A voyage on board Oceania’s Insignia is a feast for the senses. Prepare to have your tastebuds tempted as you sail from Venice to Barcelona.

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Ocean Cruise
Passenger capacity: 684
Passenger Decks: 11
Total Cabins: 340
Cabins (Balcony): –
Cabins (Outside): 314
Cabins (Inside): 26
Draught: 5.95m
Gross Tonnage: 30277
Restaurants: 5
Bars: 5
Swimming Pools: 1
Spa: Yes
Gym: Yes
Casino: Yes
Exclusively For Adults: No

It’s ten in the morning and frankly, I could do with a strong coffee. Instead, bottles of red are lined up along the table next to writing pads for tasting notes. We’re sitting in a beautifully cool cellar with a vaulted ceiling as Riccardo, our guide, raconteur and Master of Wines, holds a Super Tuscan up to the light, swirling it gently in the glass, waxing lyrical about blackcurrants. Oceania Cruises’ ‘Epicurean Immersion’ tours, offered on the cruise line’s summer Mediterranean cruises, are serious affairs. At $299 (approximately £173) a pop, they provide more than the usual snapshot of a cruise ship’s shore excursion. This is a chance to meet the locals, taste the ‘real’ cuisine and to learn all about the wines.

Feeling slightly woozy from sampling five reds (there wasn’t much spitting), we board our minibus and bowl through the gorgeous Tuscan countryside, heading inland from Livorno through yellow, rolling hills along undulating roads lined with cypress trees, under a vast, blue sky.

At the 1,000-year-old Castello del Terriccio wine estate, producer of award-winning wines, we inspect the grapes, fattening on the vines. The estate is a vast nature reserve of rolling hills, with vines as far as the eye can see, silvery olive groves nestling in the valleys, and sleek thoroughbred horses grazing in the fields. The owner, Gian Annibale Rossi di Medelana Serafini Ferri, resides in a hilltop villa straight out of Italian Vogue; all flagstone floors, open fireplaces and exquisite art.

After a tasting of some young blends of red, we’re shown to a wrought-iron table laid for lunch on a delightful shaded terrace with endless views across the ravishingly beautiful countryside. We all eye the enticing swimming pool at the end of the lawn longingly, but it’s lunchtime.

The estate’s whites are produced – a crisp, buttery Sauvignon and a mellow Chardonnay. We all fall on the warm, fresh bread, studded with sundried tomatoes and olives, and rip apart garlicky focaccia. Huge, juicy beef tomatoes arrive in a salad with melt-in-the-mouth buffalo mozzarella and home-made pesto. Next comes a paperthin lasagne, oozing golden olive oil from the estate and layered with sliced courgettes and crumbly ricotta.

As if we can eat any more, fillets of veal and tuna with artichoke are handed round, followed by a chocolaty, creamy, alcoholic tiramisu. The afternoon takes on a hot stillness with insects buzzing lazily in the heat and the cypress trees shimmering in the haze. We sit by the pool, our feet in the cool water, and wish we could stay forever part of this paradise.

I’ve been to Italy on many cruises but this one on Oceania’s 684-passenger Insignia, was special. And the fabulous food doesn’t end with the shore excursions; it’s one of the main selling points of this relatively little-known, American-run line.

The ship, which resembles a smart European hotel, has four restaurants. We loved Toscana, which serves Italian cuisine on beautiful Versace plates. Waiters bring a trolley of different olive oils and balsamic vinegars and a huge array of delicious Italian breads, just for starters. I had jumbo shrimps wrapped in prosciutto and pan-seared sea bass in an amazing lemon and white wine sauce, which, devastatingly, left no room for the chocolate and rum zabaglione.

My favourite, though, was Tapas on the Terrace, on the ship’s aft deck. As the setting sun’s rays illuminated the megayachts and pastel-coloured houses of Portofino behind us, we sipped Martinis before tucking into a mouthwatering array of nibbly things, from sushi to Middle Eastern breads and dips, satay sticks, giant prawns, stuffed tomatoes, garlic mushrooms, fresh pasta and grilled Mediterranean vegetables.

