A de­light­ful debu­tante

Sil­ver ser­vice in the Mediter­ranean

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - DESTINATION AFLOAT - SU­SAN KUROSAWA

Spring­time on the Amalfi Coast has ar­rived early and the air is soft­ened with the zesty fra­grance of orange blos­som. Cart ven­dors sell­ing le­mon granita freshly scooped from big metal pots are parked along twisting roads. Think: plung­ing cliffs, ver­ti­cal vil­lages, scented bursts of pink va­le­rian flow­ers and yel­low gorse, olive groves and stalky stands of rose­mary, loud hol­i­day voices as tourists fun­nel down stone steps to the sea­side at Amalfi, Posi­tano and Sor­rento.

“Fol­low my lol­lipop sign,” says our walk­ing tour guide Ros­sella and so we do, en­thu­si­as­ti­cally and of­ten with great haste. Ne­go­ti­at­ing traf­fic, mean­while, is for the stout of spirit. “I am blinded,” says driver An­gelo as he snaps in his mini-bus’s wing mir­rors and we round another hair­pin bend and belt through a tun­nel gouged into a moun­tain. A sec­ond jolly guide, Laura, tells us the um­brella-topped pines are “pesto trees” and the in­salata cap­rese at lunch forms the colours of the Ital­ian flag — tomato, basil and moz­zarella. Those toma­toes are so full of sweet, ripe flavour, it’s like gob­bling sun­shine. Per­fetto.

I am cruis­ing the Mediter­ranean and south­ern Italy is the cen­tre­piece of Sil­ver Muse’s maiden sea­son in the re­gion. The Sil­versea flag­ship was launched in Monaco on April 19 and I am aboard for a trun­cated eight-day itin­er­ary from Val­letta, Malta, to Ville­franche, near Nice, but it is the seg­ment from Taormina to Sor­rento, via Posi­tano and Amalfi, that most cap­ti­vates. In the south of Italy, Sil­ver Muse an­chors day af­ter day in the bluest and calmest of waters, in­clud­ing the bays of Salerno and Naples, and the im­pos­si­ble beauty of this part of the world forms a sur­re­al­is­tic back­drop, like a painted prop.

High­lights? At Bar San Gior­gio in Castel­mola, Si­cily, perched on cac­tus-cov­ered cliffs above Taormina, how about a snifter of chilled Il Blan­danino al­mond wine, made here since 1907. “A mys­te­ri­ous liqueur, dark am­ber in colour en­riched with di­verse aro­mas and tastes from the land,” pro­claims the brochure. Bot­tles are num­bered, the con­tents de­li­cious and this proves the best-value sou­venir imag­in­able at €6 ($8.80) for a pic­colo bot­tle with a racy, retro la­bel.

Then there’s ice cream in flavours such as man­darin and pomegranate from La Ge­la­te­ria on Corso Um­berto in Taormina, and a haul of colourful ce­ram­ics from any of the stacked-high shops lead­ing to Pi­azza IX Aprile with its deep views from a belvedere, crazy-tiled pave­ment and baroque art-filled church of San Giuseppe. This is Taormina’s open-air liv­ing room and it seems oblig­a­tory to dally with some­thing by DH Lawrence and then, just when it can’t seem any more stage-set corny, two chaps ap­pear in straw boaters and gold em­broi­dered waist­coats to play acous­tic gui­tars in front of the Mo­cambo Tea Room, which is decked with planter boxes of pre­pos­ter­ously per­fect red gera­ni­ums. I no­tice a few fel­low Sil­ver Muse pas­sen­gers half-hid­den un­der an arch­way at the in­trigu­ing Caffe Wun­der­bar gin palace but they re­port ex­or­bi­tant prices and the prac­ti­cally un­heard-of prospect of stale olives. I ven­ture back along Corso Um­berto to buy cologne blended with flo­rals and fruit at Aria di Si­cilia perfume bou­tique. Over the next few evenings, I reck­lessly spritz my Sil­ver Muse suite with my new pur­chase and feel as if I am liv­ing in a le­mon grove.

Shore ex­cur­sions on al­most all lines are al­ways short but pro­vide op­por­tu­ni­ties for re­con­nais­sance, mark­ing some for re­turn vis­its and cross­ing off oth­ers that have failed to fas­ci­nate.

