South Georgia: the land of penguins, seals and explorers

The entrancing wildlife and stories of South Georgia

“South Georgia is for those who grew up dreaming of a Garden of Eden where you would walk unharmed among abundant and fearless wildlife in a beautiful wilderness – an oasis of serenity in a world increasingly out of step with nature.” Tim and Pauline Carr, Antarctic Oasis, Under the Spell of South Georgia.

South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands (SGSSI) is a British Overseas Territory in the southern Atlantic Ocean. South Georgia is 165km long and between 1 and 35km wide. Captain James Cook made the first landing here in 1775 and claimed the territory for the Kingdom of Great Britain, naming it the Isle of Georgia in honour of King George III.

For a while it was an important base for whaling which thankfully ended in the 1960s – these stations were unpleasant and dangerous places to work and nearly destroyed the whale population.

Now there’s no permanent population on the island. It’s an isolated and rugged (inhospitable even) place, especially in the winter. Around 10-20 scientists, support staff and museum staff come and go through the year. And of course travellers like me, coming to visit the penguins, seals and whales in their natural environment.

Nothing can prepare you for South Georgia. That first glimpse of Salisbury Plain from the ship’s deck takes your breath away and you can hear and even smell the penguin life in the distance. Oh and some little gentoo penguins swam serenely past my window when I opened my curtains. We’d made it to this magnificent island where few humans ever go. Time for our first on-shore expedition.

South Georgia: first sight

My first sight of South Georgia

Welcome to penguin heaven

Jumping into little Zodiac inflatables it started to feel like this was really happening. We were about to step foot on the land of penguins. Salisbury Plain is home to one of the largest king penguin colonies in the world – there are tens of thousands of them! It’s impossible to explain the impact that first penguin sighting has – with what looks like a carpet of them stretched out towards the mountains – a very large carpet.

South Georgia: Kings

Clusters of Kings with some furry babies

King penguins aren’t scared of humans – who they don’t see that often. Some look at you curiously – in a “What are these big red things doing in our house” kind of way (we all wore the red expedition jackets that came as part of the cruise), but mainly they continue going about their daily business like there’s nothing unusual going on.

It’s incredible how close you get, touching distance, though we were told not to touch, gotta leave them alone to live their lives! It’s just so much fun watching their interaction. I felt I could stand there all day. The onboard photography coach, Richard, told us not to take millions of pictures of penguins as we’d see endless amounts of them and they all pretty much look the same. A sound piece of advice that’s impossible to take – you can’t help yourself and the snapping soon gets out of control! Millions of pictures later…

South Georgia: penguins and glacier

A carpet of penguins under the glacier

And now it’s seal time

As well as king penguins (so many of them) we also communed with seals. Fortuna Bay was home to the elephant variety. The biggest of them are out at sea feeding at this time of year so we only saw babies (weighing in at about 1000kg) and juveniles (weighing in at up to 3000kg). These are big, quite smelly and noisy animals that emit a sound like a cross between a sneeze and a burp.

South Georgia: elephant seals and ship

Looking over the elephant seals towards the ship and the mountains in the distance

The babies are so tame and curious they come right up to you trying to suckle – their mothers are out at sea feeding. They look pleadingly up at you with their big brown eyes before latching on to your boot or trousers, obviously with disappointing results.

South Georgia: elephant seal baby

The elephant seal is probably the biggest baby I’ve ever seen!

South Georgia: King penguins

The wide-ranging king penguin colony

South Georgia: elephant seals

Juvenile elephant seals snuggle together

And then there’s the fur seals. By far the cutest-looking of their species, they’re also by far the  most aggressive. Fierce about protecting their territory, the adults have no hesitation in charging you and have even been known to bite. And like the penguins you get incredibly close to them – though we tried to keep our distance! Didn’t like the look of them getting ready to charge.

We saw lots of babies on this trip! The fur seal babies were unbelievably cute, the sort of animal you want to take home with you with their pretty faces and soft-looking black fur. Of course you’d never be able to do that and actually you really wouldn’t want to as they are born aggressive. The vicious-sounding growls that come from them as you walk past are quite startling!

South Georgia: baby fur seals

The cutest of cuddly baby fur seals

You’ll be noticing that I also couldn’t resist taking pictures with our lovely ship Le Lyrial in the background.

South Georgia: Fortuna

Hanging out together in South Georgia

After our magical penguin and seal-filled day we headed for Stromness and Grytviken.

