By Janet Steinberg, Travel

recent Silversea’s Silver Whisper cruise, from Lisbon, Portugal to Southampton,
England, afforded me and 291 passengers from 14 countries a chance to
experience one of Europe’s most captivating and diverse itineraries often
overlooked by many cruise lines. 

Returning, once again, to cruise on
the all-suite Silver Whisper did not disappoint.  It was like
returning to a friend’s luxurious yacht, or checking in to a favorite exclusive
hotel.  All the great amenities I had remembered awaited me in my
veranda suite… lavish Bulgari amenities…bedding of my choice…a butler who
pampered me and polished my shoes while I was out exploring the world.   And
of course, that bottomless bottle of champagne (and all other libations), mine
for the asking, as I relaxed and watched the sea caress the ship. 

It was a warm feeling to return to
my home upon the sea; a home where I wasn’t nickel-and-dimed for beverages; a
home where I could dine when, where, and with whom I desired; and a home where
no tipping was expected. 

Sailing some 1418 nautical miles, Silver
Whisper sailed me from Lisbon to Oporto, Portugal; Bilbao, Spain; Bordeaux,
St-Malo, and Honfleur, France, ultimately disembarking in Southampton, England.

My first Silver Whisper shore
excursion of the cruise, a 30-minute drive from the port at Leixões brought me
to Oporto, Portugal’s second largest city. As the tour bus drove along the
Avenida dos Aliados, we viewed some of the city’s most impressive buildings
such as the 1915 train station, the 18th century Church of Clerigos,
and the austere Se Cathedral, a 12th-century Romanesque building.

Following our city orientation, we
headed down to the Ribeira quarter to enjoy a boat ride on the Douro River
(River of Gold).  The water afforded a
totally different panorama of Oporto’s skyline. On the opposite bank, we
visited Vila Nova de Gaia, home to the port trade and numerous wine lodges.
Most of them were established in the 18th century; their brand-name port wines
are known worldwide. The tour culminated with a visit to W & J Graham’s
Port House with an “oportonity” to learn the process of wine making, and a
tasting of their fine Port wines.


an idyllic day at sea, our next Silversea shore excursion took us to Bilbao,
Spain to visit the renowned Guggenheim Museum, Enroute from the port, we passed
through the industrial outskirts of Bilbao and took in the splendid view from
Mount Artxanda. From there, we continued down the city’s main
thoroughfare, Gran Via, which reflects Bilbao’s 19th-century mining
and industrial prosperity. 
then, there it was! Frank Gehry’s masterpiece in flowing titanium and


The tour continued with a drive to
the Old Quarter, or ‘Casco Viejo’, located on the right-bank of the Nervion
River. During the walking tour, we saw the 14th-century Gothic
Cathedral, Arriaga Theatre, Plaza Nueva and the Bilbao
Ria, which separates the old and new cities. Before returning to the port, the
tour culminated with tapas (Spanish appetizers) and drinks at
the Café Kiosko del Arenal.

next two days were spent docked in Bordeaux, France.  On the first
day, we opted for a Silver Whisper shore excursion that offered a panoramic
view of Bordeaux and a visit to a winery that included a wine tasting.  On
day two, Silversea’s shore excursions offered a chance to visit the UNESCO
village of St. Emilion or just explore the beautiful city of Bordeaux. But more
about Bordeaux in a later article.


On the 8th day of
our cruise, Silver Whisper anchored at Brittany’s charming French town of Saint
Malo.  From there, her passengers could opt for a 45-minute drive to
the Emerald Coast and the town of Cancale for a crash course in oyster


they could choose the 1.5-hour scenic drive to Mont St. Michel.  
Mont St. Michel, (“Wonder of the Western World”) perched on
a rocky pinnacle in Mont St. Michel Bay, was officially inscribed as
a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979.  Joined to land by a causeway,
this 13 th century Gothic Benedictine Abbey is one of the
most visited sites in France.

2011, a state of the art dam was completed on the Couesnon River as part of a
10-year plan to rid the river channel of sediment and allow the water to once
again flow freely around the mount.  From the new 2012 Visitors
Center near the dam, visitors can walk, shuttle, or ride a horse-drawn
carriage, to the mount.
A climb
of 365 steps will take you from the cobbled, convoluted streets to the base of
the Abbey.  If you wish to visit the interior of the Abbey, prepare
to walk up another 197 steps.  Not a trip for the faint of heart (or
body) but an incredible site for those who take the excursion.
In the
village, at the base of the Mont, you must partake in its culinary specialty…a
light and frothy, overpriced omelet, La Mere Poulard is the most
famous, and most expensive eatery, in which you can taste a Mont St.
Michel omelet. The cooking of their world-renowned omelets is a big
production enacted in the restaurant’s front window. 
The following day in Normandy, Silver Whisper docked at
Honfleur for a shore excursion that enabled us to relive one of the most
historic events of World War II.  Departing the pier in Honfleur, we
drove to the small seaside town of Arromanches via the D-Day landing beaches of
Sword, Juno and Gold. In Arromanches, we visited the Invasion Museum, dedicated
to the largest landing operation in history…the June 6, 1944 invasion when the
Allied forces stormed the beaches of Normandy to attack the German
lines.  During our visit, we saw films and models that re-created the
entire operation along the D-Day beaches.

After a typical French lunch at La
Chenevière, a historic chateau located near Omaha Beach, we visited Colleville-sur-Mer, site
of the American Cemetery.

The majority of the nearly 10,000 American soldiers killed
at Omaha Beach are buried in this 170-acre cemetery on land given to the United
States by France as a token of her gratitude. Here, 9,386 marble crosses and
Stars of David are aligned on a plateau above the beach. A memorial contains
the Tablets of the Missing, and a map outlines the battle sites of the Normandy

Silver Whisper passenger laid a wreath at the base of the memorial, Taps was
played over the loud speaker, and hundreds of visitors from all over the world
stood with hand over heart as the Americans sang the Star Spangled
Banner.  At the gravesite of Pvt. Raymond Baumgard, my husband
recited the Mourner’s Kaddish to memorialize the sacrifice that this
young Ohio soldier (whom he had never met) made for our country.


yes…travel truly is the bitter with the sweet.
STEINBERG is an award-winning Travel Writer, International Travel
Consultant, and winner of 38 national Travel Writing Awards.