience. Much of the scenery as we meander through the narrow, curving inlets of the fjords is reminiscent of the Highlands of Scotland – like sailing through Loch Lomond with its tiny forested islands.
We follow the itinerary on our World Map tracing our way slow through the Magellan Strait, named after the extraordinary navigator Ferdinand Magellan explored the remote lost New World of Tierra del Fuego and Patgonia in 1520. Three hundred years later, it was the turn of Captain Fitzroy accompanied by naturalist Charles Darwin who arrived here on the HMS Beagle on their epic scientific expedition of discovery around South America.
Unfortunately, it is in the wee small hours of the morning that we sail through the Beagle Channel, missing the breathtaking sight of the utterly spectacular of the Glacier Avenue, along the Cordillera Darwin mountain range. This is a series of dazzling white, turquoise-tinted glaciers and gushing cascades of melting rivers of ice. Thankfully Ken and I had experienced a similar voyage on the Silver Spirit in 2010, when we cruised northwards during the day. My goodness, it was freezing cold with a 70 knot Antarctic gale!
Next stop, Ushuaia, the most southerly town on the planet before we set off to the other British Isles, the Falklands.
The ancient civilisation of Peru is an extraordinary blend of bone-dry desert along the coastline, surrounded by wild Amazonian rainforests and beyond, the high peaks of the Andes. This is the land of the Incas.
One of the finest trips of a lifetime is the journey to witness Macchu Picchu, the lost 15th century mountain city of the Incas. Around 28 guests departed on a 3 night Silversea land programme in Callau, Peru to visit Cusco and then travel by the luxury Belmond Hiram Bingham train (named after the American historian who discovered the archaeological ruins), to see this one of the “new” wonders of the world.
Pisco may appear at first glance to be s small sleepy resort and fishing port, but all around is a panorama of natural beauty and rich heritage. Amongst several shore excursions were two special half day trips. First a flight over the desert to see the Nazca lines, a series of mysterious, historic drawings of birds, animals and geometric shapes carved into the sand. These date from the Paracas culture of the region, (900 BC – AD200) and only visible from the air.
Ken and I selected to take a fast speed boat trip to the Ballestas islands, nick named the “poor man’s Galapagos”. Fifteen guests were allocated in each sleek motor launch with an expert driver and a local guide, who gave an excellent commentary all the way. About half an hour from the pier we approached a rocky shore, and beyond carved in the sandy hillside was the design of a giant three prong candelabra. Historians and archaeologists have long debated the origin and meaning of this magnificent art work, presumably Paracan period – which can only be seen from the sea.
Throttle at full speed, we zoom out to the distant mini archipelago of islands, about an hour off shore from Pisco. As part of the Paracas National Park, this is a rich and eclectic nature reserve. Slowly meandering up to a curving bay at the first islet, we see a colony of sea-lions. It is mating season and a few dozen giant silky grey males are barking and roaring at each other like African lions.
A few are in angry combat, virtually boxing each other as they compete for the attention of the tranquil females sunbathing nonchalantly on the sand. We are told that they become pregnant twice a year. After giving birth to one pup, they are expecting again within 15 days. It is estimated that these islands are home to 5,000 sea-lions.
The Ballestas are also an ornithologist’s dream destination. 250 different species of birds will nest here over the course of the year: Guanay black cormorants, Peruvian Boobies, which hover over the water and suddenly dive like a jet fighter when they spot a shoal of anchovies below the surface. The habitat is also shared by Pelicans with their long pointed beaks, and flocks of tiny Incan terns, skimming over the sea.
As the song goes, “There’s an awful lot of coffee in Brazil”. Here, change the title to “There’s a heck of a lot of guana in Peru.” The natural deposits of the pelicans, cormorants and boobies provides excellent fertiliser and 7 000 tons of guana is painstakingly scraped off the rocks each year and transported ashore.
