Standing on the deck at night watching the lights of the onshore destination slowly drift away as we sailed off to our next port, closing my eyes as the warm summer Mediterranean breeze drifted over my face and smiling at the sounds of the merriment from fellow passengers at the ship’s Tropical Bar; a snapshot of one of the many moments that I’ll cherish from a late summer cruise on board the majestic Star Clipper.
One of three tall ships in the Star Clippers fleet, my home for a week was a 115-metre-long clipper ship housing up to 166 passengers with a 2:1 passenger to staff ratio. Offering intimate ports of call alongside well-known destinations along the French Riviera, Corsica and Italy, this seven-night sailing gave me many opportunities to relax, indulge, explore and have some fun. A pretty perfect way to spend a week if you ask me!
Here are the highlights of my Western Mediterranean cruise onboard the striking SPV Star Clipper.
Day 1 – Departing from Cannes and an introduction to Star Clipper
The cruise departs from the dazzling southern French city of Cannes and so this provides the perfect opportunity to arrive a little early and spend some quality time in this film-loving, beach and boat-filled glamorous city. There is much to see and do here, from tanning on the beaches to dining and drinking at promenade restaurants to exploring the hilltop cathedral and pretty, façade-filled passageways.
Hop on board the Star Clipper (after a Covid test, security screening and some handing in of paperwork) and you’re greeted with a warm welcome by crew, Captain Dominique Rollin and his officers along with some refreshments to set the tone for the trip. After a safety briefing and explore of the boat and cabin, my guest and I settled in for an evening in the bay of Cannes and our first night of seven on board the splendid clipper boat.
Enjoying cruises around the Mediterranean, Caribbean and Central America as well as an Atlantic crossing, Star Clipper is one of three boats in the fleet, alongside its twin ship, Star Flyer and the 134-metre Royal Clipper, the world’s largest square rigger in service.
Born from one man’s dream to recreate the legendary clippers that crossed the oceans in the 19th century, and in doing so offer people the chance to experience the unique thrill of sailing aboard a tall ship, the fleet transports passengers to a bygone era, while maintaining a luxurious and comfortable experience.
Each tall ship boasts expansive teak decks, swimming pools, on-board activities, fine dining, comfortable and classically styled public rooms with nautical touches – including a piano bar and library – and cabins that offer comfort and style while making the best of every inch of available space.
Our cabin was compact, as expected, but space was well utilised with underbed suitcase storage, three wardrobe/clothes storage compartments, hooks behind the door, shelving, a seat, a desk with stool and a shower room with sufficient storage. A large mirror made the space feel bigger and a window to the outside offered us some great glimpses of land, sea and sunrises as they came and went.
Traditional meets modern with dark wood panelled walls, navy blues and framed pictures of ships comprising the décor, which blended well with modern elements including air con – much-needed for the Mediterranean summer heat – as well as a TV and DVD player. We found welcome treats on arrival, the bed offered a comfortable night’s sleep every night (bring ear plugs for the air con and engine noise) and the servicing of the cabin twice a day was top-notch.
Our first dinner on board and we were seated randomly, even though I had spotted room numbers placed on each table. Once you’re seated, this is your table, and you have to hope that everyone on your table speaks your language, luckily, we were seated with a friendly group, who, though primarily spoke German, made the effort to chat to us.
Our waiter for the trip was Marlon, ever friendly and professional, who made the effort to quickly learn our names and enjoy the odd joke or two throughout our trip. Expect service with a smile from everyone you encounter here, they will all do their best to ensure you are well looked after and having fun, and it really makes a difference to the trip.
Once I had devoured a savoury chicken vol au vent, seabass with vegetables and almond cookies for dessert, we all headed upstairs to enjoy setting sail from our inaugural port with the sails going up, music playing and lights filling the top deck. It was really quite magical.
Day 2 – We’re off to Monaco
Thanks to our daily bulletin, which is left in the cabins during turndown service each night, we knew that our stay in Monaco was to last from 12pm to 9.30pm and so we headed for a leisurely breakfast, where I discovered the excellent omelette bar with a variety of filling options available to be added to freshly cooked omelettes each day. In addition to this, there’s a great supply of fresh food and pre-cooked foods on a central buffet including continental sausages, fruits, pastries and pancakes.
Docking just outside of Monaco’s harbour, we were ferried in via the tender (one of the lifeboats), which is fine if the water isn’t choppy, but if it is expect an ‘exciting’ ride. It’s worth noting here that on board the Star Clipper, the motion when sailing didn’t bother me at all and that was something I was worried about. I even bought sea sickness wrist bands and a good supply of Stugeron, but didn’t require either, which was a blessing.
Our day in the interesting principality of Monaco consisted of supercar spotting, much gazing at the panoramic scenery from many a viewpoint, a wander around Monte-Carlo with its luxury designer stores, casinos and sculpture garden, and a hike up to where the Musee Oceanographique de Monaco and the Prince’s Palace stands. It’s an interesting place as a whole, if not rather showy, and a tour of the principality is a great way to learn more about the area and F1 and supercar fans will be in heaven with the stack of top-of-the-range vehicles being driven around.
