Best Of Both Worlds – Cruise and Walk

Former ‘Wish You Were Here’ presenter and avid globetrotter, John Carter, extols the virtues of combining cruising on the high seas with fascinating walks on terra firma

I’ve remarked before that a holiday combining cruising and rambling does not, at first glance, seem to be a sensible one.   Cruises appeal to people who enjoy relaxing, eating too much and lying around on deck chairs, whereas walkers, by their very nature, are get-up-and-go types for whom the deck chair – to say nothing of a four-course lunch and an afternoon nap – is anathema.

But such holidays are available, thanks to the joint efforts of Ramblers Worldwide Holidays and Fred Olsen Cruise Lines, and have proved extremely popular.   So much so, that ocean going ships are also nosing their way into the rivers of Europe – or more specifically those of France and Spain – to provide even more walking options. And, unlike many competitors, all guided walking tours are included in the price.

I have much experience, and many good memories, of cruising around the Baltic, so that would rank high among my choices.    Thus, I was immediately attracted to a selection of 13 and 14 night voyages, from £1,755, which call at favourite places like Copenhagen,Tallinn and St. Petersburg, and cruise among the islands of Stockholm.

My memories of Tallinn, I confess, are mixed, for it was there that I mislaid a pair of passengers from the shore excursion I was supposed to be supervising.    Fortunately they managed to find their way back to the ship before we sailed, and admitted that I was in no way to blame for their defection.    But it was an experience I would not wish to repeat.

As for St. Petersburg, it is a splendid place and well suited to those who enjoy sightseeing (or what, for present purposes, one might call “city rambling”).   Again, personal memories are mixed, and involve a brief but interesting encounter with a local lady in a waterfront bar, and the somewhat seedy activities of certain crew members once they had scampered ashore.   However, as the ship concerned was  not one of the Fred Olsen fleet, you may rest assured that you will not be exposed to any such behaviour.

One aspect of cruising that has pleased me over recent years, is the growing popularity of voyages to other northern waters.    Time was when a small fleet of Bergen-based ships had the Norwegian coast to themselves, running a constant service up and down that magnificent scenic route.    You had to be a real enthusiast to take those vessels, for their priority was cargo, with passengers something of an afterthought.    Though, to be fair, they have greatly improved since I made my first coastal trip in one.

But larger cruise ships now ply those waters, taking more and more enthusiasts to the beautiful fjords and to what just about every holiday brochure calls “The Land of the Midnight Sun”.

A selection of such holidays is included in the cruise and walk collection, venturing as far as Iceland and Greenland, as well as the more familiar fjords and ports of Scandinavia.   Most are around two weeks duration, priced in the region of £1,500, which represents very good value for money.

One “Midnight Sun” experience I recall is of being on a small ship which seemed to cruise aimlessly after we had left North Cape, but did so in order that we might still be within sight of its magnificence when midnight came.    So we partied on the open deck around the swimming pool.    Swimsuits and shirtsleeves, and some very decent draught beer, are what I especially remember.

For those who like their sunshine throughout the day, cruising south and west is the answer.     A selection of trips to the Canary Isles, Madeira and the Cape Verde islands is also on offer.    I know those islands well, and am particularly familiar with the opportunities they offer to the keen walker.    The “levadas” of Madeira, for example, are unique.    A complicated series of watercourses, designed to irrigate crops throughout the island, they also double up as walking routes.    Sometimes you stride out alongside them, at other times you walk on the stone slabs which cover long stretches of them.  There is also wonderful walking on some of the Cape Verde islands.

Though islands like Tenerife, La Palma and Gran Canaria are thought of primarily as beach locations, they, too, provide good rambling terrain, and are rightly popular among those who choose the cruise and walk holiday option.

“But what about those river cruises?” I hear you ask.     (Actually, I hear nothing of the sort, but it’s the only way I could think of to change the subject.)

I like the look of the trip on Braemar, sailing from Dover on March 18th.   In the course of her round trip she calls at Lisbon, Seville, Vigo, Bordeaux and Rouen, so you get to sail on the rivers Tagus, Guadalquivir, Gironde, Garonne and Seine.   The 14 night voyage costs from £1,565, which works out at just over £100 per day. When you consider what that price covers, such as your accommodation meals and transport, to the entertainment and guided walking excursions, it really is a remarkable bargain.

There are more of these combination holidays, including a selection to the Caribbean, and I think a close study of the brochures is likely to prove tempting.

The great thing about cruise and walk is that you can tailor the walking element to your mood as the days pass, though I know from experience that you get a really good feeling at the end of an active day ashore when you return to the ship and relate your experiences to those poor folk who have spent their time supine by the pool.

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