Time can play funny games with the memory, so when on holiday Anna Hyman keeps a travel diary. The first page of her diary for P&O’s cruiseship Ventura reads:
“Wednesday 8th, early start for Gatwick flight to Venice. Coach transfer from airport to ship. Lunch on 15th deck whilst waiting for cabin – available 1pm. Bought wine ticket for enomatic wine dispensers – 6 glasses for £21.
Changed dining option to Freedom Dining. Dinner in Glass House restaurant; best-ever fish and chips. Perfectly cooked fish in a cider batter served with hand cut chips, mushy peas, pickled onions/gherkin and pickled egg, bread and butter and tartare sauce served on black slate, under chips, instead of trad newspaper, a folded copy of ship’s daily bulletin.”
A week of cruising – and dining!
No mention of the fact that as Ventura was eased away from the quayside of Venice I was standing on the balcony of my comfortable and well-appointed state room, wine glass in hand, as Andrea Bocelli’s voice boomed out through loud speakers that it was ‘Time to say Goodbye’. Yes, it was a bit corny!
But nevertheless as Ventura sailed deeper into the dusk with and the lights of Venice twinkled ever smaller.
An autumn moon lit her path on the silky black waters of the Mediterranean and I raised a glass to a week of cruising – and dining!
Dining was obviously going to be no problem.
P&O Cruises has a number of Food Heroes – James Martin, Eric Lanlard, Charlie Turnbull, Atul Kochhar, Marco Pierre White and Olly Smith.
They join passengers on different cruises throughout the year. Marco Pierre was on board for a few days on my Med cruise.
Next morning I made my way to the large, and comfortable, theatre to hear the interview with Marco Pierre White. He was late on stage, hardly surprising; he had been cooking since before 8am filming for P&O Cruises.
It was a fascinating interview about his life and culinary career which had included three Michelin stars by the time he was 33.
An hour later I was sitting in on one of Marco Pierre’s Master Classes learning how to cook lobster risotto and in the evening dining in his on-board fine dining restaurant The White Room. He was much in evidence that night chatting to fellow diners. It has to be said the meal was absolutely stunning.
Fine dining indeed
I had originally opted for Fixed Dining but soon realised I needed more flexibility so I could sample everything!
With restaurants on board like The White Room and Atul Kochhar’s East, to say nothing of The Glass House, I decided to change to Freedom Dining.
(Guests should be aware there is a cover charge for these restaurants plus the Beach House Diner.)
However, I was more than happy to eat in the main dining rooms. In fact, having found the self service restaurants on the 15th deck a bit too busy for me – I always headed for one of them.
The service, whichever restaurant, was excellent; and much to my delight wine by the glass was good and not expensive.
One evening, I decided to dine in East. I have a mussel allergy, so am very careful about what I choose.
I ordered, but a few minutes later my waiter was back asking me to choose something else.
‘Why?’ I asked. ‘Well on the form you filled in you said you had a mussel allergy’ he explained. I knew there was no mention of mussels in the dish so was a bit surprised until he mentioned that it called for dash of a proprietary fish sauce and they thought it too risky for me. How about that for service! The meal by the way was first class.
The tiny, adorable city of Kotor
On several days there was the added interest of shore days. I had chosen this particular Med cruise for, apart from one of my culinary heroes being on-board, it also took in of ports that either I had not visited before, or was keen to revisit.
There was the day when we sailed into one of my favourite harbours – Montenegro’s beautiful Boka Kotorska. I was even happier when I realised that Ventura was too big to dock quayside and we would have to make a 20-minute ship’s tender transfer to the tiny, adorable city of Kotor.
Before exploring Kotor I joined a coach heading up Mount Lovćen to see if the little wooden cafe that had served me bread, cheese and ham many years before was still there.
There are 25 scary hairpin bends and the road is narrow but the view from the lookout point over the three arms of the Bay is spectacular.
A little later I was in the hamlet of Njegusi; that little café is now a larger, but still small and rustic, café.
It still sells snacks of bread with the locally produced cheese and prosciutto as well as the local brandy (Loza) which I used to enjoy.
I confess to buying a small bottle for old times’ sake. The village has discovered tourism, there are now a few stalls selling handicrafts, but it is still a delightful spot in which to pass an hour or two.
Safely down in Kotor I retraced my footsteps from previous visits along quaint narrow streets and little squares.
I pottered around dark, small shops, stopping for a coffee at a pavement café and admiring the lovely old buildings and the medieval wall which protects the city for almost three miles.
Five million olive trees
Another day Ventura docked in Corfu and I joined a coach tour heading inland to the largest farm Estate on the island. But first we called into Theotokou Monastery set high above the popular beach resort of Paleokastritsa. The 18th century stone-built monastery is one of the island’s ‘must see’ attractions.
It was a pretty drive down from the mountains through the ancient olive groves to the lovely Ropa Valley and the 300-acre Theotoky Estate to sample their excellent wine, cheese and olive oil. The island is noted for its olive trees – it is said there are five million of them!
The Phoenicians realised that olive trees would thrive on the island so encouraged the local inhabitants to plant them. They did, and the Phoenicians were correct, thrive they have.
Sea days and happy evenings
To be honest I found the admittedly popular deck parties on sea days or when we left ports a bit too much for me.
But Ventura is a big ship and there were several quiet corners to which I could retreat.
I also spent a lot of time on my balcony reading and watching distant islands pass us by.
Or I attended a cookery demonstration or did a little window shopping in the Shopping Centre; tried a wine tasting; took in a lecture and even a trip up to Oasis Spa for eyebrow reshaping.
Evenings were happy too: maybe joining some of my newfound friends after dinner in the theatre to watch a slick show or join them in one of the bars for a nightcap before heading back to my lovely stateroom.
Here, with or without a glass of wine, in hand I would lean on my balcony railing watching a star-filled sky, the moon lighting our way through the silky black Mediterranean .
Passengers who had sailed many, many times with P&O Cruises told me she was their favourite of the Line; there is something really special about her they would say. It was my first time sailing with P&O Cruises but I had to agree with them. Ventura, for all her size, is a friendly, gracious, elegant ship and deserves her loyal following.
‘God be with you,’ Ventura, ‘good fortune’.
For more information on Ventura and all other P&O Cruises visit www.pocruises.com