Time Ashore. A Review of the Ports.

Written by Safarigal
September 14, 2022

The day after the Queen’s death Hamish Elliott, our captain made a lovely announcement about the death of the Queen, and gave a short speech followed by asking for a minute of silence. Not easy on a ship where the champagne is flowing freely. I think everyone is still stunned, but I know I am doing better, and I think the rest of the passengers seem to be doing OK. I am so glad we were in London for the Queen’s Jubilee in June.

I can’t believe that we have already been to all 6 of our 6 ports for this cruise. It has really gone way too fast!

Here is a summary of the ports – we really didn’t do any in depth exploration, but chose for this cruise to just enjoy wandering around, and experience being back in the Mediterranean again.

One of the joys of the Sojourn is that she is small enough to dock at the cruise pier, or if she is at anchor, the tenders are so frequent and efficient you never wait for more than 5 minutes for a tender. No docking in huge cargo ports and having to take a bus to the port entrance. You can walk right off the ship or tender and be exactly where you wanted to start your exploration of the port. It’s almost like river cruising.

Our first port was Mahon, where apparently mayonnaise was born. I must admit I never thought about the origin of mayonnaise, but now I know.

From the ship it is a quick walk to the bottom of the 100+ steps up to the town itself. It is also a short walk to catch the lift that takes you up to town. We chose to do the latter. I had read about the Little Red Train that does a loop around town and shows you all the important sights. It has a stop right at the bottom of the lift, so we went to the nearby tourist office to check on the schedule and then we went to the stop and waited for the train. And waited. And waited. It never came. So we gave up and took the lift in to town.

There were streamers everywhere in the streets,

and 2 interesting looking huge effigies.

Clearly something was going on. Later I found out that we were in Mahon for the start of the Mare De Deu De Gracia Fiesta. It sounds like it would have been fun, and I wished we could have stayed longer. But that’s the downside of cruising, come 4:30 it was time to be back on board for the sail away.

Our next stop was the little French Riviera town of La Ciotat. Here we did have to tender, but it was a very short ride and in no time we were at the pier and armed with our map, off we went exploring. There really isn’t much to do in the town, the main reason for going there is its close proximity to Provence and Marseilles. Or wine tasting tours. So most people headed out on tours.

We enjoyed wondering around the town, and walking on the sea front. It was hot, but not too bad, and we had a good day. La Ciotat claims to be the birthplace of pétanque, at least the version played today. The story has it that, in 1907 (some accounts claim 1910), a former boules champion named Jules Lenoir was prevented by chronic rheumatism from playing the game, which at the time involved running with the ball before pitching it. He and his colleagues invented a new rule to enable Lenoir to join in. According to it, all the players remain standing or seated in a fixed position. The name pétanque derives from the provençal phrase pèd tanca, meaning “anchored feet”.

Marked with a plaque, this historic spot is about two thirds of a mile from the Port Vieux at the Boulodrome Jules Lenoir, impasse de la Pétanque and the Association Jules Lenoir in La Ciotat meets regularly to celebrate the memory.

One other of the city’s claims to fame is that in 1895 the Lumieres brothers made their first moving picture: A train arriving at the Ciotat station. The Eden Theatre of Ciotat is said to be the oldest movie theatre in the world, as it was there that the first public showing of a movie was held. The audience was completely astonished to see on the screen a train rushing in their direction. The Eden Theater where the film was showed, is still in operation, so we had to go by and see it for ourselves.

It is a sleepy town, with old pastel buildings lining the waterfront. Everything looks past it’s prime. It reminded me of Gerald Durrell’s description in his book “My Family and Other Animals”, of one of their houses in Corfu – “decaying splendour”. At the time I read the book in the 60s we were living on the island of Malta. I loved that phrase: it described our house perfectly. Built as a grand hunting lodge in 1665, it had somewhat fallen into disrepair, and my parents were able to rent it at a very reasonable price as it had no electricity, and had an insecure water supply. On top of that it was haunted. All of this made it very attractive to my parents, so for 6 years we lived in decaying splendour. I have been partial to decaying splendour ever since then.

From decaying splendour we moved on to razzle dazzle, Monte Carlo. Looking somewhat like a miniature Hong Kong, at first glance Monte Carlo looks like it is made up of high rise apartment buildings climbing up a steep hillside.

Further scrutiny however shows that among the concrete and glass are smaller beautiful Belle Epoque buildings, and there right in front of our balcony was the famous casino.

We looked out into the harbor, and although we were certainly the largest ship in the port, there were several exceptionally large boats moored close by. We sat at breakfast checking them out on our ship mapper app, and then finding out more about them online. There were certainly some beauties, but also some really unattractive vessels. I mean if you have all that money, why would you not buy/build a graceful, well proportioned boat? But I suppose, each to their own.

Brian had downloaded a walking tour, and off we set to explore Monte Carlo. However, as we had seen from the ship, it is very hilly, and it was a hot and humid day. As we approached the hop on hop off bus stop we both said in unison “let’s scrap the walking tour and take the bus!”.