Stromness was a whaling station from 1907 to 1931. It is also known as being the arrival point of Ernest Shackleton after his epic journey from Elephant Island. Now this an amazing story!

The legend of Shackleton

In April 1916, Ernest Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition became stranded on Elephant Island which is about 1,300km (800 miles) south-west of South Georgia. Shackleton and five of his men set out in a small boat (I mean a very small boat) to summon help and on 10 May they landed at King Haakon Bay on South Georgia’s south coast.

I did a similar journey on this cruise and we passed by the hostile-looking, isolated Elephant Island on our way from South Georgia to Antarctica. It’s a long way and there’s nothing in between! Okay it was highly enjoyable onboard a luxury ship, but I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been for them to get there alive! Especially as they’d already had some epic travels.

And to make matters worse they discovered on landing that they were on the wrong side of the island. So Shackleton, Tom Crean and Frank Worsley had to walk 22 miles over the spine of the mountainous island to reach help at Stromness.

Legend goes they were welcomed at Stromness by Norwegian Thoralf Sorlie with the words: “Who the hell are you?”. They definitely weren’t looking their best!

They’d left 22 members of the expedition on Elephant Island who were subsequently rescued. They’d survived living under two of the upturned boats and were all still alive when Shackleton returned.

Shackleton’s story is one of hardship and endeavour, I guess that’s obvious in any exploration of the white, icy wilderness of Antarctica. The fact that he never lost a crew member reflects the bond he built with his fellow explorers and his determination to be a solid leader.

It’s interesting if you google him – there are myriad sites about him, his obsessional mission to reach the South Pole first (a mission he failed to achieve – in fact he never reached the Pole at all). And some dubious personal decisions including the fact that he allegedly cheated on his wife and more or less abandoned his children. How he had the time and energy for any of that is another mystery. Whatever the truth, he was undoubtedly someone you’d want on your side when trouble came, trouble we can’t possibly even understand in today’s world. I could discuss this forever but it’s time to move on..well, sort of.

Grytviken: Shackleton’s resting place

Our next stop was Grytviken, home to Shackleton’s grave, a museum and the rusty remains of a whaling station.

Shackleton died onboard ship in January 1922 while moored in King Edward Cove, South Georgia. His body was on its way home to England when his wife was informed of his death and she insisted that he was buried in South Georgia, saying: “Antartica was always his mistress.”

It’s such a moving experience visiting his grave, surrounded by a white picket fence in the desolate remains of the whaling station.

We all had a toast to “The Boss”, as he was known, with a shot of Jameson’s Whisky, half of which we poured on his grave (as is the custom), while pondering how it was physically possible to do what he did with the very limited resources he had available.

South Georgia: Ernest Shackleton

Polar explorer Ernest Shackleton’s last resting place

The ashes of another noted Antarctic explorer, Frank Wild, who had been Shackleton’s second-in-command on the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, were interred next to Shackleton in 2011.

These explorers were made of different stuff! The stuff of legends.

South Georgia: Frank Wild

Frank Wild’s resting place next to The Boss

Our final onshore expedition in glorious South Georgia was in Gold Harbour. An amphitheatre of hanging glaciers and cliffs rises from the sea creating the most beautiful backdrop for the ever-abundant wildlife.

By now I was totally in love with the gentoo penguins, smaller and daintier than the kings, with their bright reddy-orange beaks and beautifully curious personalities. We found their nesting grounds in the tussock hillside (after wading through a lot of mud!).

South Georgia: gentoos

The gentoos breed under the fluffy tussock grass. 

And we spent more time communing with the lovely kings and their families. Some of them nesting their eggs under their down, balanced on their feet. The edge of the colony had plenty of the brown, fluffy chicks, yet to moult their fur and become elegance in black, white and yellow.

South Georgia: Young king penguin

Fluffiness in brown – a young king penguin

The elegance of the king penguins on shore mirrors the elegance of our ship in the distance

I cruised The Falklands, South Georgia and Antarctica aboard Le Lyrial on a fabulous Abercrombie & Kent expedition. We embarked and ended in Ushuaia, the capital of Tierra del Fuego, an island at the bottom of South America approximately a three-hour flight from Buenos Aires. Tierra de Fuego is half owned by Chile and half by Argentina. Ushuaia is officially called “The End of the World”, because it’s the southern-most populated city on our planet. And it does feel like you’re in the  middle of nowhere – that is until you start heading east and then south discovering even more remote places.

