Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

August 23, 2017
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Silver Lining

Cast off for luxury on an all-inclusive cruise of the Mediterranean

The revelation came as I breakfasted on raspberries and yogurt at the Terrace Café, in intimate view of the sheer cliffs of Santorini. In all my Mediterranean cruises, never had a ship moored so precariously close to this southernmost island of the Greek Cyclades or provided such an astonishing sense of place. The location alone epitomizes Silversea's trademark: every detail of its cruise experience rises well above the usual.

Think what you will about attaching the word "work" to an 11-day luxury cruise, reviewing a ship for discerning doctors is no easy task. Silversea's Silver Whisper presented a challenge. After previous memorable cruises aboard her sister ships -- visiting Norwegian fjords on the Silver Cloud and Baltic ports on the Silver Wind -- would I be jaded sailing a familiar itinerary on a line touted for service and culinary finesse? Could Silver Whisper deliver an experience doctors would value? My tally would tell.

Anticipation for our 11-day Magnificent Mediterranean cruise took off when the tickets arrived. They were tucked in a leather pouch in a black leather jewellery box along with a booklet detailing excursions. And from the very start the trip was up to our expectations.

We had opted for Silversea's air-cruise program and the transfer from Barcelona Airport to the avant-garde Ritz-Carlton Hotel Arts was seamless -- no luggage to haul around, everything was taken care of. The quick transfer meant that we had gained some precious time before setting sail. We decided to savour the Catalonian capital's architectural and culinary marvels. An alfresco feast of tapas and spicy paella followed our tour of the whimsical works of Antoni Gaudí.

Aboard the gleaming Silver Whisper, attendants proffering flutes of Champagne guided us to our suite, where our luggage was already waiting along with chilled Moæt & Chandon. We were admiring the private teak balcony, comfortable furnishings, walk-in closet, TV/VCR and satellite phone, when the maid appeared. "How may I stock your bar?" she asked, listing the complimentary wines, liquors, beers and soft drinks available. "Need anything, anytime, just page me."

We stuck to our usual routine, making a beeline for the lobby to book shore excursions before our chosen trips were filled to capacity. A concierge was organizing private guides and limousines for those wanting customized tours. Next, we were off to the library for books, a video and a look at the computer facilities. Silversea allocates a private email address to every guest and we accessed ours, without problems. But what we were most curious about was the ship: we headed straight to the top, to the 10th deck, to explore the all-suite, 382-passenger ship.

Floating in Luxury
We admired the Silver Whisper's elegant interior, more evocative of a home than a ship. Its European style reflected a tasteful choice of paintings, antique etchings and cabinets displaying ceramics and sculpted glass.

Overlooking the prow, the airy Observation Lounge was full of destination books, maps and board games. Next door, the lavish Mandara Spa and Fitness Centre was loaded with Life Fitness treadmills and recumbent bikes, each with its own television and headphones. Aerobics classes and use of the weights and equipment are free.

On Deck Nine we circled the jogging track, passing the golf cage at aft, before heading down to the pool. Trimmed in mosaic tile, the pool was flanked by twin whirlpools and showers. Plenty of chaises and tables stood in the shade, with easy access to the outdoor bar and grill. In the Panorama Lounge we found musicians tuning up for afternoon tea.

The Terrace Café on Deck Seven is popular for buffet breakfast and lunch, and doubles as a reservations-only restaurant at night, themed alternatively for Italian, French, seafood and Mediterranean cuisine. A string of luxe spaces lead from the café, including Le Champagne, a wine and caviar lounge also used as a private dining and board room for professionals on retreat. Its glass doors are etched with bubbly related quotes like Dickens' "Champagne is one of life's elegant extras." Indeed! The Humidor, scattered with Bank of England chairs, is dedicated to savouring Davidoff cigars. Next door, the Conference Room, often frequented by medical and pharmaceutical groups, connects to a card room popular with bridge players.

