Walled cities and wet cuddles
As we were boarding Princess Eleganza in Kotor I can’t honestly say that I was blown away by its graceful lines. As with many things though, the beauty was within and over the next 11 days we couldn’t help but develop a fondness for the vessel that would carry us along the coastline of Montenegro and Croatia.
Our cabin on the Upper Deck was surprisingly spacious for a small ship carrying just 36 passengers and was pleasantly decorated in neutral colours and fabrics of quality. Well equipped with a safe, air con, hair dryer, TV and en suite facilities, it was a pleasant oasis to rest our heads at night (there’s so much beautiful scenery to admire on this cruise we spent little time in our cabin). Apart from a little stormy blip, we were blessed with glorious weather and the majority of our meals were taken alfresco on the promenade deck. There was quite an interesting dining schedule, which included eating on shore (cost not included) roughly every other night. This gave us the opportunity to dine on local dishes in vast squares and watch the world go by, or secluded corners and be crooned by the local saxophonist. We also really enjoyed seeing these places beautifully lit at night and mercifully free from the crowds brought by the now departed cruise ships.
It has to be said though that there was a little part of us that resented being parted from the food provided by the truly amazing on board chef, who seemed to able to do such mouthwatering things with simple ingredients, whilst retaining that home cooked feel (sadly she declined all offers to come home with us). She was supported by the waitress with the winning smile, who would top up my wine glass at lunch or dinner with the merest lifting of my eyebrows (wine/beer is included with on board lunch and dinner). To be fair all the staff were excellent and contributed significantly to a relaxed atmosphere and an enormously enjoyable cruise. The cruise director was also a standout individual whose knowledge of the itinerary, places to eat, attention to detail and concern for the welfare of his passages was impressive. Often I would notice him discreetly covering a sharp edge with one hand whilst helping you on or off a boat with the other, a really caring approach without making you feel like a geriatric.
Being on a small vessel had some distinct advantages. It’s easy to get to know your fellow passengers and the crew to get to know you. At some ports there was not enough dock space, so the biggest ships needed to moor offshore and tender people ashore. This took a significant amount of time, whereas we were often docked in a neat corner of the port and could come go as we pleased without delay. Perhaps the key advantage was that we parted company with the cruise ships along the way and visited the quieter less crowded destinations, plus we could find a quiet bay to go for a swim off the back of ‘the Princess’. The Adriatic is so beautiful to swim in, clear blue, incredibly clean and not a fish in sight. It has to be said that a couple of our dips were a little bracing, so after a particularly enjoyable swim I was shocked that all on board refused my offer of a cold wet cuddle (hard to believe eh!).
All excursions were included on this cruise, impressively well organised and utilised by knowledgeable local guides. This whole coastline is a kaleidoscope of change, influences of the Ottomans, Venetians, Austrians, Hungarians, the forming and break-up of Yugoslavia (and so much more) mean that history buffs will be in seventh heaven. Walking tours are supplemented by boat rides through amazing scenery, like Lake Skadar and Cernojevica river. We were enthralled by medieval architecture, walled cities, forts and narrow, sometimes quite claustrophobic, streets particularly in Dubrovnik and Split. The big sometimes crowded cities were completely contrasted by the wide open spaces of Krka National Park and the spellbinding waterfalls there (take good shoes though, to see it at its best there are about 200 steps to navigate). The excursion to Zrmanja Canyon also offers grand vistas with the entrance to the gorge being quite dramatic.
Whilst all this sightseeing might leave some breathless, fear not, there was plenty of time to relax on the Sun Deck, grab a cold one and watch this awesome coastline go by. Of the many outstanding views to be on deck for, the sail into (or out of depending on which way you do the cruise) the Gulf of Kotor and the fjord like approach to the medieval and UNESCO listed Kotor, is one you absolutely must not miss. On top of that there were local wines to taste, monasteries to visit, cable cars to ride, Game of Thrones locations to take selfies in, sunsets to be holding hands in, sunshine to tan in and lavender ice cream to taste.
Sounds exhausting doesn’t it, but it was all done at a relaxed pace with plenty of free time to catch your breath. We’re so glad we chose this cruise to explore the Adriatic coast.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Noble Caledonia
Video by Cathy Bartrop