What an adventure. One that you will never truly understand until you’ve been there yourself. So go, seriously you have to go, and discover more about our fabulous planet and why we should be doing more to preserve it. Escape to the land of penguins and seals, whales and albatrosses, absorb the peace and harmony and try to keep it in your soul. Well that’s what I’m trying to do.

One of the expedition leaders Richard (AKA Black Jack) made a video of our unique experience which you can watch on YouTube by clicking here.

The joys of 2015: the experiences that made my year

Travel adventures abounded for me in 2015. Yes, I know how fortunate I am. It was a year full of amazing journeys, discovering new countries and revisiting old ones on three continents. Here are some of my favourite bits.


My Blue Train odyssey

It’s always been my dream to experience one of the world’s great train journeys. And this trip from Cape Town to Pretoria lived up to every expectation. Top quality service, amazing food, the comfiest of cabins and of course the ever-changing scenery on a journey through the majesty of South Africa. 27-hours of pure magic.

Find out more about The Blue Train by clicking here.


The stylish Blue Train leaves the Mother City, heading north


The Blue Train has arguably the best breakfast menu in the world…and also the best eggs Benedict


A spontaneous short break to Barcelona

One of my favourite cities in the world, Barcelona has everything going for it. Amazing architecture, friendly people, great shopping, a huge beach, endless bars and restaurants serving amazing food and wine. And this trip was even better as it was a last-minute booking, an escape from a chilly grey London to the energy and blueness of a fabulous Spanish city.


Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia, the most stunning unfinished building in the world

And of course there’s the Boqueria, probably the best food market in the world – I know I should calm down with the superlatives. I reckon I could spend a whole holiday in here alone, with the mission of tasting something from every stall – a challenge I’d embrace whole heartedly.


One of the tempting tapas bars in La Boqueria


I embarked on a cruise around Northern Europe with my brother Ray, nephew Zak and niece Maxi. And our mascot Sigmund (the toy baboon, reflecting our African roots) who we took everywhere with us. It was a real adventure, visiting new countries like Estonia and Finland and starting off in wonderful Copenhagen where we spent a few days. There were three real standout experiences in a wonderful fortnight where we made new friends and discovered new lands.

Discovering the beauty of Copenhagen

This charming Scandinavian city was a revelation. Truly fabulous restaurants – we devoured course after course at the Michelin-starred Studio. We also shopped up a storm, caught up with old friends, ambled around picturesque Nyhaven and took in all the tourist sights. And the cherry on the top was that Elton John was playing in the world-famous Tivoli Gardens – and we got tickets. What more can I say?

studio food

One of many amazing and delicious courses we tucked into at Studio

little mermaid

The very little mermaid (she’s very beautiful, too), with our travelling companion Sigmund

Marvelling at St Petersburg

I hate the phrase bucket list – maybe it’s because (if I had one) I’m sure it would go on forever and be way too intimidating to tackle. Having said that I think St Petersburg should on everyone’s…from the grandeur of the Hermitage, the sheer scale and amazing design of the city, the majestic buildings and the somewhat brutal history. Oh and the caviar. When in Russia!


The Church on the Spilled Blood has to be the most stunning church I’ve ever visited


Sampling caviar with Zak and Maxine, and Sigmund of course

Sailing down the Thames through Tower Bridge

The cruise ended in London, I mean right in the centre of London – we sailed down the Thames with the city’s landmarks getting closer and closer until Tower Bridge opened up to let us through. I’ve lived in London most of my life and truly love the place. When the crowds lining the river cheered us through I had tears in my eyes. We spent our final night on the river overlooking Tower Bridge, The Shard and the Tower of London. Just perfect.

London skyline

The unique view of London’s landmarks from the River Thames

Tower Bridge

The beautiful lights of Tower Bridge at night seen from our ship


Loving the beachlife (and everything else) in sun-drenched Spain.

I visit La Manga in Spain every year and explore more and more of this versatile region each time. It seems there’s always something new to discover. The markets with their fabulous fresh produce and bargainous clothes, bags, shoes and jewellery, the many beaches lined with restaurants and bars serving delicious Spanish fare, the welcoming people and the sunshine and blue skies, how I love those Spanish skies.


Early morning on the beach in Cabo de Palos, heavenly!


