An indulgent Silversea cruise sailing around the Greek islands converts novelist and first-time cruiser Alice Cullerne Bown to life on the ocean wave

As I snuggled closer to Colin Firth, the Greek sun shining down on us, I whispered in his ear those words I’d been waiting for years to say. “Just one look and I can hear a bell ring, one more look and I forget everything…”

“Will you leave that Colin Firth cut-out alone, we’re going to miss our ship,” said my 20-year-old daughter, Ella, awaking me from my Mamma Mia fantasy. She was right, it was time to tear ourselves away from my cardboard Colin and the Greek island of Skiathos, and get back on board our luxury Silversea cruise liner, Silver Spirit.

Showstopping cruise

We’d had a wonderful time exploring the spot where the ABBA movie had been filmed, taking it in turns to run up the steps to the quaint Greek Orthodox Church high on the hill, like Meryl Streep, and relaxing at the harbourside cafés, with a wonderful view of the exact place where most of the island’s womenfolk jumped into the sea after belting out Dancing Queen. With open-air screenings of the film, and many themed restaurants, including the one my very own flatpack Colin was lounging outside, there is little chance of Skiathos ever forgetting its starring role as the ideal fantasy wedding destination.

But many of the Greek islands have an equally strong claim to the title of most beautiful resort, and we were lucky enough to be sampling nine of them, as well as one Turkish destination, on our first ever cruise. Everything about the trip was an eye-opener, from the elegance of our ship itself – always the sleekest and most attractive vessel in any of the ports we visited – to the attentive service. Silversea prides itself on its ultra-luxury, six-star all-suite cruises, and from the moment our white-gloved, bow-tied lady butler, Nia, opened our start-the-holiday bottle of Champagne, we knew we were going to be spoilt rotten.

Attention to detail

Nothing was too much trouble, from making sure all our breakfast whims were catered for, to bringing us the nightly itinerary for the next port of call, along with chocolates from top Belgian confectioner Pierre Marcolini to nibble at while we decided which sights to see. We also loved the little extras in our suite, from the luxe Pratesi sheets to the delectable Bulgari toiletries. Meanwhile the decks of the ship itself were hung with a fabulous art collection, featuring original prints and sculptures by the likes of Picasso, Rembrandt, Dali and Renoir, curated by expert Pasquale Iannetti – and all available to buy.

It was this attention to detail which made us feel so cosseted. Either the
maître ds at the six restaurants on board have superb facial recognition skills, or my daughter and I are very memorable (and I know which one I believe) because, after a couple of days on board, the staff seemed to know our preferences backwards. As all gratuities are included in a Silversea cruise, it was nice to know this wasn’t cupboard love but sprang from genuine warmth and professionalism.

Perfect hosts

We were also surprised at how little we felt the movement of the sea, thanks to clever stabilisers and, no doubt, gazillions of pounds’ worth of technology. In fact, if we hadn’t woken up every morning to a completely different view from the teak veranda outside our suite, and with a fresh island to explore, I’m not sure I would have believed we were actually moving at all.

If we had run into bad weather, though, it turned out we were in excellent hands. On our second night, we ate à la carte at The Restaurant, where you can join other diners if you wish. Our host was cruise director Moss Hills, legendary saviour of the Oceanos. We were on the edge of our seats as Moss told us how he had found himself, then lowly lead guitarist in the band, suddenly responsible for rescuing 400 passengers when the captain abandoned ship during a storm. Against the odds, Moss got everyone to safety. “When our chopper landed and I looked around and everyone was okay, I was overcome with emotion,” he told us.

There was no danger of things going awry on our voyage. The Aegean was a heavenly blue, the sky cloudless. One of the Silversea touches I really appreciated was mineral water, which was always available to take ashore, and gentle reminders that sunhats and lotion were a good idea. It was lovely to feel that our wellbeing was the staff’s priority.

Spoilt for choice

We also enjoyed having so many options, so we could plan our time our way. Feeling intellectual? Silversea offered expertly guided tours of archaeological sites. Beach ready? Mini buses would drop you at the nearest stretch of silver sand. Or keen to explore under your own steam? Destination consultant John Tabbutt-McCarthy always had plenty of ideas on how to get the most out of our day.

We did a bit of everything. Our favourite stop was the Turkish city, Kusadasi, where we visited Ephesus. Once home to the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the site still boasts the incredible Library of Celsus – and its naughty underground tunnel connecting up with the local brothel.

The Greek island of Santorini was quite a contrast. We explored on our own, and the steep ascent to the town square was good-natured chaos, with strings of donkeys ambling up and down. We couldn’t help giggling as we dodged the clattering hooves, though we did take the scenic cable car back down to the harbour later. The town itself is beautiful, blindingly whitewashed, the blue of the sky only rivalled by the thickly painted wooden shutters.

One of my favourite stops was Rhodes, its red brick city walls setting the tone for the Old Town’s grid of streets. The Archaeological Museum’s garden is a lovely place for a rest. We also loved Mykonos, put on the map by Jackie Onassis and still the jet set’s party island. It was quite something to see a branch of Louis Vuitton shoehorned into one of the now-familiar low whitewashed buildings.

Island life

Our island-hopping certainly sharpened our appetites and the Silver Spirit rose to the challenge. We’ve all had holidays where the buffet, so tempting on Day One, soon palls. Our only problem here, though, was trying not to wolf too much. Every day, we succumbed to afternoon tea with dainty finger sandwiches and cakes, and I had to stop myself moving effortlessly on to canapés and then a three-course dinner, with perfectly selected wines.

We loved the catering so much I persuaded executive chef Jerome Foussier, who has previously worked for the Emir of Qatar and honed his skills at the three Michelin star Parisian restaurant Taillevent, to show us his secrets. The four galleys, palaces of shining stainless steel, hummed with activity as everything, from breadsticks to bavarois, was made from scratch. “I ask chefs joining from other cruise lines to make a chocolate mousse and they say, ‘where’s the powder?’’’ shrugged Jerome, his eyebrows disappearing above his toque.

Delectable cuisine

There was something for every palate, from the Seishin Asian fusion restaurant to the daytime buffet at La Terrazza, which became an Italian slow cooking experience every night. Talking of speed, we weren’t quick enough to reserve a table at Le Champagne, the only Relais & Châteaux restaurant at sea – it was booked solid before we even set sail. But we sampled everything else, from the Stars Supper Club, with its delectable bite-sized sampler menu accompanied by live jazz, to cooking our own steaks on volcanic hot rocks while watching the sunset at the Pool Bar.

We had arrived on board eager to try everything, and we left 10 days later, very reluctantly, as total converts to life on the ocean wave. We would never have been able to visit so many islands, in such fine style, without the Silver Spirit. As we took our final walk down the gangway, this time Ella joined in as I sang the immortal words from Mamma Mia: “Bye bye – doesn’t mean forever.”

GETTING THERE: A seven-day voyage on Silver Spirit departing from Civitavecchia (Rome), Italy to Barcelona, Spain on 31 May 2017, starts from £2,150pp, based on double occupancy of the Vista Suite. Ports of call include Corsica, France; Livorno, Italy; Monte Carlo, Monaco; Antibes, France and Marseille, France. For more information or to book call 0844 251 0837 or visit silversea.com.

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