YV&C News Desk
A champagne and caviar-filled cruise through Northern Europe
Apr. 26, 2007 06:15 PM
Connoisseurs of luxury travel are well acquainted with Silversea Cruises: four Italian-built ships known for their all-suites accommodations, all-inclusive price, personalized service, and some of the finest dining at sea. The 388-passenger Silver Whisper had only around 260 guests at my sailing, which with a crew of 295, superseded their usual phenomenal crew-to-passenger ratio.
The pampering began with a champagne welcome at the ship’s bar before I was escorted to my 521 sq. ft. Medallion Suite where more chilled champagne and caviar was waiting, and where I was greeted by my personal butler. My elegantly-appointed suite featured a teak veranda with panoramic views, a spacious walk-in closet, a bar stocked with my favorite drinks, and a marbled bathroom with a full-size bathtub and a separate shower which came stocked with Acqua di Parma toiletries – an exclusive Italian line once favored by the iconic Audrey Hepburn.
I chose this 9-day sailing from Copenhagen to Southampton as the itinerary offered some unique yet desirable ports of call in Northern Europe. Great sea-faring ports like Amsterdam, as well as charming towns of historical significance in Belgium and France.
As we sailed through the Kiel Canal in Germany on the second evening, guests took advantage of formal night to dazzle in their tuxedos, glamorous cocktail dresses and evening gowns. The ship’s main dining room was equally well-dressed in its usual finery with Frette linens, Christofle silver and Schott Zwiesel crystal – which served as a fitting canvas for the award-winning cuisine. Along with low-carb, low-calorie and vegetarian options, there is La Collection du Monde – 30 signature dishes created exclusively for Silversea by Relais & Chateaux. The perfectly paired wine selections are complimentary (with the exception of the high-end vintages served during the Gourmet dinner at Le Champagne restaurant), and this is one facet of the all-inclusive service much applauded by the guests. Everything but spa treatments and shore excursions are included in the price. The only dining mishap was the inability of the kitchen to serve a simple ice-tea throughout my trip, despite specific instructions and numerous attempts.
We arrived in Amsterdam the following day, a city spread over 70 islands and sixty miles of canals. For those who have explored her charms on previous visits, some opted to venture out to the Dutch countryside to view the traditional wooden houses and windmills in Zaanse Schans along the Zaan River, and then a short drive to the picturesque seaport of Edam, famed for its cheese since the 16th century.
Amsterdam’s rich artistic heritage proved a stronger draw for me and I set out for the celebrated Van Gogh and Rijks museum. 2006 is “Spotlight on Rembrandt” year, which commemorates 400 years since the birth of the greatest Dutch painter – an occasion celebrated with expositions throughout the country, in addition to Rembrandt’s masterpieces on permanent display at the Rijks in Amsterdam.
Belgium was next on the itinerary – home of world-class chocolates, waffles, beer, moules et frites, the noted cartoonist Herge of Tintin fame, and the fictitious detective Hercule Poirot. We won’t mention Jean-Claude Van Damme, the self-proclaimed, “Muscles from Brussels”.
Just a few miles from Belgium’s leading fishing port of Zeebrugge is the ancient town of Bruges, often referred to as the “Venice of the North”. Whether explored by foot or by a much recommended canal boat ride, Bruges’ cobble-stoned streets, Gothic architecture, and horse-drawn carriages resembles a medieval film set, and evokes a bygone era. Going past the Groeninge Museum with works by Flemish expressionists, I wandered along the confectionary-scented streets deciding whether to indulge in the fresh-from-the-griddle waffles topped with powdered sugar, or the delectable chocolates from the numerous chocolatiers, including one that specialized in life-sized chocolate bosoms – in milk, dark or white chocolate. Whichever way you turn in your sugar-laced euphoria, don’t miss the Burg, the historic town square and the stunning focal point of ancient Bruges. Filled with families and young couples out enjoying the summer sun, the square has a 14th century Town Hall – the oldest in Europe, and the Basilica of the Holy Blood which houses a vial thought to contain Christ’s blood in it’s chapel – a relic brought back from the Second Crusade in 1150.
We sailed next into Honfleur, the best preserved of the old ports in Normandy in northwestern France. It was from this seaside town that French explorer Champlain set forth for Canada in 1608 and founded Quebec. In 1682, his countryman La Salle sailed from Honfleur to the New World, traveled down the entire length of the Mississippi River and named its basin Louisiana. Today, Honfleur’s picturesque harbor lined with half-timbered houses and fishing boats still attract visitors and artists as it did in the 19th century, when Impressionists such as Renoir, Cezanne and Monet came to paint – inspired by the setting as well as the wonderful quality of the light. For art aficionados, a worthy visit is a museum named after Honfleur’s native son, Eugene Boudin - an early Impressionist painter and Monet’s teacher, as well as Ste-Catherine’s Church with a vaulted roof shaped like an overturned ship’s hull, emphasizing the town’s seafaring heritage. However, I can’t think of a more relaxing way to spend the afternoon than to sit at a seafront café watching the harbor life go by with a coffee and hand-made marzipan bonbons filled with local Calvados liqueur.
The following day we arrived in Saint Malo, a seaport situated on the English Channel in the Britanny region of northwestern France. The birthplace of Francois Chateaubriand and Jacques Cartier, this old walled city stands on a granite islet that is joined to the mainland by an ancient causeway. The highlight of a visit to Saint Malo is an excursion to the legendary Mont Saint Michel monument, often called the “Marvel of the Western World”. Built in honor of the Archangel Michael, it is the most visited attraction in France. Listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO since 1979, the mount is an example of military architecture whose fortifications and isolated position on a rocky islet resisted all English assaults throughout the centuries, and as a result, became a symbol of French national identity. It’s no wonder that Mont Saint Michel is included in the travel scribe, “1000 Places to See Before You Die”.
As I tucked into an expertly prepared chateaubriand near the end of the cruise, in honor of its namesake whose city I’ve just visited, I marveled at the historic and fascinating places I’ve seen and experienced on this journey through Northern Europe. It made me realize that if you want to cruise the high seas, there are few better ways to do it than on a ship with a silver lining.