A glamorous Mediterranean voyage with Saga Cruises will have you dancing the night away, as Erica Douglas discovers

Monaco Ville colourful building architecture sunrise city skyline, Monte Carlo, Monaco

As the sun sets over Barcelona, one half of a jazz duo strums on a guitar while the other sings passionately in Spanish. A string of fairy lights twinkle overhead, mirroring the stars in the night sky. We’re on the rooftop of Casa De Les Punxes, an historic building in Barcelona designed by modernist architect Josep Puig i Cadafalch, and after a brief tour to appreciate the ornate tiles and intricate stained glass, we’re enjoying a private jazz concert.

The last few days have been peppered with moments like these. My mum and I are in Livorno, on a music-themed Saga Cruise itinerary which promises musical experiences including Puccini and Bocelli.

Our ship, Saga Sapphire, is elegant and pleasingly nautical, with its wooden deckchairs, and more than a few nods to the British seaside in its heyday. At the Beach Club, you can enjoy traditional fish and chips poolside, old fashioned sweets, and an ice cream parlour.

I’m impressed by the fantastic crew, who take time to get to know their guests, and are on first-name terms with frequent cruisers.

After a late arrival and a good night’s sleep we were up early for our first shore excursion. The transfer to Florence and Pisa took us first to the infamous leaning tower, crossing the river Arno on our way. Despite it still being early we enjoyed a gelato and marvelled at the cathedralʼs bell tower which tilted more than I had expected. Back on board our air-conditioned coach we made the hour long journey to beautiful Florence. The Piazza Santa Croce was surprisingly quiet when we arrived. We picked a small trattoria to enjoy the flavours of Italy – traditional pizza and pasta with ragu.

Just across the road was the imposing Basilica of Santa Croce which overlooks the square. It is steeped in history, dating back to 1295, and central to Italian and Florentine history, and the resting place of Galileo and Michelangelo. After lighting a candle for loved ones no longer with us, we sat in the sunny gardens for a while before wandering on to a café and having our first frozen coffee – we highly recommend it.

Dinner that evening was in the speciality restaurant, East to West. This can be booked on board for no extra charge and has a more intimate feel than Pole to Pole, the ship’s formal dining room. Our gastronomic journey began with an amuse bouche of Thai chicken salad. We travelled through Asia from there with a scallop starter, a Chinese inspired roast pork belly dish, before my personal highlight, an Indian lamb korma. All with a delicious Barolo. Drinks are included on Saga Sapphire, but if you’d like something special, you can pay a little extra to treat yourself.

Top cityscape view on the dome of Santa Maria del Fiore church and old town in Florence

When you’re not in port and sailing the Mediterranean Sea you can enjoy one of the many activities laid on by the entertainment team. From crafts to lectures, bridge to professional art classes, a cruise with Saga is an opportunity to learn something new. Louise leads various crafts including silk painting, while Sarah, an international artist, will be on hand to offer you some tips as you put brush to canvas. One of the quotes around the stunning fish chandelier, which spans three floors at the centre of the ship, says, “age is a case of mind over matter, if you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” This cruise is all about having a wonderful time, pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and embracing everything the ship has to offer – or you can just find a comfy chair and have a snooze.

If it is a few early nights you need, your cabin won’t disappoint. There’s plenty of room to relax, play a game, or enjoy some room service (included in the price of the cruise).

Our next port of call was Monaco, which we decided to explore independently, always an option if you’d prefer not to join an excursion. As the principality loomed into view, the swish apartment blocks and luxury yachts were bathed in sunshine.  Some swell that day made for an interesting tender experience, with some of the older guests showing just how supple they were as we traversed the ever-changing gap between tender and ship, and again onto port.

The ship’s staff demonstrated their significant experience, ensuring more infirm guests made the leap to safety with ease. Safely on land we strolled up to the famous and very glamorous Monte Carlo Casino, and it seemed as though every other car was a Ferrari or Lamborghini – supercar enthusiasts will be more than happy to just enjoy the view and take a few snaps. Monaco is smaller than New York’s Central Park so itʼs easy to explore on foot, although be warned, it isnʼt all flat. We spent a few pleasant hours browsing the designer boutiques and marvelling at the Casino, but there was no going bust in Monte Carlo and we made it back to ship with the shirt on our backs and our bank balances very firmly in check.

We were back on board in time for some afternoon sunbathing and one of those ice creams. Saga Sapphire has an intimate feel, with capacity for 770, but you never have to search for a seat or fight for a deckchair.

The informal Verandah and Grill was a pleasant surprise part table service, part buffet, and no need to sharpen your elbows. Just take a seat and enjoy the attentive service and the fantastic food on the menu.

Cathedral (Duomo) and the Leaning Tower photographed from above the roofs, from the Grand Hotel Duomo – Pisa, Tuscany, Italy

Later that evening we met in the Drawing Room for a pre-dinner G&T, here you can enjoy some gentle music and if you wish, a dance with one of the Gentleman Hosts. I was fascinated by this concept. I have a long-held love for Dirty Dancing and I adore the idea of there being gentleman on hand to dance with if you are a single female passenger looking for a dance partner. I have to confess I had a little fun with my mum and set her up for a wee dance to Elvis one evening. Despite being a bit nervous I think she enjoyed the experience, and she made a good job of it. If you fancy having a go but lack confidence you can always join one of the onboard classes during a sea day for a little extra practise.

An invitation to dine with the Captain was a special treat, and if you’re a regular cruiser with Diamond status or celebrating a special anniversary or birthday, you could experience it too. We both loved dressing up in our finest for the formal dinner. Pole to Pole had a French inspired menu that evening with local delicacies such as escargots and the less challenging French onion soup. A perfectly cooked beef fillet and interesting conversation made for a truly wonderful evening.

We decided to slow the pace on our final day and make the most of the opportunity to indulge. Down in the bowels of the ship on Deck 2 is a beautiful spa complete with heated pool, jacuzzi, hammam steam room and sauna. It must have been a very well-kept secret as during the two or three hours we were there, we only had to share it with a couple of other guests, which was lovely. We were so relaxed we ended up nodding off as we waited for our spa treatments.

There’s a full spa treatment menu on board with a range of Elemis Biotec and anti-ageing facials, body treatments include Swedish and hot stone massage, plus you can have your hair and nails done too, for the full pampering experience. After all the extremely strenuous walking activity around those grand Monégasque boutiques, I treated myself to a Swedish massage complete with a scalp massage. My mum opted for the age-defying facial and returned to our cabin looking completely refreshed and rejuvenated for our final night of the holiday, in Barcelona.

We didn’t get much time to spend in the Britannia Lounge, but each evening I noted an evening show that began at 9.30pm and featured a musical act, the highlight of which was an international concert pianist, whom we did manage to catch briefly.

This was a musical odyssey across the beautiful Mediterranean, with all of the comforts, style and fine dining of a five-star hotel.

Saga has many years of experience in hosting cruises for their guests, and like the music we listened to throughout the voyage, they have it down to a very fine art. The happiness, safety and comfort of the passengers is their primary concern and they rise to the challenge beautifully.

GETTING THERE

A 10-night Musical Norway voyage departing Dover 11 April 2020, from £1802pp, inside cabin, two sharing. Includes all meals on board, wines at lunch and dinner, onboard gratuities, travel insurance, port taxes and visas, UK mainland travel service. To book call 0800 068 5053 or visit saga.co.uk/cruiseint

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