After a, somewhat teeth-clenching, trip back to the boat aboard the tender and over some choppy waters, we readied ourselves for dinner in the charming dining room. Any concerns I’d had about motion sickness had been settled by this point and so I enjoyed a glass of wine alongside a delicate cauliflower cashew quiche – a little filo parcel which I loved – as well as vegetable tempura with rice and soy sauce for my main course.
Expect breads every night and a good-sized wine list, which has a good mix of wines at different price points. Dessert was pistachio ice cream which I wasn’t keen on, but then menu changes every day and there are plenty of dishes to choose from. What I like about the menu is that you can make more of a meal of it with a salad option, soup, sorbet and cheese course, pick and choose how much you fancy each evening or brave it all in the style of a tasting menu!
The options for dinners change every day, expect three choices each for starter main and dessert, with one veg, fish and meat option, and there’s also a pasta and steak option that you can request at dinnertime. In addition to this there’s a daily cocktail, on this day it was a melon ball, which can be enjoyed at the piano bar before dinner or during the evening’s entertainment, or, if you really want to get the party started, enjoy the cocktail all day long!
Day 3 – Our first stop in Corsica, L’ile Rousse
After an extremely restful night’s sleep – I can’t decide if it’s the sea air, the gentle rocking as the ship sails between ports or the fact that we have single duvets to ourselves upon the double bed, so no duvet grabbing, that makes it so restful – we arrived at our first port of call on Corsica.
A world away from the previous day’s stop, L’ile Rousse was peaceful and relaxed and offered plenty of opportunities to enjoy the small town’s scenery. Set at the foot of the Balagne hills, there was a promenade, three inviting sandy beaches and a busy marketplace and square (Place Paoli) to meander around alongside the Pietra peninsula with its lighthouse, the Fanale di Petra, to explore. There were also plenty of cafés, bars and restaurants in which to enjoy some leisurely food and drinks, while the calm waters looked rather inviting for a dip.
After a relaxed morning exploring (there was also an excursion taking in the local area, which I heard great feedback for from fellow travellers) we headed back to the ship to enjoy our first lunch on board. A relaxed affair with waiter service, expect plenty of daily-changing options on a buffet with hot meats carved if you desire. There’s a good selection of meats fishes, salad, soup, vegetarian options, breads, cheeses and an array of desserts with a daily changing theme including Italian, Oriental, Neptune, and sailors.
If you want to spend a little time on board you can relax in the library, lay back on the deck chairs and bask in the sun, take a dip in the plunge pools, visit the Sloop Shop for branded goods, or enjoy drinks at the outdoor Tropical Bar or indoor Piano Bar. There’s also Wi-Fi, which can be purchased in blocks, which proved to be useful when it came time to catching up on an hour of work. Mornings start with yoga or gym classes and guests can enjoy a range of activities such as mast climbing (very invigorating I was told) snorkelling, art classes, massages and paddle boarding.
Dinner consisted of a starter of courgette wrapped feta, spiced pumpkin soup, vegetable burgers with pasta and chocolate ice cream for me. The food is sometimes average and sometimes far better than that, it’s a little bland at times to cater to a wide range of palates, but there’s good variety each day.
Following this, we headed to the Tropical Bar to take part in the music quiz, an entertaining event put on by cruise director Carlos and musician Kirby, made all the more exciting as our team won! A celebratory cocktail, a glass of the winning fizz and a little dance under the disco lights made this one of the best nights of the trip.
Day 4 – Ahoy Ajaccio
We woke up having arrived in Corsica’s capital of Ajaccio, which is the birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte. This small port city holds the island’s largest bay at 18 x 22km and boasts the eye-catching Iles Sanguinaires. Hop on a bus to the ‘bloody islands’ and enjoy some great views of the coast while passing some notable sights along the way including Napoleon statues and famed French singer Toni Russo’s house.
We took a local tour from the centre of the city as we did in most of the places we stopped at because we enjoy the freedom of exploring at our own pace, grabbing some lunch at a local café or restaurant and deciding when to head back to the boat. However, it’s worth noting that there are a whole host of excursions put on by Star Clippers to allow guests to partake in a range of activities and see other places, based on their interests.
On return to the ship, we could have taken part in dance lessons with Kirby and this evening we were invited to join dinner dressed as a pirate, which was followed by The Star Clipper Pirate Games later in the evening. There’s something every evening to take part in if you wish or just to enjoy a cocktail at the outdoor bar and watch the proceedings.
We headed up to the top deck and reclined on a lounger. Looking up at the stars as we sailed, it felt really special, and it was nice to take a moment to appreciate the experience. I felt like I was on my own cruise, it was a really peaceful and relaxing moment with the warm evening wind gently breezing through, and a lovely way to end the day.
Day 5 – Bonjour Bonifacio
With it being a smaller cruise and tucked in the Med, there was a stop each day, a new place to discover, whether that meant wandering the streets and shops, taking a local tour or trying out some of the local victuals.
