Azamara World Series - Italy and the Adriatic
We boarded the Azamara Pursuit in Civitevecchia for our 10 day cruise around Italy and the Adriatic, taking in Montenegro and Croatia before disembarking in Venice. Following an early morning flight from London to Rome and a short coach transfer from the airport we boarded the ship mid-afternoon and made our way directly to the shore excursions desk and the speciality dining desk to make our reservations for the cruise. With all our bookings confirmed we headed to muster before an early dinner in Discoveries main dining room and an early night following our 4am start.
The next morning we awoke in beautiful Amalfi which although we have visited a couple of times before, never ceases to excite. To add to the excitement of it, today was also my birthday, so we had booked a rather unusual shore excursion to visit a local buffalo mozzarella farm. Despite a small delay with the tenders because of a sea swell we were soon ashore, and waiting to greet us was Paulo, our guide for this tour. There were only seven of us on the tour so we quickly gathered and made our way to a luxurious little minibus for our hour and half scenic drive along the Amalfi coast to a little town ten minutes inland of Salerno. At the far end of the town we found the mozzarella factory, Traverno Penta. This building and farm land has been in the same family for nine generations and the current owners, Filippo and Flavia have renovated the factory building into a beautiful cafe and shop for their mozzarella production which takes place on site.
Flavia started the tour by taking us into the production area and explaining to us how the mozzarella is made. As our tour had been delayed by the swell we were too late in the day to see the mozzarella actually being made but she showed us all of the equipment and a video to explain what happens, and we were able to see that days production being packaged up ready for sale. The 600 water buffalo from the nearby farm are milked twice a day, once in the evening and again very early in the morning. That milk is then transported the half a mile or so to the factory at 4.30am and the cheese makers start their days production, which is all finished by midday.
Our factory tour over, we boarded the minibus again for the short drive from the factory to the family’s farmhouse. The farmhouse is surrounded by the land which is used to grow the corn and wheat used to feed the buffalo and the buffalo themselves. From the farmhouse we wandered down the lane to see some of the water buffalo in their fields which are divided up so that the younger calves can be kept together with them moving from one area to another as they get older. By the time they are three years old they are old enough to start milking so they will be ‘introduced’ to one of the 60 bulls on the farm and they will be kept on the farm as long as they are reproducing and making milk, usually until about age 11.
After a wander around the farm we made our way back to the farmhouse where we were invited into the gorgeous dining room (unfortunately the weather was not quite warm enough for us to eat on the lovely veranda) where a lovely lunch was laid out for us all. We ate a delicious locally grown green salad dressed with Italian olive oil, an organic tomato salad, a home made ham and mozzarella flan, some of their own ricotta cheese with honey and the mozzarella made from milk that had literally been farmed that day and produced into mozzarella in time for lunch. It was such a delicious, truly Italian lunch of freshly made foods all grown and produced within a mile of where we sat, washed down with a lovely cold glass of local white wine, and shared with our lovely host Flavia in her home. And to finish it all off we had a bowl of blueberry yoghurt made at the factory from the mozzarella and ricotta cheeses.
Over lunch we shared anecdotes of family life and learnt some of the family history, from the time they acquired the land in the 11th century to the here and now, and how they and their own two sons are enjoying life on a buffalo farm, having moved from Rome to take over the business when Filippo’s father died 12 years ago. By the end of the lunch it felt like we had known Flavia and Filippo for years and we were sad to say goodbye! To find out more about this wonderful farm and its long history please visit The Taverna Penta website and if ever you are in the area we would recommend a visit to their farm, or even a stay in one of their newly renovated holiday apartments on the farm.
Following our coach ride back to Amalfi we had a little time to wander round the town before boarding the ship to get ready for our dinner in Aqualina, my favourite restaurant on board and very fitting for our Italian surroundings. Dinner was delicious and service impeccable with a surprise birthday cake produced at the end of the meal. Both being too full from our five course meal we asked for this to be sent to our room so we could enjoy it there. What a wonderful way to spend my birthday, with a very special shore excursion and dinner in one of my favourite restaurants!
The next day we were tendered at Sorrento, one of my favourite Italian towns for just wandering around with its beautiful alleyways, shops, restaurants, park and views over the ocean. Back on board the ship in time for a late alfresco lunch at The Patio we then spent the afternoon chilling round the pool. Tonight we had reservations at the Italian Chefs table (you might be able to guess that I love Italian food!) which is located in Prime C restaurant. We joined our table of 10 guests and settled in for our amazing 7 course tasting menu with matching wine flight. For more information on this please refer to our Azamara dining guide but suffice to say we had a wonderful evening full of food, wine and laughter making new friends and probably outstaying our welcome.
