We first glimpse the Star Flyer in Cannes harbour and even amongst the wealth and opulence of this classic French Riviera port this vessel stands out.
The four-masted tall ship will be our home for the next seven days as we sail the Mediterranean – our itinerary taking in Corsica, St Tropez, Sanary-sur-Mer, Sete, Cape Vendras, Palamos and Barcelona.
Upon boarding I convey to our Russian Captain, who’s aptly named Yuri, what a magnificent boat. “A boat!” he exclaims. “This is not a boat!” He then proceeds to clarify with an accented scowl that a boat is a vessel that’s 500 gross tons or less. The Star Flyer weighs in at 2,298 gross tons. He proudly informs us, “This is a ship!”
Ship it may be, but the intimate vessel only carries a total of 170 passengers, and there is a crew of 77.
Our first night on board, we get a sample of the excellent food by way of a superb a la carte dinner.
Around 10pm the Star Flyer sets sail. It's a ritual when leaving port that everyone goes on deck as the captain orders his crew to hoist the sails. As this happens, Vangelis’s Conquest of Paradise is blasted over the ship’s sound system – an uplifting scene as we depart Cannes.
My daydreams of the French Riviera and the Mediterranean had consisted of calm blue seas, sunshine and balmy breezes to puff out the sails that will power our ship gracefully and smoothly all the while sipping cocktails by the piano bar on a starry night – and that’s what materialises before us the entire week.
Waking up the first morning and its like we’ve been transported back to the womb as the ship rolls gently on a sparkling and smooth Mediterranean Sea.
Outside the porthole the sun is shining, a school of pilot whales are escorting us and the Star Flyer is slicing seamlessly through the water – it’s perfect cruising weather.
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On deck we watch as the captain and crew guide the ship ever so slowly towards the picturesque Corsican town of Calvi. The Star Flyer can sail right into most ports but here it’s too large for the shallow waters and we have to anchor as close as possible and take a tender to shore.
From the ship, Calvi – with its ancient citadel high above the town – looks surreal. It’s the perfect start to an amazing journey through some of the most enchanting port towns in the Mediterranean.
From the cobble stoned streets of this historic Corsican citadel, through to the narrow alleyways and charming waterside cafes of Palamos in Spain, each stop is like another page from a fairy tale.
At each port we meander around the old towns, astonished that such beautiful places still exist and all the while discovering an enormous appetite for gelato, crepes, coffee and sangria.
Apart from St Tropez, with its disappointing lack of movie stars, each destination is refreshingly non-touristy. These are towns that exude charm, seemingly frozen in time for centuries.
We never tire of sitting in small harbourside cafes – my favorite being Sanary-sur-Mer – and watching a kaleidoscope of colourful fishing boats bob about in its gorgeous calm little bay.
In the little French port town of Sete, also known as the "Venice of the Languedoc", we end up jiving to buskers while the local morning markets are in full swing.
It’s here we forego our usual bucket of gelato to have a bowl of paella, which is made in what looks like the world’s largest wok.
After touring each town, we arrive back on the ship for afternoon high tea ritual and, at night, the on-board entertainment includes the ship’s musician playing classic jazz standards from the forties, talent quests or playing a game of "pick this song".
These quirky, fun times and laid back atmosphere are what set the Star Flyer apart from your large commercial cruisers.
Star Clippers has the tall ship cruising formula down perfectly. The cruise surpasses all expectations and the crew do a remarkable job of coaxing me off the decks, ensuring I'm off the ship once we dock in Barcelona.