Star Clippers – Western Mediterranean Cruise

Cannes to Rome, calling at Corsica, Elba and Sardinia

Royal ClipperMy only problem with cruises is an increasingly bulging waistline, a result of too many big dinners and not enough exercise. This time, the itinerary involves Mediterranean island hopping, stopping at relatively rural locations. Looking at the map, I think it might be possible to indulge in some leisurely hiking each day I’m on shore.

I arrive in Cannes after an easy thirty minute transfer from Nice Airport. The Royal Clipper, the largest five masted fully-rigged sailing ship in the world, is anchored in the bay. Its sails are furled, and tenders are waiting to ferry me and around 200 other passengers to the ship. With everyone safely on board, we set off for Italy, using the engines, as there’s not enough wind for the sails.

Royal Clipper cabinMy spacious cabin is on the Commodore deck, almost at sea level, and it’s comfortably equipped with a large double bed, ample storage space and bathroom with shower, washbasin and toilet. Two portholes allow me to monitor the world outside. Dinner has waiter service and there are at least a couple of choices on a menu which includes appetiser, soup, sorbet, main course, salad, cheese and dessert. I’m not going to go hungry.

Morning sees the coast of the Italian Riviera looming and I go out on deck and join around ten passengers for a session of yoga, offered free to all. We pass Genoa, follow the Riviera di Levante and arrive at the attractive port of Santa Margherita Ligure. After a buffet lunch, I don my walking boots and take the tender into town. My plan is to hike up to hills above the town and follow the footpath to Portofino.

PortofinoI climb up to Nozarego and get amazing views over the Gulf of Tigullio, the Royal Clipper sitting proud in the bay. Soon, I’m in the Monte di Portofino National Park and a well signed path leads me through tiny villages before descending steeply to Portofino. The stunning horse shoe harbour, lined with pastel coloured houses, is dominated by Castello Brown on the hill above, and I enjoy a well-deserved beer by the quayside.

We sail overnight and next morning arrive in L’Isle Rousse on Corsica’s North West coast. I’m planning another hike – the craggy mountains of the island’s interior provide a backdrop to the town but I’m not going to go that far. My guide book shows a ten mile trail which ends at a railway station further down the coast. After checking the timetable, I set out.

Sant’Antonino, CorsicaThe way is marked by yellow flashes and I climb steadily reaching Occiglioni, at around 400m, only a cluster of houses, before reaching the 9th century hilltop village of Sant’Antonino. It fully deserves its title as ‘one of the most beautiful villages in France’, its rectangular stark stone buildings silhouetted against the sky. From here I can see the railway line wriggling its way along turquoise coast below.

Conscious of time, I pick up the pace, and manage to reach the station just before the scheduled departure of 4.45. I’m now beginning to worry as the last tender leaves port at 5.30 and there’s no sign of any train. The station is unmanned, with no information, so I set off to the main road to try my luck hitch hiking. Fortunately I get a ride and am soon on the tender back to the ship.

Royal Clipper tenderOvernight we sail round Cap Corse and anchor off a beautiful stretch of sand beach. I’ve worked out that, after a quick swim, it’s around a four hour walk to Bastia, a picturesque town with a recently restored citadel. This time the boat is moored at the port, so there’s no need for tenders, and I make it with plenty of time to spare. As we leave, all 42 sails are hoisted for the first time, to a Vangelis soundtrack.

Majestically, we make our way under sail towards the island of Elba and the capital

Portoferraio, is probably the most attractive town of the entire voyage. Narrow winding alleys climb up from the harbour to the double fortifications of Forte Falcone and Forte Stella, where there are glorious views from the 16th century ramparts. The Villa dei Mulini is where Napoleon lived during his exile and his death mask rests in the Chiesa della Misericordia.

Overview of Royal Clipper deckNo hiking today as I’ve signed up for a bike and kayak excursion. We cycle along the coast, dodging the traffic, for about an hour before reaching a beautiful bay. There we transfer to kayaks and, after paddling through sunken caves, pull up on a deserted beach for a swim. It’s an exhilarating morning, although I’m thinking I’m going to need the yoga to soothe my aching shoulders.

Overnight we sail back to Corsica and anchor off Portovecchio, the town standing proud above the port. It’s pleasant enough, but almost entirely dedicated to tourism with souvenir shops, cafes and restaurants. I enquire about hiking trails but the tourist office tells me that I need to take a boat. Time doesn’t allow so I return to the ship.

I have a similar problem next day at Porto Servo in Sardinia, the capital of Costa Smeralda. The coastline was developed by the Aga Khan in the 1960s as a playground for the rich and famous. LiguriaIn the harbour, I walk past designer stores, including outdoor showrooms for Rolls Royce and Bugatti, and there’s not a tourist office to be seen. I content myself by walking to the nearest beach and enjoying the crystal clear waters.

It’s the final night on board as we make good way under sail to Civitavecchia, the port of Rome. My experiment of trying to hike a few miles of hiking every day has worked well. Even better, the mornings of yoga have eased my muscles. I’m convinced that the exercise has kept my weight stable. Unfortunately the scales back home tell a different story.

More information

The Royal Clipper is not suitable for those who need assistance walking as it has no lifts and there are stairs to negotiate. In addition, transferring to shore by tender, means you need a certain amount of agility.

EasyJet flies from Gatwick to Cannes and Rome back to Gatwick.

The Gatwick Express is the fastest way to the airport, from central London.

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Rupert Parker

Writer, photographer, cameraman & TV producer

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