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LUXURY CRUISE: Royal Clipper

It was only just after midday, but with her bouffant hair set off by a headband encrusted with blue gems she was already dressed to kill - and that was just the dog.

As we watched the cosseted white poodle being paraded along the beachfront at St Tropez by her equally well-groomed owner, the pair of them epitomised the glitz and glamour of the French Riviera's most enduring resort. It was here that topless sunbathing started in the 1960s and Brigitte Bardot starred in the iconic film And God Created Woman, shot on the tiny beach next to the harbour.

Since then 'St Trop' has lost none of its allure, and whilst I could only afford to gaze through the windows of the designer shops where garments were devoid of price tags - a sure sign of a credit card danger zone - at least I was smug in the knowledge that I had arrived in suitably befitting style.

royal clipper
royal clipper
st tropez    atout france r cast
lounging in the cargo net
monaco harbour   monaco press centre photos
monte carlo casino   monaco press centre photos
climbing the royal clipper mast

Our floating home for the week was Royal Clipper, the 400ft flagship of the three-strong Star Clippers' fleet that holds the Guinness World as being the world's biggest five-masted ship. The perfect antidote for anyone who claims cruising is not for them, or is jaded by all-singing all-dancing nautical juggernauts, it's a high-tech recreation of the magnificent sailing ships that dominated the seas in the 19th century. Incomparable to any other cruise ship, our voyage through Spanish waters to the coast of France was a unique experience. Even the passengers didn't fall into the conventional cruise demographic, where certain ships attract a very specific following. We joined an eclectic mix of young through to retired couples, groups of friends, a few families with children and a sprinkling of singles. What we all had in common was a sense of adventure and a yearning for something different.

We'd set sail - literally in this case - from Barcelona, the vibrant capital of Spain's Catalan region. The port is an easy walk to La Rambla, the central avenue where omnipresent living statues, musicians and mime artists perform alongside stalls piled high with souvenirs. Then we had time to marvel at the extraordinary unfinished Sagrada Familia church that is the city's symbol and among the many architectural legacies left by Antoni Gaudi.
As dusk fell it was an unforgettable goose bump and wow factor moment as we gathered on deck to the sight of Royal Clipper's 42 sails unfurled by the team of sailors and glided into open waters to the stirring sound of 1492 Conquest of Paradise by Vangelis.

Next day we arrived in Palma, Mallorca, dominated by its 14th century Gothic cathedral. The hop-on hop-off tourist bus is a good way to get an overview, but the best way to enjoy the city is on foot. Tucked behind familiar fast food restaurants and well-known high street shops is the old quarter. Get lost in the labyrinth of streets interspersed with washing hanging from windows and elegant courtyards providing a hint of the riches that used to lie within. Not given to ostentatious displays of wealth, classy Mallorcans kept their family silver behind closed doors.
On the smaller sister island of Menorca the energetic could opt for a hiking or mountain bike ride around the stunning Abulfera natural reserve, the most important wetland in the Balearic Islands, or reward themselves with a spot of retail therapy after the steep climb to Mahon's portside old town.

Life back on board was leisurely and casual, with no need for ball gowns and tiaras. The convivial social scene revolved around the deck top Tropical Bar, with lighthearted activities and events such as a pirate night organized by the young and enthusiastic entertainment team. By day Captain Sergey chatted about sailing related tops and passengers could help raise the sails or climb the mast to the first crow's nest. I had a wobble halfway up, but encouraging shouts from the deck persuaded me to carry on and the view more than compensated for initial nerves. At the opposite end of the spectrum, below water level, is Captain Nemo's Spa, where Thai therapist Kat expertly kneaded my knotted muscles as I intermittently gazed out of the portholes at the passing ocean. Meals were invariably good and I slept like a baby in my cosy wood-panelled cabin.
The ship sailed wherever possible, calling on engine power when needed to get us to our various destinations. Aside from lounging in the nets suspended over the sea at the prow, the highlight of the day at sea was going out in tenders to take photographs of the ship, with the unexpected and wonderful bonus of seeing a whale alongside.

On a par with St Tropez, The Luxury Travel Bible certainly approved of the stop in Monaco, the tiny principality that's home to the most millionaires per capita than anywhere else in the world. Built on old school glamour, its celebrity factor goes back to the 1956 marriage of Prince Rainier III and American actress Grace Kelly. Monaco's heart is Monte Carlo, the district leading from the port. Although a bowl of ice cream will set you back 12 Euros and a lemon sorbet laced with vodka a cool 16 Euros, it's worth paying over the odds for a coffee or snack to people watch from the Café de Paris, opposite the grand casino built in 1853. In the space of an hour you'll see impossibly chic women and suave men strolling past and an endless line of chauffeur driven limos dropping off meticulously groomed passengers at the temple of lady luck.
However, back at the harbour we were the real winners. Despite the wall-to-wall gin palaces and sleek speedboats it was Royal Clipper that was the head-turning sight and the photo opportunity of choice for passers-by. We waved from the deck as she headed off on the final leg of our journey to Marseille, completing a priceless experience.


LUXURY FACTS - Royal Clipper
Passengers: 227
Pluses: The romantic thrill of traditional clipper ship sailing coupled with modern comforts.

Luxury berth: The two identical 320 sq. ft. owner's suites with a double bedroom, marble bath and whirlpool, separate sitting area, free mini-bar and room service.

Luxury Cruise link:www.starclippers.co.uk

Jeannine Williamson 30/7/13
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