This was a good choice as the bus stopped at all of the major sights and we were able to explore Monte Carlo, and learn about the history of Monaco. The casino building is really magnificent, and although there is a mixture of old and modern buildings close by, it seems to work, and we enjoyed a stroll in a nearby park.

The Palace is up on a hill, and is quite magnificent to look at. We did not go in, but will certainly do so if in Monaco again. The area around the Palace also has some beautiful buildings, and great views. I am glad that we had taken the bus there, it looked like quite a steep climb up to the top.

Back at the ship we had a wonderful pool party – great music, great food, and of course great champagne!

We sailed at 11:00 PM giving folks who had not joined the pool party time to enjoy the restaurants, clubs, and casino. The illuminated buildings made for a very beautiful sail away, it was a warm, perfectly still evening as we slowly glided out to sea once more. Next stop, St Tropez.

For someone who relishes sea days, this port a day thing is quite tiring. Last night Monte Carlo, this morning we woke up in St Tropez. This was another tender port, but it was a short ride to the quayside in the new harbor. We walked to the area around the old harbor,

and climbed up to the citadel to see the view of the town from the top,

As we had come into the harbor we had seen some strange looking sail boats with what looked like an unstable tall sail. From the citadel we could see several more, so we decided to head back down to the harbor to investigate what they were. We walked along the breakwater, and certainly something exciting was going on.

It turned out that St Tropez leg of the SailGP was in full swing. The SailGP is an international sailing competition using high performance F50 foiling catamarans where teams compete across a season of multiple grands prix around the world.

The boats have one very tall sail, and they go at speeds of over 60 mph. They lift off the surface of the water when they are going at that rate. We returned to the ship to get a better view of the race, and Brian (whose finger is slowly healing but still has a large area of skin missing), took some amazing videos. It was such fun to see the SailGP sail boats, and extra bonus.

There was a caviar and champagne party by the pool in the early evening. Very appropriate after a long hot day exploring St Tropez! I like the way Seabourn does it.

If it’s Friday, it must be Bastia. Except it wasn’t. Apparently the harbor master in Bastia had said it would be too windy for us to dock in Bastia, and that we had to anchor and tender instead. Our captain quite rightly told him that if it was too windy to dock, it was most likely too windy to safely go into the port in the tenders. So Bastia was out. I thought phew, a sea day at last. But it was not to be. Our very resourceful captain was able to secure a berth for us in Portoferraio on the island of Elba. So on Friday morning we awoke with Portoferraio outside out balcony.

The main sights to see in town are the museum, 2 fortresses on top of the hills, and Napoleon’s house. I must admit that the only thing I knew previously about Elba was that Napoleon was there briefly. I wasn’t even sure where Elba was, and I was certainly unaware that Elba is Italy’s 3rd largest island.

Actually Napoleon had 2 houses on the island, but only one is easy to walk to from the port. It is not a grand house, but is well situated on top of a hill, with magnificent views across to the mainland. It was quite cool and quiet in the shady gardens, and we enjoyed just sitting there for a while.

I had a sudden desire for clam spaghetti, so we walked down the hill to a square in town, and found a lovely outdoor restaurant that had that on the menu. Service was really slow, but we figured we really didn’t have anywhere to go, so we sat eating, drinking, and people watching, wishing that we were on a longer cruise because we had become rather fond of this one, and weren’t ready to think about disembarking just yet.

We bought some gelato from a shop across the square from the restaurant and sat by the harbor eating our gelato and looking at the large private boats. Not as impressive as Monaco, but there is certainly a lot of money out there.

Our final port was Portovenere, another tender port. We had been here in June, and loved our day seeing the Cinque Terre. This visit we decided to visit the medieval town of Sarzana. It turned out that this was a good idea as it was too windy for the ferries and tour boats to go to the Cinque Terre, which must have been very disappointing for many folks on the ship.

Sarzana is about an hour’s drive from Portovenere and our guide gave us a very informative talk on the history and geography of the area. We walked around the town seeing the city walls, fortresses

and the cathedral. The cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta’s claim to fame is that it has the oldest painted cross in the world.


We then stopped at Café Gemmi for coffee and pastries.. We sat in the roof garden, which was quiet and shady. The pastries were delicious. I was thinking more and more that although sea days are a must, this port a day cruise certainly has shown us some very interesting towns that we would not usually get to see. Somehow just being in France and Italy is such a treat. Yes, I could get used to this.

But reality interrupted my thoughts. It was time to return to the ship and let the packing begin.

This cruise had been quite a surprise, so it lacked the usual planning and build up that I love, but the sheer spontaneity was delightful.

The ship had offered what looked like amazing tours at each port, but apart from our visit to Sarzana, we chose to just experience the joy of spending time walking around the new ports and enjoying just soaking up the different atmosphere. I just wished that Queen Mary 2 would suddenly appear to whisk us back home. I am not looking forward to our flights back to the US!

Post Discussion


  1. Erin

    I enjoyed reading along. I like small ships for their ability to get close in to town or to tender shorter distances.

    • Safarigal

      Yes, isn’t it great that in a small port you can spend all of your time ashore actually in the port, and not waiting for a bus to take you to the entrance to the port, and then another bus to take you into town!

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