Cruising allows one to enter a whole new world when it reaches amazing cruise ports. My friends and I chose a cruise offering a few years ago which allowed us to explore rare European destinations. We boarded the Grand Princess for a seven day Iberian Interlude Cruise sailing from Southampton, England with ports of call in Vigo, Spain; Lisbon, Portugal; plus Brest and LaRochelle, France.
Cruising with Grand Princess
This was our first time on the Grand Princess and as usual, Princess Cruise Lines delivered a solid performance. We were even upgraded to outside cabins with a window view. Princess ships have a plethora of fun activities to keep you busy while sailing the high seas. My favorite offering was the daily afternoon tea. This white gloved tea service brings a variety of finger sandwiches, pastries, billowy scones and jam, and tea to the guests. Live musicians entertain the participants. I am also partial to the spa onboard Princess ships as well, which uses quality Elemis skin care products and offers amazing services.
Cruising Breaks So Many Barriers
During our travels, there were language barriers in almost all locations. Shop workers and restaurant staff spoke no English, so we were often left winging it. That is one of the things I love about traveling. We can mingle or cross paths with people from all over the world, technically unable to communicate, but we manage the best we can and still get by.
Outside of Lisbon, Portugal, our cruise ports were small and seldom visited by cruise ships. This itinerary was only offered by Princess once a year. It seems a shame that Portugal does not get more tourists because it is a metropolitan city with a perfect balance of cultural activities, charm, and history. Some of the most famous explorers in the world claimed Portugal as their home. It was interesting exploring their memorials and monuments.
A Memorable Religious Port
Vigo, Spain– We arrived to the religious pilgrimage site of St. James Cathedral in very rainy conditions, but the architecture was splendid! Some travelers making the rough and lengthy pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela fell to their knees when they finally reached their destination. It was magical to witness. St. James is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, important to world travelers to check off their bucket list. After touring the cathedral, we walked across the street to the inn and enjoyed tea and pastries.
Interesting and Beautiful French Ports
La Rochelle, France– La Rochelle is home to the gorgeous La Roche-Courbon Castle. The castle was restored to its grandeur after lying in ruins until 1920. The tour did not allow photography inside. For me, La Roche-Courbon Castle was not a very desirable castle as far as content and beauty. The outside was another story! La Roche-Courbon stood stately amidst immaculate grounds with a huge pool, sophisticated shaped topiary trees, and lovely gardens.
Brest, France– My friend and I did an excursion with Princess to tour the Brittany region of France. We arrived in the quaint fishing port of Concarneau, known for its medieval walled town. Concarneau’s houses and businesses that lined the port were adorable. A local crepe shop claimed to be the first one in France. Later we stumbled upon a fresh farmers market and sank our teeth into plump, juicy berries while walking around to admire the flowers and clothing that was for sale.
My Favorite Port
Pont Aven, France– Pont Aven, a fairytale town, was home to the world-renowned artist Paul Gauguin. Gauguin, famous for “Yellow Jesus” and many other art works, co-founded an art school in Pont Aven. His art used vivid bright colors and interesting textures, drawing inspiration from the eye popping landscape.
Pont Aven had a welcoming vibe. It made me feel like I was in a Hans Christian Andersen fairy-tale. Fat, blooming flowers were abundant in the plethora of gardens. Photogenic stone buildings and an old mill provided a place to relax and meditate. Pont Aven also had cool art gallerias, in which my friend and I bought souvenir posters to bring home and frame.
Give Me More!
Our Iberian Interlude cruise proved to be full of memories and wonder. We saw so many beautiful places that were not in the normal realm of European cruises. I find myself sharing the Santiago de Compostela and discovering Portugal stories to anyone who will listen. Maybe some day I will come across another unique opportunity like this. Where was your favorite cruise?