A break from sun worshipping and swimming for a chilled Rose

purple night

The purple light of a summer night in Spain


At the end of September I embarked on another cruise. This time starting in Rhodes in Greece and sailing around the island of Symi before heading into Turkey. Our eight-berth Turkish gulet, the Muhtesem A was a joy to live on for a week in harmony with nature with endless seas and skies of blue. There were two highlights in a week of chilled-out happiness.

Our beautiful boat in the blues of Greece

Our beautiful boat in the blues of Greece

Absorbing the delights of  dreamlike Symi Harbour

My love affair with Greece continues. On the island of Symi you inhale the wild herbs at every step and the panoramas are endless. A hike to the top of the hill at sunset finished with my first taste of Retsina, a trip to the local herb man to stock up (of course) and a feeling of joy at this picturesque town.

our boat

Our boat berthed in Symi Harbour, picture perfect


I couldn’t leave Symi without buying plenty of herbs from the charming Stavros

Sleeping under the Turkish stars.

Our idyllic days began with yoga and continued with absorbing the ever-changing landscapes, swimming in the crystal clear sea and eating delicious local food. They turned into starlit nights where I clambered on top of the boat, wrapped in a fluffy blanket and slept tight under the stars, waking to the sunrise, the bleating goats on shore and the early morning bread delivery by boat. A once-in-a-lifetime experience – one I hope to repeat!

You can find out more about Mediterranean Fitness Voyages by clicking here.

turkish sunrise

Perfect pinks and blues get the day off to the best start


The bread man turns up just after dawn with freshly baked goods


Living the beach life Thai-style in Koh Samui

Another of my favourite places, the islands of Thailand call me back again and again – well I am a beach baby, after all. The Land of Smiles is the ultimate place to re-energise with warm, crystal-clear waters, laid back shopping days, beautiful scenery wherever you look, the myriad of fruit shakes and cocktails and all those tasty Thai dishes…I ate seafood every day in many different styles and it’s all such great value. Thailand rocks.


Welcome to Koh Samui with a cocktail on the beach


My favourite Thai salad – spicy green papaya with prawns. Yum!

Well, what a year. Happy new year to you all, wishing you lots of adventures in 2016. As one of my favourite sayings goes: “Travel is the only thing you pay for that makes you richer.” How true is that?

Where is the best place you went in 2015? Where should I go next? I’d love you to inspire me with your travelling tales.

A magical journey from Rhodes to Marmaris

I love travelling the globe and am lucky enough to have visited many stunning destinations. I was very excited to be heading for Rhodes in Greece to embark on my Mediterranean Delights Fitness Voyage around Greece and Turkey.

Travel can come with its downsides though. Like being delayed 17 hours at Gatwick Airport! This involved eight hours sitting on two planes on the runway for a raft of reasons before being herded back into the airport for a night in the (very nice) Hilton Hotel and an early morning wake up to try all over again. Tedious to say the least.

This did have the positive effect of making my eventual arrival in Rhodes even more joyous. Due to the shocking weather our voyage was delayed, too, and I explored this beautiful town in a torrential downpour.

Rhodes Old Town is a charming place packed with history and lots of great shopping and eating opportunities. Even in the rain!


Grey skies and waterlogged streets couldn’t spoil the beauty of Rhodes


Time for some shelter and a delicious traditional Greek lunch

And every cloud has a silver lining – or in this case a rainbow!


The perfect rainbow lit up the cloud-laden sky

I was told that Rhodes supplies a lot of the country with water, so the rain was a good thing – and having grown up on the farm I get that. But I was pleased when it stopped and we could embark on our adventure, early the next morning. Our beautiful Turkish gulet was heading for the Greek island of Symi. First stop the Panormitis monastery.


The imposing building seen from our boat

No one seems definite about exactly when everything was built but it’s thought the church was constructed around 450AD over the site of an ancient temple. It stands on the left of a beautiful courtyard and is dedicated to the Archangel Michael. Tradition has it that if you ask a favour of Archangel Michael (and loads of people do), you must give him something in return, so the little, elaborately decorated church is packed with an array of gifts. Rooms are available to rent in the monastery, I’d imagine it’s the ideal place to get away from everything and enjoy some peace and Greek sunshine by the sea.

Explorations complete, it was time to embark on our first hike. Right up to the top of the hill. There’s a herbal aroma like no other in Symi with wild sage aplenty, hints of oregano and thyme and the refreshing scent of fresh pine needles. We breathed in the heady cocktail as we ascended higher and higher with a widening panorama of blue to feast our eyes on.

view from top

On top of the world looking towards Turkey

The hike was a good work out but nothing too taxing with a wide, beautiful and somewhat wild path to follow. It felt like we could be the only people on top of a beautiful world. What a perfect first morning.

walkding down

Hiking doesn’t get better than this in its shades of blue and green

There are endless photo opportunities on this trip, perfectly encapsulated here as we all stop to snap away at each other, the views and even ourselves.