We experience a leisurely cruise around the beautiful tiny islands, with stunning their round rock shapes and arches as if sculpted by Rodin or Moore. Cameras were clicking every five seconds as we turned a corner and see a cliff face where a colony of Humboldt penguins live side by side with Pelicans and Boobies.
Sailing on around the islets, with hidden coves and caves, we observe ancient whiskery granddad sea-lions slumbering on a rock, and young year old pups trying to clamber up on their ungainly flippers for a siesta after a cooling swim.
Around the Paracas Reserve you may also be fortunate to see whales, dolphins, flamingos and turtles.
This was an exhilarating marine wildlife experience. We felt as if David Attenborough was suddenly going to appear from behind a group of penguins to describe the mating behaviour of the noisy – and presumably randy – sea-lions parading on the beach. A BBC documentary at its best in real life in front of our eyes. Magical.
Ecuador – a culturally diverse, lush land of (probably) the most happiest, smiling people in Latin America, if not the world. Perhaps it is to do with the tropical climate. Located at the centre-point of the globe on the equator, it is surrounded by Amazonian rainforest, and beyond, the now-sprinkled high peaks of the Andes and towering volcanoes.
Offering outdoor adventures galore, this is the gateway to the nature reserve of the spectacular Galapagos islands. A special 4 night Silversea land programme transported a small privately escorted group of guests from the port of Manta to fly out to stay in an eco-hotel in order to explore the archipelago and experience, up close the extraordinary indigenous bird and wildlife, as witnessed by Darwin by 180 years ago on his epic Voyage of the Beagle around South America. The giant tortoises here with saddle shaped shell backs give the islands their name. (galapagos is Spanish for a horse’s saddle).
This is also the habitat for green sea turtles, blue footed boobies, prehistoric iguanas and sea lions sunbathing on the rocks. Observing the varying types of finches, frigate birds and the ancient tortoises from island to island gave Darwin the scientific knowledge he required to understand the fundamental idea for evolution; the backbone for his fundamental study of life, The Origin of Species.
From Manta – a tuna fishing port – it is just a 30 minute bus ride to the charismatic country town of Montecristi. This is no ordinary local bus, but the colourful open sided Chiva bus with bench seats and a band of local Passillo folkloric musicians on the roof.!
It is an extraordinary piece of arts and craft heritage that the ( erroneously) named Panama Hat was first made here. The famous, elegant Colonial style cream Sombrero de paja Toquilla is woven carefully by hand from the local Toquilla straw. We watch a couple of women bending over a round block mould as they dexterously twist and weave the thin strands. Meanwhile in the next stage of the process. a young boy is hammering at the finished material to iron out any uneven bumps to create the smooth shape of the beautiful sun hat.
Worn around the world from Santiago, Chile to the South of France, the question is why is an artisan sombrero from Ecuador named after Panama? President Roosevelt visited the Canal during its epic construction in 1906, and while inspecting the progress, he sat on a steam shovel, posing for photographs dressed in such a smart cream hat with the black ribbon.
The quality and price varies according to the length of time it has taken to make by hand and the meticulous care in the final beating and smoothing to an almost satin finish. A market of stalls sell the “panama hats” and more formal boutiques around the central square in Montecristi, priced from $25 – $250.
Ken and I clamber back on board our musical Chiva bus with ten happy Silversea guests for the dusty journey back to Manta.In our bags are two quintessential Sombreros which we wear on deck for our sail away party, cocktails in hand for sunset.
One of the most magnificent, majestic engineering monuments, the Panama Canal changed world geography.
In 1914 it enabled ocean liners and cargo ships to sail through the narrow isthmus of Central America between the Atlantic and Pacific in just 8 hours. In 1880 the first overly ambitious, poorly managed French project to build “the great trench” was a tragic and financial disaster, costing the lives of twenty thousand workers through heat exhaustion and tropical disease.
Twenty years later President Roosevelt began to dream the impossible dream to set up an new American canal construction. From 1903 it took ten years to complete at a cost of $380m. On August the 15th 1914 the SS Ancon transited the canal to mark the official inauguration.