Waking up with a little bit of a headache the next day we were again tendered, this time off the coast of Sicily at Gaurdino Naxos, the coastal port for accessing Taormina. Since we hadn’t booked any shore excursions and had been to Taormina a couple of times before we decided to stay on board the ship and enjoy a day of rest and relaxation. Lunch was leisurely, sitting on the terrace at the rear of the Windows cafe enjoying the view over the bay to the beautiful Sicilian coast. After an afternoon relaxing round the pool, making the most of the sunny weather, we opted for another alfresco meal, this time at The Patio. This evenings entertainment was a wonderful dance show with the two on board professional dancers, Sasha and Dyma, inspiring us to end the day in the Living room having a little twirl on the dance floor to the ships band, The White Sand Trio.
The following day we were tendered somewhere we had never been to before, Syracuse on the southern coast of Sicily. Although we love revisiting places we’ve been to before, it’s always exciting to visit somewhere new. Before getting off the ship we made sure we visited the local tourist representative that Azamara had arranged to come on board to get advise on where to go and what to see (something we nearly always do even if we have been to destination before - you never know what little gems of information you might get from them). Armed with lots of information and useful maps we went ashore to wander round the town, visit the local market and eat cannoli. Luckily we made our way back to the ship just in time for to beat the rain that came in. With the rather inclement weather forcing us inside we changed for the evening, enjoying a pre-dinner drink (or two) and tapas in the Living room before a delicious dinner in the main dining room, Discoveries followed by a wonderful evening of entertainment from the ships singers in a show called Broadway featuring songs from the Azamara Signature Singers.
Sunday was our only sea day on this 10-day voyage so when we woke to beautiful blue skies and warm weather we decided to start the day with a very lazy breakfast delivered to our room and enjoyed on our balcony. This lunchtime we were being treated to an officers barbecue around the pool so we camped down on one of the extremely comfortable padded sun-loungers and waited for the barbecue to be ready. The chefs set up 3 barbecues by the pool and food was laid out in The Patio, including nachos, baked potatoes, hot dogs, burgers, grilled meat and fries, salads, and a huge array of cakes and desserts. After such a large lunch the only option was to lay around the pool and enjoy the rest of our sea day.
Although we only had one sea day we loved that we never had an issue getting a sun bed around the pool on The Pursuit. Being fair skinned we also loved that there are plenty of sunbeds under the shaded balcony of the deck above. And we particularly liked that these beds were set out looking out to sea rather than in to the pool - why would you look in on a ship when there’s that stunning sea view to be enjoyed if you turn the other way? When we sailed on the pre-inaugaral cruise on the Pursuit last year the lounger seat pads had not been delivered so we were pleasantly delighted to find them adorned with luxurious seat pads this time, which I’m sure were infused with some sort of sleeping agent because every time I laid down on one of them I just fell into a deep day time nap.
Following a lazy day around the pool and a delicious barbecue lunch the day was perfectly rounded off with two of our other favourite pastimes, an Indian buffet in the Windows cafe (eaten alfresco with a mesmerising wake sea view) and a live jazz and funk evening with the ships band in the Living room.
The next day we awoke in Kotor and Captain Antonio had miraculously negotiated for us to be alongside rather than tendering from the fjord, especially wonderful since we were not leaving Kotor until quite late into the evening and it made coming and going from the ship that much easier. Unfortunately though, the weather was against us with the cloud building and rain forecast. So we set off early on our planned shore excursion climbing up the mountainside along the 18 hairpin bends to visit a traditional inland Montenegrin highland village. Thankfully we managed to outwit the clouds and enjoyed some stunning views along the way. Our stop in the village included a visit to the only restaurant in town for a snack of locally produced prosciutto and cheese with honey wine. Montenegro is famed for its Prosciutto and from what we tasted rightly so, the smoky ham accompanying the salty goats cheese perfectly. We then had a short time to wander up the street of this little village, visiting the local tourist stalls selling linens and wools.
We then boarded the coach again to make our way further inland to the ancient capital city of Cetinje. This must be one of the tiniest capital cities we have ever visited with a handful of shops and seemingly the only people walking the streets were fellow tourists. By now the weather had caught up with us and the persistent rain was dampening our day. Back on board the coach we made our way back to Kotor on a different (slightly less scary) road than the one we had travelled up the mountain on. Arriving back in Kotor our guide took us on a walking tour through the ancient city, taking in some of the historic buildings and churches of the old city. Kotor is a beautiful walled city packed full with ancient buildings and squares lined with lovely cafes and restaurants. After an hour wandering around the town, and feeling rather cold and damp we decided to go back to the ship to warm up and dry off. Tonight was supposed to the White Night party but the rain meant that it had to be postponed so we decided to go ashore again for an early evening wander around the port before re-boarding for dinner in Discoveries restaurant and another show from the ships singers, this one called ‘Four on the Floor’.