The Viennese Show Lounge's multi-level space extends over two decks, ensuring that every spectator had the best seat in the house. On Deck Five, the reception lobby leads to the Casino and shops (including a signature Bulgari boutique), while below, the Restaurant was set with sparkling crystal, china and Christofle silver.

That first night, the French tasting menu at the Terrace Café was dazzling, to say the least. From an amuse-bouche of escargot to terrine de foie, glazed dover sole, Champagne sorbet, filet de boeuf en brioche and tarte aux pommes -- all accompanied by French Chablis and Bordeaux wines. The jovial group near us clinked glasses at every course. They turned out to be international members of a gourmand dining association on their annual holiday cruise.

Back in our rooms, the Silversea Chronicles outlined the next day's programs, including detailed sightseeing itineraries, copies of lunch and dinner menus (all available as room service, delivered course by course). This was our first chance to really luxuriate in the granite-clad bathroom with twin sinks, soaking tub, separate shower and Bulgari bath amenities, before sliding into the crisp Frette linens.

 

A Guide in Every Port
We headed out early the next morning on an all-day cultural and culinary tour of Mallorca, the largest island in Spain's Balearic archipelago. Winding up hills fragrant with blossoming orange and almond groves, we arrived at the Cartuja de Valldemossa, a Carthusian monastery founded in 1399. Here monks led austere, contemplative lives. Gardening was seen as a reverential activity and talking was only permitted to share their expertise in herbal medicine.

Their original pharmacy remains intact, with a wonderfully eclectic assortment of ceramic and blown glass jars, mortar and pestles and scales. The building was later adopted as a rural retreat by Frédéric Chopin and French authoress, George Sand. Two monastic cells serve as a memorabilia-filled museum to the composer and his lover. True to its style, Silversea had arranged a surprise in the chapel: a private performance of Chopin before we headed to a gourmet lunch overlooking Mallorca's hilly landscape.

Menorca, the most easterly Balearic island, was recently declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve for its protected habitats, unique rural culture and curious Talayotic ruins -- standing stones evocative of Britain's Stonehenge. "Make up your own story," said the guide describing the three-metre-high structure surrounded by 12 pillars in the village of Torralba. "We haven't a clue about its history: it could be related to sacrifices during a full moon." The village of Binibequer with its whitewashed abodes was equally picturesque, though entirely commercial.

Early the following day, guest lecturer Thomas Moore explained the Napoleonic history of Ajaccio as we approached French Corsica's largest town. While many opted for a tour of the mountainous UNESCO World Heritage Site of Les Calanques, we imbibed the atmosphere of this lovely city on our own.

Finally at sea, the next day was pure pleasure. The 25,000 tonne ship sailed like a whisper on the breeze at a speedy 20.5 knots. Captain Giuseppe Russo invited me to the bridge for his perfect espresso. "Four coffees a day keep the doctor away," he laughed as I perused the high tech navigation equipment. "How does this light vessel handle in rough seas?" I asked. "We handle for convenience and comfort. During high winds, we head through waves slowly and angle the vessel a bit." Chief Navigator Arkadius Branka piped in: "The Silver Whisper has great maneuverability, lots of power. Captain Russo has a sixth sense for weather. Besides, this is the best ship at sea."

"What about security?" I asked, remembering the vigilant checking of passengers' computerized ID cards in every port. "Our security level is high due to current world events. All passenger bags are X-rayed. All provisions are checked manually, box by box."

After an energetic swim, I attended the special food and wine program. Executive Chef Gerhard Egger demonstrated easy methods to make potato gnocchi and apple strudel with vanilla sauce. Sommelier Gabriele Chiappini spoke about the art of pairing wines with food.

Culinary excellence is an intrinsic part of Silversea. Now associated with the international Relais & Ch"teaux - Relais Gourmands hotels and restaurants, its menus feature signature creations by Michelin-starred chefs. Silversea cruises are frequently themed, some on food and wine, others on the arts, literature or popular activities. The Silver Links golf cruises include PGA instructors and privileges at famed courses worldwide.