A picture-taking extravaganza

We sailed every day, but never very far. Another cove in Symi revealed steep cliffs, a little beach, another monastery (tiny this time) and plenty of goats nimbly descending precipitous slopes. I’ll always feel a sense of happiness when I hear the tinkle of goat bells again.


Moored in the cove for swimming and chilling time

Daily stops varied from us being the only boat in sight enveloped in the most beautiful peacefulness you could imagine to harbourside mooring in lovely seaside towns. The perfect combination of get-away-from-it-all relaxation and happy exploration with welcoming locals, bustling bars and restaurants and amazing shopping opportunities.

I fell in love with Symi Harbour instantly. I mean, do villages get more beautiful than this?

Symi harbour

Picture perfect Symi with our beautiful boat in the foreground

With herbs growing aplenty it wasn’t surprising to find the most wonderful array on sale. Here’s Stavros’s stall, a real treasure trove of delights sold with a smile and a chat. Great value too, I bought a big bag of the most aromatic oregano ever and some herb tea that I’ve been drinking copiously since my return home.


My kind of shop – herbs and spices galore

Our second hike of the trip, just before sunset, took us around the side of the harbour, up a stone path to the very top and another picturesque monastery.


Up the hill we go as the sun sets


Beautiful views all around in the last of the day’s sunlight


Monasteries exude their peace everywhere

Symi’s where Rick Stein did his cooking in his recent TV series, From Venice to Istanbul. I have a great job, but I’ve got to say, his has to be better! As I watched the series avidly I recognised the town and felt immediately at home in it. It’s the perfect holiday spot, one that I hope to visit again for a longer stay.

We did have time to test out a couple of the bars and I convinced one of my fellow travellers to share a jug of Retsina with me. I’d recently read a novel based in Crete and it seemed that every house the main characters went to (and it was a lot of houses), they were offered Retsina and bowls of olives. When in Greece…

I quite liked the Retsina with its earthy, somewhat weird taste. I’d describe it as kind of like a cross between Grappa and wine. Nothing wrong with that.

This was our last stop in Greece,  a couple of hours sailing across the bay and everything felt very different. Welcome to Turkey and Bozburun, another seaside port with its own  unique charm. And amazingly welcoming, friendly people.


The contrast of super yachts and mosques in Turkey

We were even invited to a local home for lunch. Now that’s friendly. A meander up the hill and we arrived to a table set under the trees laden with a delicious home-cooked meal.

local house

The best way to sample local cuisine – freshly cooked for you at home

This beautiful dish of pumpkin leaves stuffed with tasty, savoury rice was a real labour of love…and it tasted like it.

pumpkin leaves

Stuffed pumpkin leaves in the dappled sunshine

We were also presented with large chillis picked straight out of the garden, a beautifully fresh salad and a big bowl of aubergines cooked with tomatoes and garlic. All produce straight out of the garden a few metres away. Just fabulous.


Salad with a bit of spice on the side

A post-lunch wander back through town to our boat home and it was out into the wide blue yonder again and away from civilisation into a perfect azure cove for the night. We hadn’t been anchored for long before shopping opportunities came to us. My first experience of boat shops…an ice cream man, a load of beautiful towels and linens and even freshly baked bread first thing in the morning.


This has got to be the best way to shop

As we headed towards our final destination, Marmaris, we stopped off opposite Paradise Island for a final dip in the ever-warm sea. How I miss that sea.

paradise island

Paradise island is covered in lush trees

The final sail of the week and we headed into Marmaris Harbour. From my favourite spot on the top of the boat (officially know as the sunning area), all set to the tones of Johnny Cash (a boat tradition apparently) which somehow seemed to add an extra poignancy – and ultimately a couple more songs to my iPod.

marmaris harbour

There’s plenty of boat life in Marmaris

Here’s the view from our final mooring of the journey in Marmaris. An amazingly buzzy holiday town, with the front coast-facing road packed with a cornucopia of restaurants offering delicious Turkish fare. And there’s Bar Street running parallel behind it, no confusion as to what happens there.


