TRAVEL: A whistle-stop luxury tour of ancient Europe
LoungingÂ on a deckchair looking out across the glistening Mediterranean, I lazily reach over to pick up my gin and tonic as we make our way from Sicily to southern Spain.Â
It's 5pm in late October but it's still lovely and warm, so this indulgent aperitif is rather refreshing. Â
At the end of a long day visiting ancient temples, ampitheatres, cathedrals and fortresses, nothing beats relaxing on the terrace with a cocktail.Â
It was so very different to how I imagined cruising to be. I had visions of thousands of passengers elbowing each other out the way to get to the breakfast buffet.
Voyages to Antiquity is altogether different.
The company specialiseÂ in trips to ancient sites around Europe on board the Aegean Odyssey, a small ship of 350 passengers.
It's for history lovers and culture vultures who like a little bit of luxury with their archaeology.Â
Passengers joined us from as far away as America and Australia as we embarked in Palermo, Sicily for a our seven-night journey across the Mediterranean, stopping off at Spanish gems Cartegena, Malaga, Cadiz and Seville.
Our executive room was beautifully appointed and clean, but very noisy.
It felt as if we were right on top of the engine room but the ship was fully-booked so they couldn't move us.
That aside, it was a wonderful week.
We were blessed with glorious weather, and each day started with breakfast on the terrace while we planned our day.
Which of the trips should we do? A jaunt to a private palazzo or maybe a Byzantine cathedral?
And, afterwards, back on the ship, should we go to an art lecture, relax in the library, or bask in the sun by the pool?
One of the most surreal days we had at sea began with a lecture on Goya and Picasso, followed by a fruit and vegetable carving demonstration by the chef. Both very enlightening.
The average age of passengers was 65 (we were the youngest on board by quite a stretch) and there was a detailed briefing before every trip giving the exact distance we'dÂ have to walk and whether it would be unsteady underfoot.
Our first excursion was to the Palatine Chapel and Palermo Cathedral.Â The mixture of Latin, Byzantine and Arabic architecture is fabulous.
The afternoon was spent roaming the back streets at our leisure and trying local delicacies, a very sweet cannoli and an espresso, before taking a tour of the grandest opera house in Italy, the Teatro Massimo. Heaven.
Though we were having so much fun in Palermo we couldn't wait to get back on board.
The staff are so attentive and we knew high tea would be waiting for us '“ as it was to be every afternoon.
Dinner is served in two restaurants, both serving fabulous cuisine from around the world.
The ship is small enough to get to know people and we had dinner in company every night. It was great fun.
The following day was one of the highlights of the cruise '“Â a visit to Segesta to see the spectacular 5th century Doric temple and nearby Greek theatre. On the journey there theÂ tour guide briefed us on the ongoing Mafia feuds on the island. It was all fascinating. Then it was onto Spain and there were stops in Cartagena, Cadiz, Seville and Malaga.
But the highlight was Alhambra Palace. It was a long coach journey inland to Grenada but absolutely worth it.
Everything about the Moorish fortress was just exquisite and the tour, at dusk, made it feel very special. It was so well organised.
The evening entertainment ranged from string quartets to flamenco shows.Â
And each night, after dinner followed by drinks in the cocktail lounge, we went to bed happy and tipsy with visions of ancient Greeks, Romans and Carthagians swimming in our heads.
Our only regret isÂ we hadn't discovered sophisticated cruising earlier.
Join Voyages to Antiquity for a 14-day '˜A Voyage through the Middle Sea'Â sailing from Â£2,495 per person departing 28 October 2018. After an overnight stay in Athens (Greece) the cruise departs Â and calls at Santorini (Greece), Heraklion (Crete, Greece), Chania (Crete, Greece), Valletta (Malta), Catani (Sicily), Palermo (Sicily) and Trapani (Sicily) before arriving into Malaga (Spain) for the flight home. Price includesÂ flights, guided shore excursions, all meals on board, drinks with dinner on board, gratuities and expert guest speakers.