Emerald Azzurra review: a superyacht cruise on the Adriatic coast of Croatia | Travel
JThe haunting sound of choral music drifts through the main square of Korcula. It’s Sunday and the entire population of the old town is at church. There is an aura of peace; it’s the beginning of the season and already a shimmering heat, but only a few tourists wander through the galleries. The cats doze on the steps warmed by the sun. The water is still too cold for swimming, but a group of kayakers and paddleboarders make their way through the glassy bay, not a ripple in sight.
There’s only one cruise ship in town – ours, the tiny Emerald Azzurra. Carrying only 100 passengers, the Emerald Azzurra barely makes an impact on this sleepy place. And it’s small enough to dock just outside the old city walls.
The compact size of our ship and her sleek superyacht lines are a constant topic of conversation during my week at Croatia and Italy, sailing from Dubrovnik to Venice. Even when we encounter another ship of modest proportions, it is greeted with horror and derision by my fellow passengers, who praise their spacious balcony cabins, infinity pool and cocktail bar on the upper deck.
Omis, on the Dalmatian coast south of Split
Right now, there are very few things in the cruising world that compare to the Emerald Azzurra. It is the first custom-built ocean-going vessel for Australian company Emerald Cruises, which until now has focused on river cruising. The vessel has an elegant design, with a long, slender bow and steeply sloping decks. Cabins are like swanky hotel rooms, high-ceilinged and decked out in tasteful grays and taupes, while the light-drenched Amici Lounge – the main gathering spot – is a cool, albeit slightly dated, vision. 1970, chrome, marble, squashy leather lounge chairs and lush greenery. benches of greenery.
You’d expect a ship like this to be wildly expensive, but Emerald’s selling point is that it’s a step down in cost from the fanciest lines – including Silversea, Seabourn and SeaDream Yacht Club – and its own sister line, Scenic, which also operates a swish superyacht.
Service is friendly but you won’t get a butler; would you really need it when there are already 68 crew members to take care of 100 passengers? The food is great, but you don’t swallow vats of caviar and there’s no lobster or foie gras. Instead, I enjoyed dishes such as delicate potato and leek pancakes, grilled sea bass, and tender chicken breast with lemon risotto.
Decent Croatian wines are generously served with lunch and dinner, but you have to pay extra for spirits – or buy a rather pricey drinks package of £45 per person per day, which is a lot of cocktails, given that you could get an Aperol spritz for £6.40, or an espresso martini for £8.
A swimming pool on the ship, which also includes spacious cabins with balconies and a cocktail bar on the upper deck
Hikes or walking tours are included at most ports, but you can pay for more adventurous outings, which range from around £80 to £116 per person. There’s free yoga and Pilates, access to a smart watersports platform from which you can kayak, swim, or paddleboard, and a fleet of e-bikes.
I was so impressed with the bike I tried that I googled it, half wishing I had one at home. I was shocked to see it cost £3,400 – one of many signs that no expense has been spared in outfitting this vessel. Another was the abundance of casually patterned Missoni Home dresses for use by the infinity pool and hot tub. Everyone wanted a dress, which I found online for an impressive £250 a piece, although some of the men on board looked like they were channeling Hugh Hefner in theirs.
Got addicted to trashy reality TV Under the bridge During lockdown, I was thrilled to embrace the superyacht lifestyle myself. Lazy breakfast, a flat white on deck and a walk or bike ride around the beautiful town we were moored in.
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Back for a dip in the infinity pool and sunbathe on the “bunny pads” – the large padded platforms on either side of the pool. Martinis at sunset, dinner, relaxing music on deck from Mark Reyes, the ship’s singer and guitarist. One night Cruise Director Dean played DJ and everyone danced under the stars on the Sky Deck, going wild towards the Killers with blissful abandon as there were no teenagers. to roll your eyes.
Even though it was early in the season, Croatia was hot. I had brought my partner, David, along for the ride and we strolled through sweltering Dubrovnik before spending a delightfully lazy afternoon drinking wine and choosing from a platter of local cheeses and air-dried ham in a sunny spot.
In Split, we joined a two-hour hike up Marjan Hill, a promontory that flanks one side of the city. The climb took us past giant agaves, fragrant pines and masses of Scotch broom, blazing in their bright yellow spring colors. From above, the whole city extended below; the terracotta-roofed center giving way to 1970s apartment buildings. Ferries buzzed between the islands and steep limestone hills lined the horizon.
Back in town, the early season crowds were already filling the ancient alleys of Diocletian’s Palace, the magnificent complex of still-inhabited Roman palaces that dominates the heart of Split. We descended into the cool darkness of the substructure, the ancient Roman foundations and cellars, for a klapa performance, presented by Emerald just for our group.
Klapa is Croatia’s answer to Portuguese fado, an a capella boy band singing harmonies of love, life and loss, all the more melodic in the otherwise silent maze of ancient columns and empty chambers.
We borrowed a few e-bikes from the ship in Zadar and cycled around the huge bay, passing marinas, fishing boats and green waterfront parks. To cool off, we paddled in the still cold Adriatic on the steps of the Sea Organ, which emits sounds similar to whales singing each time a wave splashes against the quay, forcing air through holes in the concrete. It is a dreamy and meditative experience, sitting in the sun with your feet in the water, listening to “music” and gazing at the Kornati islands in the distance.
Krka National Park Waterfalls
Krka National Park, where we paid £84 each for an excursion, is a place of such lush beauty it looks like an enchanted setting in a Disney fairy tale. This is where the Krka River tumbles over dozens of rocky travertine shelves on the final stages of its journey to the sea. Boardwalks lead through sunny paths under pine and fig trees, the water cascading at every turn in deep turquoise pools or tumbling in shallow streams over mossy rocks through the trees. There’s life everywhere: dragonflies in iridescent sapphire blue, and butterflies in shades of speckled orange and bright yellow. A large frog clung to a leaf in a glass-transparent pool, croaking loudly, while birds sang in the trees.
Rovinj, an enchanting fortified town on the Istrian peninsula, was our last port and arrived far too soon. We strolled through a maze of gently cobbled lanes, the heady scent of summer jasmine in the air, to St. Euphemia, the heavy Baroque basilica that towers over the city.
Between rooftops and old pastel-colored houses, the Emerald Azzurra stood serenely, right next to the old town. People were walking along the quay and staring at him in amazement, their mouths agape. And then I returned to “my” yacht and floated on my back in the infinity pool, under deep blue skies, for one last time.
Sue Bryant was a guest on Emerald Cruises. Seven nights full board from £3,711 pp for a cruise from Dubrovnik to Venice, departing June 10, 2023, including flights, drinks with meals, gratuities, wi-fi and some excursions (emeraldcruises .co.uk)
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