The lights of Monte Carlo sparkled in the balmy August evening, reflecting in the inky waters of the principality’s glamorous, boat-filled harbour. Here, on the deck of the luxury clipper ship that was to be our home for the next seven days, we gathered, glass of Champagne in hand.
One by one the navy-and-white-clad crew hoisted the blinding white sails slid up the masts, as the dramatic refrain from “The Conquest of Paradise” filled the air and the captain looked on from the bridge: splendid, calm, commanding. Spellbound and eyes moist, we absorbed this glorious spectacle. It was to be repeated many times throughout the week – watched by passengers and onlookers who lined every nearby shore, wharf or boat – but never got old.
As the sails gradually billowed and filled in the gentle breeze, the clipper set sail and glided smoothly out of the harbour. Our once-in-a-lifetime trip aboard the Star Flyer had begun.
The four-mast, 16-sail clipper is beloved by passengers who want not only the traditions and romance of yesteryear, but also the comforts and luxury of a modern cruise ship. It was our first experience of such a vessel, and my husband and I were delighted to discover they’d struck just the right balance. The communal areas boasted, among other things, two swimming pools, a piano bar, shops and a library, while a queen-size bed and marble-lined bathroom awaited in our surprisingly spacious cabin.
Having been on a totally different type of cruise once before (on what we called a “floating apartment building”), it was the size of the Star Flyer that really appealed. While positively intimate compared to our previous ship, there was always a vacant spot for private relaxation, and with just 100 passengers on our particular voyage (the maximum is a trifling 170), it was possible to make friends with people from around the world, become acquainted with the crew, and converse with the officers and captain (who even welcomed visits to the bridge).
The international crew’s friendly, good-natured manners were always on display, but this was especially apparent at one of the Captain’s Dinners, during which they entertained us with music and sketches from their homelands. Meanwhile, the chef tempted us yet again with an impressive menu, this time featuring an abundance of lobster and other seafood delicacies.
Evening entertainment throughout the trip was varied, relaxed, and enjoyable, while daytime activities included morning gymnastics, yoga, pilates – or a blissful nothing at all. Kayaking, sailing and snorkelling were also on offer at the various beaches we visited, provided by the onboard “Sports Team” – two personable young Polish men who also supervised mast-climbing sessions. Yes, it was scary, but with glorious views from high up in the Crow’s Nest, totally worth it.
Departing from Monaco, the first stop on our week-long sailing adventure was Calvi, on the French-owned Mediterranean island of Corsica. With turquoise seas, a white sandy beach encircling the bay, towering mountains, castles, a medieval Citadel and cobbled streets, this was one of my favourite ports of the entire trip. Rather than head off on an organised bus tour, we chose to explore Calvi by ourselves for a day, enjoying its history and culture (and a spot of shopping), as well as swimming and kayaking in the beautiful waters.
En route to our next stop, the harbour town of Bonifacio on the southern tip of Corsica, we disembarked and took a tender to the remote Figaro Beach. Having it entirely to ourselves was a true treat: no crowds, no souvenir hawkers – just space and peace on a beautiful, intimate beach.
Bonifacio itself is rich in history, with a vibrant old town, ancient fortifications along white limestone cliff tops, and stunning views across crystal-clear blue waters. The Sports Team took us in one of the ship’s inflatable Zodiacs for a fun-filled ride to view the town from the water – the best vantage point – and to explore the caves and fiord-like corners of the spectacular narrow harbour. We couldn’t believe that the Star Flyer could fit in such a harbour – let alone turn around in it.
But it did.
It’s this sort of access and proximity that showcases one of the main benefits of cruising on a small clipper ship.
We then cruised the Strait of Bonifacio to Costa Smeralda on the Italian island of Sardinia, taking in the white sand beaches, golf clubs and exclusive hotels in an area said to boast some of the most expensive real estate in Europe. This time we did head off on a tour offered by the clipper, taking a fascinating – and very hot! – tour of some ancient archaeological sites, followed by a tasting session in a vineyard, where local wines were paired with traditional foods.
Setting sail again that evening, our next port of call was another Italian island, Elba. Home to Napoleon during his exile in 1814, the quaint, attractive town of Portoferraio is a history buff’s dream – and my husband was in his element, leading us to Napoleon’s main residence while imprisoned on the island, the Villa die Mulini. Later, after wandering around Portoferraio and taking in the incredible views from the town’s impressive fortress, Forte Falcone, we ended the day with cocktails. Sipped in a bar that overlooked the crystal clear waters, golden sands and granite cliffs of this lovely place, it seemed only fitting that the Star Flyer, anchored at the wharf, was also part of the resplendent vista.
Our next stops, Lerici and Rapallo, allowed me to finally fulfill a long-held desire to visit the beautiful Cinque Terre region of Italy. The benefits of accessing this busy tourist area by cruise ship rather than land were evident, even if it was still difficult to find a spot for lunch!
Later that day, the final afternoon of our cruise, we were invited to take photographs of the Star Flyer from a tender. With all sails set, their vivid white contrasting against the deep blue of the ocean, and the crew lined up on the boom, the Star Flyer under full sail was a real sight to behold, and no one missed this spectacular photo opportunity.
On our final morning, we sailed into the French town of Nice, just a stone’s throw from Monte Carlo where we’d set off from one week earlier. As a tender whisked us to shore, another glorious sunrise seemed to bid us farewell.
Our time on the Star Flyer is something I will always remember. The sails at full mast, ruffling in the breeze and accompanied by stirring music; the glorious locations and sunshine; our fellow travellers… it was a journey steeped in history and magical sights and experience. Unforgettable.