The seafood tasting menu that night included potatoes stuffed with caviar, grilled sea bass with morel vinaigrette, scallop and prawn soup and raspberry dessert accompanied by Sauvignon Blanc and Bordeaux.

Returning to our room, we found the passenger list on our bed. The international list included 11 doctors from Britain, Australia and the US, all of whom must have been relieved to discover that the onboard Medical Centre was accessible by appointment around the clock. We had already had the chance to dine with a doctor and his wife from Malvern, Australia, who enjoy annual Silversea Mediterranean cruises.

Mediterranean Flavours
We were breakfasting on our balcony with a superb view as we approached the ancient fort city of Valetta on the island of Malta. The outstanding, at-your-own-pace tour of Malta was pure Silversea style: each couple had their own guide and chauffered Mercedes. The guide enhanced the experience immeasurably, filling us in on the history of the Knights of Malta, the breathtaking architecture of St. John Cathedral (a UNESCO World Heritage Site boasting two exquisite paintings by Caravaggio) and the 5600-year-old antiquities on display in the new archeology museum. After touring the historic ruins of Mdina, with its artistic door knockers, we joined others passengers for a lavish fish lunch at Relais & Ch"teaux's Xara Palace overlooking the island's parched hills.

The weather was perfect as usual in Agios Nikolaos, Crete's bustling port-side village. While first-timers to the island toured the ancient sites of Knossos and the Heraklion Museum, I browsed the boutiques, learning a valuable lesson about shopping in European Union countries (see Getting that VAT back sidebar, page 42).

The ship berthed steps away from the ancient walled capital of Rhodes. While many visited the remnants of Lindos and the Acropolis, we toured the old Rhodes synagogue. It's mentioned on American Express' list of Most Endangered Sites and houses a tiny museum preserving the history of the Jews of Rhodes.

Back aboard, I met Chef Gerhard Egger in his galley office. "Try my flourless, hazelnut chocolate torte," he begged beaming. "I just made it for this afternoon's tea." Rolling a delicious morsel in my mouth, I asked, "How do you plan for a ship full of food and wine aficionados?" He laughed. "It's all contemporary food inspired by guest Michelin chefs. Sauces are light. Ingredients are natural. We buy fresh fish and local fruits in port. On world itineraries, that means local delights in Vietnam, spices in Istanbul and India."

I couldn't wait to peruse the wares at the Turkish market in Bodrum. Most people skipped the daylong trip to Ephesus to buy rugs and leather goods instead. By dinner, we were ready for Champagne. A gala performance of Cirque du Soleil-like acrobatics capped off the evening. For well-travelled guests accustomed to Broadway, London's West End and world-renowned productions, the nightly shows provided worthy entertainment.

Our final day in Santorini was picture-perfect. While oenophiles visited the Akrotiri winery, we prowled the warren of alleys, stopping at a lookout to admire the Silver Whisper's sleek, dynamic form. If the Silver Whisper's mooring at Santorini was awesome, the departure was even more spectacular. Captain Russo circled the ocean crater, offering us brilliant views of the multi-layered volcanic sea bed before heading northwest to Piraeus, Athens' port.

Silversea's inimitable service was apparent as we disembarked. No porters to pay and no bags to schlep to the airport. The perfect end to a perfect trip. It's no wonder the readers of Condé Nast Traveler and Travel + Leisure have named Silversea the world's best small cruise line.

My final tally? Faultless service, indulgent hospitality, convivial ambience, fascinating and original cultural tours, seamless transfers, beautifully presented food and an entirely all-inclusive package. Is this vessel worthy of the discerning readers of Doctor's Review? Lest knowledge tempts the masses, I'd prefer to whisper: Absolutely, yes.

 

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.

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