SETTING SAIL WITH SEA CLOUD
Board a traditional windjammer to discover the historical life-at-sea of Portuguese explorers
We watch transfixed as a nautical ballet takes place in the rigging above our heads. It’s not unlike a performance by Cirque du Soleil’s aerialists, but we are in no big top, nor Las Vegas. We are on board the most beautiful sailing ship in the world somewhere off the coast of Spain.
We are underway on an eight-day voyage sailing in the wake of the ancients from Barcelona to Porto. Factor in Spain’s seductive Andalusian cities, the heart-throbbing rhythms of flamenco, the soulful singing of Portugal’s fado, fabulous gourmet fare on board and tasty tapas ashore, and this semicircumnavigation of the Iberian Peninsula delivers a near-perfect itinerary.
Our voyage is Barcelona, Ibiza, Málaga, Cádiz (Jerez de la Frontera), Lisbon to Porto. Whether you are a foodie, a fashionista or purely a tall-ship devotee, Sea Cloud Cruises and its enthralling ports of call deliver experiences of a lifetime. The heiress and her yacht Three-thousand square metres of sail cloth burst into bloom and Sea Cloud II skims across the water like a dragonfly. This ritual happens several times daily, dictated by weather conditions or navigational needs. The routine is the same whether on the original Sea Cloud or Sea Cloud II. Every manoeuvre is performed in the traditional way: by hand, not automation.
The Sea Cloud story is a compelling one. The original Sea Cloud – still sailing to this day – was built in 1931 by Marjorie Merriweather Post, a New York socialite and heiress to the Post cereal fortune. Another of her trophies was Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida. The sprawling estate was purchased by Donald Trump, embellished and converted into a private club. It is now referred to as the Winter White house.
But life on board Sea Cloud II is reward enough for us and her fellow guests, who are mostly sophisticated
European couples, North Americans and a scattering of Antipodeans. The predominant language is German (the company is based in Hamburg), but everyone speaks English and the crew is international. All guests share one thing in common: a love of sailing coupled with refinement. Who could have imagined gold fittings, marble fireplaces, ornate ceilings, detailed wood panelling, gleaming brass, plump upholstered furnishings or, had you opted for an owner’s suite, even a four-post bed on a sailboat? She has 47 cabins, 16 junior suites and two owner’s suites, all in tasteful 1920s retro-style decor. The yacht accommodates 94 guests and an expert, attentive crew of 60. The dining room is open seating in a harmonious, low-key environment with superb table settings; the quality and freshness of the food is faultless and fastidiously served.
Rhythms of Iberia
In Málaga, we choose to meander through the old quarter, which delivers a heady mix of Moorish and Western architecture, rambling streets lined with tapas bars, flamenco posters, the strum of guitars and the Picasso Museum.
Through the Straits of Gibraltar, Cádiz awaits. In Jerez de la Frontera we taste 45-year-old Amontillado and Oloroso at Bodegas Tradición, and are stunned by the owner’s private collection of Goya, Velázquez and Zurbarán, worthy of Madrid’s Prado.
In Lisbon, heel-stomping flamenco surrenders to soulful fado. Façades of Portugal’s traditional blue-and-white
azulejos (tiles) delight us at every turn. It doesn’t take long before we are utterly charmed by the city’s slightly faded elegance as we peruse Art Nouveau and Art Deco shopfronts, savour custard tarts and take a vintage tram ride.
Back on board, we salute the intrepid Portuguese navigators as we sail past their monument bound for Porto, an exploration of this famous city and its greatest gift to the world: port.