Oceania specialises in port-intensive itineraries as most of its clients are American and want to ‘do’ Europe, but for Brits, with Italy on our doorstep, there’s less pressure to pack it all in. We had a wonderful time lazing around on the ship, making short forays ashore in Elba and Portofino for shopping, to meet friends in Monaco and Palma, and in Dubrovnik, to walk around the city ramparts.  Otherwise, we made the most of the on-board facilities, used the gym, spent time indulging with Indian head massages in the spa, lounged around the pool and read.

Evenings are low-key, too, as most passengers are pretty tired after the long days of sightseeing. I loved the string quartet, who gave cocktail hour an air of elegance, and the resident jazz band who kept the party going at night.

Guest entertainers aren’t Oceania’s strong point and there are no lavish shows on board. In fact, we left the pianist behind in Elba (proof that even the workers can miss the ship if they’re late) and at one point I heard a rumour that the Elvis impersonator was being given his marching orders after an uninspiring performance in the ship’s theatre. However, with so much else going for this cruise, nobody minded much. The weather was perfect.  Every port we visited was exquisite. And with good company and such delicious food, it is hardly surprising that poor Elvis wasn’t really missed.

Accommodation

Cabins on all three Oceania ships are small for luxury vessels (which is reflected in the price), although most have a balcony, which is recommended. Suites have bigger bathrooms, butler service and Jacuzzi bathtubs.

Who travels?

Mainly Americans, mainly over 60, although summer Mediterranean cruises attract a younger market and a mix of Europeans and Australians as well. Insignia doesn’t have facilities on board for children.

Eating out

Food on board is so good it’s hardly worth spending money on restaurants ashore; we tended to focus on decent cafés instead, like Cappuccino in Palma (opposite the Yacht Club) or in a moment of decadence, the terrace at the Bauer Hotel in Venice, overlooking the Grand Canal, where the only thing to do is sip a Bellini.

Getting around

Almost all the ports we visited could be explored on foot except Livorno, where we did a wine tour, and Rome, which is an easy train journey from the port, Civitavecchia. In Dubrovnik, Sorrento, Portoferraio, Portofino and Palma, we walked.

Shopping

Handmade paper, high fashion and carnival masks in Venice; Limoncello liqueur, lemon-scented soaps and candles in Capri, as well as great fashion; Tuscan wine and olive oil in Florence and Pisa, and leather goods too; linens and designer labels in Portofi no; hoes and Manacor pearls in Palma.

Currency

The euro, except in Dubrovnik, where the Kuna is used.

Rating 4* plus

Duration 14 nights

Guide price From £2,395 per person for a G grade (inside) cabin based on double occupancy.

Included Cruise only, with all food and entertainment.

Booking Contact 01344 772344 or visit www.oceaniacruises.co.uk

Cruise Diary

Day 1 – Overnight Venice

Day 2 – Sail from Venice Shopping and sightseeing.

Day 3 – Dubrovnik Walk the city ramparts.

Day 4 – Corfu Beaches, boat rides and city tours.

Day 5 – Straits of Messina Day on board with amazing views of Sicily.

Day 6 – Sorrento Shopping and day trips to Capri.

Day 7 – Amalfi Visits to beautiful, jetset Positano and tours of the Amalfi coast.

Day 8 – Civitavecchia Tours of Rome.

Day 9 – La Spezia Boat tours or driving the Cinque Terre villages.

Day 10 – Livorno Explore Florence and Pisaor tour the wine-growing areas of Tuscany.

Day 11 – Portofino Enjoy shopping and people-watching.

Day 12 – Monte Carlo The Casino, Oceanographic Museum or tours to Eze.

Day 13 – Marseille Tours to Aix-en-Provence, Avignon or the fishing port of Cassis.

Day 14 – Palma Palma’s Gothic quarter, trips to the mountains to Valldemossa or Sóller.
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