I hadn’t been feeling well the past few days and so I chose this day to stay on the ship and partake in some relaxing activities. The Star Clipper had anchored just outside of the medieval town of Bonifacio, which meant a bumpy ride over the waves in the tender, I didn’t fancy that either and so spent the day reading a book I’d brought with me on a lounger out on the deck after catching up on some work. It was blissful!
The lunch buffet was the best I’d tasted so far, it was French themed and included roast lamb carved at the serving table, potato dauphinois, saffron rice, coq au vin, French onion soup, and gorgeous desserts, too, including a delightful chocolate roulade.
My cruising partner went into Bonifacio and reported back that it was probably his favourite stop so far – I wasn’t sure how to take that! Built on a cliff, the town is the oldest in Corsica, having been founded around 830. Full of ancient brown/sandy buildings, lovely yachts, and restaurants, there’s a lot to discover in this town on the bottom tip of Corsica, from the narrow streets to the medieval clifftop citadel, the Lavezzi islands to the ancient steps carved into the cliff face.
Dinner was just as delicious as lunch, I devoured ravioli with a creamy, cheesy sauce to start, mango sorbet, tandoori chicken with yogurt, rice and vegetables and caramel ice cream. Everyone wore white to dinner, as requested on our daily bulletin, before heading up to the sun deck for a ‘white party’ with lights and music. It was a little windy and rocky up there for us though, so we had an early night.
Day 6 – East Corsica beach and the town of Bastia
We were due to spend the morning anchored at a beach in East Corsica on this day, with beach activities on the agenda, but a storm had us mooring up straight to our afternoon destination of Bastia instead. The boat had a small amount of damage and the crew worked really hard that morning getting us docked up safely, us guests weren’t even aware that any of this was happening such is the professionalism and work of the crew. The only drawback in terms of guest comfort was not being allowed out on deck until everything was secured, which left a few passengers a little frustrated.
A leisurely Italian themed breakfast (with the same theme for lunch) was a great way to spend some time before we explored Bastia. The weather was brightening up and we explored the neighbourhoods of Terra Nova, a high walled citadel, and Terra Vecchia, which surrounds the small original harbour. The hilltop fortress was built from the 15th century onwards as the stronghold of Bastia’s Genoese overloads and holds some great sea views from its lofty position. We found Bastia a little tired compared to some of the other stops, but it was busy enough as the second most populated town in Corsica.
This evening on board was the captain’s dinner and guests could choose from a selection of starters, main courses of lobster Thermidor or Angus beef chateaubriand, with a delicious, celebratory baked Alaska for dessert. Captain Dominique Rollin gave a speech and after this, we headed up to the Tropical Bar to watch the passenger and crew talent show, though it was just the crew members taking part in this thoroughly entertaining show of their dancing, singing and magic skills.
Day 7 – Pretty Portoferraio, Elba
Our last full day on board saw us stopping at Portoferraio, on the Italian island of Elba. This Tuscan Island was so pretty and its largest town, Portoferraio, had a bit of everything – nice boutiques, luxury yachts docked up at the picturesque harbour, honey-hued buildings topped with terracotta rooves, welcoming cafés and restaurants, winding streets leading to up vantage points offering some stunning views, and plenty of history dotted throughout.
This is the island where Napoleon was famously exiled and there’s a museum which details his time spent here, which was sadly closed by the time we had wandered up after lunch.
I would say that this cruise is definitely one for naval history enthusiasts, especially those who are interested in the famed emperor and his life, as there were plenty of opportunities to learn more in museums, see Napoleon’s former residences and spot the odd statue along the way. And on that note, I wouldn’t say this is one for the kids, there are other cruises around more suited to youngsters.
We enjoyed a quick break from exploring in the summer heat to have lunch on board. This was an Oriental themed spread with sushi, delicious beef satay, egg fried rice, suckling pig, fish in a mushroom sauce, alongside the usual salads, cheeses and bread, and a great dessert spread.
Portoferraio was our favourite stop of the trip and we both commented on how we could happily stay for a few days. That’s the benefit of a cruise, you can enjoy a taster of a variety of places and choose to return for longer at a later date if you wish.
Being serenaded by the dulcet tunes of the piano and Kirby before dinner in the piano bar each evening was wonderful and after our final dinner on board, all of the crew members joined together in the dining room to sing ’We are the world’, which actually made a few passengers a little emotional. The staff really made the cruising experience what it was, going the extra mile, being friendly, helpful, chatty and good fun throughout the week.
The next day we disembarked at Civitavecchia after breakfast and had plenty of time to make our way off the boat. I had seen information on a transfer into Rome (where we were to enjoy a few more days) at the beginning of the trip but hadn’t been able to find this the day before, so we made our own transfer arrangements, which was simple enough.
In a nutshell
All in all, it had been a great week exploring new cities, towns and villages across the Med and getting a taste of the French Riviera, Corsica and the hidden gem of Portoferraio. I would recommend extending your stay, as we did, with a few more days in France before and Italy afterwards, and there is a good selection of cruises to choose from if you’d like to see more of another destination, such as Italy.
On board, it was elegant and comfortable, and the ideal trip for those seeking gentle exploration with a relaxing, friendly and intimate experience. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.