Stepping ashore in Spain and Portugal, Blackbeard samples a selection of Spirit of Adventure’s port excursions, all included in the fare
Various factors prevented me boarding a cruise ship up until now, the main aversion being a feeling that it wasn’t really the best way to see a city.
After a week at sea, my opinion has changed. There is no other way of sampling so many places, so conveniently, in such a short space of time, in such comfort for such a relatively small amount of money.
You might not get the opportunity to fully drink in a city or explore as much as you would be able to in a long weekend, but if you get a taste for a city you can always return another day. And if you don’t like it, you can cross it off the list with no harm done.
In just one week sailing on the Spirit of Adventure I can add Bilbao, Santiago de Compostela, Porto, Seville and Malaga to my list of cities visited – and the cruise fare included at least one excursion at each port.
For me, the cruise was very much a tale of two cathedrals, those of Santiago de Compostela and Seville. Both are Gothic architectural marvels and completely remarkable.
The former is the supposed resting place of one of Christ’s apostles, Saint James. It has been a traditional pilgrimage destination since the Middle Ages, when it was widely believed that – no matter how chaste and pure your life – you would burn in hell for all eternity if you didn’t visit the city to pay homage.
The cathedral still attracts pilgrims to this day, though how many of those still believe that it will ensure their entry through the Pearly Gates can only be guessed at.
On full-day excursions like this one, lunch is usually included and it was in Santiago that I got to see first hand how Spirit of Adventure do lunch ashore. It became the second big attraction of the day.
From the moment we entered the Hostal dos Reis Catolicos, just off the Plaza do Obradorio, we were continually plied with wine. There were four courses to eat and it was two hours before we re-boarded our coaches for a welcome snooze on the journey back to the ship.
Whereas the cathedral in Santiago is the focal point of the city and seems to grow out of the tiny streets, Seville’s cathedral is much larger and grander. It is in fact the largest Gothic cathedral – and the third largest church – in the world.
Construction work began in 1402 and continued until 1506, the same year that Christopher Columbus died. The explorer’s remains are buried in the cathedral, although they didn’t reach there until 1898, after being transported from Spain to the Caribbean and back again.
The panoramic views of the city from the top of the bell tower are well worth the strenuous climb and the interior is no less impressive. At 30 metres from floor to ceiling there’s plenty of room for the colony of bats I saw flying up in the rafters.
Sandwiched between the Spanish cities was a visit to Porto in Portugal, most famous for the fortified wine which carries its name.
A boat trip was followed by a visit to Graham’s cellars for a tasting and an opportunity to buy bottles of vintage Port for twice the price you can buy them in England. I settled for a free sample of late-bottled and one of a tasty white Port.
Back on the ship there was more wine tasting – the cruise was, after all, subtitled “Vineyards of France and Iberia.” So all in all, the week was the perfect sampler for me – both for sailing and slurping.