I’d never thought of myself as a cruise kind of a girl. I’d always been more a casual boatie type – cooking simple food in some tiny rigged-up galley, jumping off the boat for a swim in the sea, hanging a rod over the side to catch a fish – the kind of super-casual holiday we New Zealanders all know and love.
Well my first cruise changed all that. Last month I hosted a small group of foodies on the six-star Silver Spirit for 11 days from Venice to Istanbul.
I have never liked the idea of being stuck on a boat for days at a time, but the brilliant thing about this cruise was that each night the boat would lift anchor to sail to a new port. The trip saw us meandering through colourful produce and seafood markets and heading off the beaten track to discover fabulous restaurants. Each morning we would wake up in a new place with new things to discover, and along the way there was loads of laughter, delicious dining and exciting adventures – it’s always so much fun to share experiences with new friends!
Our first stop was Croatia, where we spent a day each in the charming ports of Hvar and Dubrovnik before continuing down the coast to Corfu, the greenest and prettiest of the Greek islands. Next stop was Santorini, where I got back on a horse (well, okay, a donkey) for the first time since a major horseriding injury 20 years ago to climb the steep path to the top of the cliffs. The view was worth it!
Our next port of call was the island of Rhodes, which lived up to its reputation of being the sunniest place in Europe, then we turned north up the glorious Turkish coast to the ancient city of Kusadasi. One last stopover at Lesvos rounded off our trip before we steamed into Istanbul.
I also managed to assuage my relentless need to cook – in style in one of the ship’s fabulous restaurants, with the fabulous assistance of the Silverseas Culinary Director Rudy Schloldis. Together with the group we cooked up a storm, enjoying the local flavours as well as some exciting new recipes I developed for the cruise with a Mediterranean theme. Rudy opened up all the doors for us onboard and made my job so easy with his great team of chefs helping to do all the preparations, as well as treating us to a special caviar tasting and loads of fabulous champagne. The food onboard Silver Spirit was amazingly delicious, exceeding my expectations with lots of special regional dishes using ingredients from around the Med.
Istanbul, with its famous spice market and Grand Bazaar, was our last stop on the cruise. At the spice bazaar you will find the most amazing sweetmeats and Turkish delight. Vendors pester you to buy their wares but are happy to offer free samples, and once you have tasted the local Turkish delight you know you will be buying some. There is nothing, nothing quite like it. About 10 minutes’ walk away under the cover of the Grand Bazaar are 4000 tiny shops where you will find all manner of handbags, scarves, rugs, clothing and jewellery. Be prepared to bargain and shop around – you should aim for a discount of between 25 and 30 percent.
Eating out in Istanbul can vary from great to touristy. Right next to the hotel we were staying in is probably the best coffee shop in all Istanbul – Brew CoffeeWorks. Run by some South Africans and Australians, it serves up coffee as we know and love it here in New Zealand – the perfect flat white, macchiato or latte. A couple of great finds on the dining scene were Gritili, a seafood restaurant down the hill from the blue mosque in Sultanhamet, and then over on the Asian side a well-known classical Turkish restaurant called Ciya.
It was an inspiring and stimulating adventure, and one I’ll enjoy looking back on, through the photos that we took along the way and the memories of lots of laughter and fun times.