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Italian Treasures on the Crystal Symphony 
Article by Ilona Kauremszky, Photography by Stephen Smith/mycompasstv

I am on the Crystal Symphony luxury cruise liner in search of Italian treasures as we cruise past a myriad of coves and inlets along Italy’s west coast.

Earlier in the day, my beau Stephen and I were whisked from the palatial setting of Rome’s historic Hotel Eden to Civitavecchia, the departure port city for our seven-day cruise.

We chose this fine 51,000-ton gal for a few reasons. Back in 2006 Crystal Cruises completed a US$23-million overhaul to the 922-passenger vessel which was the shipping company’s most extensive interior refurbishment to date. We also were interested in discovering the allure of the Italian Riviera made famous by Roman emperors, European princes and Hollywood jet setters. Still, the other reasons were the guest-space ratio for guaranteed sheer seclusion and the great guest to staff ratio for pampering and finer details.

Upon arrival Victor, our personal butler, escorted us to our penthouse suite. Complete with balcony, lounge chairs and uber chic interiors, the suite had a “serenity now” ambiance propelled by a bucket of the finest, chilled GH Mumm Cordon Rouge Champagne. There amid crystal light fixtures, crisp Egyptian cotton sheets, honeyed inlaid wooden cabinetry, and cool sage and rich burgundy accents, I knew we had arrived to our home away from home.

It was the perfect introduction for our prowl to explore the playground of the rich and famous. “Please know I am here for anything you wish,” replied our white-gloved butler who turned in his tuxedo tails and disappeared.

The cruise had only just begun.

A typical Crystal Symphony voyage takes about 6-18 days but we were on a shorter one-week version, perfect for brief escapes. At the Gala Welcome reception we were ushered into the stylish Starlight Club for medleys, hors d’oeuvres and flutes of champagne as guests donned tuxedos, pearls and sky-high Manolo Blahniks. Darwin, our server, mysteriously knew my name. And so it went for the rest of our journey.

We dined in the Crystal Dining Room amid Riedel crystal and fine Villeroy and Boch china. I enjoyed the chef’s suggestion of sautéed jumbo shrimp, northern crab soup with brie cheese, followed by broiled fresh Norwegian salmon fillets, a homage to our Norwegian captain. As we dined we sailed past the isle of Corsica, Napoleon’s birthplace to the Ligurian Sea.

Our first stop was the picturesque seaside village of Portofino. Weathered buildings in sunflower, peach and pale blue hues enveloped the brightly bobbing fishing boats or gozzi. The Romans named this coastal sanctuary Portus Delphini, “the Port of the Dolphins.” These days it is an exclusive stomping ground for wealthy and aristocratic Italians. Shore excursions are available but we ventured on our own to tour the town and its neighbouring city, Santa Margherita. We hiked the promontory laden with canopies of aromatic jasmine and ascended the cobbled stone steps to visit the Castello Brown, a medieval castle overlooking the harbour then finished our tour with a gelato at the lighthouse.

Life along the Italian Riviera is pure La dolce vita from the cuisine to the spectacular scenery to the azure blue Mediterranean Sea. The piazzas are filled with sun-glassed patrons of Prada sipping cappuccinos. Their only burden was lugging shopping bags from Pucci, Gucci and Ferragamo. It’s a cocktail of elegant social life and supreme privacy behind luxe villas that cling to the cliff tops.

The Symphony then sailed effortlessly to our next stop Monaco where fairytales really do come true. The world’s second smallest kingdom after the Vatican was made famous by starlet Grace Kelley who stole Prince Rainier’s heart in 1955 on a visit to Cannes during the premier of the Hitchcock classic, To Catch A Thief. With the Cannes Film Festival in full swing and the Monte Carlo Grand Prix a few days away we chose to avoid the crowds and took a group shore excursion along the famous Cote D’Azur to Nice, France.

Considered the capital and queen of the Riviera, Nice sits on a stage surrounded by a natural amphitheatre of mountains that reign over the Baie des Anges (Bay of Angels). Lavish hotels and a casino erected during the Belle Epoque period make Nice a constant rival to Monaco. You can still see vestiges of the old days along the famous Promenade Anglais that skirts the famous pebble beachfront.

Matisse’s studio was here and overlooked the frenzied street market in the old city. There’s a caricature statue of Miles Davis outside the exclusive Hotel Negresco. Bono, Elton John, Tina Turner and Bill Gates all have heavenly pads between Monte Carlo and this exclusive seaside resort town.

After a lunch of wine and cheese samplers in the historic old Jewish quarter we returned to the ship. At night, passengers reminisced and romanticized about the next day’s stop in Livorno, a popular cruise port for visits to Florence, San Gimignano, Pisa and other Italian hillside villages.

Later that evening, snuggling in matching Frette bathrobes and sipping a robust Merlot from Napa Valley we cued Under The Tuscan Sun, a complimentary DVD rental from the ship’s library to prep us for the upcoming sights. But really we were counting down the hours to see our friends the next day in Florence.

Over a simple penne pomodoro and white wine from Santa Margherita, our Florentine friends Amy and Duilio described their thrilling adventure done a week before to see the island of Capri and Pompeii. In Capri, the couple traipsed through the imperial villa of Tiberius, the ruin a silhouette against the blue sky that continues to dominate the island’s skyline. Duilio explained few passersby visit this stretch of Via Tiberius which starts in the Piazzetta and meanders up the terraced gardens and whitewashed villas passing million-dollar estates named, “Serenity” “Calm” and “Paradise.”

“You could spend all day roaming the ruins of Pompeii,” they suggested and recounted how the ancient port city in its hey days contained mammoth-sized buildings of forums, amphitheatres, a gladiator court and a stadium.

Uncertain of our own plans, Stephen and I high-tailed it back to our ship, contemplating our visit to our final coastal city, Sorrento, which hugs the dramatic Amalfi coast. We were to spend two days there so there were boundless opportunities to explore the area. “I’ve heard so much about Sorrento,” I murmured leafing through my Rough Guide and Lonely Planet guidebooks.

But come early next morning, a copy of the daily newsletter “Reflections” made its way to our doorstep. The sightseeing dilemma was solved. “Hey, we’ve got a chance to visit the Isle of Capri and Pompeii,” I raved about our good luck as both destinations were outlined, making this dream now possible.

We both smiled broadly and knew there were more Italian treasures yet to discover.