Our visit after dinner took us around the port of Portoferraio – small and sheltered, it was described by Nelson as the safest in the world. In the middle of October, around 10pm, it was still warm, and there was a lot of activity on the quayside. We soon reached the place where our day started on Elba, Italy’s third largest island.
A few of us on this Mediterranean cruise got up early to buy groceries for our dinner and within minutes of leaving the aisle, Chef Li was haggling with fishermen selling from their boats.
Then we headed to a bakery for schiaccia briaca, a drunken fruit and nut cake that gets its rosy color from copious amounts of sweet red Elban wine, before heading to a deli for cheese, pasta and charcuterie.
Serving fresh fish and local delicacies en route is impossible for large ships to cater for thousands, but we were just 100 passengers on board the Emerald Azzurra, the first ocean liner operated by Emerald, a family-owned Australian shipping company which until now specializes in river cruises.
And what a ship! Inside the pyramid of striking black-and-white decks are 50 large cabins – all but six with balconies – and on this week-long cruise from Civitavecchia, near Rome, to Nice, it was hard to believe it was full. There were always tables if you wanted to eat on the terrace, plenty of seating and room for performances in the main lounge and plenty of sun loungers on the pool deck.
Caroline Hendrie boards the Emerald Azzurra, Emerald’s first ocean liner sailing the French and Italian Rivieras
Access to all areas: Caroline anchors in Portofino harbour, which would be too small for most vessels, but not for Emerald Azzurra
The Azzurra’s clever design – airy and spacious, but comfortable enough to get into small harbors that most vessels can’t reach – meant that the yacht was always the center of attention. On Elba, for example, it was easy to walk back to the ship for a swim and disembark to walk to Napoleon’s elegant villa.
Anchoring in Portofino Bay, we were whisked ashore in no time, with the pink and yellow-washed town all to ourselves. When we got back to the quay, we saw about 1,000 passengers arriving by ferry from the big ships docked in Genoa. It was time to return to Azzurra and indulge in complacency about the exclusivity of our yacht.
Walking tours are included in our cruise and well worth participating in.
Highlights: Caroline says she feels a sense of “satisfaction” about the yacht’s exclusivity (pictured above off the coast of Corsica)
The yacht has 50 large cabins – all but six with balconies
A passenger tells Caroline the yacht is like “a luxury taxi that takes you from place to place”.
Arriving at Porto Ercole in Tuscany, the eight of us walked to the 15th century Forte Filippo. From our mooring in Corsica, a small train took us to the old town for a walking tour, ending with strong local wine at a cliff bar. And in Menton on the Côte d’Azur, our tour took us to a beautiful market hall surrounded by palm trees that groaned with delicious food and the Wedding Hall in the town hall, decorated by Jean Cocteau in the 1950s. Then I got on one of the ship’s electric bikes and rode down the boulevard, almost to the Italian border.
Knowing and loving the Italian and French Rivieras, many of the British ’empty nesters’ on board the Azzurra were first time cruisers trying other ways to visit popular spots and discover new ones without a car.
As one guest told me, “What a relaxing holiday – it’s like having a luxury taxi to take you from place to place.”
Caroline Hendrie was a guest on Emerald Cruises. The Azzurra’s sister ship, the Emerald Sakara, sails from Nice to Rome on 25 May 2024 for seven nights from £4,745 per person, including wine or beer with meals, flights, transport, gratuities and some shore excursions (emeraldcruises.co .uk ).
James is an author and travel journalist who writes for The Fashion Vibes. With a love for exploring new cultures and discovering unique destinations, James brings his readers on a journey with him through his articles.