It doesn’t seem possible that it was over a year ago now that I watched Her Majesty the Queen, looking glorious in peach (or was it apricot?) smashing a bottle over the bow of P & O’s glorious new Britannia. Well, I’m pleased to report that she’s still as beautiful, as I found out when my friend Erica (editor of Edinburgh food website, Foodinburgh) and I took a little foodie cruise around the med last week, from Southampton to La Rochelle, Bilbao, La Coruña, St Peter Port in Guernsey and back to Southampton.
We checked in (very smooth and easy) and wandered through the atrium. I’d forgotten how gorgeous this area is – it was lovely to get reacquainted with the beautiful Star Burst light installation made by Jona Hoad Design – I still absolutely love it:
As we headed to our posh cabin (although it’s been a while since we slept in single beds!) we chatted about our mission. Our brief was simple: we would do everything foodie on board: try every restaurant, sip a cocktail in every bar, neck a frothy coffee in every café, and then do something very active on every shore excursion to try and offset all that eating.
Our first evening’s dining was in one of the main dining restaurants, Meridian. With the Freedom Dining option you’re not restricted to a specific time, or indeed table, and can fit your dinner around whatever shows or activities you have going on. It wasn’t bad, but it was our least favourite dining option – with so many incredible restaurants on board, though, it must be hard to compete.
Next day we got up early to attend Elliott Kennedy’s travel photography workshop, which was really interesting – I learned loads about the rule of thirds and using negative space, foreground and light, and I genuinely feel it’s impacted upon my photography style.
After a tipple in the Crow’s Nest (you can’t beat an elderflower gin and tonic as the sun goes down), dinner in the Epicurian Restaurant (fee applies) was fabulous – the atmosphere is calm and sophisticated with beautiful table settings and softly spoken staff. I’d seen the incredible Iberico hand carved at the table on an episode of Battlechefs so I chose this as a starter, moving on to a tender 28 day aged sirloin with triple cooked chips and a yuzu hollandaise. All completely delicious (terrible light for photos, sadly).
The ‘house’ wines on board, ‘Bon Viveur’ are exclusively blended for P & O by Olly Smith and I tried all three: a crisp, citrussy white, a summery (but not sweet) rosé and a velvety smooth red. All great value for money (in fact, all the wine on board was decently priced).
In La Rochelle, Erica and I chose to explore L’Il de Ré, which was simply divine. Over the bridge from the pretty little town of La Rochelle, with its warm stone, blossom trees and painted shutters, L’Il de Ré boasts glorious little beaches, sweet little coves and pretty fishing villages with narrow streets. We stopped at the lovely port of St Martin de Ré, dotted with chic shops and cafés – so, so lovely:
Dinner that night was in The Beachhouse – we’d heard really mixed reviews about this little corner of the Horizon buffet, but absolutely loved it, feasting upon crisp coconut crumb tiger prawns and nachos to share, then Cuban pulled chipotle pork with fat chips, soft tortilla wraps, dips and sauces, all with a stunning sunset view:
We spent a lot of our evenings in the Live Lounge listening to Pulse – a great band who sang everything from 80s covers to Motown hits. There was even dancing!
We mainly headed for one of the main dining restaurants for great omelettes or eggs Benedict for breakfast, although a huge selection is always available in the Horizon buffet, or you can order room service, which we did before an early start in the port of Bilbao.
We were so lucky to get a really sunny day to explore Bilbao and both of us absolutely adored the Guggenheim (especially the Louise Bourgeois ‘Structures of Existence: The Cells’ exhibit which is open until September). If you’re there, step over the road from Jeff Koons’ enormous Puppy to Amorino Gelato to pick up one of their incredible gelato ‘bouquets’ – you can even have a macaron in the middle if you desire!
We also took a wander around the old town and stopped for pintxos and beer – what a heavenly day:
Next up, a hike in the Atlantic Forest of Galicia, Olly Smith’s wonderful Glass House and much more about about Food Hero Eric Lanlard: our cookery masterclass, his fabulous Market Café and our very special hosted dinner. Oh, and let’s not forget Afternoon Tea – Eric’s gorgeous new book Eric Lanlard’s Afternoon Tea is out now!
P&O Cruises is offering a 12 night cruise on Britannia (B631) from £829 per person for an inside cabin. Departing Oct 9, 2016, the price includes full board meals and entertainment on board. Departing from and returning to Southampton, ports of call include Gibraltar, Cartagena, Palma, Barcelona, Cadiz and Lisbon. To book, visit www.pocruises.com, call 0843 373 0111 or visit your local travel agent.
Eric’s next cruise will be in October.