Lovely Marmaris with its restaurants with great views

I loved the Grand Bazaar (a smaller less hectic version of the one in Istanbul) with an exotic mix of spices, souvenirs, clothes, bags and pretty much anything else you could desire. All dotted with great food stalls and coffee stops. I could meander here for days and snapped up bags of chilli powder, sumac and dried pomelo. Great flavours to take home.


The greatest collection of spices and herbs I’ve ever seen in one place.

Here’s a final shot of our wonderful gulet the Muhtesem A. My home for a wonderful week and one I really didn’t want to leave.


Our beautiful home, the Muhtesem A

Voyage itineraries have to be a bit flexible, taking weather into consideration – as I discovered. Who’d have thought it could rain that much in one afternoon in Greece. Here’s the map so you can get an idea of the geography. The stars denote Rhodes (our starting point, Symi, Bozburun and Maramaris (our finishing point).


Find out more about Mediterranean Delights Fitness Voyages by clicking here. It’s a truly great way to explore this beautiful region. There are a range of fabulous trips available for 2016.

Sailing delight in Greece and Turkey

This September I boarded a beautiful Turkish gulet, the Muhtesem A, for a week of heaven in the Mediterranean. For someone who’s pretty well travelled, I’ve discovered the beauty of Greece and Turkey late in my travelling life so I’m soaking up every moment of these wonderful countries – trying to make up for lost time, I guess. And there’s no better way to do it than on this ultimate get-away-from-it-all voyage.

our boat

Our beautiful boat moored in one of the many picture-perfect coves we visited

My Mediterranean Delights Fitness Voyage (MDFV) took us from Rhodes in Greece to Marmaris in Turkey (more of the actual route in a later post). From the instant I stepped onboard in a very rainy Rhodes (my flight had been delayed for a tedious 17 hours) I felt like I had come home. My heart leapt with happiness as I discarded my shoes (no shoes to be worn onboard at any time) and was shown to my lovely cabin.

I mean seriously lovely…a huge double bed, plenty of cupboard space to unpack into (always a good thing) and a spacious bathroom with large shower. And three portholes. Actual portholes that I could leave open to let in that Mediterranean sea air. The bed was amazingly comfortable and combined with the boat’s gentle motion led to lots of restful sleep.


My lovely cabin with a comfortably large double bed

through the porthole

Here’s one of the ever-changing views through my porthole

The MDFV voyages offer a combination of fitness with yoga, hiking and swimming, healthy (and delicious) eating, cruising to fabulous places and a chance to absorb local culture.

Days unfolded at a leisurely pace and I very quickly grew into my new life. For pre-breakfast (yes, I know, pre-breakfast) I soon developed a voracious appetite for Turkish tea with Turkish honey, sipped while looking out over shades of blue. The perfect way to wake up.

Then it was time for yoga. I’m always up for a bit of fitness, love walking and swimming and haul myself off to the gym fairly regularly. Yoga…not so sure. I did try it once many years back (I think I was 17) and remember the instructor laughing at my beginner’s efforts. Let’s just say it didn’t encourage me to keep going, although I was open to try again now this opportunity had presented itself.

Our yoga instructor Jen hailed from LA – Santa Monica to be exact – the perfect California Girl. And she didn’t laugh at me but offered encouragement and easier options when the going got tough. I miss those yoga sessions, I could feel the good they were doing me even after a week, I feel more yoga in my future life.


Yoga up front in the early morning sun

Itineraries varied, depending on our destination, with a mix of exploration, hiking, swimming or snorkelling and even a bit of shopping – plenty of time to soak up the local culture. All led with style by our knowledgable Tour Director Ali Yalcin.

Meals were all served on board. Captain Aytekin Karayigit is also in charge of the menu, and ably assisted by the lovely Ayla, produced healthy, tasty cuisine all using fresh local ingredients. For breakfast, plates of fresh cucumber and tomato, cheese, eggs, cereal and bowls of olives. Bowls of olives with everything, don’t know if I’ve ever seen so many olives consumed!


Fresh food and beautiful views at breakfast

Lunch was a wide range of vegetarian dishes – salads, peppers, beans, courgettes, aubergines, spinach, amazing potatoes and rice dishes, yogurt in many forms, traditional pastries. A table of delights every time, showcasing the wonderful flavours of Greece and Turkey.


