A delightful debutante
Silver service in the Mediterranean
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