Our next stop was Dubrovnik, one of my all time favourite cruising destinations. Having been here a few times before we decided to do something a bit different this time and took a boat over to Lokrum island. What a good decision that was, Lokrum is a beautiful uninhabited island just off the coast of old Dubrovnik and widely featured in Game of Thrones (as is a lot of Dubrovnik). Being fans of Game of Thrones we visited the islands monastery which houses the Iron Throne before climbing up to the fort at the highest point of the island, giving us beautiful views over Dubrovnik, the bay and our home away from home, the gorgeous Azamara Pursuit.
Back in Dubrovnik we stopped for gelato to give us the energy needed to walk the southern half of the old town walls. We were lucky that we were the only cruise chip docked in Dubrovnik that day so it was relatively quiet. We spent the afternoon walking the walls and wandering the lovely little streets and alleyways of this beautiful city, which was meant to be the setting for our Azamazing evening later in the day. However, the weather gods had other ideas and as we were enjoying an early buffet dinner in Discoveries restaurant the rain came in and an announcement was made that the evening was cancelled. As disappointing as this was we were grateful that our performer for the evening the wonderful cellist, Ana Rucner, agreed to come on board so we could enjoy the show in the ships theatre even if the setting was somewhat different.
Having visited Kotor a few days earlier we thought we had peaked with scenic sail-ins but the sail in to Sibenik, Croatia the following morning certainly gave it a run for its money. We slowly sailed passed some of the many islands off the coast of Croatia, skilfully navigating some very narrow passages and other ships coming in and out of the waterways. Thankfully the weather had improved and the sun was shining as we joined our excursion for the day, to visit Krka National park, home of more waterfalls than we could count and amazing scenery. The walking trail around the park took us through the woodland along the river with views of the numerous waterfalls before coming to the ‘meadow’, a large open area with a variety of food outlets, picnic areas and a bathing pool at the foot of the waterfall. We succumbed to a delicious freshly made crepe before joining our group to climb back up to the coach park for our drive to the little town of Skrandi, situated further along the Krka river. Once here we had a wander around the little town before settling down for a quick beer in a cafe overlooking the marina. The day finished with the drive back to the ship just in time for the sail out along this gorgeous coastline.
As we finally had nice weather the postponed White Night party was scheduled for our sail out from Sibenik so we quickly changed and joined our fellow passengers who were amassing on the open decks as the barbecues were being fired up and the cocktails starting to flow. A couple of cocktails in, the food was ready and the party was well under way. The band led the after dinner dancing as the sun set over the sea and we danced the night away. What fun.
The next morning started with another contender for the most magnificent sail-in award as we gathered on the open decks to enjoy our arrival into the iconic city of Venice. Over the speakers our port expert was describing the buildings as we sailed passed and the crew wandered among us offering us hot drinks and breakfast snacks. Once docked we disembarked to join our last shore excursion, this time to Murano and Burano. From the port side we boarded a large water taxi (the best way to get around Venice) which was ours for the day. Out first stop was the island of Murano which sits just north of the historic centre of Venice, a 20 minute boat trip from where we were docked. Murano is famed for its glass making and our main point of call whilst on the island was a glass making factory where we were treated to an amazing glass blowing demonstration before free time to wander around the impressive shop and glass displays.
Back on the boat we made our way on to the more distant island of Burano, a 45 minute ride away. This is the northern most island of the Venetian Lagoon and is renowned for its lace making and brightly coloured houses. Disembarking our boat we made our way to the town square at the foot of the main street of the island. We were instantly struck by the similarities and contrasts to the main island. Whilst it definitely had a Venetian feel to it, it was much quieter, less cramped and more relaxed than the bustling main island. Walking down the main street we were flanked by traditional lace shops and travernas, with people enjoying a leisurely lunch on the pavement terraces. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to stop for something to eat but as we wandered the streets admiring the brightly painted houses we vowed to return for longer and sample some of the delicious looking Italian fayre on offer at these picturesque canal-side restaurants.
After a long boat ride back to the ship and a late return it was time to do a little packing before our last supper, this time in the speciality steakhouse restaurant, Prime C. Although the two speciality restaurants on board attract a small surcharge and the food and service in the main restaurant, Discoveries, is excellent, we like to treat ourselves to one night in each during a voyage if possible. Having been to Aqualina very early on in our trip it was now the turn of Prime C which was as spectacular as always, with the chef even making me a specially requested dessert (see our Dining Guide for more info). Dinner over there was just time (if not the appetite) to visit the chocolate buffet in the Mosaics cafe before retiring to bed.
And so we woke the next morning to find that our journey had unfortunately come to an end, with a coach transfer to Venice airport to catch our plane home. Despite the weather being unseasonably cool for the time of year, the combination of the Mediterranean and the Pursuit had given us a journey to remember with some scenic ports, incredible excursions, luxurious accommodation, exceptional service and Azamazing events!
With many thanks to Azamara Cruises for hosting us on this voyage.
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