Barbara  shares her wonderful birthday present of excitement, expectation and a cruise through the Mediterranean.

We had not been on a cruise before, so with great excitement and recommendations from friends we took the plunge!  Once we decided upon the where, the when and the duration we had to decide upon the with whom.

Where? Let’s do the Mediterranean, can we add Paris and Rome? Why not. When? Recommendations are September/October. Duration, well a few (make that four) nights in Paris and the same in Rome at the end makes sense – after all there is a most convenient 17-day cruise that leaves Monte Carlo and concludes in Civitavecchia (the port for Rome). So, the where, when and duration is solved and by virtue of timing so to the cruise line. We went with Seabourn, on their newest ship Encore.

Perhaps a little about the before and after the cruise. We flew to Paris and stayed at the Hotel Saint Germain (Rue du Bac, 7th Androssment). A fantastic hotel and very walkable from there to all the sites – Notre Dame, Eiffel Tower, Champs Elysees, Arc de Triumph – in Paris. We speak French but not to worry as everyone at the hotel spoke English. The hotel arranged for a private vehicle to meet us at the airport which was a big plus. Lots of really good value restaurants nearby for dinner.

From Paris to Monte Carlo by the Very Fast Train taking five hours with wonderful scenery. Make sure you travel first class so you can get seats on the top level for better viewing. Also, whilst you collect your tickets at Garre de Lyon, you depart from another section of the railway station about a kilometre away – you will need a taxi or Uber to get there. We went right through to Monte Carlo, however, in hindsight it would have been better to alight at Nice and then take a short cab ride to our hotel. We stayed in Appart’hôtel Odalys Les Hauts de la Principauté, Beausoleil (on the French side of the border). The view across the harbour was enchanting! An overnight stay, a short taxi ride to the ship next day.

After the cruise, we grabbed a taxi to our hotel in Rome. We stayed at the Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, 308, 00186 Roma. Just a 15-minute walk to the Vatican, maybe 25 minutes to the Forum, Colosseum and Palatine Hill.

Barbara and crew

Now to the business end of the holiday! The cruise! Not having cruised previously we had no ruler to use as a judge but upon recommendations from friends we settled on a Seabourn. Certainly, Seabourn appear more expensive than many other cruise lines and there are no hidden costs. Everything is included – drinks all day, individual suite attendant, complimentary drinks in cabin. Sitting at the pool and feeling like caviar and champagne? “Of course, Mrs Hale. And for you also Mr Hale?”. Why not. How they remember your names, what you do and do not like to drink, your favourite champagne or cocktail, I just do not know.

I have included a map of our journey rather than go through on a daily basis of where we went. My birthday was spent in Bandol, France. Bandol is a gentle seaside resort in a sheltered bay, cradled by hills and protected from wind, known as the “ville tranquille” for good reason. It is popular in summer but especially pleasant out of season. Artists and writers used it as a retreat during the late 19th century. Katherine Mansfield and Thomas Mann come to mind. Now French families from Paris and Lyon make it their favourite, where they have jealously guarded summer houses and privacy.

Welcome with maps and lavender

From Bandol harbour you can sail yachts or fish for tuna. The seafront abounds with bars, shopping, restaurants. You will want to stroll the harbour promenade, enjoying the palm-tree lined walk whilst you reflect upon the lovely and very quaint pastel painted houses. Do visit the Grand Casino de Bandol as well as calling into the nearby tourist office for advice on things to see and do.

Don’t miss the Place de l’Europe right behind the promenade.  This square is a series of three squares with lovely cooling water features and shady trees along with cafes and beautiful harbour views.  Make sure you visit the Church Saint-Francois de Sales.  You can also make the journey to Toulon (15 minutes away and home of a large French naval fleet), where Jacques Cousteau first commenced his lifelong love of things nautical.  Bendor Island is owned by Paul Ricard and was a favourite haunt of Salvador Dali – go by boat shuttle which takes about 5 minutes.  There are also nearby beaches for those who like to soak up the Mediterranean sunshine, enjoy a splash and a generally relaxing day.

Bendor Island

Bendor Island is owned by Paul Ricard and was a favourite haunt of Salvador Dali – go by boat shuttle which takes about 5 minutes. There are also nearby beaches for those who like to soak up the Mediterranean sunshine, enjoy a splash and a generally relaxing day.

Shopping in Bandol, is plentiful and represents really good value (I particularly liked the idea of everything I saw was “Made in France”. Beautiful linens and cottons – no polyester fabric here thank you! Bandol food is Provencal and classically Mediterranean. Fish, Mussels, herbs, vegetables (the aubergines – oh wow!) and the unique olive oil

On board Seabourn Encore, there are five restaurants to look after the 600 guests. Amongst them there is The Grill by Thomas Keller! A little about the man TK. He is a world-renowned American chef, the culinary genius behind such iconic dining as French Laundry, Ad Hoc, Bouchon, Bouchon Bakery and Per Se. He is the only American-born chef to hold multiple three-star ratings from the Michelin Guide, as well as the first male American Chef to be named a Chevalier of the French Legion of Honour, the most illustrious decoration in France!

TK signature dish

The restaurant sits about 60 people and bookings essential and only one visit per cruise. The menu is far too extensive to elaborate here – so you will just have to book a Seabourn Cruise. The other restaurants are just as good with all types of food. The entertainment is wonderful with great shows, famous Polish pianist, great music shows and interesting lectures on subjects related to the various ports and their history. The square has a very well stocked library with wonderful books, games, great coffee and snacks. There is also a very relaxing spa. If you don’t wish to visit the ports there is plenty to do aboard the ship.

Barbara & Rodney

My birthday meal was amazing with a custom birthday cake (which we couldn’t eat so it was delivered to our suite for later). “Happy Birthday” was sung in the restaurant, and on our return to our suite we found it had been decorated with balloons and roses as well as champagne, canapes and chocolates.  A beautiful holiday and a truly wonderful birthday complete with excitement, expectation and a wonderful cruise.