12th January 2015 saw the Silver Shadow follow its wake on the 50 mile journey. At 6.15 am we entered the first of three sets of giant locks, elevating the ship 85 feet above see level. We anchored in the tranquil Gatun Lake for a couple of hours awaiting our turn to transit the final Gatun Lock.
Cruise ships are a tiny proportion of the Canal’s business but are given priority. Pilots accompany the Captain and his officers to guide the ship through the extremely narrow 110 ft wide waterway. A fee ranging from $50,000 to $250,000 is charged based on size and tonnage. Along the lock walls, two electric locomotives run at each side attached by heavy cabled to pull the ship through.
A local expert, the author on the history and building of the canal, Patricia Holmes came on board for the day to give a fascinating running commentary from the Bridge. Most guests were out on deck or in the Observation lounge watching all the action as the Shadow was gracefully raised and then lowered through the various ladders of locks.
The most scenic landscape is the 8 mile Culebra cut which crosses the continental divide. Looking out both port and starboard the view of the Panama landscape is just thick steamy rain forest and crocodile swamps, such a wild, impenetrable terrain; you can only just imagine the extraordinary, super human achievement for the army of 24,000 international labourers working with steam shovels in unbearable heat. With incessant noise, dust and muddy landslides, it was described as Hell’s Gorge. Unskilled workers from Barbados lined up to go to Panama to earn a dollar a day, living in ramshackle huts. Skilled engineers and professionals were paid between $87 – $250 a month with comfortable free housing and medical attention.
To witness the crossing through the Panama Canal and appreciate its construction was s truly awesome, exhilarating cruise experience. A journey only possible due to the passion, determination and commitment of the French and American pioneers, one hundred years ago.
For cruise passengers, Fort Lauderdale, Florida is the ideal stepping stone from the United States to set off to explore the Caribbean.
A necklace of small coral islands spanning 110 miles from the southern tip of Florida, the Keys are both exotic and all-American. Warmed by subtropical seas, cooled by trade winds, life along the palm fringed beaches embrace a sassy, sultry sense of place more akin to the West Indies.
Key West is the final stop at the end of the 123 mile Highway, crossing 42 bridges linking all the Keys. By ship, it’s a gentle overnight 12 hour journey.
Key West is my kinda town. Lazy, leisurely, laid back and charmingly artistic and cultural. This southernmost town of continental USA, just 90 miles from Cuba, it’s a casual “anything goes” beach resort with a fascinating maritime history and inspiring literary heritage. It’s a tropical paradise.
The Silver Shadow docked on 8 January at Mallory Square pier, right in the centre of the shopping markets, bars, bistros, boating marinas and visitor attractions.
Whether you are interested in the stories of pirates and shipwrecks, the regular vacational visits by several US Presidents, experience deep sea fishing or scuba diving, there’s fun and games, wildlife and water-sports, music and museums for all ages.
To set you up for a busy day of sightseeing and adventures, enjoy a slap up brunch at Two Friends (512 Front Street). Expect hearty platters of scrambled eggs with smoked salmon and hash browns, or an ingenious Crab Cake Eggs Benedict, washed down with a strong coffee or, more likely, a Bloody Mary. Cuisine in Key West centres on the freshest seafood – conch, lobster, crab, tuna. mahi, oysters, with a diverse choice of American, Cuban, Mexican and Italian food. Local specialities are, of course, rum and Key Lime Pie.
The best way to explore all the highlights is a hop on, hop off Trolley Bus tour. Tickets are valid for two days to allow a comprehensive tour through the streets of traditional clapboard houses visiting all the highlights around town.
