Instagram star Amanda Start – alias @onlinestylist – is named by the Telegraph as one of Britain’s top ten fashion bloggers. So how would a cruise on Europa 2 suit her image?
Instagram is the window on my world. And although a picture-sharing website sounds innocent enough, that three-by-three grid is greedy for great shots, and my 13,000 followers-of-fashion expect constant updates. So, like all my fellow style bloggers, I live by one simple rule: the situation must fit the aesthetic. In other words, whatever it is and wherever I am, it’s gotta look good.
When the opportunity came up to take my very first cruise – enticingly called “Island-Hopping in the Mediterranean”, with a route from Piraeus to Palermo – I had my doubts. German line Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ MS Europa 2 may be the best in the world (according to Berlitz Guide to Cruising & Cruise Ships) but cruising? Hmmm…
No sooner had we boarded, however, than I almost did my signature happy jig. The designer of Europa 2’s reception area clearly shares my obsession with monochrome, muted hues and understated luxe – and we all got a welcome glass of champagne. Or two. And when I saw that black and white, caramel and cream had been let loose to work their special magic everywhere on board – right through to my spacious Ocean Suite – I just knew that cruising and I would get along fine.
For me, travel is not about compromise and making-do – it’s about those special moments that mean so much when they morph into memories. Someone at HLC understands that too, because the coffee (another obsession) in my suite came from a Nespresso machine and the bath was a Whirlpool tub. So I could bask in bubbly splendour, watching the ocean glide past my window (hello heaven!) before enjoying a shot of Espresso Cosi on my private balcony, gently warmed by the early morning sun. It was a coffee moment I could have Instagrammed over and over. Then, venturing out on deck, I’d wander past the inviting blue of the swimming pool for a lazy alfresco breakfast at the Yacht Club restaurant.
Wherever I went on board, it never felt crowded. Europa 2 has the highest ratio of space to passengers of any ship afloat, so they tell me, and the public areas are flooded with light. It also helps to have no fewer than seven restaurants.
In the interests of research I tried them all, and two firm favourites soon emerged. First there was Tarragon – not just for its refined French cuisine but also for its Art Deco style, with a classic Paris brasserie vibe and some off-the-scale floor tiles, which just happened to match that day’s shoes. Some moments in life have just been waiting for Instagram to come along and immortalise them, and this was one (look up the hashtag #IHaveThisThingWithFloors and you’ll soon see what I mean).
Then there was Serenissima. Beef loin with a rocket and Parmesan salad scored a melt-in-the-mouth perfect ten – and pale lilac lavender ice-cream was no sooner served than shared with my fellow style fans online.
Dinner was a treat every night – although each evening as I got ready, I kept being drawn back to my balcony where I’d dreamily watch the ship slice through the water and listen to the rushing of the waves. This made me a little late more than once, but it didn’t matter. You see, when I say “getting ready”, I don’t mean Europa 2 was all cocktail frocks, brass-buttoned blazers and formal dining (as I was secretly afraid it might be). No, they operate a delightfully relaxed “Twenty-One Knots And No Tie” policy here, which blew my pre-cruise expectations right out of the water. The passenger complement (predominantly German) still put on a nightly show of low-key luxe, but fortunately – being a serial over-packer – I’d brought along enough wardrobe to keep the British end up. Equally fortunately, my suite’s generous storage swallowed it all.
Our leisurely route round the Med took in shore excursions to Santorini, Zakynthos, Catania and Palermo. Now,
“bespoke” is another word that regularly pops up in my daydreams, and it applies to holidays as much as handbags.
Being told where to go, what to do and (shudder) what to wear really doesn’t float my boat – pun intended. But although each one of Europa 2’s trips was beautifully organised, it never felt as though we were being organised at all. There were guided shore activities if we wanted them, or we could go it alone once we alighted from our tender. I enjoyed a walking tour and wine-tasting in beautiful Santorini, and a languid solo stroll around Zakynthos town followed by a cold beer in the shade. But the most spectacular day of all was in Catania, where we took a thrilling trip to the uppermost slopes of Mount Etna.
Our Sicilian guide was as passionate about his volcano as I am about Valentino heels. What this man couldn’t tell you about Mount Etna and its wonderfully wild surroundings wasn’t worth knowing, and for me this expertly planned trip was probably the highlight of the whole cruise.
The one time a girl might feel in need of a little herding is when she’s picking her way across the snow and lava-layered inclines of Mount Etna. Right on cue, our guide Mauricio referred to himself as Papa and to our group as his “little family”, regularly stopping to usher us along and ensure that no one got lost (there are many places I can think of where I’d happily be left behind, but the face of an active volcano is not among them).
I loved experiencing a small taste of each of the places we visited, and in no time I was planning which ones I would return to with my family. I soon began to think of my cruise as the travel equivalent of a taster menu in a Michelin-starred restaurant. A chance to sample some of the finest Mediterranean flavours, returning each time to the same five-star hotel.
If you’re wondering what surprised me most about my Europa 2 experience, being a first-timer, here’s my top three. First there was the excitement of going to bed knowing I’d wake up somewhere new – almost like Christmas Eve when you’re eight years old. Then there was the smoothness and silence of the ship (they say you should eat French, dress Italian and drive German). Finally there was the romance. I don’t mean I was gazing into my husband’s eyes as the sun sank behind the mountains of Sicily – as nice as that would have been, he was busy keeping the family afloat back home. I’m talking about being seduced by the old-fashioned glamour of sailing on a beautiful ship in a luxurious environment, surrounded by stylish people. I was amazed at how quickly I formed an attachment to Europa 2, referring to it as “she” and standing dockside, gazing upwards in awe at her magnificence. You could say I was utterly smitten.
Read Amanda’s blog at theonlinestylist.co.uk
EUROPA 2 sails a similar itinerary next spring. “Picture Book Greece” departs Limassol, Cyprus, on 27 May 2017 and sails for seven nights to Piraeus (Athens), calling at Antalya (Turkey), Rhodes, Santorini, Naxos and Nauplia. Cruise-only fare from £2,907 per person, based on 2 people sharing a veranda suite. See www.hl-cruises. com or call 0800 051 3829.