I blow the bud­get for a ta­ble-d’hote lunch at the tiled and arched ter­race restau­rant of Il San Pi­etro di Posi­tano, a Re­lais & Chateaux ho­tel slung like an opera-box on a promon­tory over­look­ing the sea. A glass of prosecco ap­pears un­sum­moned and when my spoon taps the dessert mound of le­mon delice, there’s a burst of cit­rusy cream. “Like a lit­tle Ve­su­vius,” says the waiter with a wink.

I catch another bus and off we go, past more stair­case set­tle­ments draped with bougainvil­lea, grot­toes and grand vil­las, in­clud­ing Sophia Loren’s green-shut­tered man­sion, a lux­ury yacht jaunt from the im­pov­er­ished Naples of her girl­hood. There’s more ice cream at L’In­canto down by the beach on Via Ma­rina Grande, Posi­tano, where ginger cats sleep on chairs ahead of the hol­i­day sea­son and the cafe-own­ers have time to chat. I order just an es­presso but am also given a slice of pizza margherita by a waiter. “Try please, sig­nora. Tell your friends in Aus­tralia.” He waves away a tip.

Back in the rar­efied sur­rounds of Sil­ver Muse, my Deck 7 ve­ran­dah suite fea­tures a lounge area cur­tained from the sleep­ing area and bath­room with a soaker of a tub. There’s a walk-in wardrobe and two big TVs, one of which mag­i­cally con­verts from a mir­ror and is po­si­tioned for view­ing from the high, supremely comfy king bed, dressed in Pratelli pow­der-soft linen. The soft fur­nish­ings are from Venice, the bathrobes from Mi­lan. There are pots of white or­chids and the colour pal­ette matches the pale tim­bers and caramels, bronzes and creams of the pub­lic ar­eas. And al­though my ac­com­mo­da­tion feels enor­mous, it is by no means the top cat­e­gory. For­get inside cab­ins with no win­dows or squeezy lit­tle state­rooms as such lesser things have no place in the uni­verse of Sil­versea. My but­ler is Ma­hen­dran Palaniku­mar (“Call me Ku­mar!”) from Chen­nai and my suite at­ten­dant is Je­sus Tu­ma­neng from Manila. A sil­ver-em­bossed card propped on the dress­ing ta­ble in­tro­duces the two. For­mal­i­ties swiftly over, hands shaken, pil­low menu dis­cussed and soon we are shar­ing jokes each day, even when Ku­mar ar­rives in white gloves and tails with the break­fast tray; my daily order is a bit mod­est for his lik­ing and he wor­ries about my well-be­ing. Am I happy with my bath­room ameni­ties? They are Bul­gari and I am very con­tent, thanks, but be­cause I need to prac­tise how to be a more de­mand­ing pas­sen­ger, I tell Ku­mar I am not all that pleased and blush as I say so. Whoosh, now I am equipped with enough silky Tus­can Soul sub­stances by Salvatore Ferragamo to open a far­ma­cia.

Some pas­sen­gers might like this posh idea of but­ler­ing and bow­ing but it does seem a bit out of kil­ter with the con­tem­po­rary feel of this lat­est ad­di­tion to the Sil­versea fleet. The youngish cap­tain, Alessan­dro Zanello, has movie-star looks and a sunny per­son­al­ity. His mother is Aus­tralian and his fa­ther Ital­ian. “Be­fore you ask,” he laughs, “they did meet on a cruise ship out of Syd­ney.” He’s been with Sil­versea for 18 years and de­scribes the prod­uct as “whis­pered lux­ury”, which re­ally is the per­fect term. The decor is not shouty or over-em­bel­lished but re­lies on uni­fied and classy de­sign, stream­lined sur­faces, sassy curves, dis­creet in­stal­la­tions, an abun­dance of nat­u­ral light and such an acreage of space that guests need never knock el­bows. Even the cen­tral cor­ri­dors are ex­tra wide, with no chance of scrap­ing taffeta skirts en

Sil­ver Muse, top; La Ter­razza with view of Val­letta har­bour, top cen­tre; Posi­tano, above; Amalfi cathe­dral, above right

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