On our tour, we had the chance to encounter with Louie. He is a stand-up comedian while sitting in the driver’s cab. Over the course of the 90 minute round trip, all the passengers were in hysterics with his running commentary which was informative witty and wise. “Eating and drinking is allowed on board, just no alcohol. Disguise it in a Coke bottle, I don’t mind” (This is a very cool, crazy. live and let live place). Turning a corner onto a quite residential street he says “watch this” before keeping pace with a strolling couple on the side walk and going off-script “Ladies and gentlemen I wouldn’t walk along here – this is the heart of the crime district!…” (Key West is extremely safe).
Louie says he is asked all the time – where is Hemingway’s house? He stops right nearby you can’t miss it. We hopped off here to tour the Hemingway Home and Museum where the eminent Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winning writer lived from 1931 for ten years.
It was a case of serendipity or a twist of fate which had led to his initial stay. Arriving on a P&O steamer from Cuba in 1928, he had been due to pick up a Ford motor car, but a delay in it’s delivery meant that he had to stay for a number of days. Finding the atmosphere to his liking and the fishing excellent he embraced the bohemian rum-drinking artistic culture. Key West became his inspirational literary muse.
Walk around his home at 907 Whitehead Street, to see his artwork, family photographs, dining table, bedroom, bathrooms and library of books (from Steinbeck to Shakespeare) which remain intact. It’s as if he has just gone out for an afternoon fishing for marlin or a round of drinks at Sloppy Joe’s, his ghostly presence lingering on the long shaded veranda and in his spacious garden study. Here he typed from 6am to 12 noon daily, completing seventy per cent of his novels and memoirs including To Have and Have Not, For Whom the Bell Tolls and Death in the Afternoon. A selection of first edition novels in various languages are displayed in the house.
Wander around the garden and you will encounter six-toed cats, direct descendants of his own feline furry friends.
“It was dark inside Sloppy Joe’s and the bar looked like something salvaged from a boat wreck. Fans did little to move the air. As the Gellhorns sat themselves at a table, Martha had a memory from some magazine article that this might be the author’s haunt, that Mr. Hemingway might even be here, killing the hottest part of the afternoon alone”
“Ninety miles away is Cuba, where they sometimes go for drinking and dancing, where Ernest sometimes goes for peace and quiet, as if he can’t get enough of that on this four-mile island where nothing much happens.”
– from Mrs Hemingway by Naomi Wood.
Sloppy Joe’s (201 Duval Street) was owned by Hemingway’s friend and fishing buddy Joe Russell, who became the character of Freddy in To Have and Have Not. The original manuscript of this novel was found at the bar along side many of the authors personal artefacts after he died.
The quiet pace of life and secluded sanctuary of Key West, was also beloved by the playwright Tennessee Williams, who lived here from the late 1940’s to his death in 1983. Since then over the decades contemporary writers such as Elizabeth Bishop and Judy Blume have equally been drawn to this cultural island. A literary festival takes place in January of each year featuring seminars and discussions, musical and poetry performances, book signings and receptions. January 2015 saw the 33rd such event attended by Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Marilynne Robinson.
Robert Louis Stevenson, author of Treasure Island would surely have felt at home here, an historical place of pirates and shipwrecks where the very houses were often made from the timbers of wrecked schooners. The island became extremely wealthy in the mid 19th century,when numerous ships floundered on the reefs. Local teams of Wreckers would rescue the crew as well as salvaging the cargo and valuables on board.
Various museums tell the story of the wreckers and sunken treasure. Mel Fisher spent fifteen years trying to locate the wreck of a 1622 Spanish galleon. Groups of experienced scuba divers can join organised archaeological expeditions each year to explore the seabed to find more gold coins and jewellery.
Every evening at sunset there is a party atmosphere around Mallory Pier with live music, street theatre performances and cocktails or step on board a boat for a cruise around the bay at Happy Hour.
Just like President Harry S Truman and Papa Hemingway, visitors may well feel enriched by the artistic ambience and vivacious vibe; experiencing the sand between the toes,you may not wish to leave this magical island of dreams.
But sadly for us, we could not linger longer; the Silver Shadow set off at 5pm to set sail again, en route to the Panama Canal.
The Grand Voyage continues… .