If you are looking for a cruise where relaxation – and a bit of exercise – is built into the itinerary then look no further than Star Clippers’ Yoga Cruises, writes Deb Stone

Yoga CruiseThe sun is a peachy pink in a soft blue sky as we cruise along the Greek coast on board an impossibly romantic tall ship with billowing sails and neatly coiled ropes.

It’s 7am and I’m about to have my first ever yoga lesson in this perfect setting, and there’s nowhere I’d rather be. Not even in bed. Already this Star Clipper yoga cruise feels like it’s about to change my life.

“Just do whatever your body lets you do,” says our teacher Christel Vollmer, who was trained by Californian Bryan Kest – best known for teaching yoga to Sting, Madonna and Elle Macpherson.

“Yoga is like a tasty buffet and you just pick the things your body needs or wants to do,” says Christel, which is a comfort to the complete novices who have barely heard of downward facing dogs before, let alone attempted one.
This is Star Clipper’s second yoga cruise and they are going so well that more are planned. Anybody on board can join in for free, and if you can’t face early morning stretching you can join the evening class that takes place once everybody is back on board from excursions or lazing on the beach.

Star Clipper yoga themed cruiseI join the Star Clipper in Athens with my family – Nick and our children Georgia, 14, and Henry, 11. There are several other British families on board for the week-long Aegean Sea cruise, but the majority of the 170 guests are couples – American and British with a few Continentals.

Rhodes looks stunning as we sail into the harbour. Its massive town walls were built by the Knights of the Order of St John in the 14th and 15th centuries and the castle looks formidable, although that’s mostly thanks to Mussolini who had it rebuilt in the 1930s when Rhodes still belonged to Italy.

The medieval town centre is only a few minutes’ walk from our ship, and although we’d like nothing more than to run into the sea at the sandy town beach the souk-like maze of narrow streets and alleyways is too tempting.

Shops are piled high with colourful scarves and bags; there are racks of funky sunglasses and jewellery – it’s a teenage shopping heaven for Georgia.

But as we head up a quieter alley and the souvenirs fade out the magnificence of the medieval buildings emerges and we find ourselves passing a few quiet bars and grocers used by locals before getting to the other side of the old town and passing through an impressive gateway to cross a bridge over the dry moat.

Yoga cruise Guide

Back on board we relax with another yoga class. We’re learning how to breath through one nostril at a time, which takes so much concentration it completely clears your mind.

Dinner is one sitting, but you can turn up any time within reason, and we are seated with other English speakers to give us the chance to make friends, so there’s plenty of joining in when a Greek family dancing group entertain us on the open cocktail deck later on. Even Henry loves being pulled out of the crowd to dance with them.

By now my morning routine is established, rising early for yoga to achieve a peaceful glow (call it my inner smugness) then a healthy bowl of meusli with fruit and chopped pistachio nuts. The children are sticking to waffles, bacon and eggs, though.

Star Clipper Yoga CruiseWe sail into Bodrum at 10am, admiring another massive Knights of St John castle and whitewashed, flat-roofed houses trickling down the slopes surrounding the long flat bay. Once moored we follow the bay’s gravelly-sand beach lined with cafes and bars to the old town, which is still waking up.

I’m pleasantly surprised by Bodrum: among the evil eye bracelet shops there are some truly lovely boutiques full of colourful ceramics and hand-printed scarves. We buy Henry a leather-bound notebook with an intricate metal lock for 13 euros, which he’s promised to use as a journal – although that’s pretty unlikely.

As the town starts to fill up with coachloads of tourists we walk back to the ship for lunch, our favourite meal on the Star Clipper. There’s a Turkish buffet today with tasty aubergine dips and salads.
Then we jump into one of the ship’s zodiacs and are taken to a beach bar where we can use the ship’s sea canoes, zippy little sail boats and the snorkelling gear we’ve been loaned.

Georgia is the only one in our family who can sail, so an amiable New Zealand passenger takes her for a spin while Nick and Henry venture out on a canoe.

Yoga Cruise

By now we have our downward facing dogs and warrior positions virtually off pat, and I’m feeling ever so slightly toned – which is a first for a cruise holiday. The yoga has helped me stick to meusli and fruit for breakfast, with salads for lunch, but dinner is a more lavish affair starting with hot appetisers on the Tropical bar deck at 5pm before we change for dinner.

Our cabins are larger than I expected for such a small ship, with plenty of wardrobe space and a reasonable shower room. Most are below deck with only a small porthole, and ours has varnished mahogany panelling, brass lamps and rich blue and gold soft furnishings.

Dinner includes starters, soup, sorbet, salad, mains, cheese and dessert although I doubt many people eat every course. One of my favourite dinners is a delicious lobster bisque followed by salmon and salad, and there is sirloin steak available off menu.

The sea is fairly choppy the next day, and although the Sea Clipper has stabilisers it is a real sail boat and keels to one side at times. I’m not a great sailor, so I spend most of the morning yoga session lying on my back rubbing my tummy.
We’re heading for Santorini and as it comes into view it’s obvious why the island is regarded as jaw dropping. Perched on top of the sheer cliffs are clusters of white houses, and the closer you get the more you can make out the caldera – or volcano crater – over which we are sailing.

The crescent-shaped island is one half of the crater, with the other half only partly visible in the sea. It’s an amazing sight, but there are already three huge cruise ships anchored off Santorini and we all have to be ferried ashore by official port tenders. It takes hours.

Next day the sea is calm enough for us to climb the rigging (wearing safety harnesses) and stand in the crow’s nest. The view is fantastic and the whole Star Clipper experience has been much more like a real ship than any other cruise I’ve ever been on.

It’s a superb alternative for anybody who doesn’t want to be part of a 3,000-passenger herd, and if Christel’s on board that’s a double bonus.

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