This tiny island is a world of its own. Lush, mountainous, exotic, yet very welcoming to travelers, this very special Portuguese outlander is worth a visit, all on its own. Don’t forget the other appealing ports when planning your next cruise. A world awaits.
By Chef Francois Fisera
Editor’s Note: Columbia’s iconic French Chef loves traveling when he’s not introducing our city to wonderful meals at his cooking school, Fleur de Lys. After his most recent cruise, he shared his travelogue with us. Enjoy!
As a cruise lover, nineteen so far, I thought I'd been there, done that, seen it all. But, on this voyage from Barcelona to the Canary Islands with Norwegian Cruise Lines, I not only discovered new places but old places in a new dimension!
As a child growing up in Paris, I remember dragging my finger over the globe, and retracing those intrepid famous explorers’ routes. Portuguese sailors expanded the new world by setting off from Iberian shores, Magellan went west, completing the world’s first circumnavigation, and Vasco de Gama headed south, landing in India after navigating around the Cape of Good Hope. Our journey began in Spain after a relaxing first class fight. Barcelona has it all, plus a sunny disposition that turns every day into a fiesta! The check-in was quite efficient and as our excitement mounted we stepped on board the "Spirit." "What's for dinner?" asked my son Joseph. We were about to find out. The Main Dining Room is a destination for classic cuisine that is regionally inspired. Guests can also experience drama and delight at many various restaurants that specialize in Asian, American, French & Italian cuisine. It is all about flexibility and freedom to choose when and where! As we entered our spacious Large Suite we were greeted with a fantastic balcony view, fresh flowers and a cheery "Hello!" from Julius, our Cabin Steward. On the bar console there were many "Bon Voyage Gifts," including wines and spirits such as Chateau Cheval Blanc, Chateau Haut Brion White, Chateau Val d'Or, Chateau Coutet, Chateau Lascombes (my favorite Margaux!), Martell Cordon Bleu Cognac, and a bottle of VSOP Busnel Calvados. Whoa! We were really equipped to celebrate my wife's birthday!
We quickly unpacked & toasted our upcoming adventure with Cordon Rouge Mumm Champagne! Soon after, the doorbell rang and we were introduced to Omar, our fabulous Concierge who made our trip so enjoyable.
Our first stop was in Casablanca, Morocco's largest city. Today, it’s a very cosmopolitan Atlantic port. First discovered by the Portuguese, the name was later changed to Spanish. The French influence and culture is very present in this Roman roots city, which has retained mid-century elegance with modern touches.
The recommendations at the excursion desk on the "Spirit" were extremely helpful in preparing us for the day. The splendid Mosque and the exhibits of contemporary paintings and sculpture at the "Villa des Arts" are “must-see” excursions for travelers.
For treasure seekers there are plenty of small markets for ceramics, rugs and even "babouche slippers." Have a local drink of "mint tea" with a shopkeeper and negotiate bargain prices in French or English. Our next stop was Madeira, rightly called the "Pearl of the Atlantic." After a wonderful breakfast at the Cagney Steak House on the ship, run by the efficient Manager Marie Rose, we made our way into town. Here, even cheesy snapshots have a poetic flair in this setting! The sense of amazement strikes the visitor with Madeira's noble palaces and mansions, the Manueline Cathedral, and the ancient fortress that endured repeated attacks by 16th century pirates.
Madeira Wine has a noble reputation. It was imported to the American colonies and was a favorite beverage of our Founding Fathers. We were honored to be guests of the famous "Blandy" Madeira family for half the day. We learned every possible angle of making that magical beverage. Our excitement in exploring the Blandy cellars and the private vault with Rita, our private guide, rivaled that of an Egyptologist in the Valley of Kings. The robust aromas of apricot, figs, spices & vanilla enhanced our senses. I was definitely in my element. The hard working & passionate Blandy Family is responsible for making their Madeira Wine so exceptional. Not to forget a delicate lunch hosted by the CEO Mr. Chris Blandy. What a treat! While at sea, we spent our time doing the things we enjoy the most. Relaxing outside on our deck in the fresh sea air and warm sun reading a new book and sipping a Chateau d'Iquem 2000, or enjoying the Spa. We immersed ourselves in the graceful pace of a private island life. Every single day of our cruise we continued to be amazed by Armando da Silva, the Hotel Director, and the entire "Spirit" Team who elevated the level of service rendered on this 10-day cruise to the Canary Islands from Barcelona!
PS: Next cruise, South America from Buenos Aires to Santiago on the Norwegian "Sun"! I cannot wait! Special thanks to Armando da Silva, Omar the Concierge, Jeffrey our Butler, Julius our Cabin Steward, Joel & Shyrine from Le Bistro, Sharon Manager of the Spa & Marie Rose from the Cagney, Jean Michel D., Tony W. & Klaus L. Voila!!