More tasty dishes and sparkling views for lunch


Happiness is…dining together

More local specialities for dinner, often with the addition of a meaty plate, including the best meatballs, fabulous chicken pieces and kebabs. And the best thing ever – whenever we sailed the crew threw lines overboard and usually caught quite a lot of fish (often mackerel). And that would be our dinner – barbecued upfront on a little barbecue cleverly bolted onto the front of the boat. Fish doesn’t get fresher than this and boy could you taste it.


The clever barbecue with the best views

It sounds like we ate a lot, and I guess we did but I felt the healthiness of it all – no worries with getting your five-a-day here, and it felt like a pleasure rather than a chore.

Okay, back to the boat and my favourite place on it. Up the steps to the top for the upper deck. Covered with plenty of plump mattresses it made the perfect sunbathing chill-out spot and as I soon discovered, sleeping spot, too. When I could tear myself away from the comfort of my cabin, up the steps I went armed with my pillow and the huge fluffly blanket supplied which I wrapped myself up in for the perfect night under the stars. The ultimate in peaceful sleep, with an awakening by the sunrise and the gentle sound of goats bleating on shore.


Good morning after a night out in the fresh air


The perfect spot for chilling out in the day, too

Journeys don’t get better than this. From the wonderful boat and its many comforts, to the joy of jumping into the balmy, azure sea daily (at least) for a swim and snorkel, to exploring out-of-the-way places and picturesque towns, to the simple tranquility of it all and yes, the yoga, too. And the crew – knowledgable, friendly, fun – making for one of the loveliest holidays of my life. My love affair with Greece and Turkey continues.

You can find out all about next year’s Mediterranean Delights Fitness Voyages  by clicking here.

Next time I’ll tell you all about the places we visited. Like magnificent, dreamlike Symi. Watch this space.


A Greek island paradise

I visited the beautiful Greek island of Santorini as one of the stops on my Crystal Cruise a couple of years ago and although I wrote about Fira (the main town) then, for some inexplicable reason I’ve never got round to posting it here. So, better late than never, here’s the story of a fabulous Greek town perched on high.


This is the view that greets you from the ship

The views, the shopping, the food, the people – even the way you get there – everything screams wow in Santorini

Fira (also called Thera or Thira) is Santorini’s main town. Perched high atop a towering cliff, it beckons temptingly. Everything about this totally unique place, literally on the edge, is spectacular – even getting there from the quay once we disembarked from our ship. You have three choices. Take the funicular – a small, creaky structure that climbs vertically up the cliff face (a little scary!); ride a donkey up the zigzag road or walk the same track, dodging said donkeys. I opted for the funicular and shut my eyes for most of the (very short) journey.

Once you scramble out of the little car, it’s like you’re living a fairytale. The blue sea glitters below like a field of sapphires and the stylishly whitewashed buildings gleam around you.


And the views just as good from the top

You’re up on high in what has got to rate as one of the most beautiful towns on earth. Ambling in awe through the precipitous, winding streets you stumble upon all manner of delights. Shops spill over with stunningly colourful ceramics, summer shoes, jewellery and a myriad of handbags. Prices can be high but the charmingly cheerful traders are more than happy to bargain. We learnt how to say thank you in Greek by memorising it phonetically in English (eff-curry-store) and that made the perfect ice-breaker. It’s a fun shopping experience with some really unique (that word again) goods on offer.


Yogurt and beer on high; our ship below

Although the town isn’t large (part of its charm), when it comes to time for some much-needed refreshment, there are certainly enough tavernas to choose from. The chilled local beer tasted like nectar and the huge dishes of Greek yogurt and honey were simply heavenly. For lunch, the juiciest of lamb sausage, amazing salads, freshly caught local fish and what could have been the best spinach pie in Greece (can’t say for sure as I haven’t tried them all…yet, anyway).


Fabulous lamb sausage and sea views

And a wonderful bottle of Santorinian wine, aptly all in that dazzlingly Greek trademark blue. The Santos winery is only five minutes drive away and, again, offers something special with the vines woven into a circle forming a basket.


Even the wine bottles are blue in Santorini

When it’s time to leave, it’s hard to tear yourself away, especially as the queue for the cable car down can appear alarmingly long when the cruise ships are in town. Actually, it goes quicker than you’d imagine, transporting about 36 people every five minutes or so. But not being great queuers, we decided to zig the zag to the sea. Now that’s an experience…slip-sliding along in flipflops, dodging donkeys and their poo – like everything else in this magical town, it’s certainly memorable. Though I was pleased to see the back of those donkeys who do have minds of their own and break out into regular mini-stampedes!

It’s like they were trying to escape, while all my instincts were doing was telling me to stay. For a very long time.


Fira is just as beautiful at night




A feast of travel in Europe

I can’t believe it’s been three weeks since I posted. I’ve been on a once-in-a-lifetime holiday starting with a couple of days in Rome, then cruising the Med with five amazing stops and finishing in Istanbul where I spent four fascinating days. My head is full of history, memories of the most beautiful of scenery and architecture and of course the flavours of many meals eaten in Italy, Greece and Turkey.

I travelled with my brother and his two children aged 11 and 12. Our odyssey started in Rome.

Going to Rome is like stepping into the world’s biggest al fresco museum. The city is bursting with history with a story around every corner. And the food is simply amazing, including the first of many Caprese salads!


Loved travelling around Italy sampling Caprese

My favourite thing about my first cruise was waking up every morning to somewhere new and beautiful. You just didn’t know what you’d see when you drew back those curtains.

First stop: Sorrento. Beautiful hill-top town painted in Mediterranean colours with fabulous winding streets where we shopped extensively and ate and drank. Simply the best pizza and Caprese salad twice – once in a magical lemon-grove of a restaurant.


The pizza in Sorrento was the best ever


Day two’s Caprese, possibly the best one yet

Next morning it was Taormina in Sicily, perched high up on the cliff with truly spectacular views. The town has an enchanted feeling and amazing views with Mount Etna, Europe’s highest active volcano, to one side an ancient Greek theatre and azure blue seas. Plus the best veal dish ever and a contender for best dish of the holiday!

The view from our restaurant

The view from our restaurant


Veal rolls, possibly the best dish of the holiday

And on to Greece. Mykonos is a labyrinth of blue and white…designed specially so invaders and pirates would get lost meandering through the streets. Of course this means that everyone gets lost, including us. Mykonos is where you go to party with lovely beaches and hectic nightlife…I’ll be back.

Beautiful Little Venice in Mykonos

Beautiful Little Venice in Mykonos


A selection of Greek delights

Good morning Santorini! Honestly, I woke up this morning, opened my curtains and couldn’t believe the sight. Huddling on a cliff top and only accessible (from our side) by cable car, walking or donkey. A truly unique experience and not ideal for the vertiginously challenged (me!). We got the cable car up and walked down a steep zig zag of steps, dodging frisky, disorderly donkeys all the way.


Beautiful Santorini, you can see the zig zag path we walked down


Greek yogurt and beer on high with our ship in the distance


Our favourite lamb dish of the trip

Kusadasi is a holiday town in Turkey. While the beaches are nice enough, the real attraction was the ancient city of Ephesus about half an hour’s drive away. It’s nearly 4,000 years old and was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. In the 1st century BC it had a population of 250,000, making it one of the largest cities in the Mediterranean world – and amazingly they had plumbing, heating, running water and toilets. The streets are paved with marble and you can see the remains of the theatre, library, even the equivalent of the Houses of Parliament. A real revelation.


The remains of the library at Ephesus

Last stop Istanbul where we disembarked from our stunning, luxurious cruise liner, the Crystal Symphony. All a bit of a shock after being treated like kings for nine days, suddenly we had to fend for ourselves. Of course we managed

Istanbul is a fascinating city bursting with stories going back so far in time. I’m still digesting it all. Amazingly it is situated on two continents, one half in Europe and the other in Asia with the Bosphorus in between. And it’s huge with a population of around 14 million. We hired a fabulous guide who bombarded us with information!


An amazing array of starters to choose from

Street food is big in Istanbul with donner kebab stands everywhere. We watched the chicken man loading his up every morning with literally hundreds of deboned, marinated chickens! They tasted amazing too, the best wraps ever.


Every morning we watched this man load hundreds of deboned chickens onto his kebab

We discovered an amazing Turkish Delight and baklava shop where we popped in for pudding one day. Super-sweet and sticky!


Four different kinds of baklava

What can I say! A real whirlwind of a holiday with so many new experiences and food delights. Like trying ouzo for the first time – and really loving it; dodging donkeys; bargaining in the Grand Bazaar and getting everything for less than half the original price; tasting tomatoes (my favourite) throughout the continent…I could go on and on.

Hope you enjoy reading about it all. Would love to hear from anyone who’s been to any of these amazing places and what your experiences were, so do get in touch.

And keep reading for more great recipes. I’m bursting with ideas after such an inspiring trip.