At the end of a long, hot summer, a group of eight friends journeyed to Italy and France in late August for a fantastic two-week experience. I will not bore you with all the details, but we were fortunate to have a seamless vacation with no problems with air travel, local transportation, food, or accommodations. We are very thankful for that!

We started in Rome and spent three days there. Staying at a small hotel near the Colosseum, we could walk a few blocks to find delicious, authentic Italian fare that made our experience seem “local.” We quickly discovered that August is the month for Italians to also go on holiday, so many places were closed, but that didn’t hamper us in any way. There was plenty to do and see.

The highlight was an evening guided walking tour with Evan Firestone, founder of Rome Illuminated Tours. This two-hour tour touched on the ancient history of Rome, the art, the famous structures, the fountains, and the incredible aquifers that are still in use today. Evan captured the essence of Roman history and explained it in a colorful, concise, engaging way. 

To top it off, Evan ended the tour just as the sun was setting, and made arrangements for us to have access to a new five-star hotel property with a stunning roof-top bar where we unwound with drinks and hors d’oeuvres. It really was a perfect evening to acclimate and begin our sojourn.

Sightseeing included the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, the Roman Forum, the Pantheon, and the Galleria Borghese, along with several awe-inspiring cathedrals. At one such church, to better view the exquisite murals painted on the ceiling, a large mirror was placed in the center of the floor angled at 45 degrees to better enable us “old people” to not have to crane our necks and possibly lose our balance. The only problem was there was a 50-person deep line of young folks taking selfies, not one old person among them. A sign of the times…

Our pace in Rome was unhurried, yet I felt satisfied that we had captured the flavor of the city’s history, food, and lovely people. We ventured to the Ice Club one evening to experience a freezing cold establishment totally encased in ice, complete with Antarctica-worthy capes. One drink and I can check that off my bucket list. Never ask me to drive in Rome. It’s a wonder no one received so much as a scratch whether by car, bicycle, Vespa, or scooter. It was enough to warrant a heart attack.

On day three, we were all ready to embark on the next leg of the trip, a 7-day voyage along the Italian and French Riviera aboard SeaDream Yacht Club. SeaDream is a different kind of yachting experience. We traveled a little more than an hour from Rome to the Port of Civitavecchia. Boarding could not have been easier or more welcoming. With clothes and luggage safely and neatly stowed away, we explored our home for the next week. 

At a capacity of 112 passengers in 56 staterooms and 95 crew members to satisfy your every whim, we quickly settled in for a week of luxury and pampering. The crew was wonderful, fun, and entertaining without the stuffiness you might expect on such a well-regarded voyage. It truly is like being a guest on someone’s mega yacht reflective of its tagline, It’s Yachting, Not Cruising!

Departing at 18:00 hours, our group gathered around the pool with cocktails and finger food to watch the sunset as we sailed away. The wonderful thing about SeaDream is it is small enough to visit small ports that larger ships can’t access. This is a huge advantage for the yachting experience. 

Another difference is that they arrive early in the morning to drop anchor in each port of call and run the tender (think water taxi) constantly throughout the day and evening. This allows guests to come and go as they please, or to stay late and have dinner at many of the world-famous hotels and eateries available on shore.

As we worked our way up the Italian coastline, each small port was charming. Each harbor was replete with every kind of boat imaginable, from local fishing boats to mega yachts. At night, the small villages were lit by stars and moonlight dancing on the shimmering waters. Each town had its own charm and history. 

Fortifications protected the homeland from past invaders and small beaches, some rocky, some pebbly, and some sandy, adorned most nooks and crannies along the shoreline. We took advantage of more than a few of these beaches as the temperatures rivaled those at home. It was hot but beautiful at every turn.

We rose at daybreak to welcome the day with coffee, and breakfast before embarking on planned activities. Shore excursions were offered at each port. We took advantage of several but most of the time we would venture into the villages to explore on our own before returning to the boat for a late lunch and a swim in the pool.  We could also swim in the Mediterranean Sea off the back of SeaDream, or go down its water slide. The pool bar was always open. The pace was laid back at all times.

SeaDream’s staff and crew were incredibly accommodating. The food was outstanding with plenty of options from which to choose for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Beer, wine, and spirits were always available and were included in the fare. Staterooms were cared for by a steward throughout the day and evening. Spa services were also available as well as a library, piano bar, and blackjack table. The golf simulator kept everyone in our group happy. 

By Thursday, we made our way to the French coast, to Saint Tropez. It was fun to hobnob with the rich and famous, many of whom had arrived in their own megayacht. We felt right at home! A visit to Nikki Beach Club gave us a taste of the super chic, seeing a lot more selfies by the beautiful people. The beaches are exactly as you would imagine with beach chairs and umbrellas lined up side by side eight rows deep.

Our last full day was in the Principality of Monte Carlo. A beautiful small city of 500 acres situated on a steep hillside surrounded by France. Here Princess Grace is adored and the Monaco Grand Prix is still held annually. We visited the casino that James Bond made famous and watched the changing of the guards at the palace.

Each port along our voyage added to our love for the SeaDream experience. Visiting small Italian ports and cruising north to those a bit more interesting, we ended up in sophisticated towns with world-renowned reputations. I took plenty of photos to help remember and savor each one. It was such a special time that we booked another voyage to Spain… with plenty of time to recover.  

On the last day of the voyage, we arrived in Nice, France, disembarked, and headed an hour north to Saint-Paul de Vence in Provence. Again seamless. Our concierge aboard SeaDream had arranged travel for six. We deposited our luggage at our small boutique hotel and made our way to the Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence, better known as the Matisse Chapel

Henri Matisse moved there from Nice to recuperate from cancer surgery and spent four years helping design the architecture of the chapel, the stained-glass windows, interior murals ceramics, liturgical furnishings, and the priest’s vestments. It was a stunning work of art and where he befriended young Sister Jacques Marie who became the Model for Matisse.

From there we made our way to the walled ancient village of Saint-Paul de Vence, now a beautiful collection of shops, art galleries, and restaurants. Spectacular is an understatement. It Is a labyrinth of stairs and steep stone pathways, with wonderful discoveries at every turn. We had a pleasant patio lunch under a shady tree as we watched visitors pass by enjoying the experience.

The next day was spent visiting The Maeght Foundation, which was a favorite for everyone.  This museum tells the story of visionary art dealers and their artist friends who were among the greatest masters of the 20th century. It really was a highlight as our adventure was coming to a close.

On our last full day, with just four of the original eight still in Provence, we decided to go to Antibes, France for the day. It was our first day with clouds and a little rain, but it didn’t dampen our spirits. We poked around shops, made a few last-day purchases, and sat at sidewalk cafes enjoying our last taste of France. It was a perfect, relaxing day.

Travel is extraordinary in any way you choose. This was particularly special with great friends and beautiful scenery. I will savor the memories. 

P.S. On the trip home, I watched four movies, the first being Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, filmed in Antibes and Nice with Steve Martin and Michael Caine. I laughed out loud throughout. It made me want to return soon!

Sep 13, 2023
Day Trippin'

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