It’s not only philosophers who think life’s about the journey more than the destination. It’s vacationers too. It’s what you’ll find on the Windstar Cruise’s Hidden Harbors of Côte D’Azur voyage to some of France and Spain’s most iconic ports and undiscovered gems—a trip where many of the true joys come in the opportunity to relax along the way.
Whereas driving from Nice to Barcelona in high season would take hours of hotel research, twisting turns in a stick-shift car and the barriers that come from halting high school-level language skills, this itinerary puts it all together. Instead of flying in and heading directly to the pier, it’s worth spending an extra day in Nice to get used to the local time and culture. Take a stroll to the boardwalk, where palm trees sway like the casual back-and-forth of the seaside volleyball games and the rhythm of the Rivieras can be heard from the smack of the balls and the boom of the buskers’ bass. Then head toward Old Town (Vieux Nice), where cobblestoned streets twist into a jumble of charming boutiques (trendy, locally made espadrilles, anyone?) and tasty dinner spots such as La Cave du Fromager. In the summer, there’s live music at most of the pubs, and for an after-dinner pop, Wayne’s is especially fun.
Hotel Aston La Scala offers convenient beach day passes and towels for the next day, or grab a train ticket for a 20-minute ride to the Shangri-La of racing: Monte Carlo. The home of Princess Grace and hairpin turns comes to life, and anyone wowed by the artistry of Ferrari, Porsche and Bentley will be captivated by those that vroom past Monte Carlo Casino like strutting pageant contestants.
PRIMO PORTS: Windstar’s cruise stops along the coasts of France and Spain. Photo: C. Dimiti
Photo: C. Dimiti
This might be your last racing of the trip, however, since seven days of relaxation start upon boarding the ship. For those who’ve considered a cruise but were turned off by the thought of making new besties with 4,000 other people on a waterslide party boat, this 310-passenger yacht, Wind Surf, is far from it. Yes, you’ll still get towels folded into fun animal shapes, but the crew is friendly and more than willing to serve the manageable amount of guests. Communal seating at meals is out, and a choice of three options is in: Stella Bistro (French), Candles (steakhouse) and AmphorA, with its chef’s whim menu.
Hidden Harbors and other Mediterranean itineraries offer even more culinary delights than other Windstar cruises thanks to a partnership with the James Beard Foundation that brings guest chefs and sommeliers onboard. Perhaps award-winning chef Maxime Bilet will hit the galley in France for inspired takes on the fresh asparagus and seafood he found when visiting local markets with travelers, while bubbly Belinda Chang may tap some of the world’s best wine regions for perfect pairings—along with the optimal summer time frame to enjoy delicate rosés.
While all extras such as tasting sessions and cooking classes are included in regular cruise costs, there are plenty of other opportunities to add on more sipping, swirling and savoring since daily tours include wineries and bistros in Bastia, rosé-rich Le Lavandou and a wine and cheese afternoon in Aix-En-Provence; though it’s not too hard to discover your own spots in the little beach towns. The wallet-friendly strategy is to go on inland adventures: Movie buffs will adore docking in Antibes, and art aficionados shouldn’t pass up the chance to see Dali’s Figueras museum while in Palamos. Keep in mind: Each is a bit of a drive.
Photo: C. Dimiti
Unlike many cruises where there are a few days at sea, Hidden Harbors hugs the coast and features a new port every day. Whether you plan to hit the turf or stay in the surf and kick back onboard, it’s best to save a few Euros for a drink package. Grab a mixed drink and then mingle in the two hot tubs or pool. (And if you’re worried about sailing with people your grandparents’ age, fear not—there’s a nice mix of generations and different countries.) It’s best to imbibe after included watersports, of course, since you’ll be zipping around at high velocity on a tube. Consider it the day’s upper-body workout if you skipped the ship’s gym.
When the floating hotel experience comes to an end, use post-trip accommodations arranged by Windstar to stick around a little longer. The reservation includes a bus to GH Gallery Hotel in Barcelona’s city center—worth it for the swank rooftop pool alone—along with breakfast, afternoon wine and the airport transfer after your overnight stay. It’s a great way to get your sea legs readjusted to reality before flying home. ◆
— Traveling with friends or kids? Adjoining cabin configurations are a godsend, along with suites offering a pullout couch and two bathrooms. It’s a real love boat when you don’t have to share one sink.
La Cave du Fromager, lacavedufromager.com; GH Gallery Hotel, galleryhotel.com/en; Hotel Aston La Scala, hotel-aston.com/en; Monte Carlo Casino, casinomontecarlo.com; Windstar